Monday, December 13, 2010

Top 20 in 2009/2010

I had an extremely good year in 2010. Some part of me feels like I am cheating the yin/yang scale of life. Another way of looking at it is that I am trying to enjoy the days as they come, not knowing what lies in my future. I have had a few friends die this year and a few others who are not doing well. Currently, I have my health and a strong desire to move about the planet. I will have to be creative in the $$$ department and will most likely take equity out of my house to keep going. To put it in my Mother's words: "You're stealing from your future!".

But, realistically, sitting around a few more years, working and saving up $$ to travel is also stealing from your future. Backpacking in 2nd and 3rd world countries, sleeping in dorm rooms and walking all day with my backpack is something that I can physically do and really enjoy doing. Will this be true next year? Will I be this healthy in 5 years??? Even at the rate I'm deteriorating now, I sincerely doubt that.

As I try to keep looking forward, December is a good time to look back and reflect as well. I had such a stunning, year, I feel I need to celebrate just how amazing it really was.


What an odd concept. Never held a steady job till I was almost 30 and here I am chucking the cubicle life, trading freedom over financial security. I's the right decision...and that alone justifies whatever happens after this.


Take this job an shove it! I retire in April and travel for the rest of the year, getting to visit Emily in New York, my sister/brother in British Columbia and later Sophie in Korea. I do a bunch of Wwoofing (volunteer)organic farm work in Canada and New Zealand, visit old friends Alex and Jim and generally enjoy the pervasive sense of freedom


OK. I walked to PEI. Some 280+ kms of walking in 7 days, which works out to about a marathon a day on foot with a pack on your back. There was more pain than I expected and less bother about being uncomfortable. Pain became a constant companion somewhere in the middle of Day 2. That being said, I loved the physicality of the experience as well the total sense freedom. The day to day hardships fade but the the afterglow hangs about.


Began my Wwoofing career in Canada, on Vancouver Island. Living on people's farms and putting in 5-6 hours of labour a day in return for a food and lodging was quite an experience. Met some very cool people and generally enjoyed myself.


I first saw the Comox Glacier in the late 70's. Wanted to go up then but other than day-hiking in Switzerland, had not spent any time up in mountains. Of course, once the Gonzo Adventure Club started hiking, these things became possible. Saw the Glacier again in 2007, but my travel list was quite full. Relatives to see for the first time, bungy-jumping, surfing, floatplanes and hot springs took up my time.

Out to visit family again on my way to NWZ and I can see the Glacier from my sister's house. I HAVE to get up that beast. My sister did her thing and next thing you know I'm on the day hike of a lifetime.


Surfing is addictive, just like golf. Every so often, you get find a bit of grace and the surfing gods let you step that little bit closer. The rush is more than enough to want to get back on the board and keep pushing your own personal envelope.


I absolutely love San Francisco. Got in some hiking, an opera, a baseball game and a visit to my buddy Alex, who I lived with in Israel back in the 70's. We have kept in touch all this time and to see him and hang out for a few days was a real treat.


How do you boil 3 months of a place like New Zealand into a picture with a little writeup? I absorbed the country, hitch-hiking all over the place, Wwoofing, surfing, swimming, walking, hiking. Seriously enjoyed this country and the people I met.


Woofing is a pretty cool experience. No two stops the same. In Manganui, I ended up with a Maori family, working in a field with a Frenchman, a New Zealander and an Israeli, trying to build traditional Maori structures for a fair. Did not go well. We did get to meet a lot of the family and friends and hang out on a Marae for a celebration (20th birthday of my host's niece). All in all, a very cool experience..which is why travelling is so much fun.


Got in lots of hiking in New Zealand, tho no overnites, as I wasn't willing to carry all that gear. I walked between numerous towns, at times more than 50 kms a day. Not something you'd do with a 15 kg pack. This picture is me swimming in a pool just below Franz Joseph Glacier. Bitch-ass cold. Had quite a crowd around taking pics as they realized just what I was about to do. If you threw me 30 feet out, would NOT have made it back to shore. Yikes!


One of my favorite days in the past few years. The Gonzos always do a Remembrance Day hike and spend a bit of time reflecting on just how nice it is to be a Canadian. So much sweeter to do this hike in another country, at elevation, in weather. The cell phone worked, and I got in a call to Bruce Duffy (so nice to share such moments). A very cool day in my life.


My trip to Australia was cut quite short, as I found out that daughter Sophie had accepted a job teaching in Korea. Since it was close to Christmas, I decided to head north to see her, and start working on visas for China and India. Stayed with Chuck and Flora in Sydney for a week, got to see the play Wicked (astounding!) and generally enjoyed myself a lot, mostly thanks to Chuck. The pic is me having a slice of pizza and the meat topping is kangaroo. Who knew?


Visiting your kids in another country is always cool. I've been to visit Emily in Florida and New York a few times, but this was a first for Sophie. We were actually in New Zealand at the same time, but all we managed was emails and phone calls. I enjoyed Seoul and Sophie's friends a lot. Group meals in a Korean restaurant is a unique experience and as enjoyable as life gets. I even got to meet Sophie's boyfriend, Shaq, but he was a bit of a wallflower. No idea what she saw in the guy. (Actually liked the guy a lot).


I finish my RTW trip, make a lot of new friends and visit some old ones. I end up pretty exhausted (mentally and physically), but as they say, am "Happy as a Clam". I spend the summer recuperating and working on my house. The only problem with the RTW trip is not making it to South America. I fix this in the Fall with a trip to Ecuador.


Getting to the Great Wall in China. Not only amazing in itself, I had an extremely good day. I was on a 10km walk from Ginshandling to Simitai and put in enough effort to leave all the clingy hustlers behind and spent a glorious day in the brisk sunshine, surrounded by nothing but the countryside and the wall, both seemingly been there forever. At the 1/2 way mark was Jiang-Li, who hikes in 4 kms perpendicular to the Wall to sell his wares. I bought a nice, cold beer of him and we schmoozed for 10 minutes or so. I am deliriously happy in this picture. Memory of a lifetime.


Whenever you have a big buildup to a cultural icon, the actual site/experience can be a big of a letdown. Not so with the Terra Cotta Warriors. In China, sometimes it is sometimes quite difficult to take in the scale of what you see. Thousands of warrior figures buried underground, each with his own face and features. Just too stunning.


A lot of my reading is National Geographic or historical fiction like Exodus, Sho-Gun and Tai-Pan. I have wanted to go to Hong Kong for years. That I arrived there after 6 weeks in freezing cold places that don't speak English (Korea/China mainland)made it that much more special. To get to the Happy Valley racetrack made fora special day in an amazing week. I was even up a few $$$


Nothing really prepares you for India. You can travel in SouthEast Asia or 3rd world countries, and still be absolutely stunned by India. I was only there a few weeks, and still was in some sort of shock everyday. The traffic in Delhi was literally mind-blowing. For a variety of reasons the pre-pay taxi (a horror in it's own right) from airport to hostel took 1.5 hours for a normal 20 minute ride. I had told the driver (who had as much English as I have Pashtun) that if he couldn't find the hostel (down a dirt alley of a dirt road, off a bigger dirt road), I was staying in his taxi. The roaming packs of wild dogs alone were scary enough while in the car. Finding the hostel at 1:00 AM and still being able to get a cold beer ranks up there as relieved as I have ever been in my life.


India is the only place that I have travelled, where I actually moved about with other people. I really enjoy going by myself, then schmoozing with other backpackers in hostels for the evening. In India, life amongst the 24/7 hustlers was just bearable with a few compatriots. This is the 'croo that trained from Delhi to Agra (Delores/Argentina, Adam/Canada, Owen/Australia). As the day went, Delores took off and we picked up 2 CDN girls who shared our room after missing their train (we had all bussed to Fatehpur Sikri...the abandoned city and had trouble getting back). 5 people squeezed onto 3 squished together beds with some beer and lots of frivolity.

The morning started before 5:00 AM with the local, competing muezzin calls vying for our attention. It was surreal. It is the most exotic sound that I know and reminded me a lot of travelling in the Middle East in my youth. We made the Taj Mahal before sunup. The building and site are stunning all by themselves.


I enjoyed Varanasi a lot. While the 2-3 tourist related ghats were a madhouse, the other 90?+ ghats were actually great places to hang out. The hustling was at a minimum and I spent a lot of time there just sitting, reading or playing some chess with the locals (getting ass kicked).

It was tough to get pictures of burning bodies (religious ceremony and all), but the burning didn't bother me.It was the everyday life going on about these cremations. Thousands of Indians live chunks of their lives on these river banks. You know, seen 1 burning body, seen 15 today, thousands this year. There were goats eating the flowers off the body, I saw a woman fall off her pyre, all sorts of animals hanging around, getting kicked for their audacity, kids with sticks trying to poke coals out from the the fire, so they could drop 'em in water and sell little bags of charcoal.

You really have to see it to believe it. Just one more mind-bending scene in incredible India.


I remember seeing those African documentaries when I was a kid, with people of safari, gazing across the savannah. My first view of open grassland, with birds everywhere and elephants in the distance made me about as happy as I ever get. I never entertained any serious thoughts about getting to the Great Wall or India, but I always sort of thought I'd get to Africa and get on a safari. Thanks to my buddy Dave, this came true.


This was my happiest day of my backpacking trip. Not just the jump itself, but the hitchhike/bus/hitchhike trip from Botswana to Zimbabwe, meeting Thula, the border crossing, getting to Vic Falls and the exhilarating sense feeling of being alive. I was high for a few days and still get a big buzz thinking about those few days.


At my retirement 1st anniversary party this year, Helen Dixon made me one of the coolest presents ever...a cake with a map of the world on it, and flags for all the places I visited. My view of the map likely differed from other people. All I really noticed was the absolute lack of flags in South America. How can you do an RTW trip and not hit at least one of these countries. I fixed that be heading to Ecuador in the Fall.

Browsing online for ideas on how to spend a month, I kept seeing pics of the Laguna crater in Quilitoa. I walked from the indigenous town of Zumbahua and the first sight of the water-filled crater gave me quite the rush. In contrast, the one spot I was surely headed for in New Zealand (looking at Mt. Cook from across the lake), I never go to, even being 3 months in the country...I don't like to rush.


How can you go to Ecuador and NOT go to the Galapagos? The cost was quite good compared to someone who books from North America, and I was a last minute fill for 4 days on an economy boat, but it still cost 2-3 times what I spend a day backpacking (on the RTW trip about $40 a day, maybe $25 a day in Ecuador). In a year of singular experiences, this ranks right up there with any of them. I am a big Darwin fan and am still chunking my way thru "Voyage of the Beagle". Snorkeling with big sea turtles and walking up to huge Galapagos tortoises...not something you often get a chance to experience.


The Glenn Beck rally really ticked me off, as does Glenn Beck himself. The second Jon Stewart announced his rally, I booked a few nights in a Washington hostel, and spent the next few weeks tying down a cheap flight (ended up flying to NYC on way to Ecuador, and tripping to Washington by train/bus).

I enjoyed the rally (and the whole concept) so much. At the hostel, I met people who had bussed from Idaho, flew in from San Diego and even from Austria! It was a very cool day, so many funky signs, great positive vibe and the biggest crowd I've ever been in, 200,000 plus. So glad I made my way there for an historic day.


Both Emily & Sophie have finished university and have moved on. I only see them maybe at Christmas, or in New York or if I fly to where they are. This year was a mobile year for me as well as them. I got to see Emily in Florida, New York and soon Halifax. Sophie and I were in New Zealand at the same time, and I spent Christmas with her in Korea. Both girls did the work to get to Egypt for a tour in December. Regina and I were there 30 years ago, and to have your kids get there makes a papa proud. Sophie made it to Israel in early 2011 on a Birthright trip. Too cool.


Earlier this year (Chinese New Year), I was in Qatar visiting Mike&Cindy O'Leary. Sophie was hiking the Great Wall in China on a visit from Korea and Emily was surfing in Ecuador with boyfriend Matt. In early December, I was snorkeling off a cruise boat in the Galapagos, while Emily & Sophie were touring the Giza pyramid in Egypt.

Now just how cool is that? Like I said, 2010 was an astounding year

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