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Approximately 25 years ago: Studied Genghis and Kublai Khan in junior high social studies class. About the only thing I remember from junior high social studies so it must have been relatively interesting.

Approximately 4 years ago: Read a book called Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford which I highly recommend. Began to imagine visiting the land of the Eternal Blue Sky.

August 3, 2010: arrived in Ulaanbataar, capital of Mongolia, population approximately 1.3 million and growing largely due to migration from rural areas.

Day 2: Ulaanbataar (UB)
Soviet-style concrete buildings, a dismal ger (traditional round felt tent) district and a monastery very similar architecturally to those in Bhutan. Here a monk shoved me aside as he ran out the door of a temple to answer his cell phone which had gone off mid-ceremony. A multi-storied State Department Store with … everything. An Irish pub (yes, I now do believe they really are everywhere). An impressive national museum covering prehistory to Genghis Khan to the current post-communist era. After a day of wandering the city and somehow managing to avoid getting run down by the traffic using the strategy of staying as close as possible to Mongolians who I assumed knew better than me when to cross the street, I met our guide Jen (from New York state) and those of my fellow travellers who had not been sucked into the Air China Vortex and headed out for our first group dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

Day 3: Meet the Furgons
Our group, now joined by one more who had managed to find her way out of the Air China Vortex and to UB just in time, took a two hour flight to Zavkhan province. From the air as we came in for landing, the gers dotting the steppe looked like little white buttons. The gentle evening breeze was heavy with the scent of wild herbs (sage and thyme I think) as we waited for our luggage to be unloaded and were introduced to our cook, Nara, our interpreter, Mandy, and drivers Toro and Goomba. We climbed into two Furgons – hardy Russian military vehicles – for the drive to nearby Uliastai to pick up a few supplies, and then continued on to a ger camp where we spent the night.

Day 4: Meet the Horses
The drive to our first campsite took most of the day. I ended up as the only passenger in Goomba’s Furgon which was otherwise packed to the roof with gear. Like many older Mongolians, Goomba knows some Russian, a legacy from the days of the Soviet Union, Mongolia’s closest ally for much of the 20th century. I dredged up what little Russian I remember from a university course I took a couple of decades ago and we managed to have a bit of a conversation (this long-ago course also came in handy for sounding out signs and names as Mongolian, like Russian, is written in Cyrillic script). We made an afternoon stop in Tosentsengel, a dusty town vaguely reminiscent of something out of a spaghetti Western, to pick up the tents, saddles and other gear as well as a few “supplies” (read: beer, port and vodka), and eventually arrived at camp in time to pitch our tents and test-ride a couple of the horses before dark. We also met the wranglers: Tsooj, Idear, and Baynaa.

Day 5: The Horizontal Shower
By the end of this first full day of riding on steppes, through forests and up ridges, I was feeling both sore and incompetent. My horse, who had no real name as Mongolians refer to their horses descriptively, was fortunately calm enough to put up with my entire lack of grace. The one success of the day was my invention/discovery of the horizontal shower technique useful in cold shallow rivers with fast currents: sit down in river; lay back; stand and lather up from head to toe; lay down in river and allow current to rinse. Nighttime was rainy, so we gathered in the mess tent and sipped port and vodka while Jen played a stringed instrument from Kyrgyzstan where she’d been living for awhile up until last spring’s revolution.

Day 6 – The Group is Complete
As we were packing up in the morning, the two final group members arrived, having finally managed to extricate themselves from the Air China Vortex. We were seven in total, the six other than me from England, Scotland, Singapore and Australia. The medical and legal professions were well-represented among us, but the Mongolians were most impressed by the Scottish sheep farmer with the 3,000 strong herd (their herds usually have a few hundred animals at most). For the benefit of the Mongolian staff, Jen put up a sign on one of the Furgons listing our names transliterated into Cyrillic script with descriptions: tall male person, tall female person (me), lady who smokes cigarettes, small female person, 3,000 sheep man, new female person and new male person. We had another long day of riding to our second camp, after which I again felt sore and incompetent, although I felt somewhat better following my horizontal shower. I was impressed that Small Female Person (from Australia) and New Female Person (my English tentmate), despite not being “Mad Canadians”, as Tall Male Person (English) put it, were brave enough to join me in the cold river water.

Day 7 – Yoga on the Steppe
Today was a shorter ride to our next camp, after which I was less sore (muscles beginning to respond to demands and a lunchtime yoga session on the steppe) and felt slightly less incompetent thanks to some tips from Tsooj around the campfire the previous night.

Day 8 – The Spa
Another relatively short ride to the next camp with a delightful pay-off: just a short way up the road was an abandoned spa consisting of three small rooms each with a tub that filled with hot spring water. I decided it was time to give my horse a name and called him Leonard, after Leonard Cohen because he seemed fairly laid back and a bit of a loner, being new to the herd.

Day 9 – Crater Lake
From our camp we took a short ride up a mountain to a lake. In the afternoon we played a card game, the rules of which I never quite grasped, but which caused Tsooj and Toro to shout and wrestle each other as they “helped” the rest of us play. That night Tsooj and Toro drove back to Tosontsengel with a load of elderly Mongolians whose van had crashed on their way down from the spa.

Day 10 – Hail and Rain
A long day’s ride in hail and rain over a high pass and through burnt out forests to our next campsite where we found no sign of the Furgons. Because we were all cold and wet, we set out for a nearby ger where we hoped to be invited in for tea and to warm up in accordance with traditional Mongolian hospitality. I put on my rain jacket for the first time which turned out to be a mistake because Leonard freaked out a few minutes into the ride. I jumped off him and started to walk instead, despite the wranglers insisting that it was too far to go on foot (it wasn’t, and I didn’t care anyway because I was perfectly warm walking) but just then we heard the sound of an approaching Furgon and turned back. It was Tsooj and Toro who had been … let’s say “detained” … in Tosontsengel. Poor Goomba did not get to camp until quite awhile later because he’d gotten stuck in a river and had to wait for help.

Day 11: A Ger Visit
A rest day, other than a very pleasant walk with the Lady Who Smokes Cigarettes, and a short afternoon ride to the ger we’d been heading for the previous day. The first person we encountered was a lovely 16-year-old girl on horseback who led us to the camp, and we watched with amusement as Idear appeared to flirt with her (Idear, who is 20, had told us a couple of nights before through Mandy that he expected he would get married in about 2 years and that his wife would be the happiest woman in the world). Whether he spent more time checking out the girl or her splendid black horse I couldn’t say. We visited for awhile with the family who graciously offered us food (yogurt, clotted cream) and warm drinks, including vodka made from cow’s milk, and put up with all our picture-taking. Other than the handful of groups the company I was with brings each season, no other tourists come to this area, so local people haven’t grown weary of intrusive foreigners. The herders are also nomadic so even though the company travels to the same places they would not necessarily meet the same families. As we were leaving to go back to our camp Leonard spooked again for no apparent reason, so I switched to another horse – Jasper – who was much more pleasant to ride.

Day 12: Falls
We woke up to a beautiful sunny morning and clear blue skies, and set out for the ride to our next camp, starting with a wide open stretch of steppe. We had made some changes to the horses, and I was riding Jasper who had a much smoother gait than Leonard, and needed a lot less prodding to keep up with the others. Just a short ways out of camp, a strap on my saddle broke, which started to hit Jasper in the belly, which caused him to suddenly take off… and eventually I fell off, fortunately landing right on my butt. After Idear fixed the saddle, I got back on, but it was only a few minutes later that Tall Male Person also had a fall which was more serious: his horse Eyeball had stumbled and landed on him. Jen and the 2 physicians in the group concluded that he’d probably broken a rib, and needed to go to the hospital in Tosontsengel to check for internal bleeding. Tsooj galloped off to get a Furgon, which arrived a few minutes later. The rest of us continued on to the camp, a little more slowly than before and concerned about our friend.

Day 13: Rest Day
Pretty sore from the previous day’s fall: skipped riding and rode with Toro in the Furgon.

Day 14: Goodbye to the Horses
A short last morning of riding to our lunch spot where Tall Male Person rejoined us and we said goodbye to the horses.By now I had decided Eminem would have been a more suitable name for Leonard, but I couldn’t help smiling as even in his last few moments of being bridled, with his front legs hobbled he tried to escape by hopping away, dragging the horse he was tied to behind him. Before driving off to Tosentsengel to drop off the gear, we took a few moments to enjoy the beautiful sight of all the horses freed to trot and canter across the steppe, drinking and grazing as they pleased before being driven home by the wranglers. After Tosentsengel, we drove a few hours more through a blizzard to a ger camp where we stayed the night. On the way we stopped to buy bottles of fermented mares’ milk from two little girls by the roadside, met a marmot hunter and his son, already a skilled horseman at the age of 10, and passed a van of tourists, the only other foreigners we’d seen since leaving UB.

Days 15-16: The Desert
We drove a few hours to the Black Lake camp, a spectacular site right at the transition zone between steppe and Gobi desert. It was cold and windy when we arrived and I had visions of reliving my Lakes of Patagonia experience, but the tent held up and the next day was warm and sunny enough for walks, yoga on the dunes and swimming.

Day 17: The End
Just after leaving camp we spotted some camels by a nearby ger: the first we’d seen. After taking a few pictures and waiting for Toro to buy some fish, we set off for the long drive back to the airport for our evening flight to UB, where we were greeted by smog, noise, and a sadly out-of-place streetside ger. A last late group dinner and we headed off to our hotel rooms for long-awaited hot (or more accurately, lukewarm) showers.

The next morning I said my goodbyes and headed to the airport for the first of a series of flights which eventually got me to Bhutan 24 hours later (yesterday morning), while miraculously avoiding the Air China Vortex.

A Few Final Random Thoughts

1. Of all the groups I’ve travelled with this year, this is the one that seemed to me to have the most “soul”, and I want to thank Jen and my fellow riders for a wonderful journey together. A special thanks to my tentmate, New Female Person, for all the great convo.

2. The story of horses and humans is a long and complex one, bound with cooperation, control, love, fear, anger, empathy, exploration, warfare, cultivation, survival, status, power and surrender. Better riders would understand this more than me, but I think when we spend time with horses, especially in concentrated periods as we did during our Zavkhan trek, we cannot help but tap into the energy of this history with all its complications and contradictions, and walk away with some kind of learning that is much more profound than techniques of reins, stirrups, saddles, legs, seats and gaits. I know that I wish I had set off on this trip with more skill and confidence so that I could have enjoyed the freedom of the open steppe without fences as much as my fellow riders, who I greatly admire (an image of Tall Male Person Clint Eastwood-like alone on a ridgetop above the rest of us comes to mind here), and I do hope that all those hours in the saddle did improve my technique at least a little. However, I sense that I also gained something deeper from my experience with these teachers in horse clothing that is not yet clear to me, but perhaps will become more so in time.

3. I seriously want a Furgon to take back to Yellowknife.

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Stop #1: Oxford

Straight off my flight from Shannon I caught a bus to Oxford to check out the town … just in case… The College dorm I stayed in was a bigger version of Massey (where I lived last year in Toronto) down to the breakfast convo in the dining hall and I immediately felt right at home. Although the town itself was buzzing with summer tourist crowds, it was easy to find space for quiet reflection in the extensive parks and wonder whether the guy on the bench next to me was mulling over a problem of theoretical physics or the etymology of a new word to be included in the next revision of the Oxford English Dictionary. Charlene and her friend Emily, both Oxford alumni, came down for the day from London. What do friends do when they get together in Oxford? Why they go punting of course!

Stop #2: London

Nerve-jangling. Loud. Smelly. Too many hours spent in the Tube. A nice dinner with my Mom and Dad at a Turkish restaurant before I saw them off the next morning in their taxi to Heathrow – along with 30 kg or so of my stuff (thanks guys!) – and headed to Paddington train station to make my escape to the English countryside.

Stop #3: Glastonbury

Throne of the High King of the Faeries, Avalon, final resting place of King Arthur, convergence of ley lines, site of the Holy Thorn planted by Joseph of Arimathea (said to be a great uncle of Jesus who travelled to Cornwall regularly to trade for tin) … that’s just a sample of the mystique surrounding Glastonbury. Anyplace that has been a pilgramage site for centuries is bound to have a lot of energy of all kinds zapping around and I certainly found that to be true of this area: light, dark, clear, clouded, just peaceful, just weird and just bullshit, it’s all there. The charlatans with their smoke and mirrors preying on the vulnerable were awfully hard to take, but underneath all the glamour I also found lots of loveliness in Glastonbury: clear and peaceful rooms and gardens, delicious locally grown food, the Tor itself, a fantastic massage therapist from Windsor, Ontario, a new friend from Portugal, a nine-year-old full of questions, a laughing baby and a couple of friendly dogs.

It’s perhaps a sign of the weirdness of the place that as a last resort I turned to alcohol for a dose of reality. For this I went to the George & Pilgrim, a good old fashioned English pub dating back to the 1400s. King Henry VIII stayed here when he came to decommission the monastery (i.e. supervise the hanging of the last abbot on the Tor). Most of the pub staff seemed to be from Normandy so I introduced myself as a long-lost Canadian cousin and enjoyed a relatively down-to-earth conversation. As we chatted in the corridor, two heavily made up women wearing garlands and dressed in flowing red passed by: delegates to the Goddess conference that was on over the weekend. ”C’est une ville bizarre,” muttered the bartender as he walked away. ”Bizarre,” his wife agreed.
Bizarre but also fascinating and in some ways very uplifting. I’m not sorry I passed this way. Any residual bullshit should be blown off in a few days when I’m galloping across the open steppes under the eternal blue sky. Next stop: Mongolia.

The Emerald Isle

Green, rainy and populated by friendly unpretentious people was how I imagined Ireland, and the reality came pretty close. Three weeks went by fast with a few days in Dublin, a cycling trip in Connemara, and several day trips by car from our rented cottage in Co. Galway. A few highlights:

1. That first Guinness on Irish soil, with a bit of black currant to take the edge off the bitterness: O’Donoghue’s in Dublin. Only thing that would have made it taste better was music – unfortunately we were only there in the late afternoon when the place was almost dead and didn’t make it back at night.

2. Bog Boy – local Dublin theatre production.

3. Cycling a bog road on a rainy day, thinking about Bog Boy and stories about the area being haunted. Haunted by Canadian litterers, I thought on finding 3 Tim Horton’s cups on the shoulder until a friend informed me that selected Spars (a European convenience store chain) are now selling the coffee. Only sign of life was two bog men harvesting peat… or maybe they only appeared to be bog men harvesting peat…. “Lovely day for a ride!” they called out as I pedalled by. (insert Twilight Zone theme)

4. Live music in small town pubs, especially Cong where the band was exceptional (and they’re just in their teens now) and the bartender will give you a ride home. The band is heading out on tour in France and the US, keep an eye out for the Rambling Rogues. Note to Canadian legislators: let kids in bars. Our music will get better.

5. Dun Aonghasa, Inis Mor (largest of the Aran Islands). A stone ringfort dating back, oh, a couple of thousand years or so. The open side of the ring is a cliff dropping straight down to the Atlantic. No safety fences or rails, you can walk right up and look over it as close as you dare. Apparently there haven’t been any accidents in recent memory. Note to Canadian legislators: take it easy on the safety. You’re ruining the view.

6. The native forest restoration project and waterfall near Tourmakeady. Magical.

7. The Burren and the Cliffs of Mohar. Gorgeous.

8. Plunging into the freezing Atlantic from Glassillaun Beach. Possibly the cleanest, nicest white sand beach I’ve ever seen.

9. Finally managing to meet up with my friend Cillian and his dad in a village pub half way between our respective cottages.

10. An entirely hedonistic fiction binge brought on by ceaseless rain. Best read: The Book Thief.

11. Being in the presence of the ancient earth mounds at Cruachan. Mysterious.

12. Going by boat to explore an island on Lough Corrib with David, the owner of our rental cottage. In our wanderings we stumbled across ruins from various eras and a large extended family of hardy campers who invited us for tea, very welcome on a chilly morning. We made it back across the lake and to the truck just before the rain started to come down really hard. As we were driving down the narrow lane, a slight elderly man with twinkling eyes suddenly stepped out of the forest. David stopped and rolled down the window to talk to him for a few minutes before he disappeared back into the trees. “That Paddy, just like a leprechaun,” said David as we drove away.

… or could he be the real thing? 😉

My Coppetta Runneth Over

It was a week ago on a dead Sunday night in Aosta, the football game was over, the bars had emptied, and I was sitting on a bench with a coppetta of gelato looking up at the mountains I would be hiking into the next day. I had worked my way down to the best flavour: fondente (I type with reverence), a rich dark chocolate that even in melted form could probably keep a spoon standing. Then something incredible happened: I suddenly could not take another bite. I was full! I had reached maximum gelato capacity. Half of me gaped in disbelief as the other half got up and deposited the unfinished coppetta in a nearby garbage can.

All the preceding week since returning to Torino from Chamonix and Mont Blanc I had been restless. A series of thunderstorms was heralding the coming shift from pleasant late spring weather to sweltering summer heat, and my seasonal instincts were telling me it was time to get out of the city. On the one sunny day I decided to make use of a trail map I’d accidentally bought back in April, and headed for the hills above Chivasso 20 minutes out of Torino where I spent several happy hours exploring the forest. Apart from a rainsoaked day trip to pretty Lago Maggiore, I passed the rest of the week glumly watching the relentless downpour. As soon as the weather forecast announced an improvement, I was on the train to Aosta, and spent two absolutely spectacular days hiking in Gran Paradiso National Park.

I would have gladly stayed longer, but Marco had convinced me I should come back for San Giovanni (aka St. Jean Baptiste: Torino and Québec have the same patron saint). And yeah, there was a parade with people in period costume and lots of marching bands, a big bonfire in Piazza Castello, and a fireworks show on the river, the sorts of civic events one should participate in when one adopts a city as a temporary home … My plan to escape back to the mountains on a 6 am train the next day was foiled by a transportation strike. The next day was Saturday so I decided to make a trip to the charming little town of Alba which I’d been planning to visit for weeks, thinking that many places might be closed Sunday and it might be my last chance to get there. I finally made it back to the mountains for a short hike yesterday – this time to Limone in the Maritime Alps.

And then this morning I got on a train to Rome where I’ll stay one night (initial impression is I like it, but I think for me it’s probably best taken in small doses), tomorrow it’s back to Levanto just north of the Cinque Terre where the sea will make this heat more bearable, Thursday night return to Torino and early Saturday morning all packed up and on the plane…

As for my gelato aversion, well it’s somewhat abated. I can once again eat it with a certain amount of pleasure, but the hunger just isn’t there anymore. I really am full. This is also how I feel about Italy. There is much I love, much I am grateful for, and much I still hope to discover, and though I’m not sure I’ll ever again have the luxury of lingering here for three months I feel pretty sure I’ll be back many times to absorb more of this energy. But as with the gelato I’ve taken in about all I can… for now.

A Hug for a Mountain

“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 français), 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.

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 🙂

OLE OLE OLE OLE!!!! NINO!!! NINO!!!

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….