Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category
While down in LA visiting some friends I found a great deal on a 28 hour muilti-leg last minute flight to Peru… Here are a few snaps from llama country:
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My flight in to Myanmar followed Air Force One in from Bangkok. President Obama was in the region for diplomatic events in Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia. The major routes around Yangon University were packed with people were out on the streets waving US flags and covering themselves in red, white and blue face paint.
Myanmar (or “Burma” as it’s historically been known) is a country going through a huge transition…
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I just returned back to Vancouver from 4 weeks of traveling through Bhutan and Myanmar (Burma). I also made some short stops in to India and Thailand where I lucked out a bit with timing, as I had a 42 hour layover in India during Diwali, and a 42 hour layover in Thailand during the Loi Krathong Sky Lantern Festival.
Western Bhutan is a difficult country to get in to, but at least they have a functioning airport… even if it is rated as one of the world most dangerous. To get into Eastern Bhutan you need to drive to the border through Assam India, particularly through an area that is known for separatist rebel violence. It’s legal to drive through this part of India with Bhutanese license plates, but it’s not exactly practical. The Bhutanese army has been fighting to flush these rebels out of it’s southern forests for years, and for a few years rebels have been targeting and burning Bhutanese vehicles along the highway. The Indian government sponsors a “complimentary” military convoy to protect vehicles in this region, but it’s slow and only runs certain days if the week.
Despite the issues along the border, Bhutan is a remarkably peaceful country. Driving North into the foothills of the Himalaya, Bhutanese prayer flags begin to raise u
p and litter the sky with colors as they flutter in the wind. Roofs run bright red as hot chilies (a staple ingredient in every meal) are laid out to dry all day in the sun. Monks sip butter tea in immaculate monasteries that were built into rocky cloud level cliff-sides centuries ago. It’s a sort of fairy-tale like place that you’d think couldn’t possibly exist.
Bhutan is interesting in another respect. Democracy is a new concept in the “kingdom” and it did not by the will of the people, but rather by the will of the king. In a very backwards way of thinking, many of Bhutan’s people would rather continue to be ruled by the Monarchy than elect their own officials.
While most countries across the world gauge their success on their annual GDP, the 4th king of Bhutan coined the term “Gross National Happiness” to be the kingdoms measure of success.
I just got back from a two week documentary film trip up and down Vancouver Island. I was kindly asked to tag along with Tyler and Alex of SK Films . We were shooting a TV episode about salmon aquaculture and it’s effects on local wild salmon stocks along the coast. It was a fascinating trip filled with up close encounters with 3 pods of killer whales, hundreds of dolphins, a bunch of grizzly bears and one too many small town pizza subs. We shot some awesome footage so be sure to check it out when the episode airs in March on TVO
A few photos from a last minute overnight trek to Garabaldi lake and then up Black Tusk. Asides from a minor chili explosion on a Macgyvered meth stove fashioned out of a beer-can/wire coat hanger, it was an awesome beautiful trek (as always). Temperatures dipped well below freezing overnight and there was fresh snow /ice on the cinder cone.
…so long summer
Walking through the Thai-Khamer border into Cambodia a sly Cambodia border official tried to trick me in to paying him extra to get my visa… despite the sign directly above him stating the standard $20 USD rate. After 10 minutes of haggling over what the “official” fee was he gave up and stamped my passport. There were easier targets coming in the bus behind us.
The hustle is understandable though, Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world. After enduring years of the Khmer Rouge’s brutality, it is once again finding it’s feet and moving forward, but scars from the regime still remain. Despite clean up efforts, land mines continue to severely injure and kill people across the country. Because the country is so poor, living and traveling through Cambodia is cheap. I stayed in a nice hostel for just $1 US per night, where Angkor Beer was served for the steep tourist price of 50 cents a can.
Fascinated by the ancient temples of Angkor Wat and how nature was slowly digging back in to them and taking them back, I rented a bike for a week getting lost in what seemed like an epic..ly slow moving struggle between civilization and nature:
After spending a few weeks in Nepal, and realizing how close I was to Tibet I figured “Well I came this far… I may as well make an unscheduled trek across The Roof of The World.” After 2 and a half weeks of waiting on a Chinese visa in to The Tibetan Autonomous Region, I was almost ready, but first I needed to suit up in a counterfeit North-face jacket and some warm gloves. In a back room of seemingly every trekking shop in Thamel there is a Nepalese guy sewing a ream of “North Face” patches on to outdoor apparel). It was now December, and I was heading to one of the coldest places on Earth with a bag full of board shorts and sandals, so I was hoping this “quality” gear was going to do the trick (it only had to last a week). At the border crossing in to Tibet we were thoroughly searched and reprieved of any materials mentioning The Dalai Lama.
We spent 7 days driving over Himalayan ranges and mountain passes, reaching elevations as high as 5,260m (17,257 ft.) above sea level over the Gyatso La pass. At those elevations the altitude starts affecting you in terrible ways, and I was hit pretty hard with the feeling of a chronic hangover, general malaise… and the squirts. We actually drove right past Everest base-camp, but weather didn’t co-operate, and the mountain was boxed in my thick and violent cloud cover.
My guide was a local Tibetan who was surprisingly open about describing atrocities that the Chinese government had and continues to purport on the people and culture of Tibet. I thought he would have been worried about badmouthing the government, and I think he was, but he wanted to get the word out to as many foreigners as he could.
When China invaded Tibet, soldiers would force Tibetans to disavow The Dalai Lama, if they didn’t their children were forced to shoot them dead. These children would later receive a bill for the wasted bullet that was used to kill their parents.
Today China continues to push into Tibet with a strict military curfew, restricted travel, and restrictions on religious practices. A high-speed train continues to flood the plateau with Chinese immigrants in an effort to indoctrinate Tibet with Chinese culture.
After wandering through India for a month I realized Nepal was only a few rupees and a (uncomfortable / sleepless) train ride away. After spending almost 8 hours in a Delhi train station, dodging swindlers and cheats and trying to locate the right train I was finally off on another last minute adventure.
Kathmandu is probably the dirtiest place I’ve ever been. The air runs thick with diesel exhaust, the lingering scent of sewage runoff permeates what it can, and my mouth was constantly full of dust, soot and miscellaneous airborne particulate. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there had been a political power struggle going on and the monarchy had been disbanded less than a year before my arrival. Maoist rebels were violently challenging the newly formed government… and chaos was about to erupt in pockets of the country, Kathmandu included. The Maoists violently imposed a Bandh (general strike) burning and looting any establishment that opened its doors, and for 3 very unproductive days there wasn’t much to do. As a westerner I was able to walk around with some degree of “chaos immunity”, but even that got dicey a few times when I was shoed away with the whipping motion of a large stick.
I took this photo during the peak of the violence, a lucky shot of two kids perfectly attired outside their parents shuttered and locked shops… waiting patiently for the Bandh to come to an end.
With a mild case of “Delhi Belly”, and with a farm injury that had finally caused my thumbnail to puss and separate from my thumb, I opted out of a spontaneous trek to Everest Base Camp, and instead rented a bike to solo ride 40km up a mountain to Nagarkot… where I ended up meeting some locals, drinking homemade raksi with them in their yurt, and essentially getting lost for three days in the Hills outside Kathmandu. I was lucky enough to happen across a local yam farmer who liked my bike, and in exchange for a few rides around his hillside farm, generously provided me with a delicious meal and let me sleep in his barn (all somehow communicated without the use of English).
India I miss you and you overwhelming smells, delightful head waggling and Bollywood dance moves. Most of the rules directing law and order in Western civilization just don’t apply in India. Traffic lines are meaningless but cows have the right of way, there aren’t any utensils, and nothing happens on time… ever. Only in India could I be awoken in an outdoor train station by the moist lick of a wayward goat, then unable to sleep for fear of more goat licking… wander (and subsequently get lost) miles outside of town only to have a rifle pulled on me by an embarrassed army guard who’d been dozing at his post just long enough for me to creep past his checkpoint and sneak some photos (all before sunrise).
Sure it may be a bit daunting when it comes time to squat over a messy cutout hole in the floor of a rusty train as the tracks clatter by below, but embraced one realizes that such a scenario is just a great way to multitask your way through an amazing “thigh exercise”. Going to the bathroom has never been so exciting. Even buying stuff is an ordeal in and of itself. The haggling process is more an interpretive dance than a competition: prices hang in limbo while unresolved arms sway as smoke incense and the scent of Darjeeling tea wafts through the air. The choreography ends only when one partner promenades away or both acquiesce on a price for those crudely burned Bollywood DVDs with the side to side waggles of the head that I still don’t fully understand.
India is a country of extremes. It’s raw and constantly in your face, you can’t escape the noise, you’re never really sure what that smell is (probably for the best), and there is a huge gap between the wealthy and impoverished. One of the main reasons I went to India was to visit Child Haven homes across the country, where poor or destitute children are provided with the bare essentials. The stark contrast between their lives and the material extravagance of a others were overwhelmingly put in perspective. That said, even though these kids had nothing, they were some of the happiest kids I’ve ever met. Refreshingly aware and thankful for everything little thing they did have.