Following a dream

How do you know you’ve found something that you are passionate about? For me, it is when I am pursuing a dream. For instance, there are so many places I want to see in the world. As I start to plan a journey, I can feel the emotions and the passion start to rise — the dream of standing next to the Uffington Horse, of seeing a great masterpiece like the Degas Little Dancer, or of watching the sun set on Table Mountain. Making these dreams a reality is a passion.

Don’t dream it — live it!

Round Cape Horn

Rounding Cape Horn
January 8, 2012

When I told my friends I was going on a cruise to “round Cape Horn” I was very surprised by how many did not even understand where this was – or what the significance could be. For me, it held magic — the tales of adventure where clipper ships sailed the oceans that I read about in school. In many ways, this was a life-long dream to sail in these once unchartered and very dangerous waters.

Cape Horn, or Cabo de Hornos, is an island that is the southernmost of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. For ships, it marks the northern boundary of the Drake Passage (or the Mar de Hoces as it is known in Latin America). This is the waterway the lies between the southern tip of South America and northern top of Antarctica (at this point, Antarctica is ~800 km south). The waters are treacherous due to very strong winds, large waves, strong currents and yes, even an occasional iceberg or two (no icebergs for us that day, though). One reason the winds and the currents are so strong is because there is virtually nothing to stop the movement of wind or water as it sweeps around the globe. Imagine that for a second or two!

This day was special for several reasons. First, it was the longest “day” I’ve ever experienced! The sun rose at 4:58 AM (yes, I got up, took the usual sunrise picture, as seen here and then went back to sleep) and it set at 10:12 PM – that is just under 18 hours of sunlight! It was also a full moon, so for a portion of the day, the moon was also large but not so bright. Then, of course, was the actual sailing into these waters.

Sun rise at Cape Horn

I decided to grab a space early and just sit out on the deck. While the sun was nice and bright, the wind kept things cool, so sitting on the deck included a sunscreen, a nice blanket and a cup of hot chocolate. Soon, I was watching for birds, including some penguins other sea life, and taking pictures of rocky coastlines.

flying bird

When we finally got to the island of Cape Horn, my first thought was how much it reminded me of Lion’s Head in Cape Town, South Africa! I heard a couple other people say similar things, so I do not think I am completely crazy with this comparison. The ship slowed down and began to circumnavigate around the Cape – so we could see it from every possible angle! While this was going on, one of the guest lecturers on board described more about what we were seeing (although I was too busy taking pictures and sharing this experience with my fellow travellers).

Cape Horn

We finally got around to the tip of the island where there is a small building that includes a small lighthouse and a residence.

Cape Horn

There is also a sculpture by Chilean Jose Balcells that is a representation of an albatross.

Albatross Sculpture at Cape Horn

The island is pretty desolate – no trees, rough terrain, but lush grass – and there is a constant wind. The wind is call the “roaring 40s” but can increase to be called the “furious 50s” or even the “screaming 60s”. I think we lucked out with the 40s – although I did get a bit of sunburn/windburn.

All in all, it was a truly magical day and now I can say I went ‘round the Horn! (even have a certificate to prove it). This was a once in a lifetime adventure!

Me at Cape Horn

Sometimes it is just a good cup of coffee (or tea) ….

Yes, it is another grey day in Toronto — but it did not seem so grey as I was walking to work and remembering my trip around the Horn.  People question why I travel — and it is for things like that.  The memories of the adventures, the things you see and the people you meet. 

And sometimes it is just the smell of a good cup of coffee (or tea) that can inspire you to write.  Today, I will write a longer post about what it was like for me to “round the Horn” and why it was so important. And yes, this time I will include the pictures in the post!

Actually, it may be a cup of hot chocolate today — in remembrance of the cup of hot chocolate I had as I was snapping pictures of a lighthouse at the end of the world! Everything feels brighter already!

Finding inspiration on a grey day …

It’s a grey day.  At 9:30 AM, there is no sun — only clouds. No rain, no snow, nothing to soften the greyness that surrounds the buildings and threads its way down narrow streets.  It is just a grey day.  Then I look at what I am wearing: grey shirt, grey pants, even grey boots. The only thing that brightens my look are the red-framed glasses I am wearing.  How does one find inspiration on a grey day?

Yes, I am looking for suggestions on this one.  How do we keep from rolling into the fog that appears to engulf everything in its path?

Trying to write …

… and I am trying to maintain a series of thoughts regarding finding your passion. While so far this has been a mild winter and the days are starting to get longer, there is still this natural drift that occurs where the best part of the day seems to be when you snuggle deep within the covers of your bed and sink into the warmth and comfort of your favorite blanket …

Writing is always a challenge for me, so image my delight to have this article tweeted to me this morning — a list of places to travel to for writing inspiration! And to think I just came from two of them — Buenos Aires and Valparaiso — and I have so much to write about both!

How do you discover a passion?

Many times I’ve found myself wondering what really interests me — or worse yet, I find that I am bored, restless, not sure what to do. The question of finding something that drives me, that inspires me, or just lights up my world is a never-ending journey.  But I am starting to recognize when the “spark” is lit.  This usually occurs when I become so engrossed in what I am doing that time slips away — the “monkey brain” that chatters in the background finally shuts down and I find that I am truly present in the moment.

I had one of those moments last night during my tango classes.  For 90 minutes, the only importance for me was the connection I had to each partner, each piece of music, each step — and the space in between.  At the time, I did not notice anything else.  It was only after, as I struggled into winter boots and coat that I realized that all my focus and energy had one purpose — connecting with the dance.

I think this is one way to describe finding passion.

My favourite things in Buenos Aires– and a few tips I learned along the way

Here are just some of my favourite things in Buenos Aires– and a few tips I learned along the way

View from my roomI loved staying at Maggie’s B&B.  Several friends suggested that I stay in the Palermo area which is very nice, but I did not find the Subte (Metro) connections very good there and that is one thing I always look for when I travel – how close am I to city transportation hubs.  Maggie’s B&B is just a block and a half from Ave. de Mayo with easy access to walk most places – or take the Subte (more below). Maggie’s apartment is in an older building with a century-old elevator that reminded me of the one in the movie Thoroughly Modern Millie (although I do not think I would tap dance in it).  The rooms were clean, bright and comfortable. Maggie is also very generous with information about Buenos Aires and helped me to acclimate to the city and how to get around it.  Breakfasts were simple but good – I loved the homemade marmalade! Using skeleton keys was an interesting experience but I also like how it just added to the charm.  Above all, Maggie is very warm and charming and I hope to stay there again on future visits to Buenos Aires – I do not think once is enough, especially since I planned my trip during a holiday weekend.  What was I thinking!

The "metro" in Buenos AiresThe Subte: The A Line runs underneath Ave. de Mayo and is an experience all to itself! It still has the old, wooden cars that first ran along this line in 1913 – making it the oldest subway inLatin America. One thing to remember – the British built this line, so the trains’ direction is opposite the way traffic runs.  I made this mistake, and had to get off, cross the street, and head in the “right” direction! Fortunately, the ticket takers helped me and I did not have to pay a second time (although the cost is $0.70 a ticket).

Me at the Piazolla New Year's Eve show
Me at the Piazolla New Year’s Eve show

Tango Shows: There are different forms of tango – the type performed at a tango show and the types performed in the milongas.  Tango shows are really for tourists, however they are fun and I think a “must see” especially if you only have a few days to spare.  I went to Piazzolla Tango. The space is beautiful – an old-style theatre with balcony box seats above the main floor.  I was seated in the box seats with a couple fromSao Paulo,Brazil. This was my New Year’s Eve treat, so the show was a bit more expensive than it usually is. The food was ok – I have to say the steak I got was one of the largest pieces of meat I’ve ever seen on a plate! We also had a bottle of red wine on our table – and could have requested more.  The desserts were great!  We got one with dinner, and then there was a dessert table setup for the New Year’s party after the show. The show was wonderful – good performances from the dancers, the band and the singers.  Personally, I want the dresses worn by the female singer – they would fit me perfectly!  I also liked how she danced a bit, showing that sometimes the simplest tango is just as passionate as the “fancy” lifts.

The Hop-on Hop-off bus: This can be a good option to get around Buenos Aires, especially to visit some areas that are not connected via the Subte and you are not up to figuring out the strange bus routes.  That said, there are some things to help you make this a viable option. Buy your ticket online!  You get a discount, you do not have to stand in line, and, if they are “full”, you are still guaranteed a spot.  Some additional “tricks” if you have not bought a ticket online, go to the main stop (stop 0: at Diagonal Norte and Florida) to get a ticket – and if it is a weekend, go around 8:30.  The service starts at 9 – and this should give you a good chance of getting on the bus and giving you a full day to “hop off” and see things. Or give you time to take the 3 hour tour then take a nice nap during the real heat of the day! The lines were very long and they were turning people away that first two days I was in Buenos Aires.  The last day, I got up early and got on the second bus that starts at 9:30 – and by the time we go to the 6th stop at Caminito, they were turning people away who did not already have a ticket – even though there were spaces on the bus!  I did enjoy the tour and I was able to see a few places that my walking just did not get me to!

Cafe TortoniCafe Tortoni is consider by many to be a must see place – however because of this, it can be hard to get into because of the long line of tourists waiting to get in to see the beautiful tiffany lamps, etc.  However, go, it you do get a chance! It is a nice way to start the day and an easy walk down Ave. de Mayo to Casa Rosada (the Pink House) and the Plaza de Mayo.  In fact, it is an easy walk from the Plaza de Mayo to the Plaza del Congresso – and there are a number of wonderful places to see along the way!

Another view from my room Palacio Barolo Building – near the Saenz Pena Subte stop, Line A (or halfway between Plaza de Mayo and Plaza del Congresso) – is an amazing building but I found it difficult to take really good pictures of it from the from side.  Fortunately for me, my room at Maggie’s gave me the best view and I have great pictures of the back!





Recoleta Cemetary
Recoleta Cemetary

Want some peace and quiet in the midst of a busy city?  Head to Plaza Francia and its neighbouring attraction, the Recoleta Cemetery.  I love my stroll through this space – then again I also loved strolling through Père Lachaise Cemetery inParis! Maybe I just have a thing for cemeteries with unique architecture!  Regardless – this is a great place to see and the opportunities for great pictures are phenomenal!

San TelmoSan Telmo and the Sunday Antiques Fair is a must-see!  Expect crowds of people – but also expect the unexpected – music, tango dancing, gauchos, art – just get lost in the magic!

More to come on my favourite things in Buenos Aires!

What is a picture worth?

I walked outside early this morning to catch my bus — and as I did, I saw the most beautiful colours in the sky!  Deep violet and indigo with clouds making different shapes and highlighting the different colours.  If took all I could to stop myself from running inside to get my camera and capture this moment.  But something told me that even a minute or two would change the image I was gazing out — and it was better for me to draw inspiration and create a memory of this beautiful site.  It slowed me down so that I was not rushed as I walked to my bus stop and waited for the inevitable crowding that comes with using transit. 

However I have this image etched in my mind’s eye.

As I read the morning Metro paper, there was the Picture of the Day.  It was called Deep Purple and it showed a purple carpet of flowers blooming in the desert.  This only happens every five years or so — given the right amount of water and sunlight. The photographer, Guy Tal, said this about the picture “Five years after conceiving the image, I was at last able to capture it.”  Maybe five years from now, I will be able to capture the image of my violet sky. The idea is now planted in my brain — like a seed that needs nurturing.  This is how I draw on passion day-to-day — images, thoughts and feelings safely tucked away until I can explore the depths of them at my leisure.

I now have this image etched in my mind’s eye — and it has given me an inspiration for the future.

Last Day: Santiago, Chile

I must have packed and re-packed 3 times until I was able to prepare for all of my weird needs for the day — hot weather “walking around own” to easy check-in at the airport to “muy frio” when I land in Toronto. Once completed, I checked my luggage at the office to the apart-hotel and headed out to see a bit of Santiago “on my own.”

Since I wanted to see as much as possible, I opted for the Turist Bus tour — a 30 minute walk from my hotel to the Parque Arauco — an upscale mall. The attendants were very friendly and helpful — talking to me until the bus arrived.  Unlike of other “hop on, hop off” bus tours, this one was only in 2 languages — Spanish and English.  I was glad that someone else we navigating this bus — traffic and unexpected road closures made it interesting.  The 9 stops were perfect, though — right where you would want to stop to see the highlights of this very large and busy city. Like many other cities, Santiago is made up of different neighborhoods — each with a different tale.  An interesting on is the Providencia area which got the name from the sisters of Divine Providence who arrived in Santiago in 1853. These women were originally from Canada heading for Oregon.  When they got there, there was a flood and they did not have anyway to get back to Canada. A Chilean ship’s captain volunteered to take them to Santiago and they setup a mission there.

I also loved the Santa Lucia area and Bellavista — which reminded me a little of the Boca area in Buenos Aires.

After touring around, I headed to a little park near my hotel to just take it easy in the heat — they way everyone seems to do. Then, it was on my way to the airport.  Once we got the original check-in, the security area was a breeze — in that there was no long line and everything was smoothly handled.  I found a little bar next to my gate and had my last Pisco Sour (YUM).  a couple of my trivia friends saw me and shouted “Dancing Queen!” I guess I have a reputation!  They were on their way home as well. The flight was nicely uneventful (although the food was worse than usual) and I arrived in TO at 6:25 AM. As I was in line at Canadian Immigration, I found myself behind the same couple I was in line with in Argentina!   Everything comes around to the beginning …

Happy to be home — but what a fabulous adventure — definitely the trip of a lifetime!