lean forward and keep paddling!

Posted: October 20th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: travel | Tags: , | No Comments »

I can’t remember the last time I was so angry, the damned boat wouldn’t do what I told it to. I paddled on my left side, which by all laws of logic, physics, and decency should have made the kayak go right, but somehow consistently pushed me further to the left after about a half dozen successful strokes in left right sequence.

That about sums up my experience kayaking for the first two days of a four day learn to kayak clinic I signed up for in pokkara. Day one was on the lake in town and left me sore, tired, and in bed by 8pm. Day two was on the river, which was a nominal improvement as at least there there was a current taking me in the general direction we were heading, however I hadn’t really considered how much of river kayaking is fighting the current, either because the kayak instructors told us to or because I overshot where we were supposed to stop and I had to make my way to the group. Not only did I spend more time than necessary paddling in circles, the tame class 1 rapids managed to capsize me on more than one occassion, a frightening thought when I knew we had class 2 and 3 rapids waiting for us on days three and four.

Imagine my surprise when on day three the kayak started listening to me, it actually generally went in the direction I intended. Even better, I somehow managed to successfully perform a roll with my kayak during the early morning practice and was able to make it through the class 2 and 2+ rapids of the day without capsizing. I even smiled a little! Ok, maybe I went as far as shouting while paddling through the rapids, or screaming, anything as long as I didn’t go under.

Day four I was convinced that day three was a fluke, I couldn’t seem to manage a roll anymore, I was sore all over, and we had the biggest rapids of the trip to look forward to. It is only through sheer dumb luck, and the coaching of my instructor Sam (who went through the biggest rapid _backwards_ and managed to keep himself positioned through raging water right next to me, shouting instructions to me) that I was able to stay upright despite ending up riding several 2 meter tall standing waves backwards.

I’ve heard that when learning snowboarding the first two days are just hell, but then it all starts to make sense and becomes fun. I think the same applies for whitewater kayaking. Lean forward and keep paddling the head instructor continually hammered into us, I must have listened because right now my ab muscles are sore as hell. It was a blast, and if you are ever given the opportunity to try it I very much recommend it, just push through till the third day, it’s totally worth it.

The traveling social

Posted: October 19th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: travel | Tags: , , | No Comments »

*insert standard apology for seriously bad blogging habits*

No seriously, I have a half written post trying to summarize/review my trip to Egypt, but for now I’m going to leave that aside and just write about what’s going on now. I guess that’s the thing about blogging, it works when it’s current, and otherwise it’s a huge chore.

Anywho, it’s been a busy few weeks for me, after nearly a month with the same group of people traveling through Jordan and Egypt, then a week of decompression solitude in Abu Dhabi, I arrived in Kathmandu Nepal and immediately checked into a hostel again.

In Kathmandu nearly all the tourist accommodation, or at least a huge preponderance of it, is in an area called Thamel. To a lesser extent there’s an area called Freak Street which was the tourist ghetto back in the day when the beatles were just discovering drugs. The hostel I picked though, it’s way out of both these areas in a place called Swayambhunath, about a 45 minute walk to the Thamel. The distinguishing feature of this area is a temple, colloquially called “the monkey temple”, and they’re not kidding.

My first morning was a cacophony of sound, a buddist temple next door greets the dawn with a huge drum and monotone horns, the monkey’s come down from the temple and add their chittering to the mix, and of course being monkey’s they can’t help but tease the legion (and I mean LEGION) of stray dogs in the area, setting them to barking and howling like nothing else. This is all to say that I didn’t really get many good nights sleep when staying at the Sparkling Turtle, although by the last couple days I got used to it enough that my earplugs did the job and I only woke up briefly each morning.



The distance from thamel is both annoying but also awesome, it brought everyone back to the hostel before dark every night (and it gets dark, especially when the sun goes down during one of the frequent power outages) and created lots of opportunity to socialize. I had the following exchange with approximately 30 people: “Hi, where are you from? How long are you traveling for? Where are you going from here? Where have you been?” All questions that will be familiar for anyone who has spent time in a hostel.

There’s something about the crucible of travel that forms strong, fast bonds between people, making friends and foes in the space of one night. Thankfully I’m pretty sure I’ve avoided foes, and I’ve definitely gained in the friend department. There’s Eddie, a super awesome ozzie who just spent a year in Tanzania teaching kids math and helping drill village wells (he’s an engineer), Martin the uber-chill swede taking a semester off of his study of psychology, Dave with whom I think I became friends fastest, sitting next to each other on the 6 hour, 200km, very slow very bumpy ride from kathmandu to Pokkara who tried very hard to convince me (and might almost have) that I should just get into startups like he is, however he lives in SanFran so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised he sings the praises of the startup life. And those are just the guys I shared the bus ride with, I haven’t even mentioned Jens and Pedro over at baconbrother.dk!

That said, so much socializing, meeting people, talking, exchanging stories etc has really made it difficult (especially when combined with the time zone differential) to keep up the photo sorting, blogging, skype’ing, tweeting, not to mention the videos! I now have a ton of wicked video of me coming down class 2 and 3 rapids in a kayak that I don’t know what I’m going to do with since the internet in nepal is approximately 5k/sec no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

Tomorrow I join up with a GAdventures trek through the annapurna circuit, which now that I’ve been here a couple weeks and talked to many people post treks I realize is probably going to be a super swank trek compared to how most people do it. Report (hopefully) to come 🙂

Welcome to Jordan

Posted: September 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: travel | Tags: | No Comments »

I fully intended to write a post about Turkey, several in fact, but sometimes you’re just not in the mood while traveling around and now I find myself in Jordan and for the life of me every time I try to write something about Turkey I start sounding to myself like some low-budget community newspaper travel columnist.

Then visit Ephesus and see history written large in stone from the Hellenistic period, through to the Romans and finally into the Byzantine empire.

Pathetic – I did take lots of photos of Turkey so I’ll put them all into another post and that’ll have to do. I’ll try to post descriptions for the photos, that alone is probably about as much work as I can stand to do on this anytime soon.

Anywho, since I can’t seem to put my thoughts together about Turkey I took some time last night to write some stream of consciousness about Jordan, I’ll edit it where it gets truly incoherent, but here goes:

Jordan is just too damned distracting, I’m too busy watching the people to write about Turkey. Everyone is arguing, hugging, men holding hands while talking to each other, everyone greeting each other with enthusiasm and everyone is talking fast in Arabic. I’m sitting on a 2nd floor balcony across the street from my hotel at the Jaffra cafe, waiting for my “hubbly-bubbly” or sheesha or nargile or waterpipe or whatever to arrive and there’s some kind of sitar music playing very loudly to drown out the bad dance music from the electronic store across the street. A man is buzzing around the balcony, squeezing through the limited space between tables and pipes, holding a basket full of glowing hot coals (you can feel the heat as he squeezes by) refreshing the coals for everyone.

The sound-scape is intense, something out of a slow walking chase scene from some Bourne clone action movie.

24 hours ago I arrived in Jordan, into an airport that seems straight out of 1978 all concrete stained with smoke, buying my visa in one queue then moving on to the next to get a stamp letting me into the country. Amusingly instead of saying something like “30 day tourist visa” it simply says “report to police after 30 days”, I’m sorta glad I’ll be out of the country before I need to report to the police. After Turkey with it’s “small” cities of 4 million people Amman is refreshingly only 2.2 million people, and it shows. The driver didn’t speed, stopped at lights, and generally obeyed an understandable set of traffic rules (as did everyone else). On the drive from the airport to my hotel in downtown Amman, sometime around 11pm on a thursday night, there were dozens and dozens of people pulled over on the side of the highway, on hills and medians and little parks, all sitting around smoking sheesha and drinking tea, just your standard evening activity in Jordan.  


They smoke alot in this country, and my hubbly bubbly has arrived, lemon mint flavoured tobacco filtered in a tall pipe through water. Apparently the equivalent of smoking a whole pack of cigarettes but without feeling like you’ve smoked them due to the filtering of the water. I can’t imagine the lung-cancer rate in Jordan, I’m guessing 2 out of 3 people given the fact that everyone here is smoking. Old ladies in hijabs, young glamour girls and their beefcake boyfriends, tables full of 20-something women in colourful headscarves of purple, blue, pink and white and grumpy old men with serious mustaches, everyone is smoking either sheesha or cigarettes, or both.

Jordan, or at least Amman, isn’t drowning in tourists, there’s some for certain but not in sufficient quantity to make a business that caters exclusively to tourists a viable option, which makes everything refreshingly Jordanian. Sure there are some tourist focused businesses, but they really seem to be in the minority and are pretty much limited to souvenir shops, restaurants and bars all seem to appeal to locals as much as tourists, or if anything to locals and then to tourists on the side. I suspect this will change when I get out of Amman and visit the big tourist sights like Petra and Wadi-rum, but for now I’m content sitting here, smoking my lemony-minty tobacco, and watching the people enjoy themselves.

Goodbye Europe

Posted: August 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: travel | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Phase one of my “Darren takes a year off of work to travel the world” is now complete – I have left Europe and am now in Turkey. I can formally say goodbye to Europe as I am well and truly off the continent, writing to you from the Cappadocia region of Turkey. Before leaving Budapest I tried to write out some thoughts on leaving Europe, and had meant to post them days ago, but Istanbul was a crazy whirlwind of sight-seeing, meeting people, and generally being overwhelmed by the chaos of that city.

In short, Europe has been a mixed bag for me, and I’m afraid I now know just how much the weather impacts my enjoyment of a place. Rainy and cold weather just doesn’t do it for me when attempting to explore a new city, and for much of the start of my trip that is what I had. In cities where I had good weather, I had a good time, I hate to be so damned easily influenced by the meat robot I ride around in, but there it is. I guess it’s a useful lesson in it’s way, knowing just how easily influenced by the weather I think I feel less guilty about not enjoying things to their fullest… sometimes the weather is shite and that’s just how it is.

With that realization in mind, I have put several places on the “to go back to” list – Holland, Germany, and Czech Republic, and I’m super happy I didn’t end up doing my original plan of an all Scandinavia tour this year as the weather there was even worse!

As for the parts where the weather was cooperating, some days in Prague were good, and when the sun was out Prague was like a fairy tale city with a castle on the hill, a cool park with a bunch of skaters hanging out, and very very good beer. The bicycle ride through Czech, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary was challenging, frustrating, and fantastic all at once, I’m already thinking back to some of the hills on the first day and saying to my self “it wasn’t _that_ bad”, which just illustrates the power of the human memory to gloss over pain and suffering. Overall I had a great time in Europe but I think if I’m going to be honest Budapest was my favourite city.

Budapest reminds me of the Montreal of my youth. Apartment blocks full of people right next to abandoned factories, train yards, and other abandoned infrastructure. And unlike the Montreal of the present, all of this stuff has not yet been gentrified into expensive loft conversions or offices for software startup companies and advertising agencies. The people are friendly, unless they’re driving at which point they become homicidal maniacs, just like in my native city.

There are of course significant difference between Budapest and Montreal, there’s no history of communist dictatorship hanging over the heads of Montrealers to start with, but when it comes down to the feel of the place, there is something that is just comfortable about Budapest to the Montrealer inside me.

Leaving Budapest I was faced with Istanbul, the physical and metaphoric bridge between Europe and Asia, and between the Mid-east and Europe. I’m not sure what I can say about Istanbul, it was a crazy whirlwind of getting lost, getting found, seeing ancient wonders, and eating lots and lots of kebab. I’ll try to put some words together on it in the future, perhaps when I am leaving Turkey it will make more sense. For now I’m continuing my travels slowly towards the south coast of Turkey, where I hope to find a beach with actual sand, a friendly dive shop, and perhaps some place where I wouldn’t mind spending a week or two before heading back up the coast to Istanbul and onwards to Jordan.

I leave you with the a bunch of photo albums: