Debbie Pelletier: Murder is Never Pretty

When I read and re-read the CBC article (nd) about the murder of Debbie Pelletier it hit me in the gut stronger than a physical punch. Insensitive? Dismissive? It almost sounds as though Debbie deserved  to brutally murdered on Christmas Day in 1988.

Yes, yes I know about the 5-Ws and being objective as I am a writer. But couldn’t we get a bit of compassion? Some questions about why the murder has never been solved? Why do reports about the missing and murdered Indigenous women continue to read like statistics?

The background

I met Sharon – Debbie’s older sister – when Jimmy Durocher gave me a job at the Metis Society in 1975 as he knew I was a struggling student.

When I went to teach in Stanley Mission in 1976 I would stay with the Pelletier family when I was in Regina. No need to phone ahead — besides there wasn’t telephone service in Stanley Mission at the time– I would just rock up knowing that Alex – Sharon’s mother – would have a bed for me.

I got to know Debbie over the years. The adjective that first comes to mind is that she was gentle. Sensitive. Almost shy. And she was always conscious of the other people around her. She was the sort of person who would get up and bring you a cup of coffee when she noticed you were tired. She had a kind of awareness that I wish I could develop.

While I don’t think she came from an abusive home, she ended up in an abusive relationship. I could not tolerate her partner as he made my skin crawl. If he was in the room, I would leave.

The murder

When I heard of Debbie’s being stabbed to death and thrown in the back of a half ton truck on Christmas Day, I burst into tears. How could anyone brutally stab and cut the fingers off such a kind person? What sort of twisted pervert would do that? She was 27 years old and the mother of four children. Not a Christmas Day goes by that I don’t think of Debbie.

As I understand it, the police investigation into Debbie’s murder was less than adequate. How could such a murder happen in a house with other people there? Didn’t anyone hear or see anything?

Yes, I’m sure they did, but the police didn’t probe deeply enough. After all, Debbie was just an Indigenous woman, so these sorts of things happen. Or perhaps the officers were in a hurry as they wanted to spend the day with their families.

As I understand it, the Pelletier family was not involved with the investigation. Nor were they informed of the findings in a timely manner. Unacceptable.

Eight months later, Alex died grieving for her murdered daughter. While the suspect may have been found innocent in May 1989 it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t guilty. It just clearly points to the incompetence of the police.

The dedication

In 2004 I was living in Sydney and my book Democracy Quotation for Progressive Thinkers was ready to go to the publisher. The dedication reads

This book is dedicated to Debbie Pelletier who was brutally murdered December 25th, 1988.  She had so little democracy in her life.


Converted: How Santa Catalina Changed My Life

Calm down – I didn’t move to the monastery down the street.

Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa
Santa Catalina Monastery –a city within a city for 450 years. I can see the side of it from the balcony.

Rather, my thinking has been “converted” in terms of housing.

Finding a place to live is always a major part of a move. So, I have decided to live in hostels/hotels. While I can’t afford The Ritz like Coco Channel, the Hollywood Hills like Robert De Niro or various hotels like Keanu Reeves there are decent places available for reasonable prices in South America.

I am paying less to stay at the Hostel Santa Catalina – and liking it more — than I was in Loja or Machala.

The logic

Massive door in the front of the building.

Since I will continue to live on 180-day visas it makes sense not to get involved with apartments. I never want to furnish one again as I did in Loja. Disaster, really as I was there for four months. But I did make friends with Agosto and Darwin, so that makes it all worth while.

I’m also over B&Bs and sharing a flat.

The first two weeks in Arequipa reminded me of why I avoid the suburbs. I break out in a red rash and get itchy just thinking about it.

With the Internet, it is easy to make a reservation, use the place as a base, and suss out the other hostels in the city. Check in for a week. If it doesn’t feel right, move. With one suitcase, a carry-on, and a handbag it doesn’t take all that much. Long-term stays are also eligible for considerable discounts.

The other perks are that the room is cleaned, the sheets are washed, and the utility bills are paid. No deposits, no leases, no having to give notice. The angst of “finding” a place has disappeared. Give me the hostel life.

The must-have list

  • Safe
  • Central
  • Clean
  • Strong wi-fi
  • Desk
  • Natural light
  • Private bathroom
  • Kitchen privileges
  • 24-hour hot water
  • No audible kids, dogs or evangelicals.

The plan

After Canada, I want to move to Barranquia. It is a tropical city on the coast of Colombia that I have always wanted to visit. So why not live there? And the bird that Bella – my great-grandmother – gave me when I was five years old goes with me. It is battered and chipped and cracked, but it doesn’t matter. We bonded.

The bird is with me

If I find a place I really like there I can go to Panama for a weekend and stay for another 180 days in 2020. Then again, I might just decide to move to Uruguay.

Guest Posts

DIY Travel Hacks That Will Change How You Pack Forever

DIY Travel Hacks That Will Change How You Pack Forever

Admit it, packing for your trip can be both fun and stressful. It only depends on how you do it to determine which will outweigh the other. This is an integral part of traveling, especially when you’re going to a far off place. At times, you’re going to need to bring a lot of stuff to ensure that your trip will be a comfortable and easy experience. But with that, comes the hassle of fitting them all in your baggage and hoping you don’t break any airport rules. You’d also want all the stuff inside your luggage to be well-maintained by the time you arrive at your destination and open your bags up. 

Just because packing can be challenging doesn’t mean it has to be difficult. It’s all about finding the right ways in bringing along all your necessities and more. Nowadays, there are even all sorts of travel hacks you can do to make packing a whole lot easier. Check some of them out.

Weigh Your Bag With You

The weight of your luggage is one of the strictest limits of all the airport rules. They can also vary from country to country, as well universal limits laid out by international bodies for the safety of world travel. But how can you assure that your luggage doesn’t exceed such? Weigh them together with yourself. If the combination of your weight and that of your bags haven’t reached the limit, you’re good to go. Otherwise, you can always gauge how much to take off to still stay within the aforementioned weight limit.

Zip-locks are Your Bestfriends

At times, you’re going to have to bring liquids that are necessary for your everyday life, regardless of where you are. But this will also lead you to worry about them spilling onto your clothes and other belongings. A surefire way to prevent this from happening is to place all your liquids inside zip-locks. Your perfumes, mouthwash, liquid makeup, and more will stay secure inside these nifty plastic containers. They also won’t take up as much space in your luggage.

Pack some Clothes inside Your Carry-On

You never know what might happen on your flight or wherever you end up on before you reach your destination. You can, however, be prepared for anything. If you suddenly need to change your clothes, for example, packing some inside your carry-on will do wonders. A drink can spill on your outfit or your seatmate might accidentally vomit all over you (it has happened!). Whatever it is, at least having some clothes handy will save you a lot of time and less humiliation on your trip.

Roll Your Clothes

Wherever you go, it’s important that you secure your bag to not lose anything or leave it vulnerable to thieves. But securing your luggage is more difficult if your the bulk of your clothes won’t allow it to close properly. With this in mind, try rolling your garments instead of folding them. doing so can leave a lot of extra space and allows you to bring along as many clothes as you think you need. Ultimately, it’ll also be a lot easier to close your baggage and have it stay closed throughout your flight.

Turn Jackets Inside Out

This hack will certainly help you in your business meetings or elegant affairs you’ll attend overseas. a jacket is a quick and easy wardrobe piece that can turn any outfit instantly dressier and more appropriate for business or more sophisticated events. But how can you avoid it getting wrinkled during your flight? Turn it inside out. This way, the lining is more exposed to external forces that’ll wrinkle the garment. And when you turn it right-side-in again, the outer appearance of the jacker will still look smooth.

Overhead view of suitcase being packed for vacation

Belts Help keep Collars Stiff

When it comes to your inner garments, the most challenging ones are ensuring the quality of your shirts while you travel. You should note that despite any earlier hack, crisp shirts for evening or business attire should not be rolled up. And in order to keep the collars stiff, roll up your belt and place it within the neck area of the garment. This will keep the collar straight, stiff, and you won’t even need to iron it again when you land.

Place Gadgets and Other Fragiles in Between Clothes

If you have an important business meeting overseas and you’re going to need your laptop and other gadgets for it, you have to ensure that they’ll stay safe within your luggage during your flight. One thing you can do is to place them in between your clothes. The more layers there are protecting them, the more they’ll stay safe inside your bags. More than one layer will do for both below and above your gadgets to ensure such safety. But if you pack them in your carry-ons instead, wrap them with the clothes you’ll be bringing along inside the bag.

Always Bring your USB Wire

If you suddenly lose your charger but you really need to charge your phone, your USB wire is all you really need. Certain establishments, particularly in airports and in convenience stores, you can find designated areas wherein you can simply connect your phone to your USB wire and it’ll automatically charge your phone. In your hotel room, you can also connect them through the slots at the back of your TV. As long as you have your wire, you can charge practically anywhere you go within the city.

Store Items inside Old Sunglass Cases

Sometimes, the worst items to pack are the smallest ones. Jewelry, gadgets accessories, and the like. You’d like them to safe and secure inside your bag, but since they’re so small, it’s easy to lose them and you’ll have to ravage throughout all your belongings to find them. But not anymore. If you have old sunglass cases lying around, you can use them to store all your precious. Your earphones will probably benefit the most, as it won’t end up tangled by the time you land on your destination.

Refill Old Toothpase Bottles

Don’t waste your money by buying multiple pairs of toothpaste for your trip. By the end of one, store your empty bottles aside for future use. And when it’s time to travel again, get your normal sized toothpaste (which are usually large) and extract some to put into the stored travel-sized bottles. IT’s easy to do and a lot cheaper than buying a new one altogether.

Don’t let the packing ruin your trip when it hasn’t even officially started yet. These hacks and more will make life much easier for you, both before and during your world travels!



How to Settle in Arequipa in the Andes

How to Settle in Arequipa in the Andes

Settling into a new country and a different city is always a challenge. Since I have done it a few times I’ve developed a list.

  • Find a safe place to live – top priority

    Found a barber.
  • Get a SIM
  • Locate a hairdresser
  • Look for a manicurist/pedicurist
  • Check out the lay of the land

Since I avoid doctors and dentists, that isn’t on my settlement list.

When I arrived in Arequipa, I stayed in a non-descript hotel. From there I searched the Internet and found a place. Llama Spanish school takes in non-student boarders, so it seemed like a good idea. I had a room and a private bath; breakfast and lunch were included.

In the two weeks I was there the dust balls under the bed grew to soccer field size. And if I saw one more boiled egg and banana for breakfast, I was going to lose it.

To block out the noise of the teacher in the classroom next to me I used wax earplugs. It was horrible as the poor student never spoke, he was talked to. The worst thing is that there weren’t any cafes or bars anywhere in the neighbourhood. There was a mall about 20 minutes away, but I didn’t like it at all.  I was stuck in the suburbs. Time to move on.

I was downtown with a young Indonesian student and we happened to walk by the Santa Catalina Hostel.

Massive door in the front of the building.

I went in and asked the price for a single room and told them I wanted to make a reservation. Not a dust ball in sight. Santa Catalina is about a 10 minute walk from Plaza de Armas, the heart of the city. Perfect for this uptown woman.

Looking for a new home

Although I would check on the Internet every once in a while, I didn’t find any furnished place that appealed. After Loja, I never want to buy things for a place again. As I’m currently writing pieces for a travel agency, I didn’t have a lot of time. If there is anything you want to know about Italy or Greece, just ask.

When I was going to pay the rent for another week I asked Rodolfo – the manager and my go-to person – how much it would be to stay for a month. He cut me a great deal, so I now have a “home.” The angst of moving again has faded.

Rodolfo — my go-to person

My bedroom is small and so is the bathroom, but I just don’t need a lot of space as I live at the desk. Rodolfo brought me a second table so I can spread out.

There is a balcony the size of a USB, but I can sit in the chair and watch the street go by. At the small kitchen downstairs I can scramble eggs and heat up leftovers and/or take-aways. The gas stove is powered with a Bic lighter so it is slow slugging.

View from the balcony







There is a charming courtyard for breakfast. And a rooftop deck that overlooks the city with 360  spectacular views.


The staff only speak Spanish, which is good practice.






Leo does a great job of keeping the place clean. 







And there are enough restaurants, bars, and museums to keep a person going for years.

Alpaca steak




A $4 lunch at the market that is enough for two meals.




My only complaints are that the wi-fi is weak sometimes and the noise from the street from 15:00 to 20:00 is horrible. Why drivers in South America can’t figure out not to cross the intersection if there isn’t room on the other side is beyond me.

The stupidity of blocking an intersection with lights to cause a honking frenzy.

And there are too many tourists. After having Loja to myself for four months I have forgotten how to share. I will get over it. Most of the guests here are from Europe.

Although not famous, I am joining the ranks of long-term hotel residents who are. Yes, I have settled and plan to stay here until I fly to Edmonton on 29 May. The only thing left on the list is a SIM, but I have to buy a new phone first.



Getting a boot fixed

The zipper in one of the leather boots I bought in Argentina broke. Rodolfo called a shoemaker he knew. The guy came to the hotel, took my boot, fixed it and then brought it back. The price? $8CAD. I can only think of one place – if it is still open – in Canada where I could get it done. And I shudder to think of what it would cost.

People here still fix things, which is so refreshing.

Exploring Arequipa

Founded in 1540, Arequipa has kept its colonial heritage and is known as the “White City” because of the buildings. Trendy shops and cafes are tucked away in massive old edifices.

The streets are cobblestone. And there isn’t a high-rise on the horizon.

I have fallen in love with this place. Like Medellin, it has a magical feel to it.

More photos from around town                                                    

plaza de Armas

Santa Catalina Monestary –a city within a city for 450 years. I can see the side of it from the balcony.

A guy who stops cars so people can cross the street.

The cathedral in Plaza de Armad

The bird is with me.

Santa Camilo Market




Mark That Date – Saturday 6 June 2020 – for the Historic Hanson Happening

You are cordially invited to the Historical Hanson Happening in Sheho, Saskatchewan on Saturday, June 6, 2020 in the Cenotaph Park. Show up any time after 15:00 and leave when you want.

The 18 months gives you lots of notice so you can organize your life accordingly. 








The committee

Laurel from Kamloops, Cindy from Invermay and Jody –currently living in Arequipa — decided it would be interesting to have a Hanson tribal gathering so we can tell stories and create some memories.

That said, none of the above take any responsibility for the totally unorganized gathering. Whoever shows up is there. Whoever doesn’t isn’t. No RSVPs required.

The food

Cindy declared that a potluck is a good idea. Okay. So, who is going to rock up with a

five-gallon pail of perogies like Grandma Annie used to make? After taking it under discussion, the committee speculated that Arlene – possibly Faye – and/or Gloria and Jamie are the best hopes.

Laurel stamped her foot and declared that she didn’t want any raspa-klubb, even though we found recipes on the Internet — She has too many recollections of those “glue-balls” as she refers to them from childhood.

My plan is to raid my mother’s basement-cellar stash. The calculation is that I will be able to find some buns or bread, enough jams and preserves to feed the army along with lots of other treats.

And there are always take-aways from Willy’s restaurant on Main Street in Foam Lake if you are in doubt about what to bring.

Because this is all unofficial and adhoc, you are also responsible for bringing your own plate/bowl/knife/fork/spoon. No mommies there to look after you.

The drinks

Cindy is the designated finder of pure, clear Ukrainian homebrew. Yes, yes, of course we will burn some to make sure it has a blue flame. Uncle Walter would expect no less.

The hooch-making-still that Grandpa Hans and Uncle Lorne had wasn’t all that far from the house on the home quarter, but Cindy hasn’t been able to find it. Should have been a designated family heirloom.

If you want Fanta or Mountain Dew or Tang like Grandma used to make, you had better show up with it. The rest of us will be swilling back beer, wine or whatever – after appointing a designated driver.

According to Cindy, the RCMP don’t patrol Sheho all that often so we likely won’t get busted. A brown paper bag will do in case they appear.

The activities

Take a preview of the village of Sheho in the – gasp, shock cold winter — – and figure out why 6 June 2020 is the date.

How about digging around to see if we can find the old water pump in the park?  Remember that the running water from Hoffman’s slough was yellow cow piss?

Maybe Billy Hoffman will let us tour the house. Cindy will check.

Another idea is to bring a lawn mower to cut the grass in the park like Grandma used to do.

How about a family photo at the prairie chicken statue? 

At the “Steaked Out at the Queens Hotel in Sheho” gathering my mother headed a tour of the cemetery. Hope we can talk her into doing it again. Until then I didn’t know that my brother’s second




name of “Andrew” came from our great-grandfather Woodhal.






The memories

Do you recall Grandma Annie whacking off the heads of a few more chickens because an additional unexpected six people had shown up for lunch?

How about the massive meals for the threshing crew? Or sit-down lunches for 47 at Thanksgiving?

If anyone is sick, we can get out a bottle of Vick’s Vapour Rub, make a mustard plaster, and pour some hospital brandy. And don’t forget the final swipe of Vick’s under the nose.

Laurel and Cindy recall long walks with Grandpa Hans. And he would buy them pink popcorn at the Chinese Café.

My memories of him are crawling up on his lap and listening to his stories about travelling across Europe, going to South America and then on to Canada. I got the spoon from Neksel — – so I really need to quit whining about not scoring the pink popcorn.

Other grandchildren just remember him as a grumpy old man who stood in front of the television.

How he ended up marrying our grandmother when he was 39 and she was 19 may remain forever a secret.  The Hanson history is what it is.

The plan is to record our memories of the grandparents, the parents, and the neighbours down the road. Anyone else remember Lee Halverson? Whether or not the future generation will ever listen – or care — doesn’t matter. We will have fun producing it.

Now mark Saturday, June 6, 2020 in your diary and start thinking of the stories you can contribute.



How to Travel With the Refugees

How to Travel With the Refugees

The promos for the bus trip from Machala to Piura said it took about six and a half hours. Right. That is travel time. What wasn’t included in the information was the 14 ½ hours at the border crossing into Peru.

No, not me. Or the guy from Peru. We had stamps within 10 minutes.

La Tina border crossing.

It was the 48 refugee seekers from Venezuela who had to be“processed.” And it wasn’t pretty


Another luggage shot















Yes, concrete can become your new best friend.

The yellow slab was my bed, sofa, and, chair.

You just have to learn to appreciate it when there aren’t any chairs, benches or other places to sit, relax or stretch out. Making it is difficult as possible to cross the frontier is done on purpose. It is for poor people who are herded through. Those with money fly.

Spending time with cement also teaches you a good lesson about what it is like to live on the street. Alas, that is what awaits many of the people from Venezuela when they get to Colombia, Peru, Argentina or one of the islands in the Caribbean.


Since 2014, 2.3 million people have fled from Venezuela. For Canadians, that is about the population of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. For New Zealanders that is about most of the people on the North Island. For Australians, that is more than Queensland.

As the situation gets worse, the poorest of the poor are now crossing the border, desperate to survive.

Waiting — because that is alll there is to do.

The travel style of poor people — water and blankets.

These are the cooks, the cleaners, and the gardeners. Educated people left years ago. Or had places overseas and one in the country. With a private jet or flying first-class, visas and borders are not a problem.


I started to meet the refugee Venezuelans when I lived in Medellin—many of them on the street. It was the first point of entry as it was close to the border. The ones with an education kept going to Peru or Chile. That was 2015 and 2016. They were smart and left early.

As the rat who has often been the first to abandon a sinking ship, I applauded their ability to sniff the air the get the hell out.

Flash forward and I am in Ecuador and it is 2018. The government closed the border to all people without a passport. The poorest of the poor are lucky to have identity cards. A passport in Venezuela costs $500USD plus bribes and there is no way these people can rise that sort of money.


“Just find a clinic and get the vaccine,” The Nurse advised. Via a friend, Elaine, I had learned that there was an outbreak of measles in northern Peru and someone she knew had to get a shot at the border.

Good advice as the measles, mumps & rubella (MMB) isn’t to be ignored, even though I have had all of them as a kid.

Vacunacions – no shot, no border crossingg.

Note to anti-vaxers: grow up as there was a reason these vaccines were developed. People – mostly children – died. In the developing world, if you don’t have the shots, you don’t cross the border. End of discussion.

It was yet another adventure. Remember my Spanish is basic, but I can get by.  Sort of. Pharmacy? Go to the clinic down the street. Try another place. We don’t have the shot, but we think we know a hospital that does.

After a $3 taxi ride that seemed half way to Quito, I found the facility. I was directed through the doors and down the hall to the vaccination room. There I got to line up with the babies. Yes, babies wrapped up in blankets and waiting for their first shots.

When it was my turn I had to stand up for the shot. Why? Mothers hold their babies and the nurse sticks the needle into them. She was very gentle, and I almost wondered if I had the vaccine. But it is stamped in my WHO yellow book, so it is done and dusted.

Since I was a foreigner, nobody knew what to do with me as they had never had to deal with one before. So, the shot was free. When I later checked, it would have cost me $150 in Canada.

La Tina Frontier Crossing

I rocked up early to catch the 10:30 bus that didn’t leave until after 11:00 as it had come from Guayaquil. My bags were hastily stashed in the bowels of the vehicle and we were off.

An hour and a half later we arrived at the border between Ecuador and Peru. The 48 other passengers piled off the bus and collected their luggage as they were from Venezuela and have to go through the refugee line. That included a bag seach.

But before they got there they all had to have the MMR and the yellow fever shots. Then they lined up for the refugee papers.

Refugee paper processing tent

I’m white and western so nobody asked me for my WHO card. I didn’t have to do much of anything except wait – and learn to appreciate concrete.


There was a sort of restaurant there so I ordered rice and chicken and sat at a table with people wearing uniforms. They must have worked with customs.  When they sauntered off, a young woman carrying a child make a dive to pile her bags on a chair and sit down.

The kid started to eye my food. I told her I wasn’t hungry anymore and pushed the Styrofoam container towards her. Then her sister came along and took the happy snap.

Lunch at the border

There was nothing to do but wander back to the bus and wait on the concrete for another 13 hours or so. The woman who was the sort-of conductor announced it would be “at least another hour” every hour. That started at 15:00 and continued until 22:30.

People who had been processed started to filter back. Jose – who sat next to me on the bus – was an early arrival as he was travelling alone. He hoped to hook up with some people he knew in Peru. I gave him a bottle of water and some chocolate and peanuts. He smiled and showed me his papers.

Jose\s paperword. Identity permit an refugee application.


A group of about 10 or 12 who were travelling together returned with cartons of food. They steaked out a place in front of the bus and had a picnic. Then they had a prayer meeting.

Eventually all 50 of us were accounted for and we headed out for the five-hour trip to Piura.


The bus pulled into the station in a walled-in compound about 04:30. The conductor told me it was too dangerous to take a tuk-tuk to the hotel I had booked. Her advice was to bed down until daylight.

The refugees had quickly claimed all the available space. I would have been stuck in some small area of concrete with my three bags. So I decided to live dangerously and go to the hotel. By this time, I was totally over concrete.

When Francisco tried to teach me to dance salsa at the Polenasia in Medellin, he taught me the process of taking a photo of the taxi and driver. He worked in security and said it was just an extra precaution.

Tuk-tuk driver mug shot

When I snapped the shot, the tuk-tuk driver was clearly confused as he told everyone “she took my picture.”  We arrived at the hotel without incident as the first cracks of light appeared. The bed was worth the effort.


I don’t claim to even begin to understand the situation. I suspect the government in Ecuador might be paying for bus tickets to get people across the country and into Peru, which seems to be the destination of choice as over 400,000 Venezuelans are already there.

It is a human tidal wave of desperate people. And there isn’t any easy solution. I will do the little I can to help. I just hope it doesn’t mean spending another 14 and a half hours on concrete.

But that said, I shouldn’t whine about is as the refugees get to do it everyday.

Makes me look like a light packer. But my suitcase and carry-on have wheels so I don’t even use a cart,









Meandering around Machala on the Way to Piura

Meandering around Machala on the Way to Piura

It was time to go, that feeling when the road stretches out in front of you and the suitcases are itching to explore new territory. Darwin thought I would change my mind, as I had extended my time in Loja by a week. This decision, however, was a done deal.

About six hours after I got on the 10:30 bus I arrived in Machala. It is a small desert town about 75 km from the border with Peru. Then it is another 308 km — which takes about five hours — to get to Piura.

Map of southern Ecuador and northern Peru.

The oldest city in South America may be my initial stop, but actually staying in a wind-swept desert town may not appeal in reality. Maureen – a migrant from the USA who became in immigrant in Cusco – suggests Arequipa.

Landing in town

Staying in a private house has led to some of my best and worst experiences of travelling. The worst was when I ended up getting altitude sickness in La Paz. At 3,640m it is the highest capital city in the world. The booking turned out to be in a crumbling compound in the middle of the city. The mother had died, and the daughter was staying with relatives as she sorted out the estate.

When the reaction to the altitude hit me in the back of the head at 02:05 there was nothing to do but wait it out. I didn’t have a phone or the Internet and there wasn’t anyone else in the enclave. And there was no way I was going to try to find a taxi to take me to emergency. Uncomfortable with the classic symptoms, but not fatal.

In Machala, it turned out to be the best. Cecilla and Efrain and their two adult daughters live in a three-story house. It is a quiet residential area without a tourist in sight. There are lots of small shops with the essentials a block and a half away. Bliss.

The house

Cecilla with her plants on the third floor balcony.


Efrain in the kitchen.








My bedroom is on the third floor and my new office is the balcony, complete with a hammock for naps.

My cute little bedroom.

A spectacular office









The hammock in the office.












Exploring the town

Machala – like all Spanish-founded settlements – starts at the central square and sprawls outwards. 

City centre


The services I want – like getting a copy of The Little Prince in Spanish loaded onto my phone – are found there. Those Canada flag pins come in ever so handy for occasions when people offer a service without expecting payment.

On the edge of the city, there are a couple of malls where people go “shopping.” Ick. Why would I want to go there as it could be anywhere? Carol and I have our annual one-day shopping binge in Saskatoon and that is enough for this reluctant consumer.

Check some better photos of Machala lifted from the Internet

Birthday partying

Cecilla invited me to a cumpleanos party last week. Numbers are difficult to learn in a new language, so I thought it was for a three-year old. Okay, so we all know I hate kids, but an invitation is an invitation and an opportunity to mix and mingle with the locals.

As it turns out, Senora Conchita had just turned 93. Well, at least I got half of it right.

J and Senora Conchita

There were at least two additional spin-offs from the birthday party. Maria – the senora’s daughter – looks after her mother 24/7. She is a great cook and offers a lunch delivery service. I’d had one of her meals before we met and decided to sign up as it is a bargain. There is enough food for both lunch and dinner for $2.50. Even if I could cook, I couldn’t prepare such tasty meals for the price.

Instead of Maria packing the lunch in containers that have to be washed and returned, Cecila suggested that I eat in-house. Perfect. It a three-minute stroll and I think of it as my very-own private restaurant, pretentious little thing that I am.

Maria — private restaurant and Spanish teacher.

Maria agreed to help me with my Spanish on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. She is a brave teacher as having the structure inspires me to be more focused. And not being around anyone who speaks any English pushes me to really live the language. And if/when I get hopelessly stuck, there is always Google Translate.

Visiting the Bosque Fruta

Cecilla and Efrain invited me to go their finca – which translates as “farm” – with them last Friday. It is about an hour from Machala and the last couple of kilometers are a proverbial goat trail.

The house — that is set on about 2.5 hectares of forest — is charming and basic. No Internet and a true get-away in every sense of the word.

The hacienda at the finca.

Bosque means “forest” and it is an apt description. In the course of the last eight or so years, they have planted over 1,000 fruit trees. The varieties include lemons, mangos, kumquat, tomate de arbol, papas de aire, guayabera, bananas, and others I can’t name – or likely pronounce properly.


Rather than planting the trees in a straight-line orchard, they are scattered throughout the bush in random order.

Efrain took me on a machete tour as there aren’t many established paths. He hacked off a couple of branches and asked if I wanted to try some guayabera. Delish. And it doesn’t get any fresher. No question about organic as this area has never sniffed a pesticide.

You can literally eat your way across the property.


The contacts in Loja are alive. Agosto’s parents send me frequent updates and photos. He hounds then everyday about when I am returning.

Agosto playing the gorilla at a school event.

Darwin and I talk on the phone frequently in English. Remi sends me messages to make sure I am okay. So close, so far, so real.

To wrap it all up, nada mal por una mujer quien ha sido en la ciudad por una semana.  That translates as “not bad for a woman who has been in town for a week.”

What adventures await?






More photos of Bosque Fruta

The garden in front of the house

Looking out over the forest








Event space

Wooden table at the finca.








Another shot of the garden


Part of the water purification system.

Out in the forest


Was That a Sign From the Universe? Possibly

Since I was still awake at midnight-ish I checked my phone when it beeped. This is something I usually don’t bother doing as most of the notices are about “special offers” from the phone company that I won’t want to miss.

This one was different.

Date: Thu, Nov 01, 2018 10:01 pm
To: <>
Cc: “Votey” <>
Dear Jody

Warmest Regards from TNTO Travel and Tours!

Apologize for our company not accept payment through MASTER CARD .

We accept payment by cash or transfer through any Bank in Cambodia .

Thank you very much for your well cooperation.

Should you need any  inquiries please feel free to contact us.


Last week, I booked a ticket to Colombo, Sri Lanka for 9 November as I am feeling restless again. Why not move back to Asia? Different country, different continent, they are about the same, really. I need to be done and dusted with Ecuador by 22 December.

J – making plans

Sri Lanka was ideal as I’ve never been there and it would be country number 108. The only person I know from Colombo is Anosha and she now lives in Singapore, but visits regularly. And I don’t speak Tamil. Neither am I likely to learn as I am still stumbling around in Spanish.

When I read the above message, I had a sudden flash that it was a puff of ju-ju smoke, an Insha’Allah, and a slice of karma.

The message – as I interpreted it – was that the universe wanted to keep me wrapped in its arms in South America.

Consequently, it is back to Plan A to go to Piura, Peru when my tourist visa expires in 47 days.


Moving to Peru

Piura – founded in 1532 – is the oldest city in South America. Just across the border, it is dry windswept desert to the north and the Pacific ocean to the west. It is billed as the “land of eternal summer” which translates as the temperature hovering around 30C all year.

After the cold and chills of Loja it will be wonderful to thaw. And according to the tourist literature, the city centre can be explored in a day.

There is work teaching English in Piura, but I think I’d rather work on-line. As I see it, teaching English on the net is the new waitressing job. Everyone thinks they can do it – wrong – and there is a high turnover

Lingering in Loja

I gave up my apartment on 27 October and had booked into El Cardenal for two days. Darwin and Nathan, his three-year old son, helped me move.

J and Darwin

As I really like it here, I decided to stay for a week before moving on to Manchala, a coastal city close to the border with Peru.

I’m still here and working on a website for the hotel with Remi. Not sure how much longer it will be, but I’d like to stick around until the site is operational.


J, Senora Christina, Remi at El Cardenal Hotel

Leaving Ecuador

When it is time to hop on the bus, there are some wonderful people I will miss here.

Besides Darwin and the Méndez family at El Cardinal, Agusto has carved an engraved place in my heart. I gave him the tablet as a parting gift. I’ve seen him since I moved to the hotel and he doesn’t really understand that I’ll be “gone.” We are just going to leave it at that.

Agusto with his tablet

Agusto and J









Another person I’ve become very fond of is Jose Luis, a bag-packer at the Supermaxi store.

Hey, when was the last time you got an ear-to-ear smile, a handshake, and a kiss on the cheek when you went to get groceries?





Making plans – subject to change

Logically – not that anyone has accused me of that lately – it makes sense to go and live in Peru for 183 days. By then it will be warm enough to head to Canada in June.

Sri Lanka is still on the possibilities map. And the more I check it out, the more I think it would be a good move for July 2019.

Such is the life of we visa-bound nomads who can’t settle long enough to become immigrants.



Featured image courtesy of FelixMittermeir at CCO


Living in a Fish Bowl; Swimming With the Guppies

Living in a Fish Bowl; Swimming with the Guppies

When I landed in Loja, Ecuador at the end of June 2018 I knew there were adventures waiting to be had. And two months later I can report that I haven’t been disappointed.

Meeting the neighbours

Because my open-window apartment is on the first floor, everyone – literally – passes by. The pulled-back-during-the-day curtains are sheer and the windows on two sides face into the courtyard. When night falls, people can still see me sitting at my laptop.

The fish bowl on the first floor.

Consequently, I have more personal interactions than a Walmart greeter.

There are three types of neighbours:

  1. The quick-walkers who stride by at a determined pace with eyes straight ahead. It reminds me of squatting to pee behind a tree the size of a broom-handle in Nigeria – no public toilets there – where people didn’t “look.”
  2. Then there are the smilers and wavers.
  3. The most interesting ones are the first-namers who stop-and-chat. The usual conversations involve questions are about where I come from, why I don’t have a husband or children, and why – horror of all horrors – I’m not Catholic. We also talk about the weather.

Fortunately, I don’t take any of it personally. I figure part of the responsibility of being a foreigner who lives in a fishbowl is to provide entertainment for the locals.

Moving like a guppie

After two years in Medellin – the fashion capital of South America – the collective we here in Loja are rather frumpy. Shorter, rounder and wrapped up in winter jackets, hats, and scarves – hey, it is cold – makes it so difficult to be “sexy” on the street.

Sort of like the difference between Montreal and Simpson, Saskatchewan. Or Sydney and Broken Hill.

But then, I think fashion is for those who don’t have a sense of style so I’m still wearing the clothes I had made in Phnom Penh.

Introducing my new best friend

Then there is Agosto who rattles the security bars and uses them as a jungle-gym to get my attention. He is only the second person I know with Down syndrome, so it sent me off on an Internet search to learn more about the 23rd chromosome.

Agusto at the winidow.

Agosto is the 12-year old son of the shoemaker who has his shop next to my apartment. He wanders around the courtyard or listens at the door on the second floor for Jesus David to come out to play. Frankly, he doesn’t have a lot to do.

Consistent with my usual get-involved-whether-anyone-wants-it-or-not personality, I bought him a colouring book and some markers.

Artist at work.

Since he loves to dance, sometimes I let him use my

cell phone. He also likes to exercise.

Agusto doing his exercises.








Agusto’s gallery









We all know that I don’t “do” kids, but this one truly is special. And we are the best of amigos. In the process, I am learning so much about patience from him.

Feeding the foreigner

Tap, tap, tap. Is that someone at the door? Strange as I wasn’t expecting anyone at 19:00 on a Friday. But I kicked off my second boot, stuffed my socked feet into shoes and went to check.

When I opened the door, a beaming Senora Maria was standing there with a bowl of sancocho – a traditional stew.


Image courtesy of James at Flickr

First, she gave me some humitas when I was hanging out the laundry on the third floor roof, then it was deep-fried shrimp, next came the sancocho. And I’m not exactly sure what the grits she brought yesterday are.

Then Senora Cecilia passed two bananas through the bars on her way up the stairs.

Do I look like I am starving? An incompetent cook? Perhaps I am too poor to afford food? No, it is just Latin hospitality. Remember my 90-year old neighbour in Medellin also kept me supplied with traditional food – including mondongo, the traditional soup made with intestines.

I gave Senora Maria and her partner each a Canadian flag with some pins stuck in it. Tomorrow I’m going to get them a cake. The contradiction is that the more I give the more I am going to get – and that could become complicated.

My go-to-bilingual-friend Darwin says that it is very strange as people in Ecuador generally don’t help each other. He declared that I was just “lucky.” What to do? Sigh.

Acting like a tourist

Besides finding a good hair-stylist and a good manicurist, it is imperative to explore the region around home-base. Yes, being a tourist isn’t high on my list, but I do suck it up from time-to-time and just indulge.

Lunching in Vilcabamba

The taxi driver honked his horn and wildly waved his hand out the window. He knew I wanted to go to Vilcabamba and the bus was just in front of us. I was able to hop on without a wait at the station.

This foreigner-infested haven of hippy-dippy types and various others is 40 km – an hour and a half bus ride from Loja – over winding mountain roads.

The wander from the bus stop to the centre of the town must have taken at least seven minutes. Once there I joined the crowd on main street watching high stepping horses compete for I’m not sure what.

Trotting competition in Vicabamba.

After a traditional lunch of soup, rice, potatoes, a bit of meat and some wilted salad I meandered around town. Then I got back on the bus to Loja.

The most interesting thing about the outing was seeing some of the countryside. How did people manage to build villages up in the mountains in the middle-of-nowhere? But then tourists likely think the same about Saskatchewan from hence I come.

The horses and riders perform.



Going to Vicabamba for lunch.










Visiting Cuenca

I stopped in to visit the three-generation family that runs the El Cardinal hotel where I stayed on arrival. Remigio immediately said that I “had” to meet the people from the United States who were staying there. And that is how Paul and Anne parachuted onto my radar screen.

Paul and Anne


They generously invited me to stay with them in Cuenca – a city four hours down the road — and that was too good an offer to pass up. So, a couple of weeks later I hopped into a collective van to make the trip.

Anne and Paul are the most gracious of hosts. Their house is big, airy, and beautifully furnished as they sent a container of furnishing from the US.

Snuggling up on the white cotton sheets under a white duvet was total luxury. While I am far removed from my former 400-thread Egyptian sheets, it was a delicious deja-vous.

They took me on a tour of the city centre and then we had lunch at a great little place. Their friends Linda and Miles were also staying with them and they cooked a great dinner.

Downtown cobble-stone street in Cuenca.

Again, it was insightful to see the landscapes and to get a peek at the settlements as we whizzed by. It is all an inspiration to get off and explore some of the smaller places in the area.

Anne and J in Cuenca







Touring around Loja

It is easy to act like a tourist without leaving town. As the “cultural capital” of Ecuador, Loja has more concerts, theatre, and art exhibits than one could possibly attend. There is currently an arts festival that runs from 23 August to 16 September.

Classical music street performance.


Because it is all over the place, I don’t have to go far to find art and music.








Beating the bugs

When I rolled up my pant leg to show Don Hector – the guy who owns the building – the bites on my leg, he assured me that there weren’t any bedbugs here. Really? Then why was I able to produce proof of the insects taped to a paper towel?

Bedbugs 1

If there is anything you want to know about Cimicidae – the Latin name for bedbugs –ask me. I spent three days researching the topic and became an “expert.”

Now we have been doing everything possible to get rid of them. Including the landlord showing up with an industrial strength vacuum and giving the apartment a good going over. He will return the next two Saturdays to do the same.

Bedbugs can’t clim smooth plastic or glass.

And – Insha’Allah – I haven’t had any fresh bites in a couple of days. In past times I have had lice, fleas, scabies and other fun parasites, but it seems to me that this new global pest is the most difficult to deal with.

Going deaf in Spanish

Blaring radios, loud televisions and kids screaming was enough to make me reach for the ear-plugs. A couple of weeks ago a piece of silicone ended up in my right ear.

Adopting my usual “she’ll be right mate” I went to the pharmacy for some cleaning foam. It seemed to clear it up. It came and went so I went to see a near-by doctor who said he couldn’t do anything. Next stop was a clinic, but the guard said the doctors only saw patients in the morning.

It didn’t bother me when I was in the apartment as the background noise of radios and television had stopped. It would be silent and then t would be “hearable” again. I have begun to understand how people can “quietly” go deaf.

Then one morning enough was enough. I took a deep breath, wrote a note in Spanish, and headed off to a recommended clinic

This is Ecuador and I was able to see Dr. Ramon, an otolaryngologist, that afternoon. I rocked up with silicone earplugs, the medicine I had been using and the antibiotic cream applied with a q-tip. After my careful explanation he syringed my ears. Then he spoke on the phone with bilingual Darwin and told him I had nerve damage in my inner-ear.

The next morning, I had an appointment with Dr. Bertha for an audiometry test to determine my loss of hearing and the strength needed for a hearing aid. I explained my silicone theory to her – remember this is all going on in Spanish. She looked into my ear and immediately saw the buildup.

Dr. Bertha — who saved me from being deaf.

Dr. Bertha managed to get a bit of it out, but explained that she didn’t have the right equipment. She and her assistant walked me over to the office of Dr. Alex in the next building and explained the problem to the receptionist. I had an appointment for an hour and a half later.

Dr. Alex peered into my ear and picked up his little vacuum to extract the silicone. It took quite a while; he worked carefully. Then he plucked out the chunks with long tweezers.

Next it was back to Dr. Bertha for the hearing test. With my right ear now clear I passed on the higher end of normal.

With the results and the silicone in hand I went back for a follow-up appointment with Dr. Ramon later that afternoon. He was surprised that the results were “normal.” Then I explained that I’d asked Dr. Bertha to check my ears and she had seen the silicone. She had sent me on to Dr. Alex who had extracted it.

Dr. Ramon rang Dr. Alex who told him that he had managed to clear my ear.

Little finger beside the silicone that came out of my ear.

Then the serious conversation began. I told Dr. Ramon in no uncertain terms that the problem was that he hadn’t listened to me – always a mistake with Dr. Bitch.

I could have ended up with a hearing aid and auditory problems because of his misdiagnosis. As I talked he became increasingly flustered.

A minute later he spluttered “follow me.” He marched to the front desk and he instructed the receptionist to give me $30 – which is what I had paid for the appointment.

Problem solved and Dr. Bertha and Dr. Alex are my heroes of the month. I went to the Cuna de Artistes to celebrate.

Studying Spanish at the Cuna

Summing up and looking forward

Moving to Loja has been an adventure. In my two months of residency I’ve met wonderfully generous people, felt a sense of “belonging,” and had some unexpected experiences.

The small-town pace of life suits and being in the “cultural capital” of Ecuador is something I really enjoy.

Because of the laws in Ecuador, however, I can only get one 90-day extension on my tourist visa. So about mid-December I will be moving four hours down the Pan American Highway – the longest in the world – to Piura, Peru.

And who knows what will happen then? The only thing I can anticipate is that the unveiling of a life as a migrant who wants to be an immigrant will continue.

Happy snaps of people and places around town

Senor Sarah & Senor Angel, Augusto’s parents


Darwin — my bilingual go-to friend —  at his Internet shop.


For Danny’s 42nd birthday I gave him a flag with various Canada pins. He is Senora Christina’s youngest child. They own El Cardinal there I stay when I arrived in Loja.


Lovely place down the street. The music and dance school on the second floor gets a bit much at times.


Miriam & Paul. She is a lawyer and he owns the Sed Satiata restaurant


Great food at Sed Satiata.


A favourite place — overlooking the square from the balcony of Sed Satiata


There is a market a block and a half away. This is what $5 will buy — the big ticket items were the tins of tuna at $1.50- each.


Being a street artisan is not an easy lifestyle.


Fanny an d Ronnie run The Portal 16 across the street.

In the courtyard of the Museum of Music


Inside the Museum of Music


J in the park


Agusto rattling my cage


View of Loja from the mountains


Central park in Vicabamba


An Open Letter to Satyan Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

An Open Letter to Satyan Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

Dear Mr. Nadella,

As the CEO of Microsoft, I think you should be aware of how your support staff deal with clients and how frustrating it is to try to recover an account because of a typo. As a writer/editor/on-line English teacher my world has come to a halt when my account was suspended.

Tuesday 17 July 2018 started as a good day. Then I tried to renew my Office subscription — it had expired while I was in the process of settling in Ecuador – and everything turned to confusion.

After five days of unreturned phone calls, unanswered emails, and rejected account recovery forms I figured out the problem. My email is and somehow I managed to get a typo so that it read So the correspondence from Microsoft went to that non-existent address.

Since there is an option to fix the address I am obviously not the first – nor likely the last – to make that mistake. However, after too many attempts to count, the Microsoft “system” still wouldn’t accept the correction. Could you please have your technical people fix that problem?

When I tried to get a call-back I was told my phone number didn’t exist. Live chat was a waste of time.

The problem is that your front- line people can not do anything except babble the same jargon. I received a series of messages to a gmail account – in Spanish – telling me that my application didn’t meet the “requirements” – whatever they may be.

One thing is that the credit union where I deal in Canada changed Mastercard companies in May, 2018. No, I do not have the old account number.

Instead of going around and around in circles, why doesn’t Microsoft establish what they will accept as legitimate? How about a copy of my passport? A scan of my social security number? My maternal grandmother’s maiden name? These are tangible pieces of evidence – rather than the idiotic questions like “How much was your last Skype purchase?” Really, as though I would remember the exact amount and the precise date as it is an automatic deduction.

I am writing to you with the hope that I can have my Microsoft account restored. Otherwise, Microsoft will litter my gmail-inbox with more messages – in Spanish –saying that I can’t prove I am the owner of this account.

The case number is 143-359-1726, My telephone number is 593-999-69-08-77 and my email address is

I am in Ecuador with family and friends wondering why I haven’t called. Frustrating and totally unnecessary if Microsoft put a second level of “real” identification in place that could be dealt with in person, rather than another form letter. Some human interaction would go a long way to solving technical issues.

Thank-you for your help.


Jody Hanson, PhD

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