Tuesday, 19 September 2017

“…we have lost all what money can buy and replace.”

These were the words I woke up to this morning, written by Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of the tiny island nation of Dominica as the category 5 hurricane Maria ripped through his home and his nation.

While hurricanes are a fact of life in the Caribbean, weathering a category 5 storm is not something to treat lightly as we’ve all seen following the devastation of Hurricane Irma just over a week ago.

Satellite view of Maria approaching Dominica early morning, September 19, 2017.


I cried a little for Dominica today.

We visited this jewel of a tropical island in April this year and fell in love almost immediately.
Dominica bills itself as The Nature Island and it certainly delivers.  When we arrived in April we were greeted with the view of verdant forests spilling over mountains and valleys tumbling to the sea shore as if in a rush to be the first to splash in the inviting waters of the Caribbean sea.

Almost too perfect: Dominica

Two thirds of Dominica is covered by lush tropical rainforests with a mix of vegetation that includes towering trees, rambling vines and local food sources including breadfruit, passion fruit, mangos, star fruit, bananas, plantains, almonds and others.  The island lends itself to the purest forms of eco-tourism with dozens of marked hiking trails of varying difficulty traversing the crenelated landscape.
The incredible tropical rainforest and vistas inspired our imagination and fueled adoration for this, one of the poorest Caribbean island nations (with a per capita GDP greater only than Haiti and Jamaica).

Exploring Trafalgar falls, one of dozens of fresh water falls and pools in Dominica.




Indian River - a diverse mangrove ecosystem, home to birds, crabs, fish and incredible fauna.

Rolling valleys and crests of tropical rainforest - paradise found.

Rainforest hikes, surrounded by natural beauty preserved by a thoughtful nation.

Another waterfall and swimming hole buried in the depths of the rainforest.

Hope this little guy weathered the storm as well.

Maria was a category 5 hurricane when it passed over Dominica, with winds in excess of 160 mph.  So far there is not much concrete news out of Dominica but based on the damage done by hurricane Irma to Barbuda, Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, the BVI’s and USVI’s, and the Turks and Caicos, I fully expect that Dominica will be reeling under the combined weight of flooding landslides and massive damage to infrastructure and buildings on the island.

With more than one third of the labour force in Dominica employed in the agriculture sector, and agricultural exports accounting for nearly one fifth of the GDP of this tiny nation, there is no question that Maria will have a lasting impact.

At this time, we are hoping that the world doesn’t overlook Dominica and offers the necessary support to recover, much the same as Dominica did when they pledged nearly $1 million US to assist with recover efforts following Irma.

We will continue to watch the news come out of Maria's aftermath and are looking to see how we can help make a difference for a country and island that captured our hearts and feeds our dreams.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Facing My Fears

The first time I ever snorkeled was in 2012 when Darryl and I vacationed in French Polynesia.  You would not believe the fuss I made over this, okay, well maybe those who know me would not be surprised by the fuss I made.  But the idea of putting my face in the water and breathing is completely counter-intuitive for me.  So I basically would hold my breath with the snorkel in my mouth and then come up sputtering.  It was pathetic.  I finally got a hang of it thankfully, but not without testing D's patience.

So you can imagine that the idea of scuba diving never was on my radar.  There is no way I would ever consider being far below the surface without being able to easily raise my face to breath if needed.  Well, here I am now, with my Open Water certification in hand.  Hard to believe that I pulled it off.  Some of the skills were a huge stretch for me.  The idea of taking my mask off under water, swimming around and then placing the mask back on my face, struck fear in my heart.  But I did it!

But this is not all about me.  Doing the scuba lessons with Ella, was one of my proudest mom moments in my nearly 11 years of this parenting gig.  Like mom, like daughter, Ella had some reservations about doing the scuba diving, but she was motivated enough to let us sign her up.  She also had to stretch her comfort zone to get this done, but she did it with amazing maturity and confidence.  She was a rock star in seeing it through.  I could not be more proud of Ella!!!  I can't wait until Iris turns 10 and we can actually all go as a family exploring the Ocean Blue from below the surface.

Darryl, Ella, me and Sherrie with our phenomenal instructor, Lucia at GoodDive.
Ella was not always keen for the walk from the dive shop to the water with the tank, but she did it with dear Lucia giving a helping hand.

One of the last skills we had to master, an emergency ascent, here Ella made it look easy.

Sherrie and I chilling on the bottom.

Of course Darryl would take out his regulator for a smile, not me, still like to keep my oxygen close at hand.

Ella giving the "all good" sign like the champ she is.

Ok, so I always look pissed off in these pictures, but I suppose why should my expression change from land to sea.

Darryl usually had the camera, so a rare picture of him.

I can't get enough pictures of Ella doing her thing!  So proud!!!

I love this picture of Sherrie, if you can read her slate it says "Did we pass?".  (We won't point out that she is giving the wrong hand signal!)  ;)
Ella and I as we near the end of our final dive for our certification.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

What qualifies as being productive?

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Most of you have probably read or heard some variation of the parable reproduced here but the value of the message doesn’t diminish with repetition.

There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village.  As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite few big fish.
The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”
The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”
“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.
“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.
The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”
The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”

The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman.  “I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”

The fisherman continues, “And after that?”
The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”
The fisherman asks, “And after that?”
The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”
The fisherman was puzzled, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”

This story serves to highlight the differences between the things people value in both the immediate and long term, and also speaks to the value of work-life balance.  We tend to identify closely with this story because we have found a way to live a life where all of our time is ours, to be spent on the things we value. 

We have seen firsthand examples of people who could fill the role of the Brazilian fisherman in countries from Greece to the Caribbean.  These people appear to have found a balance between providing for their families and spending time with their families.  Sure the two hour siestas in the Med would drive me crazy.  Spending the morning torturing the girls with school, eating lunch and finally getting off the boat to explore only to discover that everything is shut down was frustrating.  Ultimately though, siestas put families and people ahead of making a buck.  At least that is what it appears to me without digging into the financials of businesses and families, and evaluating the country’s economy.  

Of late I have been part of conversations where people have made offhanded comments about how the locals are lazy or could be more productive.

What does it mean to be productive?  What qualifies as lazy?  Some would certainly be justified in saying that our family here on Maple is lazy and unproductive, but I think it all depends on what you want to accomplish.  For us, spending this time together as a family is productive and valuable use of our time. 

In North America, the standard is to work for decades with the carrot of a carefree retirement and it can be hard to let go of the standards of productivity that we as North Americans assume should be universal.  Unfortunately, the standard of productivity that we are used to requires giving up large swaths of your time in exchange for time in the future, a trade off that is increasingly becoming less appealing for many.

What’s worse, there are no guarantees that being more productive now will let you enjoy your retirement.  I often share with others my dad’s story where after working 40 years he had only nine healthy years in retirement before cancer ravaged his body for nearly two years before it took his life.  That ratio of working time to leisure time did not appeal to me.  And now I get to visit countries that in some cases appear to have the balance I craved. 

In Grenada, we buy our fruit from a local who wanders around a specific street.  He strikes up a conversation with people he meets.  I got to learn about his family and in return I shared a little about where we are from.  And now, every time he sees us on the street, he remembers us, engages us in conversation and offers to pick fruit for us.  He will then hustle off, pick literally a box full of gorgeous mangoes and passion fruit for 20EC (equivalent of $10 CAD).  Is this lazy?  Unproductive?  Or does he simply value time spent with friends and family over money? 

What do we need in life?  As Maslow likes to remind us, it is all fairly basic: food and shelter.  In North America we like to take what we “need” to a whole other level.  We need two cars, a large house filled to the brim with stuff.  In fact, we also need to rent additional storage to fill that as well with more stuff.  Here in Grenada, we have learned that generally the family home just gets passed down from generation to generation.  So living expenses are minimal.  Sure it might not be the prettiest from our North American lenses, but does it check off that critical “shelter” requirement? It sure does!

As far as we can tell, we have just this one life.  Shouldn’t it be up to each one of us to decide on how we live it?  If one chooses to have that 6,000 sq ft. home, work for four decades to pay it off and enjoy it in retirement, then that is a viable choice.  By the same right, someone who chooses to engage in leisure activities and shorter periods of work engaging people they meet on the street and selling fruit, is also making a viable choice.  I suppose the real beauty in all this is that so many of us have the freedom to choose.

Friday, 28 July 2017

The Other Day We Ate a Lion


About a week ago, I found myself hanging out with some friends from South Africa.  Being South African they naturally offered to take me lion hunting some day.  Of course, I readily accepted.  Just days later they dropped by in their dinghy and asked if I was serious about lion hunting - of course I was so I jumped in the dinghy with them and off we went.

"Wait just a minute!"  I hear you say.  "Ï thought you were in the Caribbean?  Do they have lions there?"

They do not.


The lions we were hunting were lionfish, an incredibly successful, invasive species in the Caribbean.  Lionfish are native to the Indian Ocean where their prey knows what they look like so they can be avoided, and there are predators who actively keep the population in control. Unfortunately, in the early 1990's, 10 lionfish originally meant to be sold to aquarium owners were released in southern Florida, since then these fish have multiplied and spread across the entire Caribbean and even to the Mediterranean Sea.  Lionfish are voracious predators eating juvenile fish of many species and impacting the reef eco-system.  Most Caribbean nations are actively working to eradicate this species.

Geared up in masks, snorkels and fins three of us set out to find some lionfish and come back with dinner.  We spent several hours free diving, peeking under rocks and coral ledges searching for fish.  Armed with a Hawaiian sling spear and holding my breath I made several spectacular shots at the lionfish as they hovered in front of me.  The first two fish I was stalking escaped unscathed, fleeing to the safety of deep cracks in the rocks after my second or third attempt to hit them.  Clearly spear fishing is harder than it looks.

I was persistent and eventually managed to spear two different fish while my friends brought back three.  A total of five fish about the size of a deck of cards was not going to make a full meal but we'd made an effort.  Regardless, we were pleasantly surprised at how difficult it was to find lionfish in the reef we were swimming on.  That meant the fish likely had not infested this area, or they were already picked over by locals or other divers.

After clipping the spines off the fish, they were gutted and filleted and put in the fridge for a future snack.  A few days after the hunt they received a tempura bath and we enjoyed the succulent white flesh of this invasive fish along with a glass of wine while the sun set in paradise.

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Lionfish are undoubtedly one of the most beautiful reef fish we have seen so far, but they are incredibly harmful for the reefs in the Caribbean where they have no predators and are capable of eating all of the juvenile fish on the reef, wiping out a generation of fish that make up the reef eco-system.  Responsible governments and citizens are working to eradicate lionfish in the Caribbean.  Not all islands will allow you to fish without a permit or to use a spear gun unless part of an organized dive.  Please check local regulations before you go hunting so you can make an informed decision.  In our case, it seems we were not allowed to be hunting on our own, but these fish are harmful to the reef so it seems unlikely that local officials would have any cause to make trouble for us.

For more information on the invasive nature of lionfish please visit Sailors for the Sea here: https://www.sailorsforthesea.org/programs/ocean-watch/eradicating-lionfish or google the topic.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Fun, Sun & Music!

One of the reasons we travel is to expose ourselves and our kids to different environments and experiences.  Not every day offers a new magical experience but on some days you hit it out of the park.  Yesterday was one of those days...


The sun burned into our skins, reflecting diamonds of light off the rippling waves, our dinghy rocked and bounced in those same waves.  The shore was a riot of emerald greenery, trees, shrubs, and grasses blending into a carpet of tropical lushness.  The sand, stark white broken by occasional reefs and rocks.  And the sound, the incredible sound of the laughter of children floating up, barely heard above the pounding thrum of a live local band.  This was one of the amazing Grenada dinghy concerts we had been told about, and it was living up to its billing.

We had been planning to attend for the past week, making sure all our friends knew the concert was happening and hoping there would be lots of kids attending.  We loaded the dinghy with a borrowed YETI cooler (only the best cooler I've ever used) well stocked with beverages and snacks, stopped to pick up friends from Aphrodite (4 more kids) and with our dinghy loaded to the brim made off from Clarkes Court bay on the Southern coast of Grenada.  Along the way we met the gang from Ketchy Shuby and together navigated through a small reef to the neighbouring cove where a barge sat waiting to play host to a local band.  Dinghys were rafted up like the kelp forests we have back in BC and we added our dinghy to the mix. 

Like most local events, things started off slowly, and late.  A 3:00 start time stretched to 4:00, the kids had devoured most of the snacks but the crowd was complacent, renewing old friendships and creating new ones.


Cy from the sailboat Magic had captivated the imagination with the help of his two dogs, Jupiter and Cinco.  The kids adored the pups and all told spent more time in his boat or the water than in ours.


Finally the band started to play and delivered a determinedly local lineup of soca music and freestyle beats.  They were good and more than effectively backed up by the environment they were playing in.


After a few hours of music, dancing, sun, swimming and socializing things began to break up.  Dinghys were untied and engines fired up for the short trip back to the boats or shore.  Every face was scarred by smiles from ear to ear that were not eased in the least by the short rain shower in the middle of festivities.


We capped off the night in the company of the whole crew from Aphrodite (including adults) who hosted us for dinner on their St. Francis 50 catamaran - on the whole it was another fantastic day in Grenada and a decidedly different experience than we have every enjoyed in Vancouver.


Friday, 21 July 2017

Did We Wait Too Long?

It's not unusual for our girls to watch a movie and emerge at one time or another in tears.  They've recently been watching more than just Disney cartoons and have been exposed to the death of lovable characters and pets which is where the tears come in.  We watched another one of those tonight - the death of a lovable and central character in the film we were watching led to sniffles and sadness (and that was just me).  The movie?  Chasing Coral.  The character that died?  The coral.



This film was frightening in what it revealed of the impact of human caused global climate change on coral, and also what it revealed of how little people consider the impact of climate change on the oceans.

Some of the things we learned tonight:

1) Coral reefs are the foundational ecosystem for 25% of the ocean's life
2) Approximately 1 billion people worldwide depend on coral reefs to some degree for food or income
3) A temperature rise of just 2 degrees celcius is all that is required to make oceans unlivable for existing corals
4) 93% of the heat in the Earth's atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans
5) In 2016 the world's oceans experienced the most prolonged and wide-spread overheating and coral bleaching in recorded history.  Approximately 30% of the corals in the oceans were killed by this event.



So - did we wait too long?  Are we going to travel the world in an effort to showcase the beauty and diversity for our children but find only devastation?  An underwater landscape that matches the worst of the above water landscapes that humans have created?  Will our children have the joy of swimming with clouds of multi-hued fish among the live and thriving coral ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef or will they simply marvel at the algae that grows on the skeletons of the coral that once was there?

The cast and scientists in Chasing Coral left us hopeful that it may not be too late.   More than that, they touched a nerve in our children that may prove just the spark they need to get more involved in earth sciences and conservation, so don't be surprised if you hear more from us on the topic of our planet, the impact of human life on it, and what we can do to improve our chances of surviving.

If you're concerned in any way about climate change and the likelihood of your children and children's children thriving on this planet you should definitely check out the film on Netflix. 

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Happy Canada Day from Grenada!

The question we are asked most frequently is do we plan to sail back to Canada? 

Our response is usually "we'll see". Some interpret that response to mean that we don't like where we come from. Sure we have not stepped foot in Canada for two years since we left July 5, 2015. We want to show the girls the vast diversity of countries, cultures and people that exist on this blue marble. But so far no matter where we go, Canada still shines as one of the best countries in the world. 

We proudly fly our giant Canadian flag off the stern of Maple every day. Happy Canada Day!!!! 

(This picture is from Canada Day last year in Greece, crazy to think of how far we have come in 12 months. Thankfully Darryl has had a haircut or two since then too.)