Exploring Family History on the Death Road


While my fellow Torontonians partake in ribfests and fireworks to pay homage to the birth of our Motherland, I sit here on the couch, sipping some red, as my mind wanders off to another region of the world (sorry, Canada).

Los Yungas. The lush, green rainforest that stretches across Peru, Bolivia and Northern Argentina. Teeming with colourful flora and weird and wonderful fauna, it is accessible from the city of La Paz in Bolivia via the deadliest road in the world, “la Camino de la Muerte” (the Death Road).

About 50 years ago, a Korean family consisting of nine siblings and the parental heads ventured across the world from their home country to South America. (The tenth sibling would later join them). They landed in the Los Yungas valley.

My mom was eight at the time, third youngest of the siblings. Although most of the family later moved to La Paz where they opened a clothing business, my mom stayed in the rainforest for another year with her father.

They would frequently make the trip to La Paz and back, and the whole family would sometimes journey to the Yungas for restful getaways. Which meant a lot of Camino de la Muerte for my mom.

My mom remembers how unregulated the Death Road was back then, absent of guardrails and vehicles having to play the passing game when the road became too narrow to constitute a two-way. (Don’t think too much has changed there, ma).

She also recalls trucks filled to the brim with oranges and people sitting on top of the oranges as they zoomed towards their destination on the winding road.

I remember hearing about these stories when I was much younger, but back then I didn’t comprehend the global infamy of the Death Road. After days of travel research, I now find myself in awe that this rugged journey — that thrill-seekers from all over the world pay bike tours to take them on — was just a part of life for my mom.

Yes, a significant piece of my family history puzzle lies in Bolivia. Thus, Bolivia is where I must go.

Visiting “the heart of South America” was barely a shade of a dream a couple years ago. I could only hazily envision myself in what I conjured up to be a dusty town where old Bolivian señoras in their bowler hats sold fresh fruits and nuts in open markets.

But today, the dream has actualized itself into a plan. It won’t happen tomorrow, but I’ve sketched out a pretty solid draft of my future explorations in what I consider to be the Third Motherland.

While I’d love to do the typical tourist traps, like Salar de Uyuni, I also want to be able to travel slow and really immerse myself in Bolivian life and culture. And, of course, I want to visit the Yungas and experience an important part of my mom’s childhood.

Now I just need to work up the courage to face the Death Road …


… and maybe stop watching stuff like this:

If you were to explore your family history and culture, where in the world would your journey take you?

– Cafe <3

Radio Silence in Cuba: Digitally Disconnecting

sol-cayo-santa-maria-resort-beach-ocean Last month, I flew off to Cuba to immerse myself in sun, sand, and most importantly, radio silence for seven full and glorious days.

Life had been feeling like a knotted ball of stress and my phone wouldn’t stop blowing up with endless emails, texts and other things that pinged.

Something had to be done to quiet both my mind and the CrackBerry, and it had to be done now!  (Hm, does this call for social media hibernation sound familiar to you?)

Well, during those seven days, I was on the internet for a mind-blowing total of — wait for it — ONE hour. On the resort, one might typically find me sitting alone at the beach bar with a strawberry slushy in hand, quietly gazing off into the white sands with a peaceful twinkle in my eye.

I didn’t want parties and I didn’t want to gorge myself in all-you-can-eat-and-drink madness. Taking in the beautiful, concrete-less scenery or having a good conversation with one of the resort staff to learn more Spanish or about Cuban life were all that my little ol’ heart desired.

Time inched by at an insanely slow speed.  It was magical.


The view while sipping on my daily dose of java. Morning coffees have never tasted quite the same *sniff*  

When I returned home, I was thrown into the merciless clutches of The Evil That Is Bronchitis. I quarantined myself indoors for the next several days, slowly gaining energy but never enough to emerge into The Outside World.

It was honestly a blessing in disguise. Because I don’t think I was mentally prepared to jump back into what – after Cuba – felt like a dizzyingly fast-paced, highly-connected lifestyle.

Our (okay, my) obsession with digital communication has been something that I’ve wrestled with over the past few years.  At times I’ve been a complete social media junkie; at others, I’ve wanted to Hail Mary my phone into the far reaches of Black Space.

But while Cuba served as a much-needed reminder to slow down, disconnect and get back to that thing called human interaction, it also taught me another unexpected lesson.

What I hadn’t realized before my beach getaway was how much at the opposite end of the digital-connectivity spectrum the Cuban people are situated at.  (Here’s an article by Mashable that will give you the quick low-down).

I met a few very awesome people who worked at the resort, but the option to ask: “Can I have your email?” was absent for all those I wanted to keep in touch with but one.

And while my digitalized brain had completely forgotten about that other mode of communication (snail mail, anyone?), I discovered upon my return that even sending a letter to Cuba is a highly unreliable venture.

Our ability in North America to effortlessly connect with our family, friends and people we’ve just met and want to grow a connection with was something I had come to take for granted.  It was only after my trip that I realized how lucky we truly are to have such easy access to the digital world.

That being said, I still believe we need to find an everyday balance between total radio silence and becoming a slave to the CrackBerry.  What say you?

Do you ever take time to disconnect?  Can you call it a “real vacation” if you’ve been glued to your phone/laptop the whole time? 

– Cafe <3

P.S. If you’ve been frequenting the cafe, you might be wondering whether Your Daily Dose is going through an identity crisis! Catch up here to find out where I’m at in my blogging exploits.

A great post on digitally disconnecting (or not): Consciously Disconnecting: The Case for Putting Down Your iPhone
And another excellent read on plugging out while traveling:  Turn off, plug out, drop in
Photo Credit: Trip Advisor

The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done (Conclusion)

Okay, so while I’d love to pen the next The Illyiad, I have decided to forego the Homeric prose and tell y’all about the conclusion of my 9-day hiking trip Cafe-styles.

As you know from the intro post (that was Freshly Pressed!), I had already managed to injure my knee on Day One of our hike. What you don’t know is that two others in our group had also pulled or strained some body part or another before the second day’s end, so that we were all crawling along at a snail’s pace and nowhere near reaching our intended campsite.

It was that night that we all somberly realized that the trip could come to an end the very next morning. There was no point going on if we couldn’t move faster than dying turtles.

The saddest part was that the life-sucking, injury-inducing two days of hiking we had endured was supposedly the easiest part of the whole loop. Our fourth comrade (the non-injured one) had done this trail before and assured us that it was only getting harder from here on out.

So it was the morning of Day Three. We were all still in pretty bad shape. We decided that the first hour of hiking would be our test. It started off rough, but we kept going and nobody wanted to be the one to back down.

So the next thing we knew, we were at “the hard part.” And at this point, there was no turning back.

The part of the trail that will forever live on in my memory is what I’ve named The Descent From Hell. It was basically many, many, many feet of extremely steep, at times almost vertical, descent with sharp, jagged rocks scattered all along down the slope. It had been raining non-stop for the past couple of hours which was making things even more dangerous and slippery.

I’m normally a pretty tough cookie, but I was honestly holding back tears on my way down. The worst part is when it feels like half an hour just passed to advance ten steps, and then you look down to the bottom and realize how many more painstaking, stomach-churning “half hours” you have left to go.

My fear of heights and the pack that felt like it could easily throw me off balance and hurtling down the slope was probably what made this descent feel a hundred times worse for me.

It was at this point that I knew this trip would be the hardest thing I’d ever do.

But what I love about these mental challenges is that it gives you so much strength for all of the other hard things that come up unexpectedly along life’s path. And really, after that, nothing on the trip seemed as insurmountable.

By day four, I think all of us had found our groove. We had each figured out the best ways to navigate the terrain, we knew what hours of hiking would feel like, and we had built confidence in ourselves and our team.

There was so much beauty to see, that I couldn’t understand why other hikers we met along the way were attempting the loop in two or three days! (Never mind why they’d want to, the thought of how they were going to was mind-boggling). There was so much to enjoy and savour that I don’t think I’d ever want to do the trail in less than nine days.

Those never-ending uphills felt so worth it when you got to another amazing view. And even until the last day, there was always something new to see — like the “quartzite highways”, The Lord of the Rings-like scenery, and the Jurassic Park forest.

We met many hikers during our journey — many more than we had anticipated. But then again, since we were moving at a senile pace it was no wonder that everyone starting before us was lapping us! While being in solitude for most of the trip was nice, it was great to meet and share stories with our fellow campers.

The last few days brought us sunshine and a day of much-needed rest. As our packs got lighter and we became acclimatized to our daily routine, we were finally able to pick up the pace!

Nine days is a long time to be out there and things that I didn’t know could hurt — like my elbows, of all things — hurt. But I loved (almost) every moment of this crazy hike and at times just felt so elated and fortunate to be out there. I’m looking forward to the next one!

– Cafe <3

If you didn’t answer the question on the first post: What’s the hardest thing you’ve done (physically and/or mentally)?

The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done

**This post was Freshly Pressed! Thanks to WordPress and to everyone who read, liked, and commented! Much love!

This epic adventure of our four young heroes begins on a gloomy, overcast morning.
The fifth of their band had fallen from the ranks.
Even Charlie, the Australian Shepherd, was to deny them his companionship on the long journey ahead.

Alas, the four heroes would march forth, a united army,
Into what was foretold to be days of thunderous storms and merciless showers.

Survival comes at a price, weighing heavily on their backs.
Our heroes enter the dark forests of Killarney,
Like knights forging into the abyss of battle.
How will they persevere for nine days when the first hour begs for relief?

The constant, piercing pain in their shoulders was unprepared for;
Every footstep on the uneven, rocky path becomes akin to lifting lead.
Did our heroes expect too much?
Delude themselves into believing that they were worthy of winning this war?

There is a momentary reprieve in the sojourn
As our band of ravenous travellers stop to refuel.
Chief’s succulent veal roast is devoured like The Last Supper.
A mountain of fluffy white rice nurses the mind’s wounds back to health.

Merry as elves, stomachs content with the feast,
Our heroes take up their pilgrimage once more.
Yet, what is said to take one hour extends into two for our weary crew.
Then, the first of them is hit.

Big J’s knee, giving way to the unforgiving terrain, waves the white flag.
Agony stretched across her face,
She attempts bravery in the midst of falling arrows,
Her comrades patch her up and again, they roar on.

Finally, as the merciful mirage appears to the worn desert travellers,
The sign to their first night’s home beckons.
After a few wrong turns and balancing perilously on narrow ridges,
Our exhausted heroes stumble into an oasis.

The fight is not over; it has only begun.
They know the worst awaits them in the mountains,
Like the sleeping dragon that will surely awake when neared.
Will our heroes survive and slay the beast?

Stay tuned …

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done (physically and/or mentally)? Why was it the “hardest thing”?

* * *

What’s up?! Okay, for those of you who are like, What has happened to Cafe and why is she talking like Shakespeare??? I thought that writing about my hiking trip adventures in the style of this week’s Writing Challenge by The Daily Post would be so much fun! I really did feel like this was an epic tale and seriously the hardest thing I’ve ever done, at least physically (but mentally, it was up there too!)

So I hope you enjoyed it and if you want to hear about the rest of the trip in this epic prose (hehe), holla in the comment box!

– Cafe <3

Learning What Beauty Means

A few months before I went to visit Korea, I wrote a post called “Korean 101: Do You Look Good Enough?” that talked about the obsession with looks that Korean society seems to be currently undergoing.

It was something that I was afraid to be confronted with in the Motherland. As I mentioned in that earlier post, I know what it feels like to be looked down on and made fun of just because of physical appearances. I did not want to have to see others being subjected to the same kind of pressures they didn’t deserve.

I don’t know if I ended up being as constantly bombarded with it as I thought I’d be, but in any case, I still saw plenty of ads of young celebrities who have all probably had plastic surgery to make their faces look “perfect.” And the before- and after-surgery shots of both young girls’ and guys’ faces displayed in the subways and magazines just made my heart wrench into a knot.

Not too long after landing in Korea …

One day, someone said something in response to one of my protests that made me think really hard. They pointed out that for some of these girls, getting their faces done can give them a confidence that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

And it’s really not a point to just dismiss.

I started to think, am I really one to judge? Am I one to believe that this kind of pressure isn’t everywhere, including in my own country, and that I don’t succumb in some way or another to externally prescribed standards of what is considered “beautiful”? Don’t most of us?

Advertising “beauty” in the city

Here is my issue in particular with the Korea plastic surgery craze: it seems, from what I’ve learned, that girls at an extremely young age are told that looking “beautiful” is one of the — perhaps, the most — important things in life.

It is what you need to be successful, as is actually the case when you have to submit your headshot with a job or college application. Friends and mothers will be the first to tell you what’s wrong with your face and what you need to get fixed. Their celebrity “role models” all look like the “after” shots that you too can look like if you just book an appointment with the surgeon.

Basically, these young people don’t stand a chance to learn any other standard of beauty.

I feel that at least when I was growing up, I had time to develop my own personality and consider things like being creative, funny, and smart as what made me a cool person. My mom thought I was so cute with my chubby face and never put me down for having on a few extra pounds.

It was only when people started commenting that the way I looked was “wrong,” that I started looking at myself differently and feeling insecure.

Flipping through a magazine at a Korean restaurant

I think that having started out with different standards of what being an attractive person means has helped me to not totally lose myself in society’s standards of attractiveness.

I don’t know what’s going on with young kids here (in Canada) today. Are the pressures mounting against them to look a certain way to fit in and feel happy with themselves? Are they being bombarded at an ever-younger age than my generation was?

Whatever the case, my hope is that young people growing up get a chance to develop other standards of beauty and success — their own standards. Because once the real pressures start coming on full-force, they will need some powerful weapons to battle those outside voices with.

– Cafe <3

What are your experiences in learning what “beauty” means? How do you think we can help young people grow up with a more positive self-image?

A great blog post I read that speaks to this issue: http://louisepageblog.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/the-pressure-to-be-thin/