Friday, December 24, 2010


In the last 36 hours, I have flashed six different women two different times.

The first was after I climbed off a nearly sleepless night train from Sapa, north Nam and forced myself into the lockless shower in my girls dorm. Not paying attention as I rinsed shampoo out to the "This is the shower stall" from the staff member showing new arrivals the room, three sets of eyes were on my naked form. Surprised and too tired to bother covering up, all four of us just stood there shocked.

The second time was last night when I went for a massage. Unlike western massage studios or even other massage rooms/curtains elsewhere in SE Asia, myself and a woman I just met downstairs were told to strip down to our undies - with three others in the room.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mind the mines in Phonsavan

The Plain of Jars outside Phonsavan, Laos was one of the eeriest sites I visited in Laos. Lying just below the surface is an untold number of unexploded ordinances (UXOs) and these are still killing and injuring the Laos people years and years after the Secret War.

(Recovered UXOs)

(Crater from bombs)

(Red is dead. Stay within the white markers and it's unlikely you'll get blown up.)

(Site 1)

(Site 1)

(View from Site 1)

(Site 2)

(Site 2)

(Russian Tank)

(Farm constructed with bombs)

After the Plain of Jars tour, I went to Hmong New Year celebrations with two new friends. Here's some bumper car action.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Don't get hurt in Laos, they'll chop your leg off

"It's the buffalo whisper," travel companion Jenny appropriately said quietly pointing to a middle-aged, sun-bleached blonde man, who tens and tens of minutes before was in the Nam Song tripping his nuts off on an untold cocktail of drugs and lao lao and communicating with a herd of massive water buffalo.

This, a few inebriated slips and tell-tale crutches and bandaged ankles in town were miraculously all we witnessed while passing through Vang Vieng, Laos, a town made over into a backpacker destination for its tubing and renowned for its scale of partying, death and drugs.

Accidents are also very frequent.

Two weeks before my first lap through VV, a tuber died after hitting the bottom of the river after plunging face first from a slide. A few days before my second visit, a girl broke her leg in six places. Since Laos lacks adequate or any, really, decent hospitals, her leg wasn't set and placed in a cast, but amputated above the highest break.

The stories, rumours and quickly issued warnings about the river's appetite for turned ankles, broken bones and lives lost too early were sobering reminders that too much fun is possible and excess is capable of extinguishing.

Gemma, Jenny and I made a sober pact that we were to mind one another and absolutely not allow each other onto the dodgy swinging trapeze, crudely engineered flying fox or fourth-grade-science-project slides.

Learning upon arrival at the launching point that tubes had to be hired from the cartel in town, we were limited to stopping at makeshift bars we could walk to. This didn't prove to be a problem as we quickly found ourselves at the bottom of another lao lao bucket and not an early grave on the Nam Song,

Monday, November 22, 2010

"I don't know where I'm going, but I know what I've lost" Joel Plasket

I'm developing an insecurity complex about my invented boyfriend. Invented to ward off advances from locals claiming to have a preference for big (read: tall) western women, they're perplexed why he isn't accompanying me.

"He has to work," I offer.

"Maybe he don't really love you," is a common response. "Maybe he think you too fat," one was bold enough to suggest.

When probed for further information about him, it's never the same man twice. There was Lorn, a 30-year-old organic farmer. Richard, a 40-year-old playing the markets with more money than he knew what to do with. A gracefully aging ski bum. A young snappy forester from down east. A workaholic geologist learning Portuguese.

I have borrowed snippets from my favourite former fellas to casually and temporarily construct an as-needed relationship. As I quickly smile and pay tribute to what and who was, it's a sobering reminder of one of the costs of snowbirding at 25.

Loss of romantic relationships is where the grieving only begins. Away for Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving with a dynamic, extended-definition of family that swells and contracts holiday to holiday, I cheat myself out of deeper relationships on the genetic front.

What used to be hours and hours of gossip, concert going, hoe toes with my girlfriends and uni pub nights that seemingly never ended has now been reduced to an insufficient lunch, drink, coffee between my work and travel laps.

Maybe that comfortable ease of daily life can't be regained over the short course of a meal, or an evening of mindless TV watching, or even an all-night gab sesh with the girls over too many bottles of wine. But, I'll still continue to make the time and effort for these friends and family that make returning to where I started so easy.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cambodia photos so far

(Tuk tuk with Kieren and Roz)

(This is a shit photo, but I still really like it)

(On boardwalk to one of the temples)

(Kieren taking a photo)

(Total cheese, but worth the $1)

(Part of the Lady Temple)

(A bit naughty, eh?)

(Hand cut grass at Angkor Wat)

(Boat journey to Battambang)

(Moto tour around Battambang)

(Bamboo railroad)

(My destination. Killing cave and temples on top)

(Cambodian flora)

(Monkeys playing on my walk down)


(Swimming hole in Ream National Park near Sihanoukville)

(View from lookout in Ream)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Independently drying more goodbye tears

'You're so brave and independent. I could never do what you're doing,' a friend said to me of my travels and specifically of my solo undertaking of SE Asia. Yet when I'm an independent traveller is paradoxically when I'm the most dependent on others.

I lean on friends, family, my mother's second cousin's best friend's son and perfect strangers for rides to the airport, couches to crash on, entertainment and onward contacts and recommendations while I'm away from where I come from.

A closet introvert, I must backflip out of my comfort zone and be my most outgoing and open while away from that dynamic definition of home so I can meet other travellers. The formula scarely wavers. Within 10 minutes of 'Where are you from?' onward plans for the next half week together are made, washing powder is shared and tales from the trail and tail are gigglingly exchanged over the local brew while piecing together why the hostel has free wifi but no hot water.

This is why leaving London tomorrow for a winter in SE Asia will be difficult.

I have been staying at a Sharklab friend's flat. I have been hanging out with a friend from uni. I caught up with other friends from the Sharklab. Embedded in the intimacy of daily life - even if only for a while - with people who know me well has truly been a treat. As I have journeyed solo and been part of so many necessary-for-now, but ultimately temporary and disposable relationships I have relished these pockets of comfort, familiarity and ease with old friends.

Thank you Marc and Sam, my favourite filthy couple, for the room. Thank you Steven for popping my opera cherry. Thank you Steve for renewing my love affair with salt-water creatures. Thank you Louise for exploring York with me and later taking me home. To all of you and friends and family dotting the globe, I am most grateful for your time. The massive knot in my throat and filling-up eyes as I write this are a mere testament to how much I enjoyed our brief time together.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thankful for dorm sex and ghosts

Waking up the entire building with our mid-morning and uncontrollable laughter, my four dorm mates and I recounted our absent roommate's botched attempt at getting laid on the weekend. The Sri Lankan man who was on the top bunk of the ill-preforming man reported that a similar, successful version was taking place above him on the next floor. 'It was like aerobics lessons. I was sandwiched!' The South Korean in the bed adjacent to the non-action was told by the man attempting to play pool with a rope if he could turn over and pretend to be asleep. Arriving in the morning after working through the night, the South African shrieked at a pitch reserved for dogs when he learnt that his bed had been host to the randy, sloppy couple. The French man, who would later reveal himself an engineer and then proceed to fit every engineer stereotype I have, clearly wasn't following despite the tears running down his face managed to spot the note I left in the inconsiderate offender's actual bed: If you bring another girl back tonight, so help me god, I will castrate you.

That was my first morning in Cardiff. I later had to leg it down a canal away from the French engineer when he thought we were insta-bffs. (To my engineer friends, I actually like you and would never take off running evasively down an inland fresh water channel even if your pinky ring initially made me question your socializing abilities.)

Parting ways with Robyn and later (and admittedly tearily) Orion, I have been making my way south through England to London where I'll fly out of next Sunday. No longer tied to a calender, I mistakenly landed in Newcastle on a Saturday night where to say they party on an epic and irresponsible scale barely does them justice. Clearly unable to beat them at their own game, I joined them. Free pints from unsuspecting freshers on what was likely their first night out ever and later an honorary member of a hen party when one of their original members spewed out, Newcastle sits hazily and happily in my pickled memory.

Happy and hungover, I made my way to Hadrian's Wall on an Australian girl's recommendation the next morning. Blissfully downpouring, I settled into an afternoon of novel reading and napping until the weather cleared. I did a small walk along the wall before checking into the hostel - but not before securing a pub night invite from a group of English men twice my age walking the wall. I had taken their group photo, after all, and the resulting flowing beverages were a mere token of their appreciation.

A quick pop into the Lake District where my car-endowed roommate insisted I join her up Scaffel Pike (highest hill in England?) and then off to historic, haunted York to catch up with a friend from the Sharklab. I was later in backpacker heaven at her parents house where I not only had my own bedroom, but my own double bed and my own en-suite bathroom! The ghost walk we took the night before in York ensured I enjoyed the bed too, as I was unable to sleep for the better part of the night.

I'm off to London tomorrow until I fly out. A few errands to sort out, some more Sharklab friends to call in on and one uni friend to visit and I'll be off for another winter in Sun, Place Else.

Even though you're all unable to pop over to the pub down the road and entertain and scandalize me (I've a good one for a few of you when we're next together!) I am deeply thankful for your quiet and occasionally boisterously loud kindness, love and support.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Glen Coe

One ferry, one lift from fellow travellers, three buses and a three mile walk landed us in Glen Coe, in the heart of the Scottish Highlands.

We lucked out with decent weather the following morning and set off on a hike.

(Yes, that's two adults in matching outfits.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Scotland's training grounds

Scotland's Isle of Arran, oft described as 'Scotland in miniature,' was a useful training ground presumably for the rest of our trip. Arran showed us that despite the cost of getting there, internal public transport would be exorbitantly expensive and lack useful transfers, the weather could change on a dime and stunning, challenging walks were waiting further along the valley.

Mimicking Scotland, Arran has lowlands in the south, dramtic highlands in the north and breathtaking off shore islands to explore.

On advice from a Glaswegian in a pub and against the visitor centre's wind and weather advisory, Orion and I set out to tackle the highest peak on the island while Robyn wisely opted to take a sick day.

(Goat Fell from Brodick)

Visible in Brodick, we began at sea level and climbed through fern-shrouded valleys that agev way to exposed meadows where the last of the year's heather lingered. Our final summit push was delayed as a squall passed over, forcing us to take shelter underneath a precariously balanced rock for its duration.

(Orion and I taking cover)

The howling wind quickly dried out the rock staircase to the top that Orion equated with the intensity of Vancouver's Grouse Grind.

(Views from the summit)

After an uneventful descent, we popped into Brodick Castle grounds, passed the cheese factory and brewery and made for home in our waterproofs as the rain rolled over again.

Satisfingly sore and tired from the day, the three of us retired to the pub for folk music, tasty pints and bargain pizzas before travelling to the north of the island the following day.

(Orion enjoying refreshment in the hills)


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sleep-starved Canadians do Loch Lomond

Two's a couple and three's a love triangle. Male and female friends, many incorrectly assume Orion and I are dating. Female cousins, Robyn and I have been taken for lesbians and even received tank tops as apologies when the real story, not the two of us, came out.

Happily and non-sexually together for a month, the three of us are set to tour Scotland. I'm confident we'll be a content and complimentary threesome until their early October departures after we took an exploratory day trip to Loch Lomond outside Glasgow.

Why we caught the early bus and relinquished a sorely needed hour of sleep by all is still a great mystery. Robyn was nursing a massive sleep debt from a wedding-filled week in Prague. Orion had been out at a house party til the morning and was likely still very loaded. I was exhausted from a late-night snog sesh.

We walked about and punctuated the stunning views and exercise with long boats of sleeping and eating. The former saw us curled up on picnic tables, luxurious castle lawns and pub tables. The latter was accomplished in cafes overlooking the loch and pubs that served up much-needed sustenance.

Bench litter

Thoroughly exhausted, all three of us slept on the bus home before showering and heading out for another late night on the town (Orion) or responsibly retiring to our allegedly smelly, ten-bed dorm (Robyn and I).

Balloch Castle - its luxurious grass made an excellent napping location

View from the castle

Looking out onto Loch Lomond

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Peace out

"We'll be here when you run out of money," my woods manager told me in front of the full-time woodlands staff on one of my last days in Chetwynd as I excitedly described my fall and winter travel plans.

Keen to leave the Peace and later Alberta for Sun, Place Else before the dreaded S-word materialized meant saying several goodbyes to co-workers, friends and lovers. Otherwise even-keeled with my emotions, I am terrible and often dissolve into a blubbering mess when bidding farewell.

I misted up shaking my supervisor's hand at work, I unsuccessfully blinked back tears as I hugged my roommates, I couldn't form words as I held my summer lover one last time, I wiped my eyes on my friends shoulders as we wished each other well for the winter, I bawled uncontrollably driving up the hill that heads out of town.

Even though my transient lifestyle lends itself to frequent goodbyes, I still allow myself the pleasure of becoming embedded in the comfortable ease of daily life with those around me.

It continues to surprise me that I'm terrible at them given how often I do them.

The tears though aren't a bad thing, Marc from the Sharklab told me in the Bimini airport as we waited for our flight. They're an outward sign that a good time was had and that I genuinely cared about the people I spent time with.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Driving the Windfall

I work here

It's a long drive

Amazing results

Intended recepient