Friday, February 26, 2010


That's my foot hanging out the open door of an old Russian helicopter sputtering its way above my resort in north-east Cuba en route to a trip over the Sierra Maestre mountains to Santiago. I was strapped by a simple waist-only-seatbelt into what seemed to be a car seat bolted to the wall. Thought I'd start with this to grab some attention. Cheesy, I know, but hey.

Anyway, I'm back from Argentina and my new novel BORDERLINE is coming out March 9. It's had great pre-publication reviews including stars in Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal, and a full cover profile in the current Quill and Quire. I'm told I should share some quotes, and maybe I will, but being Canadian makes that part of a blog seem, well, you know, eh?

So for now, here's a post about fifteen things I'll never forget. If any of them strike your fancy let me know and I'll write a bit more about it. Okay?


Encountering a shark while snorkeling off Cayo Largo

Wandering alone through the Red Pyramid, in the desert south of Saqqara, Egypt

White-water rafting in the Canadian Rockies

Taking a balloon ride with my eighty-year-old mom over Cappadocia, Turkey

Waking up to find an elephant beside my tent in the bush in Botswana

Volunteering at a Baptist soup kitchen while living in Manhattan

Undergoing a santerían purification ritual in rural Cuba

Staying overnight in a one-room mud home in the village of Ulongwe, Malawi

Sleeping between train cars while traveling by rail through the former Yugoslavia during the Cold War

Shaking hands with Pope Paul VI, age eighteen, at an audience in Vatican City

Meditating in Buddhist temples around Bangkok, Thailand

With the imam’s permission, climbing the minaret of the Mosque of Qaitbey in Cairo’s City of the Dead

Skiing opposite the Matterhorn

Hiking along the Great Wall of China

Eating a mopani worm in Zimbabwe


So... anything you'd like to hear more about? Or shall I bore you with BORDERLINE stuff? :)



Monday, February 22, 2010


Next post we're back home and on to something new. But let's close Argentina/Buenos Aires with shots from three gardens and the zoo. The Botanical Gardens is set between major multi-lane downtown streets. But one step inside and your shoulders drop:

Another peaceful spot? The Japanese Garden in the park along the waterfront:

And the small garden enclosed by our hotel, the Melia Recoleta:

I have very mixed feelings about zoos, but this is very open air and spacious. they also let you feed the animals a special mixture prepared by the zoos vets.

Last but not not least, a little sparrow that had a crumb from one of my many MANY Freddo's Dolce de Leche ice creams.

Next time -- something completely different. Hope to see you here,


Friday, February 19, 2010


Well, we're back in Buenos Aires to close our trip. Today, a few images I didn't get into the earlier posts: a couple of cool buildings, and a few tourist cliches such as the obelisk above. I don't get why every city thinks it has to have one, and why every city says theirs is the biggest. Hmm... don't think I'll go there.

One thing do like to see, though, are national art galleries. The one in Buenos Aires is fantastic. While the first floor is second-rate paintings by major world artists, the second floor devoted to Argentinian art is amazing. A lot of social comment in the realistic works. I remember especially a terrific piece from the 19th century: a man, woman and nursing child sit at their empty table and watch workers going off to the mine. I think its English title would read "No Job, No Food". Anyway, here's the gallery -- and just five minutes from our hotel.

Politics is ever-present. the grandmothers, mothers and wives of the disappeared continue to press for justice outside the presidential palace, as do soldiers from the Maldives/Faulklands war.

The economy ravages once grand buildings:

But there are still plenty of stunners:

Here, by the way, is The Haunted Tower. It's in the La Boca area. I've searched everywhere to find out why it's haunted. In my fractured Spanish I think I heard a local hairdresser tell me there was an actress who killed herself (or her aunt) there in the twenties. Anybody out there know the true story?

And, of course, ghosts brings me back to Recoleta cemetery and a cool tomb that missed my first entry:

Last shot today is from the land of the living, specifically Tigre, a suburb on accessible only by water. Indeed most of the homes are on individual islands too.

Tomorrow, I'm going to end the Argentina series with shots of the Botanical Gardens and national zoo. Then It's back to Canada and a few posts on writing as I get ready for the launch of my new novel, BORDERLINE!

Till then,


Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Well a picture says a thousand words. So maybe I should just shut up and let you see some pictures. You'll immediately recognize the Seven-Coloured Mountain. I wasn't exaggerating, was I? It all happened when the earth's plates smashed up, with mineral deposits being hoisted in vast swaths of rock. And being so dry, there's no vegetation to cover over the colours.

Note the cross on top of the hill. It's the town cemetery. Like the Incas, people still choose the highest place in the area to bury their dead.

The Three Amigos

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A confession: Our second last night in Tilcara we did the stupidest thing tourists can do. It was a lovely restaurant -- but we ate the shrimp in the salad. Uh, it's a long way from the sea to the mountains, and even if the frig is good at the restaurant, who knows about the transportation. Suffice to say, we spent a day painting the wall from both ends. Pablo was a great nurse -- filled us up on Gatorade and got us to the hospital. In Argentina they treat tourists for free! Gotta say the hospital gave me the most painful shot of my life, though. Almost as painful as my first colonoscopy which I had WITHOUT Demurral. AAA!!!

Anyway, next trip, we'll take Pablo's advice and pack lots of socks. :) For the joke, see last post.:)

And hey, if you're going to be sick for a day, what better B&B to be sick in that the Poseda de Luz. Luz gave us this goregous suite with its own "rock garden". Also, on the bright side, what better way to lose weight after weeks of piggery?

Next post we'll be waddling onto a plane in Jujuy for a last three fun-filled days in other parts of Buenos Aires -- B.A. -- Big Apple, South American style.



Saturday, February 13, 2010


Yup, you're looking at a heckuva lot of salt. This salt plain is en route to the Humahuaca gorge and the famous Seven-Colored mountain. It goes as far in all directions and is twelve feet deep. The miners who carve the blocks straight down are on a day off. So, aside from salt shakers, where does all this stuff go?

Into bricks. That's right. Salt bricks. Up close, they look like this:

"What would you use salt bricks for?" I hear you say. "I mean, you can't built anything out of salt." Think again. Except for the roof, an entirely salt-brick building:

As you might guess, it's a little lonely in these parts. This is the diner in the biggest town around.

And these are the local llamas. The farmers put ribbons in their coats to tell which herds they belong to.

And this is a dog chasing the 4 x 4 after 30 seconds. We were clocking 60 mph!

Say, did I mention it might get lonely around here? Take a look at the home down there. Maybe this is why ghosts and visions feature so heavily in Argentinian fiction.

I must say, this would make a nice writer's retreat, though.

BTW, as mentioned in an earlier post, Daniel and I absolutely loved our driver/guide Pablo. On ten-hour drives it´s nice to have a guide who -- in addition to having encyclopedic knowledge -- can carry on conversations about pop culture, the relative merits of various bidets, and what to do when you´re caught on a tour in the desert without toilet paper. ("I have gone through so many socks!")

Tomorrow, he takes us to the most colourful mountains you have ever seen!

Till then,


Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Cachi is a very small and very beautiful colonial town about a five hour drive from anywhere, aka Salta. It's in the pocket between two sets of mountains, so that despite how arid everything is around it, it's actually quite lush from the underground water that pools from the surrounding mountains. This shot is taken from the town cemetery, the highest point in the area. The custom of burying the dead on mountain peaks comes from both Incan and pre-Incan civiliations.

The main building in Cachi is the town square. Simple and stark, and quite beautiful for that.

Inside the white building is a museum with an open-air courtyard containing a series of rocks with pre-Incan carvings.

We had lunch away from the tour buses at an EXCELLENT restaurant up the street from the town square. It's called Platos y Diseño and I highly recommend it. After that, Pablo got us back to Salta for an evening walk, then picked us up early the next morning for a drive to the Humahuaca Gorge -- one of the most stunning days of our trip. From rock carving we got to see the layout of a pre-Incan town of several thousand people. When the Inca arrived, the earlier people simply left. The foundations are all made of granite boulders; as you can imagine, they've stayed exactly where the first people put them.

BTW, in Salta there's a museum containing the mummified bodies of three children sacrificed by the Inca. They weren't selected from the poor and thrown in wells to drown, as the Aztec priests did in their sacrifices. (Nor were their still-beating hearts removed.) Instead, they came from royal families throughout the region and were "wedded" symbolically at a regional ceremony before being brought back to their villages where they were frozen at the tops of mountains. (Boys as well as girls, in an early and rare example of gender equity.) The priests gave the children corn booze and, when they were passed out, put them in stone holes and let them freeze to death. Apparently the bodies were found with their muscles relaxed, so the deaths were painless. (I´ll bet they found that such a relief.) The point was to bond various clans together. It's believed there are hundreds and hundreds bodies in these stone graves, preserved by the freezing mountaintop air. May they rest in peace.

I leave you with a shot of the rugged landscape.

Tomorrow, the amazing salt plains, llamas, and farms who really want to get away from the crowd.