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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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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? 😉

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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:

Kindness

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 Québec 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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