A look back – People watching in Patan

Among my favourite activities when I travel is to people watch. Unlike trekking, another favourite pastime of mine, it requires little physical energy and can be done basically anywhere there are people. It’s just fascinating take a step back and observe the happenings of every day life all around you.

A year ago today I was in Patan, Nepal on a day trip from Kathmandu. Nepal is a great country to people watch because there’s always plenty of people walking by and just hanging around on the streets and in the squares, and there’s seemingly always something going on. On this day, I went a bit (read: a lot) camera crazy and took hundreds of shots, positioning myself atop a temple or two or a rooftop restaurant, capturing moments of daily life passing by…

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A look back to the Himalayas – Trek to ABC, Nepal

Travelling and trekking have kinda become my thing the last couple years. It’s a great feeling to have an almost endless array of stories, many of which are simply inconceivable to the imagination, to tell friends and family at various occasions.

Still, it’s hard to believe that I’ve actually lived some of these experiences – how what was once just a vague, perhaps outlandish idea in my head somehow manages to simply become reality, sometimes through determination, sometimes through sheer chance.

I remember reading guidebooks of Nepal at a public library in Toronto in the autumn of 2013, researching a bit about treks. A few months later, a year ago today, in fact, I found myself in this video, at Deurali on day 6 of my trek to ABC, Annapurna Base Camp, in Nepal. It was already a wonderful feeling to just see the Himalayas all around, and to think how far my body, mind, and spirit had taken me. In many ways, it’s still so surreal…

I hope to see more of the Himalayas when I visit India next month, and will definitely keep you all posted!

Reflections for a new year

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Well, 2015 is here. It’s another year…

The past two years have been so incredibly meaningful, dotted with innumerable occasions that my soul yearns always to remember.

Like a firework bursting in the black sky ignited by a single spark and illuminating the night, my life has been like a firework with the initial decision to quit my job to free up time for travel having produced treasured accomplishments, triumphs, memories, friends – each highlight part of a collective memory but flickering uniquely and unmistakably in the kaleidoscope of my mind.

The past couple years have been filled with experiences where I’ve not only stepped outside my comfort zone, but expanded it so that I now feel comfortable in so many more situations and environments. They have been years where I’ve pushed myself to my limits and reached new frontiers in what I now know I’m capable of. They have been years where I’ve crossed lines that I assumed were so far beyond my reach, only to realize my surprise when I discovered that my strength could take me so far beyond these lines. They have been years where I’ve periodically stopped and shaken my head, marvelling at how everything comes together almost magically at a common time and place to create something really special.

And they’ve been years that will fill my upcoming years with laughter and merriment each time I recount the strange circumstances in which I’ve found myself that sound utterly ridiculous to declare as fact (That time a guy tried to mug me in Morocco/That time the marshrutka dropped me off at the side of the highway in Georgia, 10km outside of the town I wanted to get to/That time I hiked to the top of a mountain in Taiwan only to have a 360 degree view of dense fog/That time I rode a bicycle in Thailand to a hospital to get the stitches on my foot removed/That time I fell in a moat in Myanmar/That time I was sleeping in a hammock at a hippy lodge in Nicaragua/etc/etc/)…

Like any year, I know this one will also be filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, trials and tribulations that will continue to make me question and wonder.

But you know, 2015 is another year of life. It’s another year in which I continue to breathe and I know that once in a while, my breath will be taken away by something so beautiful and unexpected. It’s another year in which my heart continues to beat, and I’ll appreciate that sometimes it will beat lightly in comfort and safety while other times it will pound to its limits, like on a challenging trek.

It’s another year to dream, another year to learn, another year to love, and, of course, another year to travel!

The past years have been so good to me, and I’m grateful. Yet somehow I know, without any tangible proof, that the best is still yet to come. Always.

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Christmas post

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Somewhere among these terraces lives a 58 year old man (possibly 59 now) whom I met back in March on the last day of my 9-day trek to Poon Hill and Annapurna Base Camp. While I was trekking back to lower ground, he stopped me outside his modest home at the edge of a cliff with a view of immeasurable beauty, eager to make conversation and learn a bit about me and what had brought me to Nepal, to ask if I had any cigarettes or candy to share with him.

Though it didn’t come wrapped in shiny paper, meeting him and sharing his company was a gift, one of countless gifts I’ve received this past year. Despite the fatigue in my muscles, the hunger in my stomach, the solitude in my heart, the fact that I was sleeping in a different bed almost every night warmed by a sleeping bag I had only rented, the unsettling reality that I had a little less money with each passing day… Amidst so much uncertainty and perceived dysfunction, I felt immense peace, joy, and love at the time.

I struggle to find this peace at times, especially being back in Canada where the world seems to spin so much faster and I sometimes feel like I’m being left behind with the much quicker pace of life. We struggle so often to find something so right or ideal that we often fail to recognize what we do have. This Christmas, I am grateful for what I do have – the presence, health, and support of my family being the greatest gift after an exceptionally difficult month.

I recall the peace I experienced that day and wish this peace for all of you. I’m thankful for the interactions I’ve had with you, no matter how much time or distance has separated us. I am grateful to you, as I am grateful to that 58 year old man, for being part of my life in one way or another, and contributing to the wrinkles on my face from smiling so often.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays 🙂

New passport

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After I quit my job 20 months ago, one of the first things I did was apply for a new passport in preparation and anticipation for all the travelling I’d be doing.

Well, that “new” passport has been used and abused, stickered and stamped on more times than I can count. It’s been my most frequent travel companion. And all the pages are full. In a way, it was a sign for me to come home.

Flipping through the pages is like reliving my journeys or reading my biography. Every visa is the beginning of countless stories, every exit stamp the end of a chapter.

Last month, the German immigration officer at Tegel Airport in Berlin was struggling to find a place for my exit stamp and told me, “You need a new passport.” I applied for a new one today and can only hope to have a fraction of the experiences and adventures with my next passport.

The only downside – I can’t spontaneously leave the country until I get the new passport within a couple weeks!

Sticker shock

I’ve been back home in Canada for just over a month now, and I still get astounded at how expensive things are here compared to many places I’ve been the past year and a half. I can’t help thinking that the value proposition for staying here all year round quickly decreases when you realize how fast your money goes out of your pocket here and just how far your money goes elsewhere. A few examples from a day out last week:

GO Train from Ajax (suburb of Toronto) to Union Station (downtown Toronto) – $8.10 CAD
Train in Thailand from Bangkok to Ayutthaya (~83 km) – 20 THB, or ~$0.67 CAD

TTC (Toronto public transport system – subway/buses/streetcars) – $3 CAD
Microbus in Nepal from Kathmandu to Boudha (~7 km) – 30 NPR, or ~$0.34 CAD

Chicken shawarma in downtown Toronto – $6.54 CAD
Chicken kebab in Sofia, Bulgaria – 2.70 BGN, or ~$1.96 CAD

Medium coffee at Tim Horton’s – $1.65 CAD
Espresso in Berat, Albania – 50 ALL, or ~$0.51 CAD

Haircut (including tax and tip) – $20 CAD
Haircut in Kalaw, Myanmar – 1000 MMK, or ~$1.11 CAD

These numbers make the thought of travelling again all the more appealing! …

Thank you

Where do I even begin to describe my life since 1 May 2013? How do I even begin to express my gratitude? A mere “thank you” is the greatest understatement I could possibly make. But here goes…

When I was in Turkey at the end of my 6 months in Europe last year, I said that I felt like a writer who had found his pen. Well, I’ve been writing with that pen a lot this year, most often just in personal memos in my notebook, laptop, or phone in raw scribbles that may never be revealed. Writing has been a therapeutic tool and the times that I’ve shared my experiences with you all, I’ve been overwhelmed at the responses I’ve received from my posts and blogs. Please know that I value every “like” or “comment” from each posting, and I feel blessed that you’ve taken the time to read what I have shared, and that you have extended so much support, enthusiasm, and goodwill to me.

But even having found this pen, I am struggling to put into words something that would do justice for the gratitude and love in my heart for everything I have experienced (and yes, that includes the good, the bad, and the horrible) during all this travelling.

At the very least, I must start with a thank you to each one of you, for being part of my incredible journey in one form or another. I’ve met some of you while on these travels (some only after sharing a conversation before exchanging contact info), some of you during past travels; some of you are my family, some of you are my friends back home or in another part of the globe. You’ve all supported me in your unique way and I wouldn’t be where I am without the irreplaceable interactions I’ve had with each one of you. Thank you for sharing my love of travel, exploration, and discovery.

Thank you for giving me the most wonderful memories a guy could have. These memories are my treasure; they shine more brightly than silver or gold and to me, are worth infinitely more.

Making mochi in Tokyo; spending quality time with family in the Philippines; being treated like a king in Sri Lanka; trekking through mountains in Nepal; exploring Thailand on (the back of) a motorbike; interacting with the beautiful people of Myanmar; biking to the ruins of Angkor in Cambodia; eating my way through the Balkans; the singular exception that is Albania; catching up with friends I’d made during previous points in my life in Japan, Nepal, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Albania, Czech Republic, Germany, and the Netherlands…

I could go on and on and on. But you’d probably stop reading at some point (if you’re still reading these words!). So I will just say one more time, from the depths of my soul, THANK YOU!