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Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Home Sweet Community Home

To start off December right, I completed a 3-day Vipassana meditation course, a silent retreat in the remote mountainous forests of beautiful BC. Not a bad way to transition from a busy first 3 months in my newly adopted city of Vancouver.
Dhamma Vipassana Meditation Centre near Merritt, BC 
'Busy' is a relative term though. For most, busy would describe a hectic time, getting acclimated to a new job and commute, settling in to a new home and establishing a routine. My busy was more of the wild and wacky variety.

Because for me, it meant settling in to a community house: getting familiar with new faces along with their competing demands for time and space, acquiring furniture and friendships, aligning shelves and staggered schedules, sharing common areas and common ground, and dealing with dirty laundry and drama. And don't get me started on the drama... seriously.
Yohan, not quite a housemate, but a house regular, sharpening his DJ skills
Our 60's style living room with brick walls and tile floors  
Sunrise Park, a few blocks from the house, with views of Burnaby Skyscrapers and the nearby mountains
Thrown in the vortex of house happenings, which kept me on my toes everyday, were my ongoing search for a new job and a community outside of my house. In essence, I was desperately searching for a concrete sign that I was meant to stay in this concrete jungle.

Like I said, it was more wild and wacky than busy. In fact, my new job was hardly stressful at all due to its flexibility, though only a temporary solution. And my 40 minute commute by bike provided me solitude from the overstimulating home life, and allowed me the freedom that all cyclists know - the wind in my face, time to think and the ability to explore the city.

And explore I did, and with my penchant for endless curiosity, discovered the many little gems that dot Vancouver's crown - karma yoga and $2.95 breakfasts, cheap-ass sushi, hobo markets, marijuana shops, thrift shops and free shops, dumpster dives and Sikh Temple free dinners, hippies, hipsters and homeless, anarchist books and alternative fashions, hikes, and horizons of mountains and oceans.
My housemate, DJ Dan Snakehead, DJing the Vancouver Alternative Fashion Show 
Notice the ball and chain shackled to his leg 
My nagging narrative of whether I should stay in Vancouver reached a catharsis in the week before the vacation I didn't yet know I was going to take.

It started with a spontaneous decision to attend a tea festival, a seemingly mildly interesting event which sparked a chain of positive moments. There I watched two very inspiring presentations by ethical tea startup companies, which gave me the jitters and reminded me of my travels. The festival led me to volunteer with one company, discuss the remote but potential opportunity to work with another, and, as a bonus, led to a followup meeting with potentially new friends at a fun boardgame cafe Meetup event. And it all started with Justea!

Since arriving, I had been steadily applying for jobs, even in Calgary, as I was still on the fence about staying in Vancouver. Suddenly one random Craigslist job inquiry opened the door with a reply, a rare answer in the ultra competitive job market here. I scrambled to meet with my potential employer in the dwindling days before my vacation. This job is not official yet. Needless to say, it is an unexpected but unique opportunity that only few cities like Vancouver could offer. More on this one later.

Finally, the discovery and timing of the vipassana course sealed the deal to take time off and to visit Calgary after. I put out an ad on Craigslist (thank god for Craigslist!) and, choking with anxiety until the last minute, found someone to sublet my room the day before I myself packed everything up to leave! It was only once the sublet arrived when I could exhale a big sigh of relief. She appears to be a good fit for the house too, and I feel satisfied leaving my room to her, and her to my housemates.

Speaking of the community house, despite all the head shaking drama, enough to write a reality TV show from (even the use of the term 'community house' is debated), with each passing week my housemates grew on me and, in turn, my love and respect for them. Thus, I have renewed my commitment to the house, as well as my lease, for the new year.
Dumpster dive with king oyster mushrooms!
Hiking "The Chief" with one housemate, and another future one
I realized that we have the potential to overcome our barriers and build a special home together. Because community is what it's all about. It takes work, but it's a goal worth all the emotional and physical sweat.

Year after year Vancouver is rated one of the most liveable cities in the world. Many people here live in a bubble, but my travels allow me to step back and see not only how truly special this city is, but how fortunate I am to call it home. It took 3 months, and 1 fast and furious week, but, by the end of it, I found enough of a foothold to grow roots in this concrete jungle.

“Life is like an appetizer menu. You get to sample as many ways to live as you dare to.”
Credit to my friend Kat Don

Link to blog of my first ever vipassana meditation course here. And check out for a course near you.

Namaste and happy holidays,

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Guided by the Inukshuk - Vancouver

The past year for me has definitely been quite the roller coaster ride, travelling without a stable home, then finally coming "home" to Toronto only to feel like I'm on an island surrounded by an ocean of sharks. I nervously bolted the island, swimming quickly and without much direction. I hadn't the slightest inkling then that I would have swam as far as the Pacific Ocean. But, 2 months later, here I am in Vancouver.
The beautiful ferry ride between Vancouver Island and the mainland
It all happened quite organically, as the universe somehow guided me to this place and time, and put me in a position to accomplish some of my goals in life. Praise this amazing universe we live in.

I had fun along the way too. I took a 4-day cycling trip in the Rockies, attended a permaculture course, volunteered at a music festival, reconnected with a dear old friend on an organic farmstay, along with many other friends along the way. A satisfying finish to my latest nomadic chapter.
Saw Mother Mother at Rifflandia, Victoria
Reconnecting with Nicolas "Teacher on the Road" from France who I met in Budapest, at Chuckleberry Farm
Then, after a complex trail of opportunities chased and lost, I landed a part time job through a friend, doing mostly physical labour involving bike racks. Funny how the world turns - my last office job involved bike racks too, but without the physical labour.
Installing "City of Vancouver" bike racks
I also landed a very unique living situation, something I have been searching for some time now - a community house. Two guys rented a whole house out in East Van, looking to fill it with people looking for community. Among our goals will be to grow our own food, live more green, share, and create music. There are several more projects and ambitions, but we're trying not to look too far ahead.

Our current challenge is to furnish the newly renovated home, and find people for the remaining bedrooms, six in all. I've been scanning the Craigslist free section and Freecycle website like it was a $100 million lottery ticket, looking for free stuff for our house. I've also been a mad shopper at Value Village and dollar stores. Through these channels, we've grabbed many tables, chairs, dressers and kitchen wares. The other day, we found a non-profit organization collecting and giving away free mattresses, and scored enough to fill the rest of the bedrooms.

The people living in the "community house" seem to understand the meaning of community, and have their own individual journeys and unique stories to tell. They embrace a creative and rebellious spirit which I resonate with. Thus far we have lived harmoniously and, for the most part, we are even clean and tidy. However, I already see signs of potential discombobulation down the road and am bracing myself, ready to call on my ability to handle diverse personalities and mediate conflicts.

Vancouver is filled with an amazing energy. The mountains gleam in the distance, a welcome distraction from the zany traffic and go-go-go of the city. I've started cycling to work 40 minutes one way. There are lots of cyclists on the well established cycling routes. Maybe I hadn't noticed this before anywhere else, but I've been seeing lots of stuff labelled "free" left in front of homes. It's sad though when it rains, because all the free stuff, such as couches and mattresses, get ruined.

I've been quite busy with the house, but I managed to go on one really beautiful hike. And I also attended Open Doors Vancouver, which held open houses and tours to some of their government and heritage buildings.
Brunswick Mountain - this gem of a hike is 30 mins drive from Vancouver
I'm looking forward to weathering the upcoming Canadian winter in one of its mildest cities. However, Vancouver winters, though rarely snows, calls for endless gray and rainy days, and will be a new challenge, one of many in my new adopted city.

I am happy so far with my new situation. I look forward to the many projects I can finally start, being settled in one place. I also look forward to merging with the conscious energy of Vancouver and making new friends while exploring my passions.
And a fresh start for my head too

Sunday, 6 September 2015

My Canada, My Nature

I have just spent my past 3 weeks in one of the most beautiful and fascinating regions in Canada - West Kootenay.
West Kootenay is the salmon coloured region
West Kootenay is just west of the Rockies and itself is blessed with mountains and forests. The mountains wrap around two slender lakes, Arrow and Kootenay Lakes, which form part of the great Columbia River watershed which empties into the Pacific Ocean at Portland, Oregon.

People travel here for hotsprings, hiking and mountain biking. But while the landscapes are inspiring, it's the good-natured people that tap into your spirit, unlocking an awesome energy within and consciousness of 'now' that can't be shaken.
Going for my morning bath in Slocan Lake

The cultural phenomenon in the Kootenays is not just a result of the deep connection with the wilderness, it is also a historical phenomenon. The Vietnam War led to American pacifists dodging war conscription by escaping across the border, flocking towards this region. The war dodgers have played a large part in the transformation of the culture to one centred around nature and free spirit.

3 weeks ago, I arrived in Winlaw, for a music festival called The Field Gathering, held at White Crow Farm. I only stayed for 1 day but took in a unique scene which I can only describe as alternative and hippie (though I try to avoid using this word as much as possible).
What a magic school bus! Inside are beds, kitchen and Wifi
Dance floor warning sign
I witnessed bohemian fashion at its finest, ripped tops and onesies, dreads and tattoos, camper vans, a dreamcatcher tent, a school bus converted to a home, tree-hugger bumper stickers and psychedelic art. I ate organic food and did kundalini yoga. I listened to a fun folk band wearing clowny outfits and danced to electronic on a dance floor of straw and wood chips.

The next day I mosied over to Spiral Farm, only 10 minutes from the festival, to begin my 2-week permaculture course. I set up my tent under a grove of hazelnut trees, my home for the next 2 weeks, sleeping to the chorus of squirrels, dogs and wolves, and admiring the stars on cloudless nights.
Spiral Farm garden and learning room/outdoor kitchen amidst a mountain backdrop
Fellow permaculture student Marie-Eve admiring the butterfly and the echinaceas
During the day, I shared the learning room, which doubled as an outdoor kitchen, with 10 other keen students and our zany but wise permaculture guru. We learned from 9 to 5, cramming our brains full of permaculture, going for nature walks and getting our hands dirty. We delved into topics such as organic gardening, forests, animals and natural building. We freely harvested food on his farm, ranging from kale and tomatoes to lavender and mint for teas, and plums and blueberries for fruit. After class, we took dips in the nearby Slocan River, and had some fun nights listening to local bands.
Taking, yes, my bath, in the Slocan River
The smoke swept in from nearby forest fires, a reality in the dry summers of British Columbia. The sky was blotted by a lingering haze during the last week of the course, and the days were cold and grey. But it only slightly affected everyone's enthusiasm.

After the course, I spent time in Nelson, the largest and most eccentric town in the region, at around 10,000 people. Nelson is the convergence of artists, yogis and transients, looking for an alternative way of living.

It is a classic postcard city with a beautiful beach. Its streets are crammed with new age shops, organic eats, and are host to several markets and festivals on a weekly basis. It's not a great place to "make a living" but, still, a lot of people get stuck here for its unique culture and adventure at their doorstep.
Nelson, British Columbia
Chuckleberry, the farm Nicolas was doing his farmstay
Finally, I met up again with Nicolas, someone whom I felt destined to meet again since our original meeting 3 years ago in Budapest. He is on a truly inspiring journey, which can be followed at Teacher on the Road. I prefer his blogs to mine ;) (sadly, I seem to have lost the pictures of us!)

My internal compass is now guiding my being to the west coast, another fabled part of Canada full of youth and energy.

I'm still making it all up as I go along but, after 8 months overseas, I feel content and comfortable being in Canada at this moment in time.

Full photo album on Flick:

Sunday, 16 August 2015

On the Road Again - Part 2: Jasper to Canmore by Bicycle

As soon as I arrived in Calgary, I made preparations for joining my friend, Eve, who I picked cherries with last year, on a cycling trip down the Icefields Parkway. A couple of days later, I made it to Jasper with just my bike and panniers.

My Kijiji rideshare was a bit worried about me on the way to Jasper, since I was asking him if he knew anyone I could with for free stay that night. These days I have ditched all pretexts for planning in exchange for spontaneity, backed by the confidence that everything will be alright.

After sunset I rode around the town of Jasper. I ran into a travelling Czech couple, sleeping in their van. We shared some conversation and they pointed me to a nearby park, where I found a nice little hidden spot to roll out my sleeping pad and bag behind a novel rock wall.
Stealth sleeping in Centennial Park, Jasper
Eve arrived the next morning, but without her bike! A mishap by Greyhound meant that we had to stay in Jasper an extra night, waiting for her bike to arrive. Well, we made the most of being in Jasper, easily hitchhiking between the town and our campgrounds, getting rides from happy holidayers.

The Ride Begins

The next morning, Eve finally got her bike and we packed all our gear into our panniers, eager to hit the road. The Icefields Parkway is renowned for its spectacular drive lined by majestic mountains, accompanied by gentle rivers and dotted with clear blue lakes. We rode off in bliss.
Day 1 was a constant but gentle uphill, and we managed to do around 85 km in 8 hours, ending at Beauty Creek Wilderness Hostel. Our hostel was modestly occupied by travellers from Switzerland and Germany. This is no surprise for me, since in Calgary I hosted many Germans through Couchsurfing.

Day 2 began with our first big hill, a climb towards Columbia Icefields. One advantage of cycling a roadway is you get to know your surroundings better. I got to appreciate how high up in elevation the Columbia Icefields were because it was so difficult to reach. This is something I never noticed while driving this highway.

Our reward for our big climb came quickly. We arrived at one of the newest attractions of the Icefields, the Skywalk, and Eve decided to make a friendly inquiry. One of the staff pulled us aside and said that cyclists get in for free! The Skywalk is a beautiful modern glass walkway hanging over the cliff. I wouldn't have gone in for the normal $30 fee, but to get in for free was such a nice perk.

Athabasca Glacier from the Columbia Icefields Centre
We originally considered stealth camping that night, but we kept hearing warnings about overly curious bears, so we decided to cycle on to the next campgrounds. We made it to Waterfowl Lakes Campground, which was full, but the first campers we asked were happy to share their campsite with us. We later offered to split the campsite fee, giving them $10. After the sweaty long ride, 80 km or so, we took a quick dip in the chilly waters of the lake to clean ourselves.
The water was freezing, but at least we got our bath in!
Day 3 started off with another big hill near the start of the day, which was part of the plan. After a grueling slow climb up a hill of 8-10% grade over 2 hours, we peaked at Peyto Lake where we ate a well deserved lunch with a great view (and too many tour bus groups).

It was mostly down hill the rest of the way, which was exhilarating. Going downhill fast on a bike feels like an infinitely long subway entering an infinitely long station, with the wind roaring past your ears, whipping your face and hair. The hours just fly by, cycling in such a beautiful place, and passing cyclists always provide a boost in spirit, whenever it is needed.

We needed only around 60 km of riding to reach Lake Louise where we camped for the night. By Day 4, Eve discovered friends in town, so we parted ways, as I continued on my own down the Bow Valley Parkway towards Canmore.

The weather was beautiful and it was easy riding, mostly downhill. The Bow Valley Parkway eventually turned into the Legacy Trail which links Banff and Canmore to provide cyclists a safe route off the TransCanada. I did another 85 km or so, bringing my total to over 300 km in 4 days. As enjoyable as this day was, I realized it would be quite lonely to cycle alone for an extended period of time. As Christopher McCandless famously said "happiness is only real when shared."

When I arrived in Canmore, deciding whether to brave on towards Calgary or find a place to stay, I decided to lunch at a great little vegetarian joint called CommuniTea. There, I ran into a colleague, who was able to give me and my bicycle a ride back to Calgary that evening!

This trip had its share of twists and turns (and I'm not talking about just the road) but it was an adventure and a half. Thanks again to Eve, this trip wouldn't have been possible without her experience and gear!

Flick photos:

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

On The Road Again: Part 1 - Toronto to Calgary

I finally decided to hit the road again. At some point I felt my tumultuous time at home in Ontario had expired. At the same time I had some opportunities calling in western Canada.
Our approximate 4 day road trip route - Toronto to Calgary
Luckily I found a cool Kijiji rideshare guy named Simon from Toronto - an outdoors lover and headed west on vacation, up for an unconventional road trip at a quick but flexible pace. We started off in my Toyota Yaris on July 31 from Toronto. We decided to drive through the US as it would be cheaper and quicker, and the scenery less flat (see Prairies).

We aimed for Madison, Wisconsin the first night, but fell short, getting caught in Chicago rush hour. While on a country road, we spotted a school and drove in behind it to stealth (free) camp. However, someone must have spotted us because after setting up our tent and settling in, a flashlight beamed in through the tent!

The flashlight belonged to a cop, who eventually told us to pack up and move to nearby campgrounds. We ended up stealth camping again on a long farm driveway walled in by rows of corn. The next morning we took a few cobs with us!
Simon taking in the cool, crisp morning
Day 2 was a long drive, maybe 12 hours, but was broken up nicely by a refreshing swim in the Black River in Minnesota and a visit to an eccentrically hippie coffee shop. We eventually made it to Minot, North Dakota, where we stayed with a friend of mine who I met in Istanbul many years ago. Sean is a friendly guy with a central US accent, intelligent yet capable of chugging a beer in just a few gulps.
A refreshing dip relative to the famishing heat of the inside of my car - Black River, Minnesota
My friend Sean, from Minot, North Dakota, happy to accommodate me, despite many years after meeting
For Day 3, we aimed for Glacier National Park but, once again, fell short by several hours. Fortunately, we realized that Montana offers free camping spots with a 5 day limit, and we found a sweet campground off a river. The next morning, we took it really easy, with Simon fishing and roasting the corn, and me doing a bit of yoga and meditation, as well as a quick dip in the cool river, to recover a little energy after lots of driving and little sleep.
Sunset from our campsite off the Milk River, Montana
The next morning
Day 4 was, thankfully, a casual day involving the shortest drive, at around 6 hours to Calgary. We stopped by Cypress Hills Provincial Park, southeast of Medicine Hat, Alberta, taking another dip in a lake, which was quite chilly!

Staring into the cold waters of Elk Lake, tentative to jump in
Overall, Simon was a great road trip partner, spontaneous enough to be ready to sleep anywhere, and taking breaks for throwing frisbee and swimming. We never paid for accommodation, gas was cheap (despite the currency disparity), and I managed to dumpster dive to cover more than half my food needs. My best score was outside a Cash-Wise grocery store in North Dakota, where I recovered bananas, cherries, and 3 boxes of mixed salad greens plus a few vegetables.

Some people ask me why drive and not fly? First of all, it's the journey, not the destination! It's a great way to know the landscape. Sharing the journey with someone else can be a good bonding experience. I was able to bring more of my stuff out west (pretty much all my possessions). And it's cheaper than flying - $120 each in gas.

Being on the road and free again was liberating, and the countless hours behind the wheel also provided time to watch the landscape roll by, and for a slow release from pressures building around me during my time at home. It was also a good transition into my next adventure, a cycling trip in the Rockies...

Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Road to Reconciliation

"Life is no straight and easy corridor along which we travel free and unhampered, but a maze of passages, through which we must seek our way, lost and confused, now and again checked in a blind alley. But always, if we have faith, a door will open for us, not perhaps one that we ourselves would ever have thought of, but one that will ultimately prove good for us." - A.J. Cronin

And so a new chapter of my life begins as I hit the road again, bound once more for western Canada. And a chapter closes on a dark period of my life - one where, after 8 glorious months living like a nomad, I spent 2 months languishing at home, a diminished form of my former self.

I debated whether to publish this but, since I started blogging, I try to hold nothing back, and decided this is not only worth discussing, this situation needs to be discussed openly. I myself learned a lot of harsh but valuable lessons from this that I feel are worth sharing, and are thus presented as respectfully as possible regarding my family.

Upon my homecoming I learned that, since last year, when I quit my office job, a huge rift has grown between myself and my family. Being unemployed, not making money, and not knowing what to do with my life (and having the hygiene and dress of a hippie), apparently I fell short of their expectations and brought shame to the family. My travel adventures had no effect on their impressions of me. On the flip side, their conservative values and unchanging ways fell short of my expectations of them. This led to a difficult 2 months punctuated by tension, sadness, disagreements, and difficult talks.

I fell into old habits, living like the lazy, apathetic teen I once was. My energy fell, I became disengaged and lost motivation to do anything productive, exacerbated by the rural isolation, living a good drive away from Toronto.

It was extremely humbling to not receive the approval of those around me, when previously, when I was travelling, fellow travelers admired and supported what I was doing.

My situation reminded me of many Canadian-born Asian friends who have similar relationships with their parents (more than you may think). However, upon further pondering, I no longer believe it's an Asian thing. This is a common situation in families that immigrated from a developing nation to a developed nation bringing their incompatible culture and values with them. Don't get me wrong, I will forever be thankful for growing up in a privileged place such as Canada. It just shows that money and career are not enough to make one happy. And it's easy to confuse money and career with opportunity.

My struggles with my family also put in perspective how extreme my own views have diverged from not just theirs but society's. When I started to live my life differently, I told myself that I never wanted to run away from society, but to remain a part of it and to help it. Despite this, my continued experiences and meetings with inspiring people gravitated me further away from the mainstream.

One interesting common thread among the inspiring people I met on my travels became apparent to me. Like myself, a lot of them come from a place of past trauma or disconnection from their surroundings. Trauma leads us to question how we live our lives, then creates change. My own traumas in my youth fueled all the good change in my life and now, recently, came back to haunt me.

Moving forward, I hope my recent traumas lead me to further growth through change and, eventually, help to reconcile the differences with my family. We took positive steps in the weeks before I departed, having difficult discussions which confronted the tensions between us, and broke open the emotional scars for healing. These steps are encouraging.

I did manage to do some productive things while home. I stayed with relatives and helped with domestic and yard works in their new homes, got a brewing kit and brewed beer again, made a few crude homemade wallets and, along with my mom, started volunteering at a local community-owned farm, meeting some really great people there.

Back on the road again, I may still not be entirely sure what I'm doing, but at least I have a little direction. In BC, I will soon be taking a permaculture design course, maybe returning as a volunteer server for a Vipassana meditation course, then meeting up with a very inspiring friend who has been travelling since I met him nearly 3 years ago. At the very least, out west, I will once again be surrounded by loving and supportive friends.

All will be well. I am confident my energy and optimism will eventually return. And I want to thank all you lovely readers for your support. Wish me luck on this new phase of my journey :)

Monday, 6 July 2015

Let Greece's Economy Be - And Here's Why...

I have had a few conversations recently about Greece's economy and feel like I have given thought provoking points that were also valid. So let me share a seasoned traveller of Europe's perspective of the crisis.

Let Greece Be
The view from my farm in Greece
Several years ago I worked on a farm in the classic beautiful countryside of Greece. It may still be the best 3 weeks of my life (blog here): lovely Swiss-German farming family, amazing food, 10 cats, 4 dogs, goats and chickens, Mediterranean view and olive trees galore. Oh, and distant snow capped mountains to boot.

We picked olives together with a Greek neighbour. He was by far the laziest of our group, which also included myself, my farmer, one French and one Dutch farm helper, like me. My Swiss-German farmer used him to characterize most of the Greeks in the countryside: lazy.
Headlining caption: lazy Greek! Truth: content, easy-going Greek
Eventually I came to realize that though, yes, they may be lazy, they are lazy because they are content. They have everything they need right where they are: great food, warm climate, and sunny beaches. What more can anyone need? And if the economy fails they still have all that, and they can still feed themselves, and that's all they need - that is enough for any humble being.

This relationship between climate and contentedness can be seen across Europe and the entire world. In France, Italy and Spain, which round out the Mediterranean countries of Europe, I witnessed similar cultures which orbit around their agreeable climate and amazing food. They also happen to be the countries struggling the most economically in the EU.

That's because the people there are content and laid back. We in North America can only dream about taking siestas during the work day! They have everything they need right where they are. This garners the people from these countries the reputation of being proud and sometimes snobby. And, yes, people from these countries tend to travel less than other European countries, with the notable exception of France.

Conversely, the economically strong countries in the EU are in the north and centre. Similar to Canada, they have a generally colder, less favourable climate, and cannot grow food all year long. Thus, their people become economically oriented in order to make money so they can travel to the countries that have it all, like the Mediterranean countries. I also wrote about these observations several years ago (link here).

If today's world is moving towards open markets and global homogeny where the strongest economy wins, if I were Greece, I would want no part in it. Because I would not want to play in the economic game. I would rather live a simple life, tend to my goats and chickens, harvest my olives, then go to the beach, relax and read a good book. And even if farming is hard work, it toughens me up and is more rewarding and enjoyable working outdoors (anyway, it didn't seem like hard work to my Greek neighbour.)
Harvesting olives in February 2013. Mmm, the olive oil was unbelievably smooth
Sure, lots of Greeks do want to take part in the globalized economy. But those are mostly city folk, and they're vastly outnumbered by the agrarian folk. Unfortunately, the city folk are the ones making the policies, which is why farmers tend to get left behind, not just in Greece, but all over the world.

As a traveller, it would suck not to use the Euro currency in Greece, but I would rather suck it up - it's only an extra currency exchange. Greece doesn't need the Euro.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

You Are Now Entering Nomad's Land

Since I came to Europe after India I became completely and totally absorbed by the nomad lifestyle. It had the appeal of a no boundaries, unconventional way of travel that happens to be cheap and not as bad for the environment.
Above: hitchhiking towards Montpellier, France; Below: my last dumpster dive, Dublin

I discovered an awesome Facebook group called "Nomads", which opened a small window into an amazing online community of low budget long term travellers and wanderers, sharing stories and advice.

The Intelligent Nomad

A post on the group shared an article about how nomads have higher intelligence. Well, of course, I am subtly (well, not so subtly) hinting something here! But I do agree that my travels have been one of the most intellectually and emotionally challenging activities I have ever undertaken. No doubt a better education than university (though not necessarily more practical) as it has taught me a lot about myself, about not regretting things, and what freedom truly is.

Travelling has exposed me to wildly exotic and stimulating new cultures and environments and, at my carefree pace, provided me time to open my mind, absorb these experiences and ponder about them. I have consistently noticed these traits in other long term travellers too.

Now with a broader understanding of what a "nomad" is, and how it is interpreted by people in this community, I would say I rank about a 7 or 8 out of 10 on the nomadic scale. That is, my travel lifestyle is highly nomadic, but not completely.
India - nomad beginner level
India is not a breeding ground for nomads because I, like most foreigners lived like a king on a menial budget. In fact, it's rather unfair and my conscience felt the tension of dealing with the inequality that existed. India is good practice for travelling under adverse conditions, but I much preferred the true nomad life in Europe. In 3 months in Europe I paid for just a few days of accommodation, mostly hitchhiked and occasionally dumpster dived for food. I did spend money more freely at times, especially when I was in Italy and Ireland. But, for the most part, I only purchased bare essentials, avoided costly attractions and mostly walked around cities and got spoiled by friends, returning their hospitality in exchange for my time and stories.

Throughout my travels I met those extreme nomads who got by almost completely without money, relying solely on hitchhiking to get around and playing music on the streets for cash just so they can afford their next meals. These people are the 9 and 10 out of 10 nomads.

Believe it or not, the digital age has done wonders for nomads, who you think would typically abstain from modern technology. In another article I read on the FB Nomads group, nowadays, nomads and hobos alike tend to own a smartphone and use free Wifi spots to go online and exchange useful information, such as hitchhiking, dumpster diving and free camping spots.

It seems that some modern nomads are not meant to live in isolation and need community after all. I, for one, find solace in the FB Nomads group, because it can be rare to meet travellers on the road like myself. I have even met up with a few people through the group!
Wen, the journeyman Malaysian from FB Nomads group, Dublin
The Suffering Nomad

My own journey into nomadism has been really eye opening. I've thought a lot about the concept of suffering, how people fear it, and are constantly gratifying their needs to avoid it. When waiting on the side of the road while hitchhiking I felt a mix of sensations. One of them was suffering - from waiting outside for long periods, feeling hungry, and experiencing rejection from passing driver, losing faith in humanity. Sometimes that waiting was like a meditation. But whenever it became too long, it was very difficult to deal with.
A throwback to my meditation days
I felt kind of like the Buddha, who gave up his princely life for one of suffering to attain enlightenment. My own journey has been very enlightening and I feel like I have grown tougher, more humble and appreciative of life's simple things.

Now that I've concluded my second long term travels, I'm at the point in my life where I'm ready to settle back into a bit more of routine. But I'm afraid (though not really afraid) I will always be a nomad at heart, and a wanderer in my soul.

I still want to cross an ocean by boat, go farming in New Zealand, and my grandma talks about visiting distant relatives in remote SE China. I still hope to do all these things one day, and by taking the rough road.

This restlessness inside means I may never fully conform with the rigidness and rules around living in a big city and working a full time job. My next challenge will be to find my own niche, a life that provides space for routine but allows flexibility for me to take off when the next case of wanderlust arises.

3 Months in Europe (2 Months, not including Italy)
Distance hitchhiked: 3500 km (3300 km)
By train, bus, rideshare: 4500 km (1500 km)
Paid for accommodation: 5 nights (2)
Average daily expenditures: $27 CAD ($23)
Welcome back, Canada!
Oh, by the way, I'm brewing beer today! This is me brewing back in Feb 2014 (and with short hair)