The Barrage


Since writing, Magic Made in Mexico, my story is literally an open book… but I’ve not done anything illegal, or so-terribly embarrassing that I need to hide from “enquiring minds”. Really, it doesn’t bother me that people know quite a bit about my life.

Nonetheless I feel uneasy with how much information my service providers and social media sites have collected.


For example… Monday, I was traveling back to Merida and after sketching a bit and listening to some great Canada Day entertainment, by the Siobhan Walsh Group (who are all much better-looking than the cartoon I drew) I searched for a comfy corner where I could relax. I found one in an unlikely place… close by the Canada Line’s airport stop.

With many hours ahead of me, I settled into the chair, and connected to Spotify. I clicked on “playlist”, closed my eyes, and the first song to reach my ears was “Homeward Bound”. I like Simon and Garfunkle, but I know I’ve never listed the duo as “favourites”. And furthermore, how does Spotify know that: “I’m sittin’ in a railway station with a ticket to my destination… mm-mm…”

Unnerved, I scrolled through the APPS roster on my phone and found several I did not recognise. How did they get there? Later I found an email promoting “classic tunes”; the message urged me to buy… guess who… Simon and Garfunkle, of course.

Time drifted by, and 24 hours after leaving my sister’s home at Allison Lake BC, I arrived in Merida, Yucatan. I felt too exhausted go online at all, but today, when I did so, I had an email from Apple urging me to purchase a Spotify upgrade that would give me access to ALL my favourite tunes. Just for curiosity’s sake, I opened the link, and what was playing in the background?

Homeward bound
I wish I was
Homeward bound…

Natch´… I took a couple of siestas. And perhaps because of those two extra sleeps, and the l-o-n-g travel day, I could not drift off to Dreamland. So, I turned on Netflix. No list appeared, but a promo did:

  • Watch on your TV, computer, iPad, iPhone or console
  • No hassles, no commitments

No hassles, no commitments… My Foot!

I clicked, and the next message to appear was a “request” to answer a survey about the type of programming I want. Netflix promised they would not share my information with any other platform.

Right… how could I imagine they would do such a thing?

Does anyone know of a way to stop the constant barrage of pop-ups, pleas for more information, unending upgrading and downloading of new apps?


Desert Hills Ranch in Ashcroft, BC

David and me, atop one of the sprawling mesas at Desert Hills Ranch

A bit of back story about today’s post:  Two years ago, my sister proposed a day trip to Desert Hills, a ranch in Ashcroft, a small town, located an hour and a half from Kamloops. Driving such a distance, just to buy veggies and fruit, is so like Barb. Her never-ending quest for the freshest, healthiest ingredients knows no bounds, and I agreed to go whenever she wanted.

Jim and Marianne at the Desert Hills store

Then, the next day, while walking down one of Kamloops’ main streets, I saw a crowd of men, standing outside the “Services Canada” building. From the sound of their somewhat nervous laughter I knew they were Latinos, and as I got closer, I knew for sure they were from Mexico. My brain switched over to Spanish – ¡Hola! ¿Que hacen por aquí? – Hello! What are you doing here?, I asked. They were as surprised to hear me speaking their language, as I was to see them in this British Columbia small city. Up until then, in Kamloops, I had not met anyone from Mexico.

A view of the hills

I soon learned there were actually 150 of them; all recently-arrived participants in Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Program (SAWP). The Mexican workers have temporary residency visas, issued by the Canadian government that allow them to work legally during the planting, growing and harvest seasons. They receive return transportation by air, housing, medical coverage a legal per hour wage.

Fields at desert Hills Ranch

Actually, there were 150 men, and all would be working at the Desert Hills Ranch. They didn’t quite believe me when I told them I had plans to go there soon. In fact, I wrote a post about my chance meeting with 150 men; here’s the link if you want to read it:

Grapes growing…

Barb and I went to Desert Hills soon afterwards, and we had a wonderful day; she bought enough produce to feed a vegan village, and I felt heartened to see that Canada has programs that help ease the devastating unemployment in Mexico. At the same time, SAWP helps Canadian farmers hire the help they need to make their business grow. It is a win-win situation.


Now, fast-forward two years, to yesterday. Jim and Marianne, great friends from Merida are visiting me in Kamloops, and to tell the truth, the weather has been less than welcoming. When I suggested we visit Desert Hills, I added, “There will be lots of places where we can keep ourselves out of the rain.” That settled our plans, and off we drove. Actually, as soon as we got underway, the weather improved. The scenery through the suede-textured hills is dramatic, and I love the way light plays on them. The Thompson River runs alongside the highway, as does the railway, and we counted hundreds of cars, pulled by as many as four engines. From the moment our journey began, my friends could not stop smiling, and as soon as they stepped out of the car, they were greeted in Spanish. They responded with – ¡Hola! – then asked me, “Why am I hearing mariachi music at a Canadian ranch?”


Summer flowers bloomed and beautiful produce overflowed from the bins. The farm’s store shelves were stocked with many food items we regularly see in Merida. And as luck would have it, one of the owners, David Porter, was on hand. “I have wanted to meet you,” I told him as I took his hand, “What an amazing place this is! I am so happy to see all these people from Mexico!”

The Ranch is huge...

David told us that his parents bought the ranch about 20 years ago. They built it into a solid business, and now, he and his brother Chris run the operation. He said his family believes that good business practices, fair conditions for their employees, and lots of creativity make up the three-part formula of their success.


The Porter brothers are incredibly innovative. Since British Columbia has a short growing season, they start some of their produce, such as sweet red and white onions, in Arizona. When the weather is warm enough in Ashcroft, they pull up the growing bulbs, ship them back home, and hand-plant each one in the fertile beds that have been prepared for their arrival. On the ranch, each of the plants is drip-fed to save water. In the hot houses I saw long lines of Habanero chillies and other unusual crops. In fact, last year I bought Poblano chillies at Desert Hills, and made Chiles en Nogada for my Kamloops friends.

Harvesting cherries…

Another ingenious innovation at Desert Hills keeps the birds away from devouring the ripening cherries. In the orchard, they set up a recorder that plays the sound of dying birds; their piercing cries scare real birds away. “It is a little unnerving,” said one of the men harvesting the sweet cherries, “but it sure keeps the birds from the fruit.”

This keeps the birds away from the fruit

Bees are an integral part of the farm; there seem to be hundreds of hives spread over the 1,300 acres. Other livestock, including cattle, goats and horses are seen in the fields.

David took Marianne, Jim and I on a full tour of the ranch. I would like to thank him for his generous hospitality and for such an interesting day of learning. But more importantly, I want to express my gratitude to him and the rest of the Porter family for restoring a bit of my faith in the future. The news we hear and read these days is frightening. Our “leaders” seem hell-bent on political and monetary gains – they don’t seem to take the “Good Rule” into consideration – not even a little bit.

Victoria, the store manager and me

The Porters show us that it is possible to make money, but not at the expense of the workers. The store at the ranch is managed by Victoria, a lively, lovely woman from the Philippines. A trip to see her family each year is part of her benefit package; and in fact all the employees receive “home leave” as needed. Desert Hills is an example to follow.

Chile Habanero

And I must not forget to mention the dinner recommendation David gave us. Sam’s Diner, in downtown Ashcroft. For $10.95 CAD, we ate the most delicious meal of sweet&sour chicken with chow mien. Again, not what we expected to find, but all the more delicious because of the surprise. Dessert anyone? We’d parked our car right outside the Ashcroft Bakery and Coffee Shop, and we couldn’t resist buying a dozen home-made cookies. We didn’t have time to tour the town’s stained glass murals, but I will be back to see them another day.

If you are ever in BC, and are looking for an inspiring excursion, visit Desert Hills, or follow them on facebook:

An Utterly Canadian Experience (with a taste of Guatemala)

Donna and me ready to enter the Maya world in BC

During the past couple of months, Jorge and I have traveled about 4,000 kilometres visiting friends and family – all the way from coastal British Columbia to the heartland of the Prairies – and back again.

We attended my nephew Mitchel’s wedding to beautiful Kelsey; and afterwards, knocked back slammer-shots (YIKES!) with our young nieces and nephews at the vdG cabin on Wakaw Lake. The next day, we followed the fool-hardy escapade with my brother, John’s personalized tour of Saskatchewan’s farms and smoke-houses.

We spent the lion’s share of our time in BC at the “Kamloops apartment with the Amsterdam staircase”. We ran errands, gardened, took lots of walks along the Thompson River and enjoyed ourselves at Allison Lake, wining and dining with my sister, Barb and husband, Craig. We iced our holiday cake with two days in Vancouver, staying with friends, Ramona and Tom. They took us to Lynn Canyon Park so we could swing on the Suspension Bridge; to Cyprus Bowl for a spectacular view of Howe Sound; to Horseshoe Bay where we feasted on fish & chips; and to breathe the invigorating salty air of Stanley Park and Ambleside Beach.

With sadness, but also with gratitude, we attended the funeral of Rick Jones, the brother of my long-time friend, Marilou. Since meeting Marilou in Grade One, she and her family have been a huge part of my life; I feel bereft knowing that I will never see Rick again. And I am not alone; he will be missed by all who knew him.

Jorge returned to Merida 10 days ago, but I have stayed on for a bit longer. I wish I could see everyone I love on during this time, but I am overly-blessed with more friendships than days I have for visiting. However, while in Vancouver, I did get to stay with my friend Mary, and as always, we logged hours of walking, talking and of course, we went shopping. Mary and I met in Peru, just shy of 50 years ago. But that’s a story for another day.

From Mary’s house, I rode the ferry to Nanaimo and then drove the scenic highway to Duncan, where my mother is from. This small city is located in the Cowichan Valley, about 65 kilometres from the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

Being in Duncan always brings back so many funny and poignant memories from my childhood. I would have liked to stay longer, but my cousin Donna and I wanted to see the new exhibit at the Royal BC Museum, in Victoria, which is the capital city of British Columbia. Many tourists get confused because the name of the island and the province’s biggest city are identical.

So, to clear up any lingering doubts – Victoria, the capital city of BC, is situated on Vancouver Island, which lies slightly less than 100 kilometres, across the Strait of Georgia, from the mainland – where the city of Vancouver is located.

Now to tell you about the exhibit Donna and I wanted to see at the Royal BC Museum.

My friend Lori joined us on our outing to the exhibition of impressive Maya objects from Guatemala – more than 300 precious jade, ceramic, gold, stone and textile artefacts – reflecting classic and contemporary Maya culture.

The exhibition is called, “MAYA – The Great Jaguar Rises”. It coincides with UNESCO’s Year of Indigenous Languages and highlights the thirty Maya languages that are still spoken today, by roughly half the population of Guatemala.

It is the largest Guatemalan exhibit ever shown in Canada, and one of the aims is to demonstrate the continuity of Maya culture from its beginnings in the second and first millennium, before Christ, until the present day. It focuses on the relevance of the Indigenous languages of Guatemala, and the resilience of these languages, a topic which of course resonates in Canada.

The majority of the exhibit focuses on Maya culture between the second and ninth centuries AD. Well preserved, innovative art, jewellery and architecture are featured, and all but a few pieces are original. A portion of the exhibit also shows the culture of contemporary Maya people.

Over the years, I have seen many displays pre-Columbian cultures, especially the Maya. The exquisite design, the excellent condition of each piece and the curator’s tasteful approach to the display of such a large exhibit impressed me. If you travel to Victoria this summer, I highly recommend you go to see “MAYA – The Great Jaguar Rises”. Opened on Friday May 17th, it will run until December 31st , 2019.

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