North America | Canada | Southern British Columbia | Salt Spring Island – The Last Leg(s) and the Last Word(s)

North America | Canada | Southern British Columbia | Salt Spring Island – The Last Leg(s) and the Last Word(s)

The Last Leg(s) and The Last Word(s)

Winging my way from Johannesburg to Frankfurt, then on to Charlotte, and finally to Palm Beach, I estimate about two hundred are there on my arrival at the international airport – that’s not the planes – just the private jets. Everywhere you look, there they are – the trappings of the wealthy set that either make Palm Beach their home or ‘one’ of their homes are impossible to overlook. The cars, the homes, the yachts, the jets, the toys, the shops and galleries that cater to their needs seem endless. For me, it’s a short visit here with time for dinner with friends and a night at the opera. We see I Puritani by Bellini and are witness to the fastest exodus from the dress circle without the assistance of a fire alarm. You would never know that the blue rinse set could move so fast, but it was if a gun went off at the start of an Olympic sprint when the curtain went down. I guess they wanted to get to the car valets even before the singers came out for their bows. Most of them seemed to make it.

From Palm Beach ‘International airport’ (which does not have a duty free shop), I flew home to Canadian soil in the city of Toronto. The newspapers reported that it was unseasonably warm at minus one. My family told me how lucky I was that I missed the real cold from the previous week. How cold was that? Eighteen below! Okay then. On the day of my arrival in Toronto, my brother and his wife had a nice surprise when their first little one was allowed to come home from the hospital, so I got to meet my new nephew, Thadius! The week was spent catching up with my family which included learning that every word in the rapidly expanding language of my niece now starts with the letter ‘D’ just like Dave(except – “Duncle Dave! ‘COOKIE’ doesn’t dart dith a ‘D’!”) Hey! She’s only three. There was also the grand tour of Baxter, Ontario with my sister Christine. We walked from one end of town to the other and included a visit to the one and only shop in the town centre. Strangely, it’s not called the Baxter Beanie Baby Boutique – a name that would be more than appropriate as that is pretty much the entire inventory of the place except for a few old dusty Coca Cola bottles available at seventy cents a pop. Much too soon I headed back home to Vancouver as my round-the-world ticket was due to expire, but I’m hoping to go back in the warmer spring weather and spend more time with them. My good friend Doug met me at the airport and made me a celebratory Martini on arrival at my new temporary home before heading off for some recuperation and reflection on Salt Spring.

Paradise Found – The morning after

Deep below the black surface of the lake lie the reflections of shimmering stars, that when one turns their head towards the heavens multiply by the thousands. The Milky Way and countless constellations fill the night and silence rules the air, even more so than during the usual waking hours when this paradise found offers up it’s oasis for reflective contemplation. This is not the time or the place to photograph or videotape. There are no arrangements to make. There are a couple of taxis here, but I have no need for them as I’m not going anywhere for a few weeks. This is the closest thing to home for me right now and it is one of the most beautiful, friendly places on the planet. It is Cusheon Lake on Salt Spring Island in Canada and I’m lucky to have some very good friends who let me stay here from time to time. For those of you who think I live a life that is much too charmed, please calm down. I try to earn my keep here by planting, cleaning, building and doing what needs to be done. Anyway – tonight I’m standing down by the dock and unknown to me in the solitude of this midnight hour a beaver quietly plies the shallows of the shoreline only meters away until it notices me. Then it smacks the water with its tail scaring the living daylights out of me. Okay – it didn’t scare the living daylights out of me – it just scared half of the wine out of my glass and all down my hand. That’s okay. I rinse my hand and change for a soak in the hot tub under the slowly moving skies. Okay – my life is a bit charmed sometimes.

Although it snowed here a month ago, the daytime weather now is warm enough to step outside in the sunshine wearing nothing but shorts. In downtown Ganges, a small village in the center of the island, young people are doing just that while playing hackysack in the harbourside park. Gallery owners are doing spring-cleaning in preparation for the upcoming tourist season. Locals smile and say hello to strangers and friends alike. The snow a month ago had brought the island to a standstill as usual. You would think that it had never happened before. School was cancelled, most of the smaller shops were closed, and almost nobody showed up at work for the first few days. I think it’s amazingly magical here when it snows and I’m hoping for some in the next few days. With the clear skies, chilly nights, and expected precipitation this coming weekend, it just might happen if I wish hard enough.

However, the business of resettling still goes on. Tomorrow I’ll call about a job, then scrub the rowboat off, take it out for a spin around the lake before attending to some gardening and then and only then, do any other inside business. The rest of the week and the next remain mild. The people on the island that I had hoped to work with are not going to be a good fit – at least it doesn’t look like it right now – but there are some old friends who have tracked me down and offered me a short contract. Tuesday at 7:30, I’m back in the office, back on the floor, back in the show. And you know everyone is saying to me, “We’ll have to get together and you can tell me all about your trip!” And I will once I figure out how to do that.

The Mundane:

How to sum up a year? How to tell people all about your trip? How indeed?

Returning from a trip brings many things. It brings the love of friends and family, the endless stack of mail to be sorted, errands and appointments to attend to, a certain amount of reverse culture shock, and re-familiarizing yourself with the everyday moments at home. There are the moments when…

… I call Telus mobility to set up a new phone plan and have to go through an Automatic Voice Recognition Software system in order to speak to a representative: “I’d like to speak to a real live person please”. “Hmm” says the robotic voice machine. “I’m not quite sure I understand you. Let’s return to the main menu”.

…My brother proclaims he has his two favorite Indian restaurants on the speed-dial. What’s a speed dial again?

…You can understand the conversations going on around you and it makes you wonder if while you were traveling, you missed someone saying something like “You two should date! You’re wearing the same sweater!” Perhaps someone in Thailand said, “You two should get married. You wear the same ‘Same Same But Different’ t-shirts!”

Returning from a trip also brings a certain amount of reflection. There’s a remembrance or reflection on the number of mundane things, or the simply mundane numbers of things that have gone on in life during the last year. There are the numbers of airports I’ve been in – for me that would be thirty-eight. There are the number of countries I had a chance to visit. That would be seventeen. Here then are some numbers and some preferences – mundane and otherwise:

Time and Transportation
Minutes on the road (and in the air): Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred, give or take a few.
Miles in the air: um…I’m still working on this one.
Countries visited: 17
Airports encountered: 38
Nights spent sleeping in airports: 1
Trips on ships: 3
Journeys by train: 8
Kilometers pedaled on a bike: 8194 (not counting rentals)

Memories and paraphernalia
Parcels sent by post: 72
Parcels that arrived: 72 (for a while, I thought that one was missing, but it had shown up many months earlier)
Postcards sent: 300 plus
Postcards that arrived: not quite so many
Most unusual souvenir: previously unexploded ordinance from Laos
Days spent volunteering: 27
True Loves: zero
Close encounters: 2 (one more than once)
Possible encounters: 12 (I think)
Tattoos and piercings: 2
Hair braiding sessions: zero
Haircuts: 4
Botched haircuts: 1
Teeth cleaning: 1
Digital photographs taken: 8114 or approx. 1 every hour
Video footage captured: 37.25 hours
Two people who had been part of my life, died while I was away and it made me remember them well. Even though I was saddened at their pain and not being able to see them again, thinking of them reminded me of the many smiles we shared. Trish and Heather – hope you’re sleeping well.
And welcome to the world little Thadius Gabriel. Grow up big and strong why don’t you?

Moments and Meetings
One of my favorite moments was hanging out with my friend Lannie on the South Island of New Zealand. We were just north of Franz Joseph and her partner Aaron was not really used to cycling. We had a pretty tough hill to go over. Okay, let’s be honest. It was a mountain, and Aaron asked me for twenty bucks in case he couldn’t make it and had to get a ride or a bus. I think his leg was bugging him and I was hopeful, but not that optimistic that he would make it over. Later, on the other side of the downhill, Lannie and I sat and chatted for about a half an hour hoping that Aaron would show up while agreeing that there is no shame in getting a lift. We did hope that he would make it but were just about to give up waiting when he came sailing down the road. It made our day! Another favorite moment was going all the way up the Eiffel tower with my friend Stephane. The previous time I was in Paris, the top of the tower was closed for the fireworks display that marked the arrival of the Olympic torch on it’s way to Athens. Steph has such style and a great sense of wow that it made the experience that much more fun. Saying that talking on the phone with my sister Christine from just about everywhere was always a welcome treat is such an understatement of how I feel (well, except for that early morning call when I was in the throws of diarrhea). Finally getting together and going out for drinks with Daniel Fraser from Smiling Albino Adventure Cycling in Bangkok was a pleasure, even if the bartended did lie and tell us that we wouldn’t get a hangover from the particular brand of beer he was serving. Daniel is such an energetic and upbeat fellow that it’s a pleasure to spend time with him and his mates. And then there’s the day on the beach near Haast, New Zealand, when dolphins leaped out of the surf just meters from the shore. It took my breath away. Four wheeling on the cattle station surrounding Mount Connor with our most excellent guides, and sipping champagne at the waterhole while the sun set is another memorable highlight. And then there was the biking in Tibet and tubing in Laos.

Mundane Pain and Suffering Numbers
Trips to the doctor: 5
X-ray appointments: 1
Bouts of food or water poisoning: 2
Total amount spent on medical bills: $429.26
Total amount spent on hotel rooms and food for extended stays as a result of illness: $350 (in Laos and Nepal)

Used and Abused Items
Bicycles owned: 2
Bike pedals: 5
Bike tire tubes: 9
Bicycle seats: 3
Bicycle seats stolen: 1 (in Paris)
Bicycles stolen: 1 (in Beijing)
Bicycles sold: 1 (in Katmandu)
Bicycles rented: 8 (Prague, Giverny, Thailand, India, Nepal, China)
Cars rented: 4 (in Namibia, South Africa, and Australia)
Scooters and motorbikes hired: 4
Mobile phones: 2
Cameras stolen: 1
Amount of money lost in a shady transaction: $148 US
Pants destroyed or abandoned: 11
Shirts: 17
Socks and underwear: lost count
Contact lenses: 15
Shoes: 5 pairs (I mailed 1 pair home – why? They’re toast!)
Sandals/flip flops: 3 (1 pair I still have)

Things I will not take with me next time
Extra anything except memory cards and rechargeable batteries
Laptop (Now they have small mp3 players that double as photo memory card readers – gotta get one!)
Road cases for my cameras and laptop that didn’t even make it out of New Zealand

Next time I will bring:
More US$
More Euros
More travelers’ cheques
1 amazing camera
1 small video cam
1 ipod/card reader
Less first aid stuff.

The Best and the Worst
Favorite beer: Leffe beer in Belgium
Favorite wine: Any French Bordeaux
Favorite baguette: Ponsavon Market in Laos
Favorite croissant: Fresh from the morning bakery trucks in French campgrounds
Favorite pies: New Zealand anywhere
Best campgrounds: New Zealand
2nd best campgrounds: France
Best Museums: The Louvre
Best Gallery: Georges Pompidou
Best Architecture: Prague
Best value for money: Thailand
Worst and most ridiculous price charged for a single slice of lousy late night pizza: 3 Euros in Dublin
Worst annoyance: Persistent aggressive begging in Tibet

Greatest and Most Magnificent sites on this trip
The Great Wall of China
The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Ocean Road
The Amazing Himalayas
Beaches in Thailand – nothing beats them!
Terra Cotta Warriors near Xi’An
Ayers Rock
Namibian Dunes
Tongariro Volcanoes
Giant’s Causeway, N. Ireland
The North Face of Everest in Tibet
Punakaiki Blow Holes, especially the ones you can’t see, only hear
The enduring Eiffel Tower
The overall grandness of England
Wildlife of Southern Africa – I can watch for days on end

Favorite places:
So although the above are definitely a few of my favorite places, sometimes, it’s the little things that stand out. It could be what one individual does or says that makes all the difference in bumping a place from the merely interesting, to the special place in your heart that long after the event calls to you bringing back the memory of the moment. At other times, it’s the grandness of the place or the absolutely spectacular natural beauty unequaled anywhere that brings you to cherish the time that you have been lucky enough to spend there. If I absolutely had to pick one country that was my favorite place on this trip, it would be Australia for its in-your-face Wildlife, it’s residents’ great sense of friendly humour, and the sense of endless land. For cities, it’s a tight three-way race, but Paris comes out on top for its spectacular cultural treasures, its fantastic food, and non-stop goings on in the summertime. Places that stunned me with their special beauty include the Namibian Dunes, an arid and completely unique landscape, as well as Tongariro National Park in New Zealand for similar reasons. The wide-open empty spaces on the Tibetan Plateau can never leave me for the peace and solitude that surround and include. I love non-stop Bangkok for it’s vitality, it’s amazing people, and it’s markets. Clear Island in Ireland is a favorite place because of the almost complete lack of cars, the beautiful soft green hills, and the homemade goat’s milk ice cream. I like Vang Vieng in Laos, because who couldn’t get used to floating down the river while sipping on a Beer Laos in the late afternoon sunshine. Prague is one of my favorite cities because of its stunning architectural beauty, impressive arts community, and the slightly seedy cave-like nightclubs. The Kennet and Avon Canal in England remains well remembered because the olde England seemed to come alive in such contrast to the hustle and bustle of modern London. People said “hello! Would you like a cup of tea then?” It was SO English in the best possible way. Sernabatim Beach in Goa was a delight to visit, as it still remains relatively unchanged from a few years ago. The wide-open expanses of beach go for miles and fishermen still bring the catch in the same way they have for decades.

I went to Berlin because I have been fascinated by the way-out-there quality of German art over the past few decades, and on arrival in Berlin on the night of the museums, I rode down the grand boulevard underneath the Brandenburg gate into the middle of installation after installation of art that huffed, puffed, illuminated, groaned, shook, amused, titillated, inspired, and intrigued. Who could ask for anything more?

Other places that I thoroughly enjoyed include the small riverside town of Nong Khai in North-Eastern Thailand for it’s mellow chilled out atmosphere. I liked The Hague in the Netherlands enough to forgo more time in the big city of Amsterdam. Perhaps it was because Amsterdam was only 30 minutes by train anyway, but The Hague’s small coffee shops, beaches, Peace Palace, and the International Public Sculpture Symposium just added to the city’s living historical significance. Bath and Canterbury in England were right out of a storybook. The couple both reading the same page of the newspaper while they sat side-by-side by the canal, made me feel that they had a special kind of love. They weren’t reading one section apiece. They were happily sharing the exact same page. I don’t think there are many people who can do that – even among those in Love.

Of course, there are few places that I wished I could have left sooner or avoided altogether. Some of them, like London, I actually liked, but for one reason and another, stayed too long. My least favorite places, not surprisingly, include some of the big Indian cities like Mumbai and Ahmedabad. They are crowded, dirty, stinky, polluted, aggressive, poverty stricken, places with little redeeming qualities. Mumbai has a few more redeeming qualities than Ahmedabad, but it also has more obnoxious elements to go along with them. I didn’t much care for Sam Neua, a small border town between Laos and China. Other than the very nice hotel room, there was nothing going on and the best part of my visit there was in leaving.

Now, I’ve compiled a short list of places that I would like to return and an ever-growing list of places I still want to go.

I’d like to go back to Australia, buy a car or jeep that I can sleep in, and just drive all over for six months. I’d love to go back to Prague, rent an apartment and live like a bohemian for a winter. Call me anytime you’re thinking of going to Paris, and Thailand will always have a special place in my heart.

But there are so many places that attract me. Turkey is right up there near the top of the list. So are Iran and northern Iraq. Afghanistan has such spectacular mountains, and then there’s the entire Mediterranean. There’s Italy, Greece, Spain, and who can forget about the true north of Europe. Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. There’s Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, and Hungary. Don’t stop me before I climb Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, or ride a bike through Vietnam, and down through Indonesia to the island of Komodo, land of the dragons. Has anyone ever said anything bad about the Galapagos Islands? I didn’t think so. And did you know that the one place I’ve always wanted to go is South America? It’s true. Patagonia has been calling me for more than twenty years. But there are places that are closer to home that definitely warrant some time (if there’s ever enough). Central America, the Mayan ruins of Mexico, and parts of the United States, like Yosemite, Bryce Canyon, and the white sands of Arizona are legendary. And right here in my own backyard. I want to do one of the things that we can. I’d like to go to the north where you can be ‘out there’ for weeks on end and not see another human being – just because it’s possible. I’d like to see the polar bears near Churchill, Manitoba when they wait for the ice to form, and I’d like to wander through the magical lands of Haida Gwai, and eventually go back to the wild, unforgiving shores of Newfoundland. Have I mentioned Iceland or Greenland? Antarctica or Japan or Jerusalem or Beirut? The pyramids of Egypt and south of Luxor? By the way, I’m not done with Bhutan or India or Africa either. Just give me the time and the means to get there…and I’m gone.
But until then, let me tell you all about my travels with a toast to coming home.

“Cheers! Prost! Chock-Dii!”

Category : North America | Canada | Southern British Columbia | Salt Spring Island , Uncategorized