Paul and Gayle are taking a year from their roles in Picton and Belleville and will be teaching at the Maple Leaf International School in Trinidad. We will use this blog to record some of our edventures!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Special Guest Blogger -- Krista Gordon

I’ll begin with a BIG thank-you to Paul and Gayle for hosting not one, not two, but five houseguests over the Ontario March Break! Not only did Paul and Gayle welcome all of us into their Trini home, they also made sure we captured as many Trinidad experiences as we could in our short time visiting this beautiful country. From hashing, doubles, bake and shark, caves, swamps, hiking, KFC and even some liming, we jammed as much as possible into the trip!
A reoccurring theme of this adventure was that “life begins on the edge of your comfort zone!” Being the incredible teachers that they are, Paul and Gayle provided ample opportunities for all of us travellers to venture into unfamiliar territory at some point along the trip. Whether it was jumping off high rocks into deep cave pools, starting out in a mob of runners crossing a creek in a hash, completing a six-hour trek down a river in the rainforest or driving the roads of Trinidad, we all got a chance to experience an adventure outside of our comfort zones!!
Highlights of the week included catching waves at Maracas Beach, trying bake and shark, swimming in the caves, watching a four-eyed fish in the Caroni Swamp, seeing the biodiversity of the hills and forests, operating a car on the right side of the vehicle (windshield wipers do not work so great for indicating a turn!), driving the narrow, winding roads of Trinidad, and meeting new friends to share fun conversation and laughter with over dinner at Paul and Gayle’s apartment!
Thanks again Paul and Gayle for sharing your Trini experiences with us, and hosting us for an amazing adventure in Trinidad!

Sunday, 22 March 2015


Growing up in a century farm house meant that usually every year we'd have a "bat incident". A bat would somehow enter the kitchen, we'd all scream and run around frantically, and then a badminton racket would appear much to the demise of the harmless bat. Combine those scarring memories and the fact that in French bats are called chauve-souris (bald mouse), I was pretty excited about a hike to the Tamana bat caves, housing the second largest colony of bats in the world.

Ok, to be honest, I WAS excited to trek out to the caves. Bats are such fascinating creatures, and our hike yesterday proved it.

The caves are located in the central region of Trinidad, about a 2 hour drive from our place, given stop and go traffic, narrow windy roads, with pot-holes the size of small craters. With Emile (our guide) and 12 hikers,we eventually reached the trailhead at 4:30 pm. A short uphill climb brought us to the cave exit, which at 5 pm was quiet and unassuming. Emile agreed to a quick climb down into the cave, which was nothing like we'd ever experienced before. The cave entrance was large, and what we considered to be bat filled. Well, how wrong were we.

Emile pointed to a small hole, and when I say small, I mean small, and said, "Ok, that's where we crawl through to get into the cave." Pardon? Paul led the way, slithering through this very tight tunnel passage. When he called out to Emile, "Are you sure about this?", confidence was not high on the meter. Somehow all 12 of us mustered the confidence to crawl through the tunnel, landing in a smelly, dark, humid and bat infested cavern. IT WAS SUPER COOL!

The Tamana caves are home to 1.5 million bats consisting of 12 different species. After exploring one of the small caverns, we re-surfaced to the cave exit. As it was dusk, the bats were exiting for their nightly feeding ritual. We stood directly in the path of thousands of bats, and let me tell you it was surreal. It didn't even look real. Bats flew directly at us, and then in the last millisecond, they'd swoop up, left or right to avoid us. The pictures don't do it justice, but if you ever get the chance to do something like this, do it. You'll gain a new appreciation for bats.

There are morepictures in the gallery!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Adventures in Teaching Math (Part 2)

I told you that there would probably be more stories from math class. This won't be the last.

For the last little while we've been studying Trigonometry. Honestly, the students are doing very well with the idea of angles and side lengths. We took extra time to make sure that everyone understood the big idea that Sine, Cosine and Tangent were RATIOS and they were able to make connections with our work on proportions (affectionately known as the "P-word") from the first unit. We did a quiz and it seemed that most of them were getting it.

As it turns out, "application" of these concepts was going to be a challenge. After making clinometers out of protractors and drinking straws, we went for a walk to look at ways we could use our trigonometry knowledge. We identified the peak of the roof of the school and I asked them measure the angle and distance. Upon returning to class, we did not have time to complete the problem so I put it off until the next day.

At the beginning of the next class I decided that we'd start the day where we had left off so I put this problem on the board:

Darla is standing 15 m from the base of a building and using a clinometer she measures the angle of elevation to be 37°. If her eyes are 1.65 m above ground level, find the height of the building.

Puzzled looks and some anxious comments followed: "I hate word problems", "You never taught us this", "What's a clinometer"...

I quickly surmised that our trip outside on the previous day was not as "sticky" as I had thought. I needed to ease the tension and provide some sort of success -- quickly -- so I said, "Why don't you try to draw a picture?...Imagine the scene and try to sketch it."

Two girls immediately pulled out their coloured markers and started making a full page drawing of Darla -- eye lashes, coiffed hair, nails, the works. Ooops. I didn't expect that!

I don't think I reacted very well when I saw that NO ONE DREW A TRIANGLE!!!  Dammit, we'd been studying triangles for two weeks, and I didn't see this coming at all. I am sure I sounded slightly exasperated when I said, "Can somebody please draw a triangle?"

It is amazing the number of ways we learn what our students need and how we respond. We've been setting up ladders, measuring flag poles, ramps, drawing pictures and solving problems for a week. 

Yet, on Friday, one of the students who'd missed 3 days drew the picture below. The edventure continues....

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Guest Blog: Heather Patterson

Hello from Trinidad, everyone!

The Moira contingent of visitors arrived to visit Gayle and Paul this week (mission: Make sure they're coming back!).  We were warmly greeted (in more ways than one) after our overnight flight by Gayle and Paul at 6:00 am.  We drove (yes, us Trini newbies drove!) back to the apartment and caught a few zzzs, then headed out to the beach.  Getting to the beach involves a long winding drive up the mountains, with some gorgeous views.  We played a little in the waves, then went back to the apartment and headed out again for a hash.  I'm sure you know what a hash is by now, but just in case you're a new follower, it is essentially a pile of people running through the bush looking for a trail.  But it's lots of fun, with lots of great people, and it was a good end to Day 1.  And then we went to bed -- at 8:00 pm.

Gayle and Paul then headed back to the airport to pick up Jane, Dave and Grace (I'm sure you'll hear from them in a few days).  We slept through their return, and didn't get up until 8 the next morning.  Elephants could have walked through our room, and we would have missed it.  Sunday, we started early again, and got up to go visit some caves, and even got to go swimming in the caves.  Incredible!  Next on the agenda was a swamp tour.  I was a little doubtful, as Paul pointed out the dump we could see from the highway, and explained about its proximity to the swamp, but this turned out to be a very cool tour.  We saw the national bird, the red ibis, coming back by the hundreds after a day out of eating.

Monday saw us out on a hike through the forest with our new friends and Gayle-Paul squatters.  We played in a waterfall, and floated on our backs looking up at the forest canopy.  Beautiful!

This country is pretty amazing, whether you're in forest, in the water or visiting a swamp.  One of the benefits of visiting Gayle and Paul later in their year in Trinidad is that they've had time to vet out the tourist attractions that simply aren't worth it, and do find the hidden gems.  One of those was the hummingbird house, Yerette.  Upon arrival, we could see hundreds of hummingbirds, all zipping around, feasting on nectar and generally hanging out.  As I stood taking pictures, it sounded like bees near my head as the hummingbirds were so close, and I could hear their wings moving.  What an amazing site.  And since we promised to spread the word... Did you know that hummingbirds are pollinators, just like bees?  Those little guys are not just cute, amazing little birds, but they are essential to our ecosystem.

Probably the best part of the whole trip, however, was the chance to catch up with Gayle and Paul.  They are doing great here, making friends everywhere, and staying very busy.  You're not going to rest if you go on vacation chez Miller-Pickard.  A visit to their school proved to us that they are right at home there, and are learning lots to bring home with them.  Yes, yes, we checked it all out and it meets with the high standards that we expect for these two.

And now, we head off to Tobago!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Not Just Another Moonlit Walk On The Beach

Sometime in March each year, the Leather Back sea turtles begin their annual migration to the warm waters and course sand beaches in Caribbean Islands to lay their eggs. The unspoiled northwest beaches of Trinidad are among the favorite landing sites.  Before we left Canada, the Nature of Things showed a documentary about Trinidad's sea turtles. We've been looking forward to "Turtle Season" ever since.

One of our teacher colleagues emailed in February that she was organizing a turtle trip so we jumped at it. Upon further consideration, we realized that March 6th was very early in the season and that we'd be very lucky to see turtles.  Despite being less than optimistic, we loaded up the car with another teacher and her mom on Friday after school and started the trek to Grand Riviere.

Trinidad is about 80 km wide if you can draw a straight line.  The road from Maple Leaf International School to Grand Riviere skirts the bottom of the northern mountain range, goes around the eastern end and about 18 km back west.  The total trip is 110 km each way.  In Canada, we'd allow about an hour and half including a stop a Timmy's!  Here, the mountain roads twist and turn. There are lots of pot holes and wash outs.  The trip took over 31/2 hours!  Needless to say, we were very happy to have reached our destination! 

Upon arrival, the owner of the guest house greeted us. She was helping to organize the turtle viewing permits and told us that the sightings that week were quite late and rare. The rest of the teachers and guests arrived, we ate, and settled in after dinner. I was just about to organize a game of cards when our turtle guide showed up at the door.

There was a turtle on the beach!  It was only 8:30!  The chaotic buzz of excitement was palpable as we put on our shoes and grabbed the cameras.

The nearly full moon guided our way to the nearby beach.  Five minutes on the sand and we found her!  Her shell was about 1.5 m long. She was amazing! 

We watched closely as she used her rear flippers to methodically dig a 60cm hole for her eggs.  Within about 10 minutes she was done and entered her trance.  During this time she lays about 50-80 eggs.  After the guide help to measure, insert an RFID chip and clip flipper tags, he showed us the egg chamber as it filled with slippery white orbs that were slightly smaller than tennis balls. Once that was done we were thrilled to learn that we could touch her! Cool!

After about 20 minutes, she started to cover the eggs and camouflage the area.  When she was almost ready to enter the water,  we noticed another turtle coming ashore!

What a treat!  We are hoping to go back in a few weeks to see the hatchlings!

Of course there are more pictures in the gallery!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

A Crazy Week - March 1 to 6

Last week was a busy week, and it reminded us of our former Canadian lives. Here is a recap:

- Up at 6 am and off on a full day hike near Braso Seco. 
- Home by 6 pm and squeezed in a bit of school work

- Up at 6 am for our weekly bike/roller blade on the highway. 
- Home by 7:30 so that Paul could go and volunteer with I Can Adventures for the morning.
- Pick up frisbee at 5 pm and to celebrate Diana's departure, ice cream at Hagen Daaz.
- Home at 7:30, just in time to finish the weekend with some prep for school.
- Paul continued to fix hacked Maple Leaf website

- To school by 6:40 to teach for the day.
- Paul kicked off the deer hunt for elementary students.
- Gayle ran a Science Fair workshop for grade 4.
- After school volleyball "training" for elementary kids by Gayle
- Paul continued to fix hacked Maple Leaf website

- Regular teaching duties
- Deer hunt continued
- Gayle ran a Science Fair workshop for grade 5.
- Paul coached elementary soccer after school
- Frisbee at 7pm

- Regular classes
- Gayle coordinated University of Waterloo Math workshops
- Gayle ran a Science Fair workshop for grade 6
- Deer hunt continued
- Paul had his math class test the new laptops which was not glitch free :(
- Paul led PD at after school staff meeting

- Regular classes
- Deer hunt round 2
- Gayle ran a Science Fair workshop for grade 5
- Paul attended the PTA meeting after school to inform them of the Sports Day plan

- Regular classes
- Left school at 2:20 to go and see turtles on the north coast

Needless to say, the week flew by!!!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Macajuel Pond and Many Smiles

When a hike in Trinidad starts with caution tape, "Police Line Do Not Cross", you know you are in for an exciting day!

Without any major plans for the weekend (grading tests, planning lessons, recreating the school's hacked website and volunteering at an obstacle course event don't count) we decided to join Emile on yet another Saturday hike. To be honest, I wasn't overly excited about venturing to Macajuel Pond at 6:30 am and I became less excited as we were still driving deep into the Northern Range at 8:30am.

As soon as we hit the trail at 9 am, the beauty of the mountains, the fresh clean air and the luscious green rainforest vegetation put a smile on my face. Well, that smile grew as the wore on. In driving to the trailhead, we drove through Braso Seco, and well know hamlet for thugs and murders. No joke. So when we walked past the police tape, it wasn't overly shocking. Yes, it was a bit disconcerting, but not shocking.
Soon the sights took over our thoughts, as we stumbled upon fresh nutmeg, grapefruits, oranges and coffee plants. Some nutmeg managed to make the journey home. I'll let you know how the cookies turn out! We arrived to a nice, simple waterfall after about 2 hours of hiking - the Madamas waterfall. We snacked, swam and chatted with our fellow 7 hikers. With a fast river walking pace, we left Madamas and we soon found ourselves upon a gorgious gorge. It was SO fun manoevering through the gorge, plunging into the water, skirting across logs, jumping off of rocks and swimming through caverns. Did I mention it was super fun? This trek brought us to Macajuel Pond. Now you might be wondering what macajuel is? It is the Trini name for a boa constrictor that is often found in fairly large numbers at this pond.

As luck (if you like LARGE snakes) would have it, we later almost stepped on this monster boa in the river. It must have been about 8 feet long, and thankfully it looked like it had just eaten. I think it is one of the coolest things we've seen so far in Trinidad.

Anyway, the rest of the hike was relaxing, and we managed to stop for buss up shut (a favourite Indian food of curried meat, dhal bread, pumpkin and sweet mango) on the way home. It was a great day. Oh - there was one more thing that made us smile, and perhaps shake our heads. As we were driving through Port of Spain, they were painting the lines of the road - BY HAND...WITH BRUSHES.

Click here to see the rest of the pictures!