Tuesday, February 27, 2007

And my thanks goes to ...

In the spirit of the Oscars (and since Ian started all this), I thought I would continue with the Thank You speeches as well. Since Ian went first, the music is going to be playing for mine soon, so I'll keep it short.

Thank you to both family and friends for all your support. It was comforting going into this without anyone questioning our decision. Instead, the enthusiasm we received was wonderful.

Thank you to everyone who helped us clear all our possessions by taking some home. It was surprisingly quite successful and I hope you are all still enjoying them!

Thank you to everyone who followed us through our journey on our blogs. It was great being able to share our experiences with everyone else and knowing we weren't alone.

And lastly, and most importantly, thank you to Ian for taking the chance and coming out on this trip with me. Out of your comfort zone many times, I was truly impressed with you. It was one of my biggest dreams, and I'm so glad you were there to share it with me. Thank you for some of the greatest life memories I'll ever have.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Heading out west

Yep, that's right. We're heading out to Calgary on the 28th of Feb. Everyone we've talked to has told us its a booming place. We'll see! Everyone has also told me how cold it is out there. Really, it's cold but not that cold. At least not from what I've experienced the times I've been there. I might be eating my words soon enough though.

We're looking forward to the move. It'll be a good change and since we enjoy a lot of outdoor activities, it's definitely more suited to our lifestyle than Toronto is.

If anyone is heading out west, drop me an e-mail!

Lessons learned

What to bring, what not to bring, and words of wisdom. Here is a list of lessons learned from our trip.

What to bring

1. Good shoes. Very important. You spend most of your time walking and a comfortable pair of good quality shoes will take you far. GoreTex as an added bonus as well for those wet days.

2. Good backpack. Another very important item. You'll be lugging this thing around for a long time so make sure it's comfortable. I have a bad lower back and the back support on my bag is amazing. It actually takes away my back pain when I put it on.

3. Silk sleep sac. This was one thing I am so glad we brought. It's lightweight, easy to clean, and so very comfortable. It gives you peace of mind when you sleep in some dingy bed potentially filled with bed bugs. Highly recommended.

4. Daypack. A good sturdy daypack is useful. You'll need one everyday for the most part to bring your daily essentials (water, snacks, camera, first aid, etc.)

5. Flip flops. You'll need a pair of sandals/flip flops that can double as shower slippers. Almost 99% of the time, you do not want to walk into that bathroom with your bare feet. These are usually provided in the rooms in China but not anywhere else.

6. Sink stopper. Important if you plan on doing your own laundry. A universal sink stopper allows you to make any sink your laundry tub.

7. Lock. Useful for locking up your backpack on train rides and in hostels.

8. Unlocked cell. You can buy a SIM card anywhere you go and this gives both you and your family/friends piece of mind.

What not to bring
1. Whistle. I have no idea why I brought a whistle in the first place. It stayed in my backpack the entire time.

2. Mirror. I brought a little mirror which again, I never used. Sometimes, you don't see yourself for a long time, but you know, you really don't miss it.

3. Pacsafe. I had bought this on sale and brought it along. I did use it for flights and on overnight trains as well but it'd be easier to bring the lighter versions which pretty much just consist of a wire and lock.

4. Ear plugs. Thought we might use these on noisy train rides, etc. but to me, they were highly uncomfortable and I never used them.

Words of wisdom
1. Never let your guard down. You're always a target anywhere you go because you are a tourist. Be aware of your surroundings and be wary of anyone who may come across as extra friendly.

2. Try as much as you can. You're away in a different place. Experience as much as you can out there. It'll be worth it.

3. Be flexible. The rest of the world is not the same as Canada. Things happen at a different pace and in different ways. Take it as it is and enjoy the experience.

4. Be patient. You'll be surrounded by touts who want to make some money of you. It's easy to get frustrated since you're always bombarded but be patient and politely tell them no.

5. Learn to bargain. We really hated the concept of bargaining for everything before we left. Soon after though, we got used to it and in fact, even started enjoying it! It's a game and just take it all in stride and have fun. Never let it get too serious.

6. Enjoy! Really, if this is your dream, go out there and take it all in. Appreciate the fact that you are out there and getting this wonderful opportunity. Relish in it!

New Perspectives

Anyone doing a trip like this will most definitely come out of it with a different perspective on life. I came out with two.

First, after seeing and experiencing how others live in other areas of the world, I must say I've come to really appreciate being a Canadian citizen. We may often complain about our government and how things are run in this country but compared to many parts of the world, our government is doing an amazing job.
The support system this country offers is fantastic and it's so comforting knowing you can always rely on it. For instance, you know if you need an ambulance, it'll be there for you within a few minutes. If you need help on the streets, you know you can flag a cop down and trust them to help you out. In many other countries, these so called figures of authority are either so inefficient or corrupt you're probably better off trying to save yourself. I remember thinking when we landed in Zurich, on our way back from Nairobi, that we can now get sick and we would be okay. Being Canadian should never be taken for granted.

Second, I now realize I know so little. There is just so much out there in the world, we really are so isolated up here in the north. You really don't have a good understanding of events or the lives of others worldwide until you get there and experience it for yourself. Before our trip, I had read a lot and thought I knew enough about the places we were visiting. Unfortunately, what the media shows us is always filtered to their liking and we never really get the true picture here.

A good example would be Rwanda. So many I've talked to were surprised we visited Rwanda because the only image they have of that country is the genocide. Everyone thought it was still very dangerous but had the impression that Kenya was very safe. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Rwanda is currently one of the safest and most developed countries you could travel to in eastern Africa. Kenya on the other hand can get quite dangerous, especially in Nairobi.

Another example is Malaysia. I never understood why Malaysia was classified as a 3rd world country. From the outside, it looks amazingly advanced, more so than Canada in many ways. They have the Petronas towers (once the tallest towers in the world), they have a much better subway system, and they have gleaming shopping malls. How could this be 3rd world? After spending a few months there, I finally understood why. The way the country is run and structured is in no way as advanced as its physical structures. There is still a whole ton of corruption in that country and surprisingly, still a lot of racism. I never would have known this had I not been there for so long and experienced it for myself.

My last example here is based in China. First of all, I never realized the huge diversity this country had to offer. Did you know it has 56 ethnic groups? The Han Chinese being the majority. Unfortunately, the government is not so fond of its other ethnic groups and would prefer everyone conform to their ways. A good example of this is Tibet. Lhasa is slowly being taken over by drab Chinese stores and the Tibetan people and culture are being pushed into a smaller and smaller area. Where you see a symbol of another culture (i.e. the Potala Palace), you will always see somewhere close by, a large symbol of the Han Chinese culture. It's sad. I feel terrible for what the Tibetans have experienced in the past and are still experiencing to this day. They are being repressed and they are not the only ones in China going through this. I never would have thought that this was happening there until we got there and saw and heard it for ourselves.

These two new perspectives that I have in life today alone are well worth the trip we took. It was a fantastic journey and one that I would recommend everyone try to do at least once in their lifetime. Many think that it costs a fortune to do this but really, it doesn't. We lived out there for way less a day than we could ever do in Toronto. It's a life changing experience, I don't know what else to say. It's just completely worth it.


Since being back, I've been asked many times about what the highlight of the trip was. Surprisingly, this turned out to be a really difficult question to answer. I couldn't pick out one specific place or occasion, there had just been too many amazing experiences. So, here are the ones that stand out in my mind in chronological order.

Festival in Dali
We didn't realize there was going to be a festival in Dali the same time were there but we completely lucked out. It was a great experience being in the midst of it and partaking in their festivities.

Tiger Leaping Gorge
This trek will forever stay in my mind. First because it scared the hell out of me. And second because the scenery was breathtaking. It was fantastic trekking and staying at these remote guesthouses in the mountains.

Overland in Tibet
I cannot begin to describe how amazing this overland was. Like I said in a previous blog, the landscapes varied so much, it was hard to believe we were still in one country. On top of that, seeing Mt. Everest was spectacular and is something we will never forget.

Old town of Kashgar
Kashgar was definitely my favourite city in all of China. Oddly enough, it really didn't represent what most would picture as typical China. It represented more of the middle east and their old town was a fantastic mix of alley ways and stone buildings where life seems to be perpetually stuck in the 19th century.

Paharganj in Delhi
Given how India is so different from any other country we've seen and since Delhi was the only city we saw, it automatically becomes the most interesting one. All our senses were overwhelmed when we were there making it one of the most memorable places we've been to.

Serengeti & Crater
Yes, we complained a lot about the lack of wildlife we were expecting to see here. Looking back at our photos though, we did see a ton of animals, just not the ones we wanted to. Regardless, the scenery was breathtaking and the herds that we did see made the plains and crater even more mesmerizing.

Fantastic country. Mainly because only a little over a decade ago had this whole country experienced a genocide and it's amazing to see how much they have progressed in such a short amount of time. On top of that, Rwanda is a country of rolling green hills and is absolutely beautiful.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Back in Toronto

As most of you know, we're now back in good ol' TO. We've been back for a couple weeks and are adjusting but this weather is really not helping. We've heard about how mild of a winter this has been and just as we get back, it becomes insanely cold and apparently one of the coldest Febs on record. Yep, welcome back huh? My favourite line these days is 'What is wrong with this country??'

There was a bit of a culture shock coming back here. You remember what it was like but after being away for so long in mostly less developed areas, this seems a bit odd. The first thing I noticed leaving the airport was how smooth the roads were. Just arriving from Africa where we were used to driving slowly over massive potholes, the smooth and fast ride was a bit strange. Everything here is also so much more structured and clean. You can always expect the cars to be on the right side of the road, you know pedestrians get right of way, and you don't have to look out for animals wherever you are walking. Having to add tax and tip was also a bit of an annoyance as well when we were so used to paying for the price (or less) of what was displayed. After being here for a couple weeks though, none of this seems peculiar any longer.

Some things I've really enjoyed since being back are hot showers. It's so nice to know that its a guarantee every morning when it had pretty much been a hit and miss all year. I'm still relishing in this. Constant electricity and water are also an added bonus. I had been getting used to being in the dark, especially from being in Africa since we were camping almost the entire time. Having sushi has also been nice. Although available worldwide, it was something we didn't dare try anywhere else we went.

In a way, it's nice to be back to a familiar place where we don't constantly have to have our guard up since we know it so well. It's much more relaxing. But, I do miss the excitement of endless new landscapes, cultures, and experiences the world gave to us.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Amazing Africa

It's unfortunate we only had a month and a half to explore this amazing continent. It's even more unfortunate that we had to do it on someone else's schedule.

My complaints about our safari company may have come across as a dislike for this continent (based on some conversations I've had) but that is not at all the case. What we had seen in the short time that we've been there has just intrigued my need to explore it even further.

I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting before we arrived, but it probably included what the western media had portrayed to us. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to be introduced to some of the nicest people we've met on our trip and some of the most beautiful sceneries we've encountered. We were often greeted by complete strangers walking by, or when we were on our truck, children and adults would wave to us as we went pass. From the white sandy beaches of Zanzibar, to the vast views of the Serengeti and the crater, to a glimpse of the cloud covered Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the rolling hills of Rwanda, and really so much more, I couldn't believe this was Africa. It was definitely much greener than I thought!

I feel like we've only touched the tip of the iceberg with this continent and it's left me itching to see some more. Someday, it'll be nice to come back, rent a 4x4 and head off to see what else this mysterious land has to offer.