Tuesday, December 15, 2015

First week in the Himalayan Kingdom

 SO the flight into Paro from Bangkok was absolutely beautiful. The fear factor scale was not as I had read or feared. Yes, we flew very close to a few very large mountains, had a big right hand bank turn before landing, but no turbulence. We were lucky, on a windy day I think our experience would of been different. The plane had a quick stop in India, kids jumped off the plane just to say they had been in India. Not sure if that qualifies for  another travel patch for Owens backpack, thinking one might have to leave airport for that justification. We had a clear view of the Himalayas on the short 25 minute flight. So happy to see Daddy and breathe in the beautiful mountain air after spending 3 days in Bangkok. The international airport in Bhutan is in Paro, whereas the capital is Thimphu. There is nowhere flat in Thimphu to put an airport. The whole country is covered with mountains. After the hour and half drive we arrived at the apartment that HVO puts up its volunteers. The apartment is right in town, Brad can walk to hospital and kids and I can walk to most places in the city. Thimphu is the only capital city to not have one traffic light. They have a traffic cop in the middle of town that helps direct traffic.  The apartment is very basic, a lot cold and the beds are like sleeping on concrete. Lindsey is convinced she has slept on softer mats while camping....she might be right. We don't plan on spending much time in the apartment, as it seems our schedules are filling up.
We are on the third floor.
open space off kitchen

One of the three bedrooms

my neighbor, who has no running water
We were off to a pretty quick start once we arrived. I knew that the sooner the kids and I got settled we would  feel more comfortable and relaxed in our new environment. Brad had arranged for Skyler to play soccer every morning with the National team at the National stadium. Owen takes his rugby ball and teaches the other local boys how to play.  Lindsey and I usually go for a run, there is a beautiful track near the stadium or a beautiful run up to the golden Buddha Dordenma.

The National Stadium

The Buddha Dordenma is a 50 m tall steel statue that commands the entry to Thimphu.

Wherever we go in the Thimphu, there are packs of dogs. They are rarely kept as pets and instead live alongside humans in their own social groups. They are given food by the families or by the monks at the many monasteries. As Bhutan has become more developed the population of stray dogs has gotten out of control especially here in the capital city of Thimphu. Bhutan is a Buddhist country, and at certain times of the year the sale of meat is banned-but there is a black market. The dogs live off the waste product, since Bhutan is such a small developing country there is not yet a regulated mechanism of disposing the unsold meat. The growing number of dogs and the growing number of high-end tourism was beginning to clash. The dogs bark and howl ALL night long. Peaceful sleeping is impossible to come by. The International Humane Society got involved in 2009 and has sterilized 50,000 dogs. We had heard about a Vet from France by the name of Marianne. She has been here for 19 years with her partner Hendrix, who is Dutch. She runs the Buhtan Animal Rescue Center (BARC). She has over 200 dogs, a few cats, a pig and 20 monkeys. We contacted her once we arrived and have been going up to help out everyday since. It is 30 minutes outside of town, so we take a taxi up to her place and catch a ride back down the mtn. in the employee car. We have done everything from washing dirty puppies, helping sterilize puppies, organize her medicines, brushing the handicap dogs and lindsey has assisted with a surgery. She does not euthanize the dogs unless it is the last option. There are dogs that are paraplegic, quadriplegic, missing legs, eyes, ears. She even gives dogs chemotherapy, and has homemade wheelchairs for her dogs. She oozes compassion for all animals out of her every pore. Lindsey watched her give mouth to mouth to a dying cat. I accidentally made the comment about how delicious the fish are in Fiji and she promptly told me that I should not eat fish because each fish has a Mom and Dad. The kids seem to really enjoy going up to help and there is always plenty to do. We come home tired, dirty and hungry and full of awe and inspiration. She also has no filter with all of her funny stories so I often have to close Owens ears as she tells her stories.

These dogs control our block, they meet us every morning and walk us up to apartment every night.  The kids have named each one of them and we feed them our leftovers. They are very sweet dogs until another dog from another part of town comes into their territory. 

This is BoBo, one of the 200 dogs at the property. Marianne assures me that he is friendly even though he reminds me of Cujo, and she took him in because of his vicious dog bites to his owners. 

Getting ready for surgery

The 8 filthy puppies that we spent all afternoon taking care of, they had mites, scabbies and lice. They are Tibetan Mastiffs. I am still itching just thinking about it. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Druk Yul, Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon

 Nestled in the Himalayan range and situated in between Tibet and China, Bhutan was once an unknown and isolated territory. However with the course of time, this country slowly gained her status on on the world map. Bhutan is considered the only nation on the planet where the Tantric Buddhism is still taught and practiced.  The pristine nature of the country surrounded by the spectacular mountainous scenery and the sacredness of the place marks Bhutan as a land of the "Last Shangrila".

Brad is just finishing up a two week kayaking expedition in Bhutan. The kids and I fly out later this week to meet up with him, and spend the month of December doing some volunteer work in Thimphu, which is the capital of Bhutan. Brad will be at the hospital, and the kids and I plan on spending some time at the school and orphanage. Doing some international volunteer work is something I have always wanted to do with my kids, and the desire became even stronger after we traveled through SE Asia in 2013. There are many volunteer organizations on the web and one of the most recognized companies is based out of New Plymouth. I had a couple of meetings with the director trying to figure out a plan for our family. Lindsey really wanted to do the turtle conservation in Bali. But after the program fees, and registration fees it would of cost our family $7,000 and that does not include airfare. Keep in mind there are many, many other countries and options for volunteering, this was just the one I looked into. The company gets great reviews and I am sure it would of been an amazing experience but it just cost too much money. So about a year later Brad gets an email from one of his old kayaking buddies about a kayaking trip in Bhutan. Brad and I use to live in Aspen, Colorado and Brad use to coach the high school students in track and field. He use to coach a young girl, Darcy Gaechter, who also worked with us at Colorado Rift Raft as a raft guide when she was older. Darcy became an awesome kayaker and has continued on with her love of kayaking and now runs her own Kayaking and adventure travel company,  www.globalriverexplorations.com. She was also the first woman to kayak the Amazon river from source to sea. Needless to say, she is a pretty cool chick. Brad has been on a few trips with her, and was keen to kayak with her company in Bhutan. Not long after he signed up for the trip he got an email from HVO about volunteering in Bhutan for the month of December. Considering he got off the river November 29, we felt as if the volunteering was meant to be and it slowly became a reality. Kids and I leave Thursday, spend 3 days in Bangkok and then onto Paro, Bhutan. The landing in Paro is considered by many to be "terrifying" . Stong winds whip through the valleys often resulting in severe turbulance. In 2011 only 8 pilots were qualified to land there. This information as well as the Worldwide travel alert that the State Department put out a few days ago, has made me drink way to much wine these past few nights. I am looking forward to being back in Brads arms at the airport, for not only a hug, but also a good punch in the arm for not telling me about the airplane landing details.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

ABC's of our life in New Zealand

A is for adventure Racing. Adventure racing is offered everywhere in this country, and for every age.  This was The Big Bang Adventure Race we did on the Kapiti Coast. It was a long distance cross country navigation race that involved  hours of hiking, running, mtn. biking, and tubing. We had 23 check points that we had to navigate to in the correct order with only using a compass.  The race took us 9 hours, the winning team was 6 hours and the slowest team was 12 hours. 

Lindsey and her adventure team. 
B is for beetroot. Beetroot is what we Americans call Beets. They are bright purple and taste like dirt. I have come to love them. Kiwis serve them with everything. They come on hamburgers, salads, relishes, smoothies, juice,  dip, chocolate cake. Yep, you read that correctly chocolate cake. 

C is for Cross Country. Every student at the Oakura School, and all primary schools in NZ run cross country, it is not an option not to, it is part of the physical education curriculum. It is brillant, everyone has to run, gets the health benefits and feels good about crossing the finish line. The kids love that the races are during school hours! We took a group of 11 kids to the AIMS games in Tauranga. The AIMS  Games is similiar to a Jr. Olympics. It is a week long event where the best athletes of each schools compete against each other. All disciplines are represented.

Her two friends in the background were so happy for Skylers placing. I love this photo.  
D is for dog. Harper Blue, is our new English Pointer. She is lovely, even when she eats the food off the kitchen counter. We love her dearly.

E is for Eels.

F is for family. We were so blessed to have 9 family members form the USA come out and spend the holidays with us. We had an age range of 4 to 78, and with all of the beautiful weather that we had, there was something for everyone to do.

G is for green.

H is for horses.

I is for insane roads. This is Skippers Canyon in Queenstown, and that is the Shotover River below. Brad took Lindsey on a rafting trip and this is the road they travelled down to access the put in. Imagine a mini-bus pulling a five stack of rafts behind it while navigating this crazy road. The road is mostly one -way, steep and narrow with  sheer drops of several hundred feet.

J is jumping for joy.

K is for Kia Ora, which is a Maori greeting.

L is for lambs.

M is for the  Mt. Taranaki Around The Mountain relay.

N is for no guns. Most kiwi's live their whole life without seeing a gun. The cops do not carry guns, nor are people allowed to be carrying guns out in the public. Owning or using firearms in this country requires a very strict firearms licence. Part of the process involves interviews between the police officer and applicant, interviews between two referees (one must be a close relative and the other not related) to determine whether the applicant is "fit and proper", and the applicants residence is also visited to make sure that they have proper storage for the firearms and ammunition. Coming from such a pervasive gun culture, the gun laws and common sense that prevails in this country make much more sense to us, and also help keep our kids safe.

O is for the Oakura river. Owen getting some tubing time on the river.

 P is for Puanga Festival. Traditionally, Puanga is a time to come together to learn, connect to the land and sea, to reflect on the past and look forward to the future. The Oakura school participated in this festival this year. The boys did the Haka, and the girls did the Poi. It was a competition, as each school took turns on the stage performing their dances.

Q is for Queenstown. One of our favourite holiday spots here in New Zealand.

R is for rugby.

S is for sausage sizzle. It is good to know that we will never go hungry at events because there will always be a sausage sizzle.

T is for travel. With the healthy work life balance that the kiwi's have adopted makes for lots of time with family. Brad gets 8 weeks paid vacation every year, which makes for heaps of time off to play, travel, volunteer, and explore.





South Island

U is for under water photography.

V is for views.

W is for wipeouts.

X is for xtremely handsome  husband.

Y is yoga.

Z is for zero regrets.