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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Headfirst into Delhi!

As I write this it is middle of the dead of night, and Hanga and I are squeezed into narrow seats on a rickety, old bus that feels more like a roller coaster in the dark, bumping and snaking its way through the narrow and unpredictable asphalt arteries of hilly Northern India.

Unable to sleep, I admire the twinkling lights from nearby hill cities, which, lit sporadically by homes and not on roads, resemble the stars of the night sky itself. I watch as the bus driver honks at occasional shepherds guiding their sheep along the road, and makes passes around trucks on impossible road curves, owing to magnificent skill, and even more outlandish luck.

This is only one of numerous experiences so far in India that screams “welcome to the big leagues of backpacking.” India far exceeds any country I have visited for culture shock and extremes – where you get the beautiful with the repulsive.

Through Day 5, Hanga and I have maximized, if you will, our low budget low discomfort travel lifestyle, to so far manage a daily budget of around 500 rupees ($10 CAD, 7 EUR) on no less than rickety old buses and the amazing generosity of Couchsurfing hosts.

We landed in Delhi, where we had a hell of a time getting from the airport to our host, getting approached by many locals providing mixed, unreliable information about everything including transportation, times, prices and amenities such as Wifi. It got to the point where we couldn't trust anyone, no matter how friendly, upon the suspicion of swindling.
Suny, our awesome host in Delhi (pic borrowed from CS profile)
Suny, our Couchsurfing host, was like a shining light in the dark, the eye of a storm in the centre of a chaotic city. Suny was more than just our sanctuary but an amazing human being with an inspiring success story.

Suny is full of compassion – aside from his travel agency work (which did not even cause a smidge of conflict of interest in being his guest), Suny teaches yoga and works with youths in the NGO that reached out to him early in his life. He is saving up to start his own NGO someday. Even now, in his home in Delhi, his place is intentionally humble, bare but enough for furnishings.

At Suny's we managed to catch up on sleep and let the culture shock sink in: the poverty, suicidal rickshaw drivers in insane traffic, heat and humidity, stench of faeces everywhere. Squat toilets. The claustrophobia of all of this cramped in a huge city.
One half of the indoors of Suny's apartment - there is balcony and washroom above
Then we escaped via the first available overnight bus north out of the suffocating city and into the fresh air, mountainous and more indigenous cultures of Himachal Pradesh.

Now better acclimated to our surroundings, Hanga and I have rediscovered the reasons why we came – to be stretched outside of our comfort zone, to witness humanity at its greatest and worst.

Our bus ride has finally escaped the night time, and sunlight is now exposing some of the greatest of India – the deep cut cliffs of Parvati Valley. The stereo starts blaring Indian dance, with its modern rhythms and electronic sounds. A delusional man alights the bus, starts shouting strange sermons out loud.

Just another day in India.

Preview of next blog - Shimla

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

On the TransCanada Treadmill of Canada

You know that feeling when you're on a treadmill? When you feel like you're moving forward, yet the scenery doesn't appear to be changing? For the most part this is the feeling one gets driving across the Prairies from Calgary to Toronto.

Yes, it was boring at times. However, at other times driving across the flat unending fields of wheat actually produced quite a surreal feeling, as if I was a fixed point in the universe, and the earth was spinning and passing like a blur underneath me.

And certainly, sometimes it felt as if I wasn't propelling myself of my own will, but that invisible forces were pulling and guiding me towards the unknown. Perhaps it's the universe's way of telling me I need to get lost in order to find myself. And so I found myself propelling across the vast Prairies with all of my possessions in the back of my hatchback.

And a fellow Couchsurfer in the passenger seat.
Katie, my fellow 5-day road-tripper, fresh off 1 year of world travels 
Special shoutout to Katie. Katie found my Kijiji ad for a rideshare from Calgary to Toronto, and she was a great passenger and perfect road trip partner, making the drive go by much smoother. We drove at an easy pace, made frequent leisurely stops, and roughed it overnights, avoiding hotels and motels in exchange for Couchsurfing and camping. We got to see and gain an understanding and appreciation of our home country, kilometre by kilometre.

We stayed with my cherry picking friend, Aidan, in Regina, camped in Winnipeg, walked around downtown for a morning, caught up with another dear cherry picker, Kyla, in Thunder Bay, stayed there overnight with Couchsurfers, and camped the final night by Lake Superior. The road trip spanned 5 days, 3400 km, countless forests and lakes, and all for just $260 in gas (~5.7L/100km), thanks to my trusty fuel-efficient Yaris.

Katie just came back from travelling for over a year across the globe and was transitioning back to home life in Toronto, whereas I was heading in the opposite direction (metaphorically, of course), returning to the way of the nomad. Thus, we had lots to share and discuss, and I easily opened up to her, though perhaps too easily. We philosophized about gaining awareness through travel and new experiences, knowledge with responsibility and burden, ignorance with bliss. Once or twice it intensified to sparring, and she was able to expose some of my areas of weakness, stubbornness and sounding self-righteous.
Wandering around downtown Toronto as a tourist - Distillery District
Afterwards, our discussions caused me to reflect lots about the tightrope I walk everyday in passionately expressing my views without offending or alienating others, in balancing persuasion with humility. I am grateful for Katie's boldness in conversation, challenging me to reevaluate my approach to others. And it was definitely not my intention to offend or alienate others in the past. I genuinely feel a desire to make the world a better place, but also to connect to every individual I meet and not scare them away.

My blog is also a reflection of this part of me, and hopefully it never becomes more self-serving than it is a mode of inspiration and education for its readers.

Alas I had a limited time to contemplate all this back home in Toronto. I have just landed in New Delhi, India and am writing this as I wait for my friend Hanga to join me. My journey here will continue to stimulate learning, growth and awareness of how to impact others.
India, here I come!
For my mind is also like a treadmill, I need only train it to run faster, and not stumble or get too far ahead of me.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

My Last Hurrah (for now) in the Rockies

I have been on the road for so much of the past 3 weeks that my legs are extremely cramped from keeping my feet flexed on the gas pedal - yes, I alternated both feet on the gas! It's also felt like so long that the amazing experience of cherry picking has already disappeared beyond the horizon in my rear view mirror.

The leg pains are always worth it for epic road trips. I couch hopped and tented around BC and Washington state, had memorable experiences and met wonderful people, putting me further in touch with the permaculture world, a world I hope to be a part of in my long term plans.

After cherry picking ended I bolted for Vancouver, but not before meeting Susan in Vernon and Kat near Enderby, BC, connected through common friend Alla, people whose lives were touched by permaculture.
Henry all excited about Wreck Beach
After those visits, I drove close to UBC to visit my best friend and like mind, Henry, who was also in uproot mode and in transition towards a major non-profit opportunity in Pakistan. I also enjoyed Vancouver like never before, enjoying rare sunny weather and getting to know the city by bike. It was my fifth or so time in Vancouver, but this was my favourite visit.

I owed my friend Johnny Katz in Seattle, Washington a favour, so I decided to drive over the border to visit him and give him some of my time. But really it felt like he was the one providing the favour, welcoming me to his beautiful home with a zipline in the backyard! Johnny himself is looking to start an intentional community in the Seattle area.
Vice Magazine article on the festival (
Part two of why I crossed the border to the American side was to attend the first ever Rainingman Cascadia Festival, dedicated to the education and progression of the Cascadia movement. The movement is based on the belief that southern BC, Washington, Oregon and northern California should be its own country, based on its shared bioregion and progressive culture. The festival took place on a well known eco-village called Finney Farm, located in the US Pacific Northwest.

An unfamiliar feeling took hold in me in the US, as I got the shopping itch during Labour Day sales. I let the feeling take precedence of my plans for the sake of getting some reliable outdoor gear essentials at the REI (like MEC in Canada) in Spokane, WA.
Taking in the foggy morning in Slocan Valley, BC
Upon re-entering Canada, I stopped by my favourite place in BC, a farm in the gorgeous Slocan Valley, BC. Forgive my hippie-speak, but this is a special place where I feel the love, warmth and community that arises from choosing to live off the land and in co-dependence with the right people. I helped Eli cut firewood from fallen trees on his property, and Suzi stake the tomato plants.

Finally, before my nomad future truly beckons me, I made one last stopover in Calgary, where it all began. I landed here approximately 6 years ago, a young man but more like a naive and curious boy, who has now far outgrown his city shoes and needs to step out into the larger world. I squeezed in some intimate closing conversations with friends, and some genuine Calgary eats, events such as Beakerhead, and neighbourhood sites such as Kensington's ContainR, a revamped community space due to the compassionate work of individuals such as Alla, Lindsay and Natalia.
Check out the beautiful ContainR site just southeast of Sunnyside LRT, built by volunteers for the community
Perhaps fittingly, I got to make a final contribution to the permaculture community of Calgary by helping out my ambitious friend Jack with his awesome initiatives. Jack is involved with Calgary Harvest, a backyard fruit harvesting non-profit program, and with Grow Calgary, a non-profit farm which donates all the food it grows to the Calgary Food Bank. The farm has a lofty goal of becoming the largest urban farm in the world.

Alas, it is time to acknowledge my time in Calgary with a grateful glance and turn towards my exciting future, a path fraught with twists and turns, yet lined with golden opportunity and spontaneous bursts of happiness and discovery.

Thanks Calgary for everything! Next up, epic road trip to Toronto, followed by... India!