More Life Experiences in a Military Lockdown of Six Months, One Week and Three Days

Nobody but nobody – except perhaps the Chinese – saw Covid-19 coming.

Nobody except donald trump knew what to do. Then he suggested that we inject bleach into our lungs as that would clean them.

Nobody except the 45th knows where it is going. And the 45th changes his mind at least twice a day after assuring the world that the virus would be gone by Easter so that everyone could go to church. Mind you, he didn’t say which year.

The Stages of Lock-Down

When Colombia locked down on 24 March 2020, it was sort of an adventure. The helicopters overhead 15 hours a day, the 19:00 curfew, having to carry identification papers with the right numbers at the end if you were on the street.

The schedules were posted for the week and people could only go out if it was their ‘day.’ Fortunately, I have three passports and a Canadian driver’s license, so there were very few times I actually couldn’t leave the house. Then one day I didn’t have an 8 or a 9 so I used my World Nomad travel card to get into the supermarket.

Only two people were allowed to be together. The helicopters would contact the police and they would break up the ‘group’ of three or four. Trying to have a backyard BBQ with a few friends? Good plan except that the police might kick down the front door.

Facemasks were made mandatory and even the street people wore them when they are sleeping rough. Many also opted for gloves. Only one person per household was allowed to shop. The line-up for the supermarkets was anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes. People had to stay two meters apart.

The police were out in full force and they checked people’s ID. Guards stood at the doors of the supermarkets and nobody could get in without the right number. Then they sprayed the bottoms of shoes, took your temperature, and made you use sanitary gel.

After a week everyone was over it. Then came the first two-week extension. Followed by another and yet another. Six months, three weeks, and one day is a long time. Although the quarantine is officially over, the police and military presence is the same.

Fortunately, I have a great place to live. Oh, and the rent is $300 a month, and that includes utilities and the internet.

Going Military

Then 42 days into the lockdown it was escalated to ‘military’. These are the soldiers with the AK-47/Kalashnikovs. Colombians know they shoot so most people take it seriously. In my bumbling Spanish, I asked if I could have a picture with a soldier and his gun. No problem.

In addition to the increased military presence, nobody was allowed out from 19:00 Friday until 06:00 Monday without a good reason. All public space was blocked off. So much for a jog in the park.

Two days after the military order was lifted on September 8, a few friends in Bogota were sitting outside having a beer – which is legal. The police said they weren’t the required distance apart. Two officers tasered one of them 18 times and he died.

Then the riots started all over the country – Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Santa Elena – immediately

My cell rang at about 19.30. ‘Where are you?’ asked Doña Luz, the woman who owns the hotel where I live, in a slightly hysterical tone.

‘I’m with Alvaro.’

‘You have to come home right now.’

Except for the lockdown and curfews, I don’t remember having to be home by 20:00 since I was about eight.

Friday the 11th and Saturday the 12th were designated as official protest days all over the country. My ‘minders’ made sure that I didn’t go more than a couple of blocks away. The barrio is safe so I wasn’t worried. Some tourists seem to think that demonstrations and protests are tourist attractions.

Current Situation

My friend, Alvaro, commented ‘The quarantine is over, but you are still acting like we are in lockdown.’ He is right as I’m an illegal alien with no idea what is going to happen or when there will be a vaccine. Unnerving.

Still, my situation is easier than what a lot of people have to deal with. So I keep reminding myself of that and try not to whine.

Snippets from the Lockdown

Out After Curfew

On Day 50 I sort of lost it. I went to the shop on the corner and asked if I could sit on the little wall outside and drink rum. Andres who owns the place the told me it would be fine.

Ten minutes later two cops on a motorcycle drove up. Great, so there I was breaking all the rules. One guy walked down the street and talked on his cell for half an hour. The other went into the shop. Both totally ignored me. That was certainly an Insha’Allah.

A Sunday Evening Stroll

One Monday morning I woke with quite a decent-sized bruise on my forehead. A bit of a mystery as I didn’t have it when I went to bed.

When I went to the kitchen in the morning Doña Luz was in a total tizz. About 23:30 apparently, I had a little stint of somnambulism, more commonly known as sleepwalking.

Slowly the story pieced together but I had no recollection of it what-so-ever. Apparently, I took my carry-on suitcase from the top of the cupboard, which solves the mystery of the bruise. Then I packed my computer, cords, and a few other things. Next, I put on my zebra coat and went off to see the world.

Somewhere along that ramble I must have taken a tumble as my right hand was black, blue, purple, and about double in size. It has more or less mended with just a few twitches from time to time.

There are 1o stone stairs to the bottom after the platform so it could have been a serious mess. There is a big armchair so now I put it in front to protect another nose-dive.

My baby gate

The hotel has security cameras all over the place and Dona Luz also has them connected to her apartment. She called Liliana and told her to wake me and get me back to bed. The bad part is that I missed my adventure as I can’t remember a thing.

Shopping with Alex

My cousin, Lloyd, sent Alex some money for being such a helpful guide when he visited Medellin. Alex wanted to go to a ‘real’ butcher shop as the cheap stores don’t sell any decent meat. I had the ‘number’ for the day but only one person per household is allowed so I just waved Alex through.

So, I’m was sitting on a stool and the guard came up and said, ‘You’re from Canada. Saskatchewan.’ And he pronounced SK better than many Canadians. The next day I went back to the shop and gave him a Saskatchewan pin.

After I hurt my hand, I asked Luz Dare – the cleaner here — if she could help me lift something. She looked at my purple hand and said, ‘I can clean your room today.’ So I now have a weekly clean for about $12. When I told my mother that Luz Dare only works two days a week, her husband lost his job, and that they have two kids she agreed it was a good idea.

Patrick – an electrical engineer by training – is also a chef. We worked out a deal that I pay for the food and he does everything else. It costs about $6 a day – cough, cough –so we know who is getting the best advantage for that arrangement.

Omar parks his taxi in front of the corner store down the street. He is the kind of guy that would pick you up dead-drunk from some sleazy bar in Communa 13 at 03:15. Too bad I don’t have the stamina for those sorts of antics anymore. Sigh.


Accounting for the Cash

My latest theory is that people should have to pass a shopping-cart test before they are allowed into a grocery store.

My primo (cousin) sent Alex some money. For some reason due to ‘technical error,’ my debit card won’t work. Fortunately, my MasterCard will, but only for cash purchases.

So on Friday Alex and I went off to Da Una. It is a cheap, no-frills supermarket where everything comes in bulk. I told Alex he had 100,000 COP – about $50 – gave him a cart and said ‘shop.’

He looked at me with a blank caught-in-the-headlight look. In Latin America mothers shop, cook clean, wash, and do whatever else has to be done. I realized that Alex had never shopped in a supermarket before. I wasn’t having anything to do with it so I stayed at the front of the store.

Alex pushed the cart around. Then he found a place where four aísles crossed and he parked it there. He would then run down one aisle and get some hand-soap and put it in the cart. Next, it would be a trip to the freezer for some frozen chicken. Oh, need some pasta, the other side of the store.

After all the performance he pushed the cart to the till. Then the bill hit 100,000 he started to take ítems out. I told him it was okay and I would just deduct it from the total for next week.

Alex was beaming as he loaded the supplies into a box. The trambia (train) runs past their house so it is a relatively easy trip. Rubiella – Alex’s mother – can relax as they will eat well for a while.

Then I called Zuieldi – my contact for the 23 refugees from Venezuela. We went to the supermarket, she picked out the food she wanted, put it in the cart and I paid the bill.

Sort of ho-hum after watching Alex sprint around the store to get individual ítems from, here, there, and everywhere.


How We Had a Wonderful Time Spending Your Money

How We Had a Wonderful Time Spending Your Money

Many thanks to generous kith and kin – you know who you are – for helping the 24 refugees from Venezuela. They had an enjoyable festive season due to your assistance.

Zuleidi – my go-to person — and I had a meeting to set priorities.


  1. Glasses for Sebastian

Sebastian was born hydrocephalus. His eyes are crossed and he sometimes has trouble navigating.


The shop was owned by Andres’s friends and they donated the frames and we bought the lenses.


  1. Fans for the houses

I thought we would get two large fans and two small ones. Wrong. But what do I know about such things? The four medium-size fans are now keeping the house cooler.


  1. Feasts for Christmas and New Year

Before I left for Panama, I slipped Zuleidi enough money to cover a couple of special meals for Christmas and New Year – with lots of left-overs in between.

  1. Bus ticket for Lismarie

Lismarie’s mother in Venezuela is very sick. In addition, she has diabetes and insulin is hard to come by so it doesn’t look promising. The money we gave her will cover the cost of a 27-hour bus trip back to her home town.

What will happen once she gets there is speculation. The border security is tightening again so she may not be able to cross back to Colombia without a passport.

  1. School

The best news is that there was enough money in the budget for school supplies. The most important item was a uniform – without one kids in Colombia –and many other countries — can’t go to school.

Frankeni with her school backpack.


Haider in his school gym clothes.









School backpacks and supplies.










Presents for the kids

When I told Mayra about the ‘project’ she jumped right in.

She offered to organize her friends to buy Christmas presents for the kids and wrap them with their names on tags. Fantastic. I appointed her co-coordinator.



Evening on La Playa

My present to the Venezolanos was an outing to La Playa. This street is blocked off and decorated with lights. I gave Zuleide 100,000 pesos – about $50 –and asked her to arrange the expedition.

The 14 or so people assembled and off we went. The older ones looked after the younger ones and everyone stuck together. From time to time a kid would do a break-out and run, but it didn’t last long.

When we reached our ‘destination’ the smell of grease hit me between the eyes like a brick. It is a fast-food joint that specialized in what kids like to eat. The national dish is fries with chunks of hotdog that is slathered in ketchup. The adults opted for burgers. I claimed I had already eaten.

After the main, everyone lined up for soft ice-cream. Think Dairy Queen. It made my teeth hurt to watch it, but it also brought back memories of how much I enjoyed it as a kid.

Chica and icecream


All the best for the Year of the Rat. And gracias again for your donations. Your money helped make some Venezuelan people’s lives better.


How to do the Festive Season with Refugee Neighbours

It wasn’t hard to figure out that the people next door to the hotel/hostel I moved into in Medellin were refugees from Venezuela. A sure sign is that they are often outside sitting on the pavement.

Why? Because they don´t have a television, a fan, or plastic chairs in the house. The only thing is a stereo/radio for a bit of music.

A cold, hard seat

The habit I developed was to saunter by, smile, wave, and say ‘Hola mis vecinos’ – Hello my neighbours. As I got to know them, I started to chat and to ask more questions.

Refugees from Venezuela


Theirs is a story shared by so many of the estimated 4.3 million people who have fled the country since about 2014.

The neighbour’s situation

Imagine a cramped two-storey ‘duplex’ with eight adults and three kids on one side and seven adults, four kids and two teenagers on the other. I have 24 neighbours. The oldest is Carmen Auiaia Tarasona who is 63 and the youngest is seven-month old Maire.

Rent for each side of the duplex is 200,000COP (about $84CAD)

including utilities. By contrast, my airy office/bedroom with a private bath, fridge, fan, television, communal kitchen, and laundry is 700,000 ($292CAD).

There is no privacy and everything is shared. Nothing is secure. The doors are open and everyone wanders between the houses as they are all family and friends.

Zuleidis sighs, ‘Sometimes we don’t have enough food to eat.’

The kids go to school and are doing well as they are bright and energetic.

The kids

Everyone agrees that education is very important so homework gets done.

The problem

Both Lizmery and Zuleidis were teachers in Venezuela. In Colombia however, even though they are willing to clean, mind children, or cook they have not been able to find much work.

The refugees will do whatever they can, such as selling empanadas in the morning or petty trading. One of the men rides to his construction job on a bike, which is cheaper and healthier than the bus.

The discrimination against Venezuelans is on the rise and the locals talk openly about how the refugees are responsible for many of the woes of the country.

A United States-er who moved into a room on the first floor requested to be relocated. He complained that ‘they’ made too much noise.

I’m on the second floor and don’t hear much because it is drowned out by the traffic noise.

Much as I loathe children, however, even I don’t mind listening to them running about playing tag when it is quiet on the weekend. They don’t have any toys, so I bought them a basketball. It is getting well-bounced.

The invitation

You are cordially invited to figure out how much you would spend on one gift and then donate it to the Refugee Neighbours’ Festive Fund.

The donation can be sent via Paypal – – or by bank deposit. A cheque or money order in my name to the Affinity Credit Union, P.O. Box 790. Watrous, SK, S0K 4T0 will do it.

The first contribution was $50CAD. I figure that is about what I would spend on taxis, a meal at a mid-range restaurant, and a decent bottle of wine for my Christmas dinner. Instead I will scramble some eggs and open a bottle of average red.

Like Down in the Dumps and Educate a Girl, the books are open to anyone who wants to see them.

Nine-year olf Sebastian needs glasses. For about $100 he can get an updated examination, the frames, and the lenses. Can you help?

The plan for how your money will be spent

Priorities, priorities, priorities and the answer is that it depends on how much money there is in the fund.

  1. An evening outing to La Playa to celebrate the festive season.

    La Playa decorated for Christmas

    Every year this street is decorated with enough lights to make you want to wear sunnies. It is only about five blocks away so we will all stroll over and enjoy the sights, sounds, and interaction.


And the neighbours can pick out the junk food they don’t usually get – hot potato chips, ice cream, chocolate. If some kid wants the pink or blue candy floss that is all over the place, I may have trouble being in close proximity as it makes my teeth hurt to look at it.

  1. Food for a Christmas feast. An account will be set up at a local grocery store and the neighbours can pick what they want to prepare for the event. Hell, if there is enough money they might even be able to get a couple of chickens and some beef. Now that would be a treat.
  2. Fresh fruit. Not sure if this should be number 2 or 3, but we will figure it out depending on the budget.
  3. The basics. A television and a fan for each house would make life considerably easier. A few plastic chairs would be a luxury. Last night I sat on the pavement with mis visions. My ass was cold after a couple of minutes – and we know what a wimp I am about temperature.
  4. Not sure what would come next. If we reach this financial point we can have a meeting to figure out what the refugees think is best for them. Perhaps paying the rent so they are safely housed for January. Another option is more credit at the store. A dream would be presents for the kids who have never had a wrapped gift.

Can You Ever Go ‘Home’? An Account of Returning to Medellin

Can You Ever Go ‘Home’? An Account of Returning to Medellin

Generally, my theory is not to back-track when it comes to places to live. However, after four days in Santa Marta — a small tourist town complete with surfers — it was time to go.

Then I melted into Barranquilla — where the average daily temperature in the shade is 33 degrees — for a month. It was so hot I had to hide out in the air-conditioned room I’d rented. The other ‘sin’ is that the apartment was situated in the suburbs between the two biggest malls in town, a twenty-minute walk in either direction. Ick as I need to be downtown.

So, the logical thing was to return to Medellin. I stayed in a hostel for five days and Alvaro found me a place that rents furnished rooms.

Alvaro is a talented place-finder.

Perfect, as it is in Boston, the barrio I lived in before. I know where to get my hair cut, buy whatever, and have already figured where not to eat.

Doña Luc is an architect and two years ago she completely renovated a two-storey Spanish villa. To give you an idea of the size, it has 18 bedrooms as well as large communal areas. Other ‘small’ things that count are the automatic floor lights and that people have to lock and unlock doors that don’t slam with a key.

J arriving.







The bedroom

My new space includes a private bathroom, a fridge, a fan, and a television. Oh, and the rent — which covers all utilities and high-speed wifi – is $300CAD a month.

The closet is large enough for all my things, the bathroom is the size of a USB.

My office











Fridge, fan, tv make things easier.









View of the street and the shady tree outside my window.

Who needs an alarm clock when the massive trucks and buses start horking down the street outside at 05:30?

People need to get to around, so I use ear-plugs or play white-noise to cover the lumbering traffic sounds. That said, it beats the hell out of the evangelical screamers in Santiago de Chile as nothing could block out their hysterical drivel. No screaming kids and no barking dogs. Yes!

Tatiana had stored my desk and chair for me so it didn’t take long to settle in.

Tatiana and Nico








The communal areas

The kitchen with two stoves, sinks, and microwaves.

The patio









Sofa in the tv lounge area








The first dryer I have used since New Zealand as I didn’t need one in Australia.

Senora Luz works hard to keep the villa spotless.











The welcome

Tatiana and Alvaro were the only people who knew I was returning. It was wonderful to walk down the street and be kissed, hugged, and greeted. According to Alvaro, ‘Darling, you know everyone and, of course, they all remember La Gringa de Boston.’

Nice when the street people remember you.

What has changed in the year I have been away? More construction, bigger motorcycles, and more people – women in particular — sleeping on the street.

What has stayed the same? The friendly generosity of the people, the ideal weather, and the tasteless food.

The sort-of plan

My visa for Colombia will expire in mid-December. Since I don’t want to be an illegal alien or an overstayer again, I will go to Panama for a couple of weeks. Once the clock strikes 2020 I can return for another 180 days.

At the beginning of June – as there is a Hanson Tribal Gathering on the 6th in Sheho – I will head for Canada.

After that — and in order to comply with the 183-day visa in Peru — I will need to stay on the prairies for a few days into July. Not sure my mother will be able to put up with me for that long so perhaps I can do the Rio Grande (Spanish for Big River) trip this year.

The idea of bouncing between Medellin and Arequipa with a break between in Canada appeals. Why not? If the Canadian snowbirds can do it so can I —  particularly as I get agreeable weather all year around.

Some photos of a few of the people and the places in Medellin

Senora Clara — my go-to pharmacist.

Jason the computer genius.

Mayra – who protects me from my cell phone.

Fabio – a lawyer in case I am ever an illegal alien again

Ana Uribe, a Colombian artist who lives in Lima.












The restaurant half a block down the street. Bring your own wine, No corkage fee.

Some of the numersous street performers.

Hanging out in Parque Boston, two blocks down the street.

Parque Boston

Another shot of the park.

A view of the street looking the other way.

Domingo — works at Placita de Flores

And Bella the Bird is with me.



How I Spent My 2019 Summer Vacation 

How I Spent My 2019 Summer Vacation 

Wednesday 29 May

Since my stint as an illegal alien, I knew it would be a hassle with customs to leave Peru. It was.

The stamp — at last

On that note, it is just a good think I endured 53 days and 11 trips to Migraciones to get the stamp as otherwise it would have been a major production.

I left Lima at 02:30. After an additional four hour lay-over in Toronto, I arrived in Edmonton at 20:58. My sister, Shelley, was waiting for me at the airport.


Thursday 30 May – 12:00 – Ethiopian lunch at Langano Skies with Claudia, Ellie, Helen, and Shelley. I got everyone – some reluctantly – to eat with their right hands.

How to eat with your right hand in Edmonton.

18:00 – Dinner with Steph and The G at Shelley and Glenn’s dining room. My brother-in-law is trying to impersonate my sense of style, but can’t quite pull it off.


Shelley, the G, Steph




Remember that immitation is the hightest form of flattery.











Friday 31 May – 12:30 – Lunch with Brad, my one-legged Iroquois Indian photographer friend whom I know from Cambodia.

Brad — the photographer I know from Cambodia.

We have had more than a few adventures together. My Sherwood Park sister was a touch horrified as some of the antics we discussed.

Saturday 1 June – 09:30 – Shelley and I started our seven-hour road trip to Watrous. We stopped in Lloydminster to see nephew Kyle, Randi, and the kids.

Randi, Kyle, and Shelley.

My mother has a tablet so the internet is gone. My office this trip was the stool at Mike’s Beach Bar where I met Laurie.

Monday 3 June -10:00 – coffee with Linda E. at the Peachwood. She had offered to let me use her tricycle while I was in town, but I couldn’t quite get the hang of it and was scared that I would end up like the poster-girl of a domestic violence victim again.

Linda E at the Peachwood.

  • Visited with Clara and Skip at the Manitou Lodge.


Clara — a wonderful woman I have known since I was a horrible teenager.







Skip on his 75th. Clara said he didn’t look that old.







The potluck crowd.





18:00 – Potluck dinner at the United Church. My mother told me I couldn’t go as I wasn’t a member. However, Joanne invited me when I ran into her downtown. Mother reluctantly said I could attend — as long as I behaved myself. Sigh.


Belch. Slight burp. No wonder I gainerd three kgs in SK.








Tuesday 4 June –  Mom dropped off some rhubarb for Stella, her 92-year old friend who lives alone in her house on a farm. It was the first time I had met her.

Mom and Stella.

18:00 – dinner at Kathy’s –my sister-in-law’s cabin at Last Mountain Lake, about an hour and 20 minutes from Watrous.

My sister-in-law, Kathy, is a great cook.










Wednesday 5 June – Lunch with the graduating class of 1971.

The class of 71.

My adopted brother John organized it. Of the 35 of us who graduated, four are dead and others live where-ever. So a turn-out of 12 was impressive.



Adopted brother John — great event organizer.










A beer at Bill’s Garden Bar. He is a 92-year old who gardens and opens the patio to thirsty visitors about 16:00 each day when it is sunny.

Hanging out at Bill’s Garden Bar.

I brought a finger puppet for Tupper, Bill’s dog, but he wasn’t having anything to do with it.

Tuper wouldn’t weaar his finger pupper from Peru. He missed his chance to be the classiest dog in town.











A succulent steak dinner with Iris and Kevin. And Iris makes a mean Long Island Ice Tea.

Fantastic food — Kevin, J, Irisi










Thursday 6 June – lunch with Barry and Zeek at Cohen’s Beer Republic in Saskatoon.

Lunching with Zeke and Barry. We have known each other almost forever from La Ronge days.

  • Then I caught up with Tim, whom I also know from La Ronge.
  • Having a drink with Tim
  • Enjoying a wine with Tim.
  •   Then we drank vodka and talked shit until the wee hours of the morning. Tim went to sleep first. His wife, Sally, is right – he snores. As an insomniac I want to snuff out people who sleep with a pillow.
  • Friday 7 June – overnighted at my aunt Lena’s so we could get an early start on a five-hour drive to Estevan for Joyce and Gerald’s 40th wedding anniversary.

    Lena and J

    Lena was the mohter-of-the-bride and I was the bride’s maid. Hells belles, it has been a while.

Saturday 8 June – I proceeded to get lost in the construction and couldn’t find the road to Regina.

We had lunch with Ron at the India Palace on the way through Regina..




The anniversary was a casual gathering of people coming and going between the house, the back lawn, and the garage.

The cake with the original wedding photo.



Everyone from thel wedding party was there.



Bride to the right, bridesmaid to the left










Another of the highlights was spending time with my cousin Brian as it has been almost forever.

Catching up with cousin Brian was a highlight of the trip to Estevan.

Sunday 9 June – lunch with Peggy and Donna as we drove through Regina.

19:00 – There was a firepit gathering in Shawna’s back yard. She is my sobrina (niece) who forgot to send me the photos she took of the event.

Tuesday 11 June – It was Skip’s 75th birthday. As noted earlier, Clara doesn’t think he looks that old.

Wednesday 12 June – lunch with Murray Gordon.

Murray Gordon — who wants to drive to South America.

We go back to high school days. He is going to retire in October and wanted to drive to visit me in Colombia. Given the Darien Gap — perhaps the most dangerous area on the faceof the planet —  it isn’t a fesible idea.

Popped in to see Clara and push Skip around the lodge.

A Caesar with Shawna on a Wednesday afternoon

An afternoon Caesar with Shawna at her hairdressing shop.









Caught up with Bonnie and Brandon at the Town Bar.

Brandon and Bonnie at the Town Bar.

Thursday 13 June – went shopping with Carol and Lena. It is my annual splurge to buy what I need. And we work from a list.

The annual one-day shoppint spree.

Lunch at Saba’s Restaurant. Highly recommended. Saba – the owner who is from Eretria – joined us. She had opened the restaurant to cook lunch for us.





Enjoyed the Gazebo Gathering at Cecile’s in the evening with the women I have known almost forever.

None of us can remember exactly how long we have been doing this annyal gathering. But it is at least 25 years.

Friday 14 June – Blair – aka Mr Tire – had noticed that the back tires on my aunt’s 1999 car were the originals. He ordered in 15-inch replacements.


Blair — aka Mr. Tire









Sharon drove to Watrous from Regina and we went out for dinner with my mother.

Mom witth her fish and chips at John’s Plate.

Dinner at John’s Plate was courtesy of a gift certificate from Dennis. He lives in Prince George BC and apologised for not being able to make it for lunch at the Peachtree.



Sharon at John’s Plate with the ribs.


J with Malbec at John’s Plate.








Saturday 15 June – We enjoyed burgers and a beer at Mike’s Beach Bar with some class of 71 friends.

Burger an beer at Mike’s.

Sunday 16 June – Father’s Day visit to talk with Daddy and the boys.

The Hanson headstone. Comforting to know where my ashes will end up for eternity.











Next it was lunch at my brother Doug’s and sister-in-law Gloria’s in Wishart an hour and a half from Watrous. Also in attendance were Dan – Gloria’s brother – niece Jamie, husband Michael and three great-nieces.

Lunch for a dozen in Wishart,

Steak dinner on the patio with a fire to keep warm.

Brother Doug hogging the foreground. Mom in the backgroung.

Monday 17 June – Drove another two and a half hours to Neudof, where I lived from the ages of four to 14.

Salivated over a lunch of borsht, perogies and cabbage rolls at Dorothy’s. She doesn’t understand why I want the same menu every year. It is the only time I get to eat these treats. She also packs take aways.

Lunch at Dorothy’s — great spread of food and enternatining conversation.

Stayed at Jeannie’s cabin at the lake. Pat arrived. It is a relaxing space.

Jeannie and Pat

Tuesday 18 June – Sat on the deck at Jeannie’s cabin and listened to the waves lap up on the shore.

Wednesday 19 June – Drove to Wishart to collect my mother and we returned to Watrous. The original plan was to go to Big River – an additional four and a half hours. I would have had to take a detour to the nearest hospital emergency room as I would have collapsed from exhaustion.

Thursday 20 June – Had coffee with Wendy who retired from the Affinity Credit Union and let me stranded. Now I have to figure out my own banking. Stress.

With Wendy, How dare she retire and leave me to figure out my own banking?


Had a Patience Night with my brother, Hank. He claims that I have caused him more angst, stress, and downright trouble than all the other people in the world combined. So, to continue to garner his tolerance I show up with wine and we talk until all hours. Got to keep the boy onside.

Hank and his Harley jacket.








Friday 21 June – Had coffee with Jack, who lives next door.

Jack has lived next door almost forever.

Lunch with Joan at the Oda restaurant at Manitou Beach.

BLT with Joan at Oda.

Stopped to see Clara, Skip, and Gerry and we ended up studying the world map so could show whem where I was going to be living in Colombia.

Checking the world with Skip and Gerry.









Saturday 22 June – Wagner Women Wrap-up at Cohen’s Beer Republic in Saskatoon. Cousin Linda arranged the event and we just had to show up at her son-in-law’s restaurant — 

The Wagner Woman

Sunday 23 June – Had a final visit with Lena and returned her car and the keys.

Monday 24 June – flew out to Santa Marta, Colombia at 06:00. Survived — barely as 33 hours with layovers is taxing.

Future plans

My sort of idea is to stay in Colombia until December 2019,  and then move back to Arequipa and the Hostal Santa Catolina for six months.

Then, it is on to Canada in June 2020. An important event is the Hanson Tribal Gathering in the park in Sheho on 6 June 2020.



On a final note, Bella — a ceramic bird from my greaat-grandmother  — is with me. Chipped in a few places, end of the beak missing, and a few cracks. We figure the bird must be over 100 years old.









Additiona photos — so many happy snaps, so little space.

Laurie at Mike’s Beach Bar.

So here are the ones I couldn’t quite squeeze into the blog. They are of no particuar order.

Ingerra and watt. My fave.

Neudorf — home-town from 4 to 14.

“Our” garden — as in my mother and me –before the rain. Want raspberries? A few pails of apples? Call Jean.

On the patio just before the steak.

Eating well at Saba.

Tim at the Remai Modern Gallery.

Mike’s Beach Bar — my office for the internet.

On the road. Wonderful bonding time with my sister.

Cecile in the kitchen for the Gazebo Gathering


Confessions of a Canadian Illegal Alien


“You are not registered in the system,” the woman at Migraciones informed me when I went to get a 90-day extension on my visa.”

The border at Tumbes where I crossed from Ecuador to Peru was chaos. Refugees from Venezuela were all over the place, their suitcases lined up to be inspected.

Luggage at the border.

More confusion as people waited for their MMR and yellow fever vaccinations and then filled in the paperwork in another tent.

Somehow, I had managed to get the exit stamp from Ecuador, but not the entry one for Peru. Remember this is all going on in Spanish.

Refugee paper processing tent

The bus was parked on the Peru side of the border. In the 14 and a half hours there I would have crossed the invisible line of the frontier more than half a dozen times. It was the only way to go to the sort-of restaurant, the toilet, and just to check out what was happening.

Not once did an official ask to see my passport. Of the 107 countries I have visited, this was a first. But I didn’t think a lot of it as so many countries don’t issue stamps anymore.

The definition

According to Oxford, an illegal alien “(noun) –is a foreign national who is living without official authorization in a country of which they are not a citizen.”

And that was me. Hey, the Syrians, Venezuelans, and Muslims don’t have a monopoly on the term. According to a UN report, there are about 258 of us in the world, with most living in Asia.

Waiting — because that is all there is to do when you are a refugee.

Rumour – I don’t trust Wikipedia as a reliable source – has it that there are an estimated 65,000 to 75,000 undocumented Canadians living in the USA. Frankly, I’d much rather be in Peru.

The performance

After finding out I was an illegal alien on 1 March. I organized the requested paperwork on 4 March as everything had to be notarized. Now is a great scam as the stamp means that it swears “to be an authentic copy of the original.”  The clerk didn’t even ask to see my passport for the two verified pages.

On 5 March it was back to Migraciones. Angela – the officer who works with extensions told me to return on Friday as all the paper had to be forwarded to Tumbes for the Chief there to sign.

I rocked up on 8 March only to be told the Chief hadn’t replied to the message. I was told to wait while the Chief at Arequipa contacted his counterpart. Two and a half hours later still no reply.

The Migraciones office in Arequipa.

Ten days later – 18 March – I returned to see the same movie and sit on another uncomfortable chair for another two and a half hours. Then I was told to return two days later on March 20. Still no paperwork.

Another week passed and on 27 March still no response to messages and phone calls.

On 3 April Angela rang to tell me to come to the office so I could get the information to fill out the form online at

Surprise, surprise it is all in Spanish. Fortunately, I found a bilingual student to help. After a dozen tries, we both gave up. I’m not in the system so online wasn’t going to work, even though I had the number for the extension receipt for which I’d paid S/11,60.

Then on 4 April, I sent a text to Angela asking for help as I wasn’t sure what to do next. No reply.

I not sure about other illegal aliens, but I found it very stressful. The chances of the police checking my passport and deporting me were unlikely. But it still weights. And who knows if I would be allowed to board the plane to Canada?

During this time, there are a couple of tourist guides who hang around the hotel whom I’d gotten to know. Alfie and Caesar figured I should just go across the border to Bolivia and then re-enter Peru. They know people who could smuggle me across.

Thanks, guys, but I don’t think so. Being an illegal alien is bad enough, but I didn’t want to have to pay bribes or end up in a jail in either Bolivia or Peru. Not a viable option.

The resolution

Enough was bloody enough. So, I wrote to Gwyneth Kutz, the Canadian Ambassador in Lima and copied it to the minister responsible, the MP and my family.

The email went out Monday 15 April. Then 28 hours later I got a call from Carlos telling me to bring my passport to Migraciones. Alas, when I showed up the next day the Chief of Arequipa wasn’t in the office and the 18 and 19th were holidays for Holy Week.

Finally, on 22 April – 53 days after I crossed the border – I had the stamp in my passport.

The stamp — at last

My status changed from being an illegal alien to being a tourist visa overstayer. As such I may be subject to a fine of about $100.

It isn’t the money, it is the principle of the issue. A total of 53 days and 11 visits is absurd. Is the Chief in Tumbes lazy, incompetent or did he just want a bribe?

Another consideration is what would happen to people who wouldn’t think of writing to the Canadian Embassy? Or if they had to catch a flight out in a few days?

The plan

I have my Lima-Toronto-Edmonton ticket booked for 29 May at 02:34. Now I will arrange a one-way from Arequipa to arrive at 09:30 to give me time to sort it all out with customs.

Everything is documented, of course, so that is difficult to argue with the faces, figures, and copies of the Migraciones forms.

Lima is an international airport so there will be English speakers there. Still, the questions about officials who don’t do their jobs will be written in English and then translated into Spanish.

Angela, Carlos, and the Chief were embarrassed and apologetic. Now I hope the Migraciones ones in Lima are the same.




Fringing it at the Festival in 2019


Diverse, edgy, colorful, and sometimes downright controversial, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has sprawled out into the Scottish capital every August since 1947.


Usually referred to as simply “The Fringe,” it is the world’s largest, interactive arts festival that attracts people from around the globe. In 2018, for example, there were over 300 venues to host the 3,398 shows, and the 53,232 performances. 

Courtesy of Martie Swart at flickr

And from August 2 to 26 The Fringe promises to be even bigger and better.

What is the history of The Fringe?

The beginnings of The Fringe were born in 1947. It started as an alternative option to the inaugural Edinburg International Festival. Eight companies who hadn’t been invited to perform showed up and decided to stage their own event.

Their philosophy was “if we can’t join them, we will have a better time on our own.” And from these small beginnings, The Fringe grew into the international festival that it is today. Second only to the Olympic Games, the festival now attracts more than 4.5 million people a year.

Rather than selection committees, auditions, and judges, The Fringe has an “open” policy. Because there is no censorship at The Fringe, it frees artists and performers to express their ideas openly and to celebrate their art. Consequently, the encompassing attitude attracts a mixed bag of people from around the world.

Courtesy of Martie Swart at flickr

Those who are offended by nudity, profanity or politics don’t have to attend these events, as there are so many non-confrontational options.

Although literally hundreds of cities on all the continents – from Dublin to Hastings to Saskatoon –  have tried to copy The Fringe, none have ever managed to capture the original spirit that continues to drive the original one in Edinburgh.

Who can perform?

The short answer is “anyone who can afford to get there and has a story to tell.” Thus. people arrive from far-flung places by plane, motorcycle, and even on foot.

Their motivation? The unforgettable experience of enjoying a moment in the spotlight and the opportunity to mix with others and take in some great events. It all adds up to keeping participants and audiences coming back year after year.

To perform at The Fringe, the two key steps are to register as a performer and then look for a venue to host the act. Fortunately, the massive volunteer staff associated with The Fringe help budding artists find space and — in some cases — sponsorship.

Photo courtesy of Steven Wisniewski at flickr

The international fabric of The Fringe may well see Mali drummers performing in a venue just after a Chinese opera and before a jazz band from Mexico.

Yes, Shakespeare was right and all the world truly is a stage, but the ones at The Fringe get more attention. Some hope to make their debut into the world of the rich and famous at The Fringe where big-name stars share spaces with rank amateurs.

According to the BBC, stars who started their shining careers at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival include – to name but a few – Phoebe Waller Bridge, Mike Myers, Emma Thompson, Graham Norton, Hugh Laurie, and Mel & Sue.

One of the perks about attending The Fringe is being able to toss off the phrase, “Ah, yes, I saw them long before they became famous.”

Photo crourtesy of Shadowgate at flickr

What kinds of performances are on offer?

“Spoiled for choice” is the only way to describe The Fringe performances. Genres include theatre, comedy, cabaret, circus, physical theatre, opera, musicals, spoken word, and children’s events. In addition, to the performances, there are numerous exhibitions and events, many of which have free admission.

Comedy is a big draw-card at The Fringe and virtually all the comedians in the United Kingdom have launched their careers there. Another example is Robin Williams who performed with his student theatre company in a wild-west version of Taming of the Shrew in 1971.

Following on from the principle that “anyone who has a story to tell” can participate, people are inspired to put aside their stage-fright at spoken word venues. There they can share their experiences with audiences which are generally empathetic.

It is also an opportunity for poets to unleash their inner voices and for painters to display their canvases to the public.

Photo courtesy of Steven Wisniewski at flickr

Even though actors, dancers, artists, and wanna-be producers may not become house-hold names, performing at The Fringe looks good on a portfolio and may open other doors.

Where are the venues?

Basically, the entire city of Edinburgh and, at times, even the surrounding countryside for performances that require a rustic setting. For almost the entire month of every August, the hoards descend and all available spaces – theatres, parks, schools, pubs, churches, streets – become performing arts spaces.

Truly innovative venues at The Fringe include moving vehicles, swimming pools, and public toilets.

How to get tickets?

The official ticket office for The Fringe is located at the Royal Mile in the center of the city. Because it is simply good planning to book early, people can now reserve tickets on the phone or on-line.

And the box office opens early in the year, so that visitors can plan their trips around the productions they want to see.

Prices for the performances range from about £15 ($21USD) to free. Last year there were over two million tickets sold.

Although the price tickets can add up very quickly, it is still considerably less that London’s West End or New York’s Broadway.

This article was written for Rising Vacations.

Want more information?


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.