Exploring Family History on the Death Road

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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.

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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 …

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… 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
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“I Am a Half-Marathon Runner”

Okay, fine, I’m not. But I read somewhere that if I told myself that enough times, it would come true.

So for everyone who noticed my new Milestone Widget on the homepage, you’ve probably been twittering in anticipation of what I could possibly be scheming for next year. Or maybe you haven’t.

Well, the last time I said I was going to do something that I said I’d never do, I jumped out of a plane to ring in my 30th birthday. And after having done that, as well as a number of other things I once never dreamed of doing, I decided to quash one of the biggest I’ll-never-do-that’s in Janice history.

Run a half marathon.

Now, one of my favourite, yet most embarassing posts is buried deep within Your Daily Dose’s archives. It has a total of one like (this must change immediately). This post tells the painful story of how I, against all odds, became a 10k runner and how I would never become a half-marathon one.

But one day, a few weeks ago, I thought about that blasted half-marathon and I thought about how I said I’d never do it. And that just made me upset at myself. Why couldn’t I be a half-marathon runner like the KABILLION other half-marathon runners in the world? Did I also not have the drive? The physical capacity? The will of steel?

I sure as hell did … do.

And so, with new found excitement and direction, I declared last night that I would go for a run this morning. The training would begin PRONTO. Yes, the half-marathon was nine months away. Yes, I would need that long to prepare. Not a morning person? Pssht. Half-marathon runners shook the sleepiness from their eyes and braved the early morn alone, while everyone else was nestled in their blankets like cowards.

Well, the morning rolled around and … um … well, you know, I slept in a little later than expected. I had to get ready for work. I just didn’t have time. I’ll go running tomorrow …

I need help.

Questions! Questions!
To the kabillion half-marathon runners around the world: I would be most grateful for your advice, stories, and motivation on how to train well for my first half-marathon!

To those who have avoided the HM or FM like the plague: What would it take for you to gear up and just do it?

And to everyone!: If you were to raise money for a cause through your (hypothetical) run, what would be your cause?

– Cafe <3

Photo Credit: Runner at the finish line
This post was written on August 13, 2012
Um, and full disclosure: I did not run the half-marathon *hangs head in deep, deep shame*

When I Turned 30, I Jumped Out of a Plane

Skydiving was everything I had hoped it would be and yet not what I had expected. You watch video after video of people jumping before your big day, but it’s impossible to know how you’ll actually feel leaping out of a plane at 12,500 feet.

I’m not sure when I started thinking about skydiving, because for a very long time it was one of those things I said I would never do. Next thing I knew, it was on my bucket list with a due date of my 30th birthday.

So this past Saturday, on my 30th birthday, I headed to Skydive Toronto with anticipation and excitement for my first jump. After registration and training, it was finally time to head over to the loading area with my instructor, Igor.

“You will see,” he said, regarding how addictive skydiving can be.

I had waited 30 years to jump. He had been jumping for 30 years. I had no doubt that he knew what he was talking about.

As the plane ascended into the sky, finally reaching the clouds, I felt my first butterflies. I glanced over to the writing on the wall beside me: “NO FEAR. Love, Shania Twain.” I summoned the warrior courage within and felt that sheer excitement rise inside me again.

I watched the first person jump out. It doesn’t even look like they jump. It just looks like they drop out of the plane and disappear into the sky below. It totally psyches you out and pumps you up at the same time.

Next thing I knew, I was right at the edge of the doorway, looking to the earth thousands of feet below. Then, I noticed my instructor giving me the hand signal and knew: “It’s time to jump!”

And we too dropped out of the plane.

Words cannot fully explain how amazing those first few seconds of falling through the sky and clouds are. It’s like the thrill and release of pent-up energy and excitement that you get when you go over the peak of a roller coaster and go hurtling down at some ridiculous angle and speed.

But it’s not. How can you compare anything to jumping out of a plane with nothing but a dude on your back and sheer trust? (Okay, so there might also be a parachute involved in there somewhere).

And how can you compare anything to experiencing yourself falling through a cloud? (Y’all know me and my cloud obsession).

You can’t.

You just have to do it. Then “you will see.”

After we dropped out of the cloud, our colourful parachute opened up and we floated peacefully downwards for the next five or six minutes. Igor pointed out Georgian Bay and even the Toronto skyline way off in the horizon. The CN Tower was just a little toothpick from my spot in the sky.

While we were floating, Igor said: “Let’s practice landing.”

I grabbed on to my harness straps, stuck my legs out and placed them over his. Then he pulled down on the toggles and we suddenly stopped, completely frozen in mid-air a few thousand feet above the earth.

It was unreal.

I said: “Let’s do it again!” And we did.

We finally landed. It didn’t seem right to be back on the ground and on my feet. I just wanted to experience free-falling through the clouds over and over again.

Igor was right. I did see. And like him, I will definitely be back to relive one of the most amazing experiences of my life!

– Janice

Have you ever been skydiving (or have you always wanted to go)? Or: What’s that crazy thing on your bucket list that you still need to get checked off?

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A huge thanks to L & L for taking me to my jump and sharing this amazing experience with me, to Igor for being an excellent, reassuring instructor who made me feel completely safe, and to Marc who really captured how much fun I was having with an amazing video!