Archive for the ‘Transit’ Category

It’s Sunday afternoon in Yellowknife and -31 C. Ideal conditions for staying indoors drinking tea and updating one’s blog!

I’ve been back in Canada since September 30, back in Yellowknife since Hallowe’en and back at work since the first of November. October was my last month of “freedom” and I made sure I packed a lot in: a quick drive up north to find an apartment, a long-awaited road trip to Lake Superior, visits with friends and family, and enjoying the Okanagan fall. Here are a few colourful memories of those not-so-long-ago warmer days…


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The Journey Continues

And so I am once again writing from an airport, Geneva this time, about to catch a series of flights that will take me back to Canada a year to the day that I left Toronto for Bali. I’m afraid I can’t give you a neat and tidy set of conclusions about the last 12 months – that will require many more months if not years of processing. In response to a few of you who have asked in one way or another how it feels now that the journey is ending, I will however say this: the journey continues. First, on a purely physical level, I’m not due back at work until November 1, so although I will be staying within Canada.s borders I plan to log a lot of road kms in BC, Alberta, the NWT and Ontario over the next month. Second, the travel journal friends gave me before I left Toronto is only just half full, in other words nearly half its pages are still blank and I already have a few ideas for how to change that. Finally, if there’s one thing that is absolutely clear to me after this year especially, it is that however much or little the scenery changes, the real journey happens within.

This does seem like a good time for some thank yous. First of all a big thank you to my mom and dad for pick-ups, drop-offs, storage, packing, international banking, carrying extra suitcases, getting the right clothes to the right place at the right time, organizing and coming on the Ireland trip, generally being an A1 pit stop crew, and especially for their moral support.

Next a thank you to Made and Ni-Luh, Gabriel and Irma, Ivan and Irena and Mercedes (and her mom who I unfortunately didn’t get to meet) for their hospitality. Staying in the homes of friends is an entirely different experience from being a hotel/hostel tourist and my memories of Bali, Mexico, Easter Island and Mar del Plata will always be extra special because of the warmth and kindness of my hosts. Speaking of warmth and kindness, I also must thank my thoughtful landlords/friends Marco and Marina for making me feel so welcome in Torino. It really does seem like a second home now.

A tremendous beam of gratitude goes out to all my guides for helping me and others discover the corners of the earth that are special to them. I hope that they realize what a gift they are offering to travellers like me and to the planet through their service. In order of appearance: Made, Namgay, Maria, Peter, Abner, Juanito, Roberto (El Commando), Robinson, Jaime, Juan, Tshe Tshe, Laurent, Steph, Nelly, Jen, Jean-Marc and Stiijn. A special thank you also to Karma, Jack and Sonam in Thimphu for your parts in making every one of my trips to Bhutan spectacular. And thank you to all my fellow surfers, hikers, rafters, riders, winetasters and travellers for sharing the journey.

Checking in with friends over the course of the year has been a highlight. Thanks especially to Heather in Toronto and Keith and Angela in Vancouver for letting me crash with them, Dougall and Valerie in Paris for the ice pack and delicious dinner, the Bang crew for reconvening on my periodic returns to Toronto, the Massey community (another place that will always seem like home), bobbi for the books and for still being my friend after all these years, Charlene for her faith that we would eventually meet up somewhere in Italy and uplifting texts, Nick for hanging out in London and putting me in touch with a fantastic osteopath, Ben, Emily, Frank, Graham, Patricia, and Shane for keeping up the same habits in the same city and for being you, Harry for being a culinary oasis and for being you, Karen and Tanis for being you, and Zannah, who I unfortunately just missed in London for inspiring me with her amazing blog about life in Liberia (A Long Way from Coalgate). To my Yellowknife friends, it’s been a long time, and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Finally, thank you thank you thank you to all you readers. When I first started this blog I didn’t know if anyone other than my parents would read it, and I worried about having to post everything in draft form without any time for editing. Your encouraging emails and comments (thanks especially Ben, Miki, Tanis, Tanya and mes tantes) meant a lot, and so did every hit on the site. I won’t be writing as often from now on, but I suspect this will not be my last post.

The journey continues…

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After a whirlwind tour through Milan, Paris, and London, none of which I’m particularly fond of, I’m happy to be back home in Torino enjoying all my routines: morning coffee and croissant at the caffe-bar across the street, hanging laundry to dry all over my apartment, shopping for delicious fresh fruit, vegetables, pasta, wine, etc., and reading War and Peace on a bench by the river Po.

Milan, apart from the chance to see daVinci’s Last Supper which is well worth the view in person, was a bit of a nightmare. Congested narrow streets, an almost total absence of greenery, impeccably dressed men in a hurry with cigarettes dangling from their mouths, ridiculous prices, and il Duomo – an immense Gothic cathedral that like many other aspects of Milan is just a little too much for me. I sat for awhile at a trattoria near the Duomo watching wealthy Russians, Asians, and Middle Easterners come to get their Gucci on striding by with enormous shopping bags, and laughing to myself at how Prada’s flagship store faces directly onto a giant McDonalds … laughing until I got my exorbitant lunch bill. In my hurry to get out of town I slipped getting into the airport train and ended up with blood pouring down my shin and a limp, but got out of town nonetheless: to Paris.

My limp made the idea of sightseeing in Paris rather unappealing, which was fine because I’ve been there enough times before to see nearly all the “must-sees”. I did have an absolutely lovely dinner at the home of old friends from my law school days, Dougall and Valerie, who I hadn’t seen in over a decade, who are still as cool as ever (and not just because they gave me a bag of ice for my ankle), and now the parents of two very cute kids. I really hope much less time will pass before we see each other again.

Then it was onto London via the Eurostar train through the Chunnel, where I was very happy to meet up with friends Nicolas and Charlene, then got down to business: get Mongolian visa, see osteopath and physiotherapist (who between them pretty much restored my foot and ankle to their pre-Milan condition), buy boots for upcoming hike around Mont Blanc and a few summer clothes in my size, and take a token doubledecker bus tour. Mission accomplished.

Just before heading off on the above tour, I managed to make it back for a couple of days to Levanto, on the Ligurian coast just north of the Cinque Terre, where this time the weather was sunny and the fragrance was of roses and basil. I retraced some of my steps, an entirely different experience without the fog, and also hiked a gorgeous, if occasionally terrifying, trail around the Portofino promontory.

So… imagine that Neil Diamond was from Newfoundland. Now make this whole scenario Italian. That is the closest that I can come to describing the phenomenon of Nino d’Angelo, aging Napoli pop star. Definitely not the sort of thing I would have come across on my own, but thanks to Marco, who offered me an extra ticket to come with him, Marina and her boyfriend Roberto, and another friend to Nino’s Torino show, I got to see him a couple of weeks ago. Apparently there are a lot of Napolis in Torino who have migrated over the decades for work with Fiat, which made for enthusiastic responses to Nino’s cries of Viva il sud!!! throughout the night. As I repeated to Marina over a pizza a few days later, it was a lot of fun 🙂


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Other Plans

Doing some housecleaning on my desktop the other day, I came across an electronic sticky note I made about a year ago, when faced with the blank canvas of time in front of me I decided I needed to make a list of must-dos. How have I done? Starting with the list for last summer: spend a week in Wasaga Beach. Check. That’s kind of cheating because I think I’d already booked the cottage by that point. Road trips to Algonquin and around Lake Superior. Nope. A three week trip to Ireland? Nope, although it looks like that will happen this summer. Didn’t even manage to make it to Ottawa.

Here’s the rest of the list:

October 2009-2010
a camping trip in the Sahara [went to Bali instead of Mali]
a safari in East Africa [nope]
a few days in Zanzibar [nope]
a cultural tour in West Africa [nope]
Goa [no, although I did get to Kerala]
a month in Bali doing yoga [a month in Bali, but more surfing than yoga]
a kayaking trip in the S. Pacific [no, although I did have some great beach days on Easter Island]
a week in Florence [probably not going to happen]
two weeks in an Italian villa [definitely not going to happen]
learning Italian [working on it]
3 weeks in Sweden [nope]
the Nahanni [nope]
an Arctic river trip [nope]
a few days in Vancouver [managed a couple of days in Vancouver]
horseback riding / kayaking / rafting/ learning Spanish in Patagonia [oh yeah, mission accomplished]
a few days in Machu Pichu [nope]
a few days in Ecuador / the Amazon [nope]
a kayaking trip in Panama [nope]

Missing from this list: a fabulous road trip through Quebec last summer, surreal Mexico, and… Bhutan (third trip currently in the works).

Am I sorry things didn’t go as planned? Definitely not. Sitting in the lobby of my Paris hotel with an ice pack on my ankle as I write this, I am trying to keep this in mind. Nothing catastrophic (slipped getting into the Milan airport train yesterday morning), but I’m not sure about all the hiking I’d planned to do next month….

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A Little Toronto Story

“This hat has a terrible meaning,” said the stranger next to me. Well that’s a hell of a conversation opener I thought to myself. It was 11:30 on a Thursday night, and I was on the last leg of a subway/bus trip across Toronto. The hat was pink and fluffy, worn with an army jacket and a bulky red scarf, and I was glad she’d brought it up, because I had been trying to decide which side of the edgy-artsy-urbanite vs. crazy lady off her meds fashion line it represented. The stranger proceeded to tell me she wrote films on difficult subjects like sexual abuse and racism. I guessed that the hat might have some link to a traumatic experience in her past and braced myself for a very sad and maybe even violent story. Instead, she went into a lengthy account of a meeting involving an uncooperative actor and a director who wouldn’t defend her script. As she rambled on, I tried to insert a few sympathetic nods, all the while thinking yes, yes, but what about the hat? Get to the part about the hat! My stop was coming up, and she asked what I thought of how the director had handled the situation. “Well, it sounds like he’s not stepping up to the plate,” I answered, reaching back a year and a half for some bureaucratese that I hoped would be sufficient affirmation so she could move on and tell me about the hat. It seemed to satisfy her, but by then it was time for me to get off the bus. I walked away into the night disappointed that I didn’t get to hear how the hat was connected to the story ….

The next morning I woke up, and immediately realized the stranger’s first words to me were “I just had a terrible meeting.”

I like to imagine that she might at least get a minor character for one of her scripts out of our interaction – an unsympathetic bitch in a drab poncho with an odd habit of avoiding eye contact by gazing at the tops of peoples’ heads.

As for the hat, well I would guess it has an oh-so-Canadian explanation entirely unrelated to fashion statements and mental health: aaah-it’s-colder-than-I-thought-damn-I’m-already-late-need-

Once again, I find myself wide awake in the middle of the night in an Asian airport (Hong Kong this time). After less than 2 weeks in Canada with stops in Toronto, the Okanagan, and Vancouver, just enough time to catch up with friends, do a little snowshoeing, take in a bit of the Paralympic spirit, unpack and repack, and begin the transition from Andean to Himalayan mindset, I’m on my way back to Bhutan ….

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A Traveller’s Poem

Eat-drink-eat-drink-sleep-sleep-snowshoe-sauna-eat-drink-nap-kayak-eat-drink lycheemartini-sleep-ski-shop-sauna-eat-drink teawithrum-sleep-eat-eat -walk-eat-eat-eat-eat-drink-drink-drink-pack. Christmas and New Year’s have come and gone, and after a mere 27 days of Canadian winter (if you can even call what happens in southern Ontario and the Okanagan “winter”) it’s time for me to head south again. First to Mexico City, where I’m looking forward to seeing my friends Irma and Gabriel, and then to Argentina, Chile and Easter Island. I’m in Vancouver with a beer and a poem, trying to get back into “the zone” after a harrowing morning of trying to stuff everything I need for the next 2 months into two bags within airline weight limits, finally achieved with the help of my parents (thanks guys!) after I ditched the suitcase with the big wheels and ergonomic handle, which unfortunately weights 13 lbs empty, in favour of an unwieldy but light duffel bag. Considering I need gear for rain, sun, cold, hot, snorkelling, camping, horseback riding, rafting, kayaking, canyoneering, surfing, not to mention a couple of decent outfits for wandering around Buenos Aires, is the 70 lbs I ended up with really so much?

… breathe … sip of beer …

Here is the poem, a gift from my friend Mary Jo:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

–Naomi Shihab Nye

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The Journey Begins…

It’s the middle of the night and I’m wide awake in Singapore’s Changi airport, 28 hours out of Toronto, and (as a result of some bizarre connections) another 14 from Bali, which will be my first stop on this journey. This is the start of a year I began planning back in 2005, when I realized that I needed a serious chunk of time if I had any hope of making a dent in my ever expanding list of places to explore. Two and three week holidays stolen here and there from a busy work schedule over the rest of my career were just not going to cut it. 

I love Canada. I love the golden canola fields of the prairies, the beaches of Prince Edward Island, the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Coast rain forests, and most of all the mighty Canadian Shield with its volcanic pillows, taiga forests and countless lakes. I love QuĂ©bec City, Alberta’s highway 22 and the Yukon’s Lake Kluane. I especially love the Northwest Territories, my home for most of my life. But I also have what is probably an insatiable curiosity about this planet’s diverse environments and peoples that drives me to “get out there”, and an intuition that somehow by doing that I’ll evolve into a kinder, wiser soul. And besides, Yellowknife is probably not the best place to learn how to surf …

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