Friday, September 19, 2014

Update: Serbia

Three photo shoots, four girls photographed. The photo below is from a shoot we did on Wednesday with Isidora, at the ancient fortress on the banks of the Sava River. Today we did a shoot with two sisters that turned out really well. I'm too lazy to convert and post them so you'll have to wait for those photos.


I had been looking at places to take off to for my remaining four days, but after much deliberation I decided against it. The weather in Montenegro wasn't warm enough for beach time and September sees a marked drop off in tourism in this area, which translates into many businesses closing up shop for the season. That, and combined with the model shoot we booked in for today, I decided to chill and hang around Belgrade for my remaining time. So far I'm very happy with my trip. I've built a decent portfolio that will surely aid in booking more shoots back home, and I've partied quite a bit and met some really great people.

And this is where I tell you about one of the greatest parts of it: a Serbian football match. The local team, Partizan, was playing an English team from Tottenham, which is a rare thing considering foreign teams avoid playing in Serbia due to the rowdy fans, i.e. tons of soccer hooligans. One of Jacob's friends is not quite a hooligan, but is pretty hardcore. You can look at this picture below and guess for yourself. When he shouts a slander at the opposing team or sings his teams anthem, you hear it reverberating in your skull.


Due to the fact that international teams avoid playing in Belgrade because it isn't safe, we dressed in Partizan colours, black. And yet we were still asked twice (obviously looking quite foreign) if we were Tottenham fans. Once we teamed up with Milos and his band of hard looking friends, the questions stopped. We met up in the courtyard of an apartment block near the stadium that his friends live in and pounded back a few beers. When we lined up at the entrance to the stadium, the crowd instantly turned the line into a most pit, jumping up and down and singing like we were at a rock concert. There are no age limits to be involved in this. Young, old, grey hair or not, you can partake in the madness.

We enter the stadium, where seat numbers are meaningless, you simply find a chair and stand on it. There is no sitting down, this is Partizan. We were "seated" in the middle of the stadium, in the first two rows. Looking down at the one end of the stadium, you can see where Serbian fans get their reputation. Literally the entire section, and I mean every swinging dick in the stands, is either jumping up and down, waving a flag, or singing, all on que of the conductor who is in charge of the section. That section is packed to the nuts with people. And that same section on the opposite end of stadium is nearly empty. Belgrade is not the place to be a Tottenham fan. If you want to cheer for them, you do it at home in front of your TV. It was a great game, scoreless, but Partizan kept the action in Tottenham's end most of the time. We sang, we shouted, we laughed, and I got knocked on my ass (along with others) when everyone tried to grab the ball that was kicked into our area.

I've never seen any sporting event as intense as that match, and it wasn't even an important game. And I know I'll never see anything like that at any game in Canada...

Monday, September 15, 2014

The First Shoot

Here's a sample from my first photo shoot. Behold, Dejanaa:




Sunday, September 14, 2014

Party Rock All Night!!

I've been in Belgrade for four days now and have decided that I love this city! The vibes are great, the women are absolutely beautiful, and everyone speaks English! Part of me wants to keep this hidden gem to myself to avoid it turning into a tourist madhouse, but another part of me cannot help revealing how amazing this city is. I could totally see myself living here for some time, and I'm sure summertime and the beautiful weather would even amplify that feeling.

So far daytime hours have been few and far between. Partying until 5-7am every night makes a person sleep a decent portion of the afternoon away. On Friday we met up with Chris, a friend from the US I had met a couple years ago in Hawaii (see this post), who had been traveling through Eastern Europe and heard I was going to be here for two weeks, decided to fly down and hang with us! We cruised to a concert in an old converted warehouse, which was delayed when the band asked if the crowd wanted to wait until the semi-final game for the World Cup of Basketball was over, which Serbia and France were duking out on the big screen behind the stage. Because basketball is HUGE here, the crowd overwhelmingly chose to watch the game, which ended in a victory for Serbia and the spot to play the US in the final tonight. More on that later.

One thing I definitely have to mention about Serbian culture is the sports betting. Gambling houses are EVERYWHERE, and they're all full of Serbian men that like to bet on any sporting event they can. Since moving here Jacob has become quite involved in it, making decent amounts of money that could be considered a second bonus income. And to show how deep it is really ingrained in the culture, imagine some mafia-esque betting tips that get shared between friends about an Italian B-league game "that will be one point ahead in the first half, then will become tied in the second half". Yeah, it ended like that.

Last night we had some drinks with Jacob's neighbours at a local bar owned by their brother, which was a really chilled out, trendy place. Then we cruised down to the Sava river where there are rows of boats moored along the shoreline that serve as popular nightclubs and are ram packed with drunk people. The beauty part of the this city is that everything is walkable, even when you're drunk, so pizza is never far away from where you drink. And because the clubs stay open until around 5am, we didn't get back to the apartment until 7:30am.

Obviously today was a relax day. I'm getting too old to be pulling a four night bender, especially when I'm partying until these hours. Which worked itself out because there weather went for shit and started pouring in the evening. It didn't, however, stop us from watching the Serbia vs. USA basketball match at a bar along the walking streets. I could actually call it a Serbian slaughter, the USA destroyed them. Perfect time to be hanging out with two Americans. They did take it like champs, though, still celebrating a good game with a flare-fueled party in the main square:


The next few days are work time. Jacob has lined up three photo shoots, so if the weather cooperates, I should have a portfolio by the end of the week. Again, weather cooperation will dictate what I do with my next weekend. Maybe Montenegro? Maybe somewhere else?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Bag Woes In Belgrade

This marks the first time I've arrived at a destination without my checked luggage. I never like to put my trust in checking my luggage through on a multi-flight itinerary, it seems like trusting too many people to do a good job, when these days there are quite a few people that don't do just that. On the way down to South America I had taken all of my things on carry on just to avoid this situation. This time, however, Jacob had me carrying an electronics store worth of equipment to resupply him with some up do date camera hardware.

After finishing off a night shift at work I grabbed a couple hours of sleep, got ready and took off to the airport for a 17 hour journey to Belgrade. I managed to sleep an hour and a half on the way to Chicago, another four on the way to Zurich, then another hour on the way to Belgrade. When I arrived, I was feeling a little off, but good to go. Not arriving with my luggage was a bit of an annoyance, but hey, I'm in Belgrade, and I have a friend support system to have my back.

Jacob hooked me up with some clothes to replace my attire that had become quite ripe from the flight. Taking a flight is the weirdest thing. You're basically doing nothing but sitting there, yet when you arrive at your destination you want a shower more than if you just busted out a marathon. We cruised around the streets of Belgrade, hitting up a delicious dinner of stuffed pork, a quiche-like plate and Serbian salad (quite similar to what I had in Turkey), then stopping off for coffee and a couple drinks at some various spots. I haven't snapped any pictures yet, but this city is quite beautiful and well laid out. There is a a core of walking streets lined with outdoor bars and cafes, which is totally in my cool books.


That night we cruised over to a party hosted by a two Serbian sisters that are friends of Jacob's. And we partied until 5:00am. My first night in Belgrade and we pulled an all night bender, a job well done! And when I woke up this morning my bag arrived! Good vibes are happening!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Edmonton...

Now I'm very excited to be going to Serbia...


Monday, September 1, 2014

Two Weeks! Two Weeks!

I'm nine days away from my trip and getting more excited by the minute! To date this is the shortest non-resort trip I've taken, due to having to beg, borrow and steal (not really) time off from my boss. My flight takes me through Chicago, so I'll have to transit through American customs. I've already figured out how I'm going to explain the duration of my trip:

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Tattoo of My Life

Ever since I arrived back in Canada from my trip, nearly two years to the day, I've wanted to etch it on my skin, a tattoo to commemorate an experience so rich it changed my life forever. At some point shortly after, I settled on the idea of a half sleeve, still undecided of how I wanted the layout to wrap around my arm. It definitely had to include the jungle, so many of my most memorable experiences were had there (PNG, Thailand, Philippines). I wanted something to do with Buddhism, as many of the countries I visited were Buddhist, and while I am not aligned to a religion, I have massive respect for the aformentioned religion and the peace and respect it teaches. I also wanted it to fade from black and white to colour, a representation of how much life that trip brought to me.

Last December I tracked down and booked a consultation with a very talented tattoo artist, Jen, who had done a band of maple leafs on my arm a few years back. We hashed out a format and booked my first appointment for April. Two days before the appointment we got in touch to discuss the design more, and went back and forth with new ideas. How about this? Would that look cool? Could a crocodile work? At first I had tossed the idea of having one of the Baining Fire Dancers tattoo'd on my arm, I didn't like the way the format worked. Then she sent me a picture of a mask from PNG, most likely from the Sepik region. I was a little skeptical, but told her to go ahead and draw it up. When she sent me this I was blown away:


Yes! That came together with some many memories I'd had of PNG: the artwork, having a baby crocodile around my neck, and the raw energy of that country I found so fascinating. I told her it looked amazing and in two days she was tattooing the outline on my arm. It was a three session tattoo, each session being around five hours. The photo below is from the first session:


The first to be filled in was the gecko. Almost everywhere I went had geckos roaming around my hotel rooms, a reptile that would become synonymous with my trip. They keep the bugs out of a room, and they make a really great sound when they call out. The design I chose was inspired from a photo taken by my friend Mitch, in Hawaii. Unfortunately due to Edmonton's dry winter climate that little fell'er didn't heal up so well and needed to be massively touched up on the second session, pictured below:


I'd thought the outline of the mask looked cool without colour, but it was a thousand times better when the colour was filled in! The third session would see the back and underside of my arm filled in:



And it hurt like a bitch. For some reason the underside of the arm is very tender thus painful to tattoo, but I got through it like a champ. The Mani Stone are painting of Buddhist peace prayers on rocks that line the trails in the Everest region of Nepal. This part of the tattoo checked three items off the list: the Buddhist element, something that represented hiking for me, and the black and white part of the tattoo I'd wanted. 

I'm not very proud to have something to profound in my life tattoo'd on my body. And with a lot of blank real estate left on it, I have plenty more travelling and experiences to rack up before I book the next appointment.

Your Own Time, Time to Shine!!

People ask me how I'm able to pick up and travel the way I do. Henry Rollins explains it best:


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

First Journey With My Trusty Steel Horse

Buying a motorcycle was something I've wanted to do for a long time, and I knew that when I did it, it would mark a new era for me. I can't explain what this new era is, for it hasn't quite presented itself fully yet, but all I can say is that the feeling of freedom riding a motorcycle gives me revives that travelling spirit in me, like that bike is synonymous with my life.

I'd been planning a trip to British Columbia ever since I'd picked that bike up from the Harley dealership back in June, deciding to do it during my five day set off in the middle of August, the best time of year for favourable weather. But as the date approached, the forecast changed to a higher chance that my trip might be highlighted by rain. I decided fuck it, there was no way I was going to miss out on the only chance I'll have this summer to take my bike on the road. I gathered my rain gear and packed.

Waking myself up at noon after working until 6:30 am that morning, I packed my bike and set off, bound for Jasper. The weather was beautiful and turned out to hold that tune for the next two days of riding. I enjoyed the wind on my face and the tunes in my ears. The song turned out to be quite noteworthy. Sometimes music can totally form to an occasion, sometimes seeming like a song of fate. I had waited to turn my IPod on until I hit the open highway, and the first two songs I heard on it struck me.

The first was the Pusher by Steppenwolf, which is the intro song for the greatest motorcycle movie ever filmed, Easy Rider. If that's not a sign I don't know what is.


The next one was Combination of the Two by Big Brother and the Holding Company, which is the intro song to Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, which plays in the first scene of the drug fuelled road trip through the desert. I couldn't help but feel I was on my own crazy journey, while not drug fuelled or to Las Vegas, but on the road of life, which can be as surreal as any drug trip.


I arrived in Jasper around 7:30, quickly secured a campsite in the Whistlers campground, pitched my tent and headed back into town. While I could pack most things I need on the back of my motorcycle, the limited amount of space precludes bringing food or the means to cook it, so I had to settle for some quick A&W. I grabbed two cans of beer from the local liquor store and headed back to have a fire before crashing for some much needed sleep. 



I woke up at 6:30 am, grabbed a quick shower, watched the Japanese neighbours get dangerously close to a herd of caribou, then woke up the rest of the loop with my motorcycle. The ride to Kamloops was another beautiful day, very scenic and very windy. Perfect road for a motorcycle. I pulled in to the Dunrite Auto detailing shop at 3 pm to hug my good friend Dustin and immediately begin berating each other. That night we hung out at his place with another one of his nomadic buddies (who happened to show up that evening) and caught up on our lives, especially Dustin's stories of being head butted and bear sprayed (all happened within the year he's lived there haha). I could make a reality show out of that guy. 



The next morning the left me with a departing gift, another ostrich rider decal that we pasted on my fuel tank (I'll post a pic soon). My bike now has my persona stamped on it. After saying the goodbye's I took off to Scotch Creek to visit my cousins Mark and Vanessa and their two kids. We hung around the trailer community, laying by the pool and having a great BBQ. Later on Mark and I met his friend for a couple beers at a local pub and ended the night by downing two giant plates of nachos. I knew all along that trip would be horribly unhealthy, and it was great.

The next day I awoke to rain and gloomy skies. And sure enough, on my departure from Scotch Creek, it rained. Thankfully my ride to Salmon Arm was short and didn't quite soak me through. I had a couple hours to dry out while visiting my uncle Ralph and ogling at the beauty of a Chevelle he just finished restoring this year. I would have liked to stay longer, but I needed to make it to Banff that night to split my long journey back home, which promised to be cold and wet. It wasn't so much wet (I was rained on a little in Rogers Pass) as it was cold, but I layered up and pushed on. After fuelling up at Lake Louise, I decided to call ahead to check availability in hostels in Banff. The chance of rain was still high and I didn't really feel like spending a cold, damp night in a tent only to have to break it down in the rain come morning. There was no availability in Banff, so I opted to stay in Lake Louise that night.

The morning was cold, but surprisingly felt less so than the previous day once I got on the highway. I skipped the insane weekend traffic of the Trans-Canada and QEII highways and instead chose the route that took me through Cochrane and Olds, then through Wetaskiwin, sticking to the secondary highways as best I could. There was a good headwind when I turned north that shook my head around as I rode and kept that sensation in my head all that night, like the feeling of floating in water long after a swim. I will not complain about that, however, it was the feeling that I'd rode hard and had had a great trip. And now I cannot wait until the next one.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Progress of Summer

So far my summer has been stupidly busy, yet awesomely...awesome. For the July long weekend I took off to my favorite camp spot, Rock Lake. It is off the beaten track, the campsites are well treed in and private, and there's free firewood. All of this for only sixteen dollars a night! Good times were had, culminating in a last night bender that kept us up until 6am. I felt sorry for our neighbors. A couple weekends later I did another camping trip with my sister and her boyfriend, this time to Gregg Lake, not far from the site of the previous camping trip, but a much more developed campground. It was supposed to be most of his softball team as the attendees but there ended up only being five of us, which made for a feast due to the abundant amount of food everyone had packed for the intended large crowd. Cue mango pork skewers for breakfast and a belly full of gigantic cheese filled burgers later that night. Mmmmm.



And as you can see above, I've checked one more thing off my bucket list. I am now the proud owner of a Harley Davidson 1200 Custom, aka my new girlfriend. I love this bike, and thanks to the amazing summer we've been having, I've been riding it a lot. I've went on a couple rides with my dad and uncle, and last week did a trip with a couple friends to Rocky Mountain House and back. It's been a dream of mine for quite some time to own a motorcycle. The time I knew I was absolutely sure I would buy one was in Phonsavan, Laos, when I was cruising around the Laotian countryside on scooters with some friends I had met in Thailand. Riding a motorcycle is one of the greatest feelings of freedom a person can enjoy, but only to a certain type of person. Anyone else cannot properly interpret or understand this feeling, which is why motorcyclists have a heavy mutual respect for one another. I'm very glad I've entered that culture.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Trip to be Tutored

Another trip has officially been booked. It was kind of a last minute deal and I didn't want to post about it since there was a possibility that it might not have happened, but alas the stars aligned and I am going to Serbia in September. The purpose: to be shown the ropes on boudoir photography. A few years ago on my travels I met an American photographer, Jacob, in Hong Kong who's life is travelling around the world, shooting models as he goes. Summers in Europe, winters in South America or Southeast Asia. Needless to say I instantly envied his life. We became good friends and have kept in contact with each other ever since.

About a month ago he told me after five years of travelling the world he's settling down in Belgrade, Serbia for a while, and offered a place to stay anytime I'd ever want to visit. After some time deliberating whether or not I could afford it, I decided to take him up on the offer, and I just booked my flight there for September 10th.

I've known for some time I've wanted to make photography a business, and have to some extent. I did a job for my aunt's youth rehabilitation centre outside the city last year, and am a Getty Images contributor. Yet for some reason I haven't turned it into something steady. So this trip is to test the waters of a glamour photography, something I have a feeling I might love and that will open a new horizon of artistic expression for myself. And being tutored by an internationally renowned photographer can definitely be the push I need to make this happen.

So the plan is to hang in Belgrade (which I've heard is an amazing city) and do some model shoots, possibly taking a few days to head to Montenegro for some end of summer beach time and coastal shooting locations. The possibilities are really endless, Belgrade is in such a perfect spot use as a base to explore the Balkans, so where we end up is anyone's guess.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

South America Wrap Up

So I finally got around to writing this post.

My last days in Santiago were amazing! Little did I know, the Lollapalooza music festival was on in Santiago the day after I flew back from Easter Island. I had heard it was coming, but didn't know exactly when. I found out quickly when everyone from the hostel was going the next day. I was on the fence, I had spent a lot of money in Easter Island, and the ticket wasn't cheap, but it sounded like such an awesome way to end my trip. After a conversation with my mom, and her encouragement to go to the festival, I bought my ticket and joined up with a group of Brazilians I had met the night before.

The festival had a great lineup. Some of the bands I was able to see were the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Vampire Weekend, the Pixies, Nine Inch Nails, AFI, and Soundgarden. Well worth the $180. The atmosphere for Red Hot Chilli Peppers was intense. Myself and one of the Brazilian girls pushed in as close to the stage as we could, hemmed in on all sides by Chileans. The cool night breeze was a welcome respite from all the body heat being generated by the mass of people. Your legs burn as you constantly push every way to keep your balance, trying hard not to fall into the crowd of people, concentrating only on the music. When others jump, you jump. When they clap, you clap. All concepts of personal space are forgotten, you are just part of the music. Part of the mass of celebration. This is the power of a music festival.

Initially I was bummed out about having to miss half of Soundgarden on the last night in order to beat the crowds and ensure I would get back to the hostel and then the airport to catch my flight home, figuring for sure I'd miss them playing Black Hole Sun, my favourite Soundgarden song. It is a song that seems like a great closer. My fears were quickly elated, however. They opened with Spoonman. I was happy. Four songs in they played Black Hole Sun. I was very happy. Three songs later and I figured I would miss Outshined, but decided I'd stay for one more song. The opening chords of Outshined blasted through the speakers. My night was made. I listened, left ahead of the crowds, caught the subway back to my hostel, then the shuttle to the airport (which nearly made me too late for my flight), and started my journey home. Flights are flights, and these ones weren't worth writing about much. Sleep, layover with beer, late flight, home. The end of my South America Trip.

So how was it? It was great. This trip kicked my ass. Bad food poisoning, altitude sickness, and a pollution-induced cough that I presently still have. I didn't let it slow me down, however. I persevered, kept going, and did the things I wanted to do.

The Salar in Bolivia was nothing short of incredible, some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen. I saw some amazing things in Chile, but I have to admit that as far as excitement, it has been one of the lesser countries on my list so far. Though I must add that I never saw the southern destinations like Patagonia and Chiloe, which I've heard are the best parts of Chile. Possibly one day I may make an effort to see those places I missed.

Even though Easter Island is part of Chile, I'll keep it separate for discussion sake, for I found it was a completely different experience from the rest of Chile. It's a completely different world from the mainland. The Polynesian feel really took me back to my time in New Guinea, and I'm still strongly feeling a resurgence of longing to be in that setting again, a simple, stress free village life on a remote, tropical island in Melanesia. I hadn't felt the energy of that place since, until I spent some time on Easter Island. I find serenity in those settings.

Already people are asking me where my next destination is. I have so many ideas in my head, and have talked to my sister about Indonesia early next year. There could possibly be a trip sooner, but right now I've decided to buy a house from my grandma in the summer, which will require a large commitment of time and money, things that dictate whether I can take a trip or not. I have commited to buying a motorcycle in the next couple months, and there will be trips made with that, so this blog will be far from idle.

Thanks for joining me on another trip!

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Land of Positive Vibes

Easter Island has left a deep impression on me. I don't want to leave, but sadly today was my last full day here; tomorrow I fly back to Santiago. I had tried to change my flight, but everything was booked solid. That's how much I love this place. It holds a special kind of energy and serenty that calms the soul. Sitting on a hillside, listening to the song of the crickets and the wind blowing through the dense grass, admiring the beautiful view of the coastline and the distant sound of the vast ocean crashing at its shores, I have discovered inner peace here, in a place where I could see myself a retired man, baked brown from the sun and happy within my surroundings.

I wish I could stay, but things happen for a reason. Maybe the inability to change my flight signifies my time on Easter Island is meant to end. Despite this, I already know that one day I will return. For now, goodbye, Easter Island.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Into the Water

I love scuba diving, and today I did just that. Since I haven't dove in almost two years, I had to do a refresher course, a requirement by PADI if you go over a year without diving. So that means bring evaluated by the instructor, which includes having to remove my regulator underwater, and also remove my mask, put it back on, and blow it clear of water. It's a totally bitch ass chore, but I passed with flying colours.

The dive itself was pretty easy, we jumped right in the ocean from a jetty on shore, then swam around for 35 minutes each dive. It was quite an array of hard coral, and the coolest thing we saw were the long, stick like Trumpet Fish. Having dove in Papua New Guinea really sets the bar high for new dive spots, but anytime I dive, I'm always happy to be doing it.

Afterwards I lazed around at a local lagoon and soaked up some sun from the beautiful weather we had today, then did another short ride to the site where the Moai were carved back in the day, but sadly I was unable to enter due to a problem with my national park ticket that should hopefully be rectified tomorrow. And tonight I'm headed out to a traditional dance with a couple girls from Canada, which I'm excited about since I have no idea what a traditional Rapa Nui dance is supposed to look like.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Ride Through Isla de Pascua

Easter Island is amazing! Coming here seriously revived my love for tropical island life and how much I miss it. My heart is still in the mountains, but there's a great draw to the way of life on an island. Things are very laid back, you can wander around all day in nothing but your shorts, and the beautiful jungle provides the best fruit and vegetables a person can buy. 

I managed to find a pretty decent place to stay; a "dorm" room with two beds, shared with a pretty cool French guy named Anthony. The owner is pretty cool, and he has two really nice dogs that have giant hearts. Yesterday Anthony and I headed out and watched the sunset at a popular spot in town, downing a few beers in the process. This town dies down pretty early during the week, so by 11pm bed is the best option.

Today I booked a couple dives for tomorrow, which is supposed to be the calmest day available for me. Today was overcast and a little windy, so hopefully the visibility is ok for my dives. After that I sorted out a scooter with my guest house owner, and ripped out to Anakena beach for a swim and to check out some Moia, the big statues that populate the island. The whole island is basically a giant open air museum, with ruins scattered throughout, all available to walk around provided you pay the hefty park fee of $60. The Moia themselves are very impressive, it's mind boggling how they were carved and then moved to the coast, due to the sheer size of them. Some must weigh almost five tons, by my guess. 


The roads around the island should go down in the books of great motorcycle rides. Save for one small gravel stretch, it's a nicely paved, windy route through the middle of the island, then snaking along the coast, nearly free of any traffic. The road passes amazing coastal scenery, and of course past ancient ruin sites nearly every mile. Truly a great ride.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Back To Some 'nesia

First shot of Easter Island:


This place is awesome. More to follow tomorrow.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

R&R: Santiago

Needless to say this has been a bit of a hard trip. The combinations of sickness I've had have made things a little difficult, but I'm still persevering. But I still needed a little R&R time to reset the body. So that's what I've been doing in Santiago for the past couple days. The sister hostel of the hostel I'm staying in happens to have a pool, so yesterday I chilled out there and soaked up the sun and attempt to even out the farmers tan I developed in the Salar and Atacama. 


Today was my first attempt at doing anything, and I failed miserably. Not by my own fault, but due to the fact that the free walking tour I was going to take was cancelled due to a protest that was crisscrossing the tour route, and had reports of stones being thrown. After they informed us of this, I walked back to the hostel, actually running against the flow of thousands of protesters marching up the street. It seemed pretty chilled out to me though, there wasn't really a lot of organized demonstrating going on. I ended up walking through the fish market and down the promenade that runs along the main shopping centre, so it wasn't a total loss. Tomorrow I'll attempt the tour again, hopefully protest free.

And I'm only two days away from Easter Island, my pinnacle destination for this trip. Needless to say I'm getting excited. I loved the Melanesian and Polynesian islands I've visited so far, so if this one is anything like the others, I should love it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Friendly Gesture

Today things seemed to have turned around. I decided it was worth the journey to try and have my exam done to get my bowels sorted and back to normal. I tried to phone my travel insurance company just to cover my ass in case I need to make a claim. After five minutes of repeating myself and yelling HELLO into the phone I gave up. Now even more frustrated, I jump on the bus. 

The hospital was madness. The orderly, quiet environment of hospitals back home was lost on this place. There were about a few hundred people waiting in chairs and lineups throughout the lobby. I qeued up and was eventually helped by a woman who I could tell was having a bitch of a time trying to figure out what to do with me due to the fact I can't speak Espanol and she can't speak Anglaices.

Eventually she returns with a guy that speaks English, who translates that they can't do the exam here, I need to go to a private clinic. It turns out the guy who is translating is Chilean but lives in Toronto, and ends up helping me find antibiotics at a local pharmacy. Screw trying to find a private clinic, after the phone call to the insurance company this morning I'm definitely not into attempting that feat. For the kind gesture, I bought him a beer and bs'd for a while. A helping hand from a generous stranger was exactly what I needed, some great positive energy to finally fix this sickness once and for all.

After that I went out for a great lunch, then some iced cream, then jumped on a walking tour of the city. It was run by two eccentric guides, and included a ton, such as a free ride up one of the trolley lifts, a free ride on the old trams, a free shot of Pisco Sour, and a playful escort of two friendly street dogs, who obviously have developed a love for tourists, I'm sure greatly influenced by the many treats and attention they're given throughout.

I'm thinking I might be done with Valparaiso. I had intended to spend a little more time here, but things seem pretty quiet (especially at the hostel), and the weather isn't quite warm enough to warrant making a trip in neighboring Vina Del Mar. I'll decide in the morning whether I want to make a bee line back to Santiago or not. For now, I'm enjoying a beer:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Expedited

Shit was just moving along today. And I don't mean my shit, which seems to be ok now that I mention it. I'm talking about my whole day. Things were just lining up nicely, the bus I took into Calama lined me up for the check in time of the earlier flight, so I paid $23 and landed in Santiago 3 hours early, jumped right on the airport bus as it was about to leave, then right on to another bus leaving for Valparaiso, arriving about five hours earlier than I expected! At first glance this city looks pretty cool, very artsy and unique. I think I'll do the walking tour tomorrow, which by the looks of things should keep my camera very busy.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Medico, Por Favor

I still have the shits. Finally fed up with it, I went to the doctor today. It was a bit of a chore to navigate the language barrier and find a doctor that spoke English, but I managed to do so. He couldn't prescribe me an antibiotic because apparently if you have diarrhea, and a fever as well, it's not the common virus, but rather a bacteria that they need to be certain of the type before prescribing. So I needed a test, he said. Unfortunately this small town only has a limited care center so I have to wait until I go to Valparaiso until I can have the test done. Being that it will take me all day to get there tomorrow, I'll have to wait until Wednesday. They did give me an IV with some solution to rehydrate me, however, and I feel better already.


On the plus side, I haven't allowed this sickness to slow me down much. Yesterday I took a tour to the Valley de Muerte (Death Valley) to do some sand boarding, which was awesome! It's much more difficult than snowboarding; the sand causes more friction which makes it difficult to gain speed and thus harder to turn. And every time you make a run down you must make the 150m trek back up the dune under the blazing sun. Myself, and English guy from my hostel, and a Norweigan girl were the best three on the hill, save for the instructor.


After we finished there we headed to Valley de Luna (Moon Valley), where we climbed up to a ridge and watched the sun set over the amazing scenery around us. This part of my trip has been so full of amazing scenery, I'm really excited to see what the next two weeks bring. Tomorrow is a combination of buses and flights that should see me in Valparaiso around 8pm.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Salt!

My three day tour started a little rough, to say the least. The night before I had went out for dinner with some people from the hostel to a small outlet in the local shopping mall. It was a typical street stall type meal, didn't look too sketchy, the only part bring the meat was sitting out, but due to that being commonplace in the third world, and that there were no flies around at all, I thought nothing of it. Turns out I should have. At about midnight I awoke to the exact situation in the picture below (plus some puking):


In total I think I got about three hours of sleep that night, and was at the airport waiting in line, hoping I didn't have to take a liquidy dump on the plane. My fears were elated when I managed to get in the bathroom before boarding, but quickly turned into real concern that I was not holding liquid in but rather shitting it out at an alarming rate, and becoming more dehydrated. The effects of this and the lack of sleep made me look like something from the Walking Dead. I boarded the plane, where fortunately I was able to take my bottle of water, which I was managing to hold down for the time being. It was an uneventful flight, I slept, was served a water by my rude, transvestite flight attendant, and slept some more.

Upon landing my fears of possibly missing my tour began to fade, especially when I met an American couple on the same tour who gave me a Peptol Bismol tablet. We arrived at the tour office shortly after and got all the details and supplies sorted, and rounded up into our SUV's. There were three Toyota Landcruisers with 5-7 people in each. In my Landcruiser was the American couple (Jeremy and Amanda) and an Australian/English couple (Francis and James), and all were very cool, and we had a great time together.

Despite being drained of all minerals and energy, I had a great first day. First we hit the train graveyard to see old relics of locomotives from Bolovias abandoned railroad system, dating back to the late 1800's. The scenery of the Salar de Uyuni (salt flats) was nothing short of incredible. It's a giant white expanse surrounded by mountains, like a supernatural coliseum. It's an entire ecosystem and economy of its own; the locals use it to harvest salt and sell it, and even build their houses out of it, like modern igloos. 

That night we bedded down in a small hotel, where we were fed a big meal (I could only manage to down the soup), and I turned in it bed early, feeling a little feverish from my body trying to annihilate the demon bacteria from my bowels. It apparently hadn't succeeded at that point (and still completely hasn't); I had another midnight wake up call from my bowels. I packed the blankets on my bed and attempted to sweat out the fever, which made me feel much better by morning.


We were up early at 6am to get the day started. We steadily climbed higher and higher throughout the day, ending up at 5000 meter above sea level at the highest point. We saw high altitude lagoons teeming with flamingos, crazy barren mountain terrain, and an amazing geyser field, the high elevation point of the day. After that we ended up at another hostel, this one complete with a hot spring pool, which was a great end to the day after sitting in the vehicle, bouncing around on rough gravel roads all day.


That night was nothing short of horrible. Our hostel, being at 4300m, put us at a daily climb of 700m, 200 above the maximum recommended daily increase. It hit me hard. Compounded on top of my lingering food poisoning, I developed altitude sickness. I awoke two hours into my sleep with a pounding headache and heart, and heavy nausea, which later turned into two rounds of puking my guys out into a foul compost toilet. The second time I wised up and found a bush outside. Again, another sleepless night. 



In the morning I managed to eat a little at breakfast, thanks again to Amanda giving me another two Peptol tablets. We made one stop at another high altitude lagoon before we were dropped at the border to catch the bus for a short ride over the Chilean border to San Pedro de Atacama. I've been here for a few hours and the environment already seems much more organized and less dangerous in terms of food poisoning. I'm going to chill here for a few days, relax my body and do some day tours. While the sickness that seemed to haunt my tour did suck, doing the Salt Flats was definitely the right choice. I met some amazing people, saw some amazing scenery, and made efficient use of my time by ending it in Chile.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Acclimatization

First thing I should mention is that La Paz feels a lot like Kathmandu. The people are similar, the dirty smells and honking horns assault your senses, ramshackle buildings cling to the surrounding hillsides, and haphazardly strewn together power lines hang across every street and alley. 

Yesterday I spent the day acclimatizing to the high altitude. Walking anywhere was a chore; climbing the stairs of my hostel would leave me winded. I explored a bit of the market area and found a place to sit down and have a coca tea, a natural remedy for altitude sickness. Coca is also the natural ingredient for cocaine, but in its plant form it's completely legal. And it did help with the altitude, much to my pleasure.



I couldn't spend much time walking around as the activity was starting to give me a headache, so I came back to the hostel, chilled for a bit, went out and had a three course meal for less than $3, and spent the rest of the night drinking beer and teaching an American guy and a Scottish girl how to play crib.

I had a fitful sleep last night, the headache symptoms of the altitude always seem to appear in the middle of the night for me. After some breakfast in the morning and a hot shower I headed out with some other people for a coffee and to do a walking tour that took us around the major sights in La Paz. The weather turned out to be beautiful for it, and I seemed to do a lot better walking around than I did yesterday.

Tonight will be an early night for me, I have to wake up at 4:30 to catch my flight to Uyuni where I'll start my Salt Flats Tour.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Another Continent Off the List

Annnnd I'm in South America. The flights were long but actually went by rather quickly. I slept almost the whole way to Newark, hopped off and immediately on to another flight where I watched a couple movies, had a quick nap and arrived in Lima, where I had a questionable plate of spaghetti and my first Pisco Sour, a local drink made of tequila, rum, lime, and egg white. At least those are the ingredients I recognized him pour in, there could have been others. 



I landed in La Paz at 3am, and immediately noticed the effects of the altitude. The airport is above 4000m, and it starts to hit you before you're out of the plane. I was noticeably lightheaded, and my heart was beating fast from just walking into the terminal. Fortunately downtown La Paz, where my hostel is, is around 3400m, so all I'm feeling right now is a slight headache.

I arrived at my hostel around 4am, the street deserted. The entrance was a giant, locked wooden door. The taxi driver buzzed the intercom for me, and an unknown voice told me to open the door. I pushed the heavy door and stepped inside, closing it behind me. I was in a giant stone room with a faint light coming from a room high above. It felt like being in an old spooky cathedral, something out of a horror movie. I dug out my flashlight to look around just as the hostel worker opened a door above and beckoned me up a set of stone stairs. I checked in and went to sleep in a room right off the main road, completely ignoring the loud vehicles passing by below.

And here I am, just finishing a rudimentary breakfast, ready to explore La Paz.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hours Away

The start to this year has been rough, to say the least. I've had my grandma pass away recently, which was tough, and this morning we received some more bad news, that my aunt passed on from cancer. Those losses, coupled with some other things and a very hectic and sleep lacking month of February have made 2014 a difficult year for me so far, as well as my family.

And now I have this opportunity right in front of me to go explore some more of the world, see and experience some more amazing things, meet some more amazing people, and knock off another contient. On the road is where my head always seems to be the clearest, where things seem very true to me. If there's one thing that can turn around a bad road for me, it's travelling.

South America: I will see you in 24 hours.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Flashback

Today I was getting some things together for my trip, and I came across the sunscreen that has an odd nostalgia for me. There are certain smells and noises that can bring back memories, flash backs to the past. The smell of Nivea sunscreen always brings me back specifically to my second day in Kathmandu, sitting on the roof of my guest house eating banana pancakes and drinking chai tea, staring out at the Nepalese Himalaya, still cloud covered by the lingering monsoon, then later on wandering the noisy, dusty alleys in my white American Eagle shirt that I loved but sadly, but memoringly, was destroyed back glow in the dark paint at the Full Moon party in Thailand.

It's times like these that I can reflect on some memories of my travels: sitting in the sand, snapping photos of a dancing tribe at some obscure village in the middle of a sparsely populated island in New Guinea. Trying my hardest to put one foot in front of the other while hiking up Kala Pattar in Nepal. Sitting in a sweaty bus, trapped by cargo on the way to a rarely used border crossing into Vietnam. Listening to my IPod on a beautiful beach in Hawaii. Spending one of my twelve days in Goa watching a cow trample through the middle of a yoga class on the beach. Trying my first rock climbing lesson on the limestone karsts around Ton Sai, Thailand.

My life has been awesome so far.

Friday, February 28, 2014

This Is Why I Need a Vacation


No further comment needed.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Eleven Days Until Goodbye Winter

This trip is getting closer and closer, and I'm growing more excited every day. I just finished making some bookings for hostels following a couple of my flights, and I'll leave the rest to fate. One of the biggest reasons I'm getting excited is the promise of putting the cold weather behind me. While it won't be super hot for the first couple weeks of my trip, but it's certainly a lot better than it has been in Edmonton the past couple weeks. I feel I'm in desperate need of some time away from home. With the cold weather wearing on me and a very busy month at work that had me working quite a bit of overtime it's going to be nice to get away from everything. While traveling might not be a relaxing beach holiday, it's still a break from the daily grind of home and work, and I'm looking forward to it!

Oh, and here's a preview of a source of new adventures (and surely blog posts) for me, coming in May:


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Snowboarding!

Traveling doesn't always mean leaving my country. A trip doesn't have a minimum distance, it can still be close to home, but as long as it requires a journey, it's legit. This is why I've chosen to add a post about my recent snowboarding trips.

The first one of the season was for my friend and previous travel buddy, Matt, who is currently working his way through South America with his fiancee, on their way to get married in Australia. Over ten of us hit the road at 5am, bound for Lake Louise to do a day of snowboarding and a night of partying in Banff, an early stag for Matt before they departed on their travels. In the spirit of a stag I'm not going to reveal too much about it, but the boarding was great, and much beer was drank.

My second trip was formulated in the previous post. I had saved some money when I rebooked my trip, and happened at the same time to get a check from the government, so some snowboarding was in order. Due to my odd work schedule, it was a solo trip. I left on Saturday night and crashed at a friends place in Airdrie, drinking a few too many beers, resulting in waking up a little hung over and on a less than optimal amount of sleep. A quick stop by McDonalds for coffee and poisonous breakfast fixed that, and I was on my way to Lake Louise.

It had snowed quite a bit overnight so the highways were not in the greatest condition, but with AWD and a set of winter tires I made it safe and sound, but was witness to another SUV slamming into the ditch behind me outside of Banff. Canadian highways can be quite treacherous in winter. I arrived at the hill shortly after ten, picked up my passes and hit the gondola. The day was a little overcast but still relatively mild (-5 is mild in Canadian terms), and snowing slightly off and on. Due to it being Sunday I stayed off the back bowls and the inevitable crowds that funnel into it's narrow runs, opting for the front face of the mountain, which was in amazing condition from the overnight snowfall. That night I stayed in the hostel at Lake Louise, having a nice dinner and hitting the hay early to rest my sore legs.


The next day is where the story gets interesting. The weather forecast had been calling for a snowstorm overnight, followed by winds gusting upward of 120km/h the next day. Half of the Icefields Parkway was closed, as well as the highway through Rogers Pass. What does that tell me? Awesome snow conditions. I woke up early and hit the highway, which I had all to myself the whole way to Sunshine. I arrived at the parking lot around 8:45 and went to the booth to purchase my lift pass. The nice German girl informed me that there was high wind conditions in Sunshine Village, and that some of the chairlifts would be closed, but the wind was expected to die down around noon. Seeing my apprehension, she informed me that if I bought a lift ticket I would have an hour and a half to return to the base of the gondola to extend it for a different date, should the conditions be unfavorable. I wasn't about to turn my back on the possibility of no crowds and great snow conditions. I boarded the gondola.

The wind was light at the Village, and my first run off the Strawberry chair was calm and full of great powder. I boarded and Mt. Standish chair and had a calm ride for about two thirds of it, which turned into gusting wind and blowing snow. I then made the mistake of turning left off the chair, aiming for a blue run but instead to be dumped into a black diamond bowl, where I got bogged down in the heavy deposited powder that my snowboard is no good in. After some struggling and a little cursing, I made it through and back down onto the blue run I was meant to be on. Due to the gusting wind I decided to stick to the runs along the lower half and in the trees where at all possible, and hit some great runs.

After lunch the wind had seemed to die down and the Angel Express chair was still running. I jumped on it, aiming to take the green run down the exposed face of the Great Divide. I dropped off the lift to be greeted by howling winds and whiteout conditions. I could still see the trail markers, and other people seemed to be ok with descending, so I gave it a shot. I got about fifty meters from the chairlift and was instantly bogged down by heavy deposited snow and the powerful wind, which was preventing me from gaining any speed. I was starting to lose sight of the chair lift as the conditions deteriorated, and the green run I was on ran along the boundary of the ski hill, so getting lost in a whiteout, alone, was starting to become a real possibility. I took off my boarding and began trudging uphill through the snow towards the chairlift, pausing every time I lost sight of it to avoid becoming disoriented. It was the most physically exhausting thing I've ever done in my life; three times I had to stop and sit down to avoid hyperventilating, while the wind howled around me.

I reached the chair, out of breath, and asked the lift attendant to put me back on the chair. These conditions were beyond my skill level. She had just got off the phone with whoever was in charge, and the chair was being shut down, nobody else would be allowed on. And during the course of this discussion more and more people are arriving at the top, some experienced and familiar enough to make it down, some in the same situation as myself. About half an hour later, sitting out in the cold wind, a snowmobile arrived to evacuate the lift attendant and guide us down the blue run, which ran between two black diamond runs. A possible bad situation had I ended up on one of those. Being guided made it easy to descend, but during the run the wind was actually so powerful it ended up stopping me dead and pushing me over on my ass. Thankfully everyone made it down safe and disaster was averted. I finished the day with one more run and a nap in the gondola on the way down.

My third trip was a surprise from my cousin, Chris, who had a work colleague being forced to bail on the trip due to a hurt ankle. We took off Thursday morning for Jasper and arrived at Marmot Basin around nine thirty to sunny skies and a brisk temperature. After two crowdless days of snowboarding, I am completely sold on going mid week to avoid the throngs of people that arrive from Calgary and Edmonton. Having the hill to yourself makes things so much more enjoyable and stress free, and maximizes a persons time on the hill, instead of waiting in line for the chair lifts. The sunshine and fresh snow from the night before made for a great day, as did the cold beers enjoyed on the hill. It's days like that, sitting on a mountain with a beer in hand, looking at the beautiful scenery around me, that I think out of all the places I've visited, my home country is still one of the most beautiful.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

First Test

So yesterday I got an urgent email from Expedia, telling me there was a flight change and I needed to call them ASAP. This was soon followed by a phone call and message saying the exact same thing. Obviously something big had gone down. I call and the first person I talk to informs me that my flight out of Edmonton has been cancelled due to United Airlines changing their schedule, and that no other flight will match up with my connecting flight out of Bogota. The guy puts me on hold so he can call United and try to get another flight. After about ten minutes of being on hold, he tells me it could take a while due to the insane weather that has been hitting the American Midwest hard the past week, and that he'll call me back.

About half an hour later he calls back and connects me with another operator, who tells me that after another ten minutes of searching he can't find any suitable flights for me, the only one close to it flies into Lima, and being in Peru, that doesn't work. His suggestion is to refund the trip. I start to become worried; the other destination I had wanted to go to was Japan, and right now it's under threat of going nuclear from the removal of the fuel rods from Fukushima. I refuse, stressing that there must be another option. If I take the refund, I will most likely end up paying more now that the trip date is closer. He looks around a bit more, and lone behold, he finds another round trip flight, same days, better times, for less money! I am once again happy. There's more connections with this flight route, but no shitty overnight layover in Chicago on the way home, instead I'm in Edmonton the same day.

This trip has survived it's first test. So what am I doing with the $80 I saved? Snowboarding trip this weekend!

Friday, January 3, 2014

New Year, New Travels

Happy New Year!

I'm a day late, but fuck it, it's still the new year. I'm just over two months away from my upcoming trip to Bolivia and Chile, and as I was doing some research on the Bolivian Salt Flats of Uyuni, I figured I should write up a post.

I'm only taking three weeks for this trip (my shortest backpacking trip to date), as I want to do another one later in the year. Already this short amount of time is making it feel a little rushed. To compensate I've decided to spend a little extra money and take a couple internal flights within Bolivia and Chile so I'm not spending precious time on long distance buses, which I've heard are supposed to be a nightmare in Bolivia.

As it stands right now, the plan is to fly into La Paz, spend a day or two there, catch a flight to Uyuni and immediately jump on a tour of the Uyuni Salt Flats, which ends with a connection to San Pedro Atacama, the hub for tourism in the Atacama Desert in Chile. I'll stomp around there for a few days, exploring the driest desert on Earth, then hop south and hopefully end up in Valaparaiso, a beautiful town on the coast not far from Santiago. On the 24th I have a flight booked to what should be the highlight of my trip, Easter Island. I've had it in my mind to visit this remote island for a long time, and since Chile is one of the two only places in can be reached from, I have to spend the extra money and set foot there. I have four days there, fly back to Santiago and spend a couple more there, then take my awful flight home, which is over 24 hours long. While Canada is a beautiful country and I love living there, it's probably one of the worst places to live if you want to get anywhere else in the world for a reasonable cost or time frame.