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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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“Are you fucking kidding me?” said a rather unsympathetic inner voice. “You’re in Italy. I-TA-LY.” Even the most independent of free spirits have been known to develop attachments under the right circumstances, so I hope I’m not destroying my image by confessing now that back in April when I woke up my first morning in Torino, I so missed Bhutan that the first thing I did was burst into tears. “Wine. Food. Art. The Mediterranean. Italian. Italians!” the voice went on as I sniffled my way through a cup of Tsheringma tea, then through unpacking and decorating my apartment with the few random objects I had to work with: a birdman keychain that was a gift from Pato on Rapa Nui, a decade old photo of my friend Bobbi and me sitting on a log somewhere in the British Columbia rain forest, the photo of His Majesty the Fifth Druk Gyalpo that Principal Abbot Thinley had given me at Talo (sniff), the prayer wheel from Sonam (sniff), a wheel of life fridge magnet (sniff sniff sniff)… A text message came in from Marco with an address for yet another pasticerria. I wished I had some yak cheese and that Tshe Tshe was there to talk to. “GO OUTSIDE AND FALL IN LOVE WITH THIS PLACE” the voice commanded.

And, well, that’s pretty much what I did. After all, Torino and Italy are pretty lovable.

That said, Bhutan carries a certain quality of energy for me that I’ve only encountered fleetingly and in much less intensity in Italy, and I’d resigned myself to waiting until my next trip back in August to fully experience it again. Or at least that was the case until last week when I finally got right into the Alps instead of just appreciating them from a distance. There were no curious monklets to keep me company (or to whack me over the head with wooden phalluses), no babies offering me betel nut, no farmers inviting us in for butter tea and arra, no tsechu dances. There were however bonjours and buon giornos, ibex, moobex (a term coined by one of the other trip members, AJ – pronounced “ah zhee” en fran├žais), grassy meadows, snowy passes, alpine flowers, treeless scree slopes that reminded me of Baffin Island, waterfalls, rushing streams, wines, cheeses, terrines, quietness, and somewhere in all of that, a supply of the spirit I had been missing. I didn’t even care that weather and snow conditions forced us to cut one of our afternoons short, or that the spectacular panoramas which are the signature of the Tour du Mont Blanc were hidden behind fog and clouds for most of our six days of hiking. Breathtaking though they are I am sure, in their presence I imagine one might too easily overlook all the other life around: water droplets on petals, birdsongs, iridescent insects, no less magnificent or deserving of admiration because of their smallness.

I literally dragged my feet on the last day of our trip I was so reluctant to come back to town, but was quickly cheered up by the emails from Sonam and Tshe Tshe waiting in my inbox, a reminder of more good things to come. A little wistful boarding the bus back to Aosta but nonetheless refreshed and satiated, I beamed out a bear hug of thanks to the big old white mountain with its spirit that unlike Bhutan’s, did not strike me with the invigorating assault of a thunderous waterfall, but with something more like the caress of a gentle, steady rain. A powerful, but comfortable energy, the kind that could make a place a home….

Que la vie est belle.

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