Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hello & Goodbye

The new house sitters have come and gone. Having recently been surfing myself and having watched 'Surfer, Dude' with Matthew McConaughey, I'm able to better empathize with their 'wanting a surf vacation' situation. On the second day they said "Hey, you didn't tell me the cockroaches were the size of my phone" While laughing I thought that was the best size description. The roaches do range from Nokia to iPhone.

In just three days they realized it was not the job for them. I can't blame them. They are coming to a very different environment than Jenn and I were blessed with. We had a bay full of excited cruisers and a motor boat to get ourselves into town among other things.

As a suggestion to any traveler: if you are going someplace new and staying for a while and making a commitment ASK QUESTIONS. You know what happens when you assume (ass/u/me) Don't go with information from two years ago. A lot can change in two years.  

Jenn and I were so excited to be living in a tree house with no address in the jungle. We absolutely loved our time at Cerro Velero. It was exactly what we were looking for. We made friends that we are eager to keep in touch with and visit with again. The dogs, Gelie and Indie have stollen our hearts. No matter how rustic the house seems to others it was perfect for us. It has been an inconvenience without having a boat but luckily the community here was very generous with us. It's hard to believe that time is already at a close and soon I'll also be saying goodbye to Jenn.

Jenn & I on the Camino Nov 2011
We met someone just the other day who on parting said in a way that warmed our hearts "I hope you miss your plane!" One of the biggest jokes of Bocas apparently is "I'm leaving soon". Jenn and I have floated ideas of other destinations. We're both excited to see where we meet up over the years. Road trip in North America, Horseback in Central America, live in Italy, our original plan of India? Pull a destination out of a hat...

Monday, September 24, 2012

A year since boarding a one way ticket

A year ago today I was repacking my bag for the umpteenth time wondering where my one way ticket would take me. To France, Spain and beyond. Tonight I sit under the stars and a bright moon in a bay on a boat. Today's events I couldn't have foreseen even from yesterday's vantage point. When I woke up this morning I thought I would be going on a trip nearby then waiting to welcome the new house sitters. As the saying goes "If you want to make god laugh, make plans."

Jenn and I have been housesitting for just over two months now. We've had hiccups but it hasn't deterred us from loving the house and our time here in Bocas del Toro. There was one week where we had no boat, no fridge and no internet. We still don't have a boat, our internet is not great but the fridge is on the mend. Its problem seems to be a matter of cleaning the back pipes out regularly from all the bugs that lodge themselves in the back. It's a propane fridge, the first one I've seen but they are very popular here. (A $6.40USD tank of propane lasts about 12 days)

Today I came inland (we're also boat sitting) and walking up the steps at 6:30am heard the Genny running. We hardly ever run the generator because we monitor our power and do laundry on days that are rich in sunlight. We unplug everything when we're not using it so there's no phantom charge and we don't use a lot of water so the water pump doesn't have to work hard and use up the power. As I was walking up the steps I thought maybe Jenn had been keen and started a load of laundry so we could hang it before we left for our day trip and it would be dry for the new house sitters.

That was not the case. A lot of learning happened today. Apparently the house wanted to make sure we learned a lot more about water pressure systems, batteries, generators and the whole system and how it works together. Sometime in the night a switch that is activated by a pressure gauge on a water system stopped working. Instead of turning off the pump kept going sucking so much power that our displays were angry with a red light indicating power was getting dangerously low. Having recently been told the damage that can happen to batteries when depleted we were anxious (to say the least). We called next door to Carl and Mary for advice and to cancel our trip.

I wont bore you with all the other things I learned but after being very sad to leave the day before Jenn and I are ready to embark on other adventures. If only the new house sitters had shown up! I've been a little bummed that the new house sitters aren't as chatty as I would have liked. Particularly after waiting all day and receiving a message just before sundown that they were only in Panama City. I've only had a very short chat two days ago with the newcomers, my favorite question so far was: "Are there bugs?"
To which I replied "yes, it's not a sealed house. There are lizards, geckos and the very occasional scorpion"
I looked up at Jenn and asked "I don't have to mention the cockroaches that are the size of your hand right? Those fall under 'bugs'?"
At least they don't bite or bother, they just hang out on the walls really.

So it's been a really tiring day and I've enjoyed recalling where I was last September 24th. So many new faces, places, changes and learning's. So many airplane rides, boating lessons and land exploration. If you walk out your front door, not sure where you'll end up some interesting things will happen. I guess that one way ticket was just what I needed to see the world of possibilities.

Spoiler alert: I'll be living on a boat!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How I tripped and fell into paradise

I've realized a lot of people are wondering how I stumbled into Panama here's the story…

Treehouses in Paradise
Fantasy Designs for the 21st Century
by David Greenberg
Well, there I was in Spain not ready to go home but not sure of my next move. I started looking at France, living in France had been a dream of mine. Through searching for house sit opportunities, you know how the internet can be, click here and there. Well a series of clicks and suddenly I was looking at a tree house that needed a caretaker. I had really loved tree houses through a book showing a series of contest photos for a tree house design competition. I saved the page in my 'world travel' bookmark folder beside Professional Hobo, Vagabondish's 8-tools-to-travel-long-term, Ethnologue and, Greenheart travel.

I went to bed dreaming about the house I had seen. I found myself looking at the photos and re-reading the description. There were so many reasons why I couldn't do it. The dates didn't work, I was only one person when they requested two, I didn't even know where Panama was. Still I went on dreaming and day dreaming about the house.

I found two other houses in France that I wanted to message so I bought the membership on, (which I wrongly called house-careers for ages, Freudian slip?) I made a profile and thought of Tim Ferris. In The four hour work week he mentions how easy it is to connect with people through the internet. This was worth a message. If they didn't answer at least I put my foot in.
I'm not afraid to send the first message, not afraid to make contact. Well, actually I am afraid of the pushy-ness, rejection and possibly being ignored. But doing it so often now, putting myself out there for relationships, jobs, travel opportunities. I don't take it personally. If I don't get reciprocation it's not crippling.

So I took a deep breath and wrote:
Hi there,
I saw your post a few months ago and can't stop thinking about it. I now have a friend who would be available to housesit with me but unfortunately not until July. Are you still in need of house sitters that time of year?
Hope you're having a great day,
I hit send and let myself forget about it. If I got a reply, great. If I didn't well I had done my part. I had showed up in the way I knew how for my seemingly unattainable dream.

I did get a reply and after a long series of emails from December to June with some phone calls I got on a plane, met up with Jenn and we made our way to The Treehouse.

We were told to follow the dogs and they would take us to a chocolate farm. Seriously! Every time I say this is makes me smile. We have a chocolate farm as a neighboring property and they do tours and show how they make their heavenly natural chocolate.

So there I was with Jenn on a tour with a group of students studying monkeys with a primatologist. Lloyd, the person who set up the tour, connecting the primatologist with the chocolate farm asked how I'd come to be here. As I was explaining I mentioned that almost all the previous house sitters had been asked to house sit other properties in the surrounding area. They were always finding a reason to stay.  "That's actually why I was asking." He said "We're looking for house sitters over at our place"

After chatting through a lot of the excursion I checked out the website and sent an introduction email right that night. I wanted to email him who I was, show him I was serious by getting in touch right away, and make sure I would make a good fit. I asked to see the contract or an outline of responsibilities. After some back and forth emails I was invited to come for two days to really see for myself what the responsibilities were and most important, if I got along with the dogs!

I've been planning on coming home to Toronto. So excited to re-unite and actually looking forward to Autumn followed by snow. I'm sure that people back home will understand though that this is an opportunity I can't refuse. From what I've seen so far Casa Cayuco is a slice of paradise. White sandy beaches, well maintained jungle paths preserving the natural beauty of the rainforest, mouthwatering flavourful meals and a guarantee that only people who appreciate the lifestyle it provides will be the ones you paddle board, snorkel, surf and explore with.

I most enjoyed laying in a hammock beside the water listening to the calm sea. Enjoying a morning coffee on the beach looking at the horizon and seeing mountains far off in the distance. I had jokingly complained to Jenn "It's not completely perfect, there are no mountains." She nodded in agreement as we waded in the warm water of the beach the first night. Then as I was sipping my coffee in the morning Lloyd said "If you take your coffee out on the dock it's clear enough now to see the mountains in the distance" I swore under my breath and could not ignore that I'd love to call this place home for the next three months.

I understand now completely why this special area of Panama was compared to Hotel California upon arrival "you can go, but you can never leave" Thankfully my visa does have an expiration so I will be taking the big bird in the sky back to Toronto but not until January 2013.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Jobs in Paris

I was recently asked about my time in Paris and yes, I worked while in Paris, France. I worked for the five and a half consecutive months I lived there. I wanted to have some money to spend so I took on my usual three jobs game.

A page from the Keel's Simple Diary at Taschen
For some reason I prefer to have part time jobs for a change of pace then one serious job that I feel like I'm slaving away at. I feel like it gives me more freedom and security and it's also a great way to meet different types of people. I went a bit overkill with these jobs though because I just said "yes" all the time to everything. I wasn't sure how long I was staying and wanted to keep my options open.

It might come as a surprise that I found all my jobs through craigslist, landed in Paris with a job contract and secured two other jobs and two apartments within my first two weeks. Yes, having a Euro passport was in my favor but with the internet there's no reason to not land prepared. Through craigslist and other search engines I started to apply and sent out emails to all sorts of jobs. I applied for everything between DisneylandParis and being an Au Pair/Nanny.

View from Sara's Paris studio where I stayed my second week
Money was an issue for me. I knew Paris was expensive and the only way I could go there was with a job ready for me. That was my MO: to get myself back to Paris, I needed to go with a job. The most abundant jobs I found were for Teaching, nannying, serving and office jobs. I catered three resumes to highlight my skills in these three areas and wrote cover letters. This can be a daunting task but once it's done it's a matter of copy, paste and casting a wide net.

Sitting in my kitchen window in Paris on a sunny day
I wasn't picky on the job but to me having a good life meant traveling to the places that wouldn't leave my daydreams. I recently saw this quote on my friends Corinne's facebook wall:
      one day you wake up and realize you'd rather have a good life than a good job.  
Was I nervous that I couldn't walk down the street and check out these places that I was applying for? That I couldn't call a friend ask their opinion on the place? That I didn't know any Paris natives? Hell's yes! Many other comforts were not available to me and many other fears cropped up. But, that's what google maps street view is for and websites. When I received an email reply I would verify on the company website and look for the persons contact info. I would ask specific questions and offer to have a Skype interview.

Housewarming party with Laura, she's behind the camera.
When I started to get responses regarding in person interviews I explained that I was not currently in Paris but I would contact them as soon as I confirmed my dates. Through online communication I was able to figure out that I did not have enough French to get through an office job. That enabled me to focus more on tutoring positions. When I was 17 and took a year off before going to college but I took a TESOL course at King and Spadina. I knew I wanted to travel so that course was education filling, resume building and something I could do anywhere. It gave me the confidence I needed to consider and apply for these jobs. (Completing TESOL gave me additional resources like that I check on every so often)

So the whole Aupaire thing...  
I got my job with a family in a beautiful house. I picked up a wonderful little girl from school and would chat about silly things on the walk back to her house, all in English. She would have a snack and we would do exercises in English, some printed out from online sources, some games that she had done with previous tutors. We would read easy stories taking turns reading the page or if it was a really easy book she'd have to read the whole book. Then I would pick up from where was left off in the Narnia series. Her incentive to speak only English and play word games was 20minutes of Monopoly at the end where we talk about different sentences. We would pack up the game and set it back up, each game lasting a week or so. I worked two days a week at 10€ an hour. For me the wage fit the work and I was happy at the house. A few times the little girl didn't want me to leave and would hide my shoes. I liked that I got to have fun and answer questions, not having strict rules to follow.

View from the Pompidou
So the whole tutoring English thing...   
I was fortunate to find a contract at IPSA that was a full two week contract. I was genuinely interested in aeronautics having made the tough decision in my teens to go to TAC over an aviation school. I still plan to get my private pilot license one day and read articles every so often. That genuine interest kept me diligent in my follow-up emails. Given a very organized plan I was able show up and easily do my job. This would reimburse the money I spent the first two weeks and enable me to set up interview dates with all the other jobs I was in contact with. Once I was confirmed I bought my one way ticket. Completing one contract led to more, I even have an opportunity now to return in January. This job connected me with great people like my roommate Laura, my boss who shared her guidebook and Photos from her trip to Panama, and Felicity who lent me A Moveable Feast, and enjoyed the Lipp cafe with me.

Eating Mille Feuille at Lipp with Jenn and Felicity

So the whole being a bartender thing...  
I was lucky to work at a really fun bar, Cafe Oz. At night it turns into a kind of night club where people dance on tables and bartenders dance on the bar. Sometimes pouring free shots for people, always lighting the bar and jager bombs on fire. The staff dresses up almost every Saturday for a themed night and you never really know what's going to happen. One of my favorite things was cheering on a Sax player who was standing on the bar playing alongside the beats of the DJ,with go-go dancers alongside. Another night, hearing the domino effect of 70 jager shots clicking into each other only to fall into redbull/ozzy drink while surrounded by fire taking up half of the bar was also pretty memorable.

A regular night at Cafe Oz, Chatelet

Working there I know more cocktails and shots then I can count
and have a few tips for being nice to your server:
- It doesn't hurt to say please and thanks
- Do not wave in your servers face
- Just because you're deaf doesn't mean your server wants to be, so stop shouting
- If there's a bell that's rung when tips come in and you're not hearing bells, leave more tips, you will be remembered

Arriving home after vampire/death night