A couple of weekends ago was Civic Weekend here in Canada. Now, I don't know much about the meaning behind it, but I do know it gets me a day off work, which means a day for exploring. Since coming back from New Zealand it has been a bit hard to settle back in to the swing of things so a weekend on the road was just what we needed. Banff National Park is known for the Canadian Rocky Mountains and it's crystal blue lakes. If you have seen a photo of a lake in Canada, chances are it's in Banff National Park. On a map Banff does not look that far from Vancouver, however since Canada is the second largest country in the world, getting anywhere is a bloody long way! The total drive time is between 9-10 hours.
It has been two months since Will and I hung up our backpacks and said goodbye to travelling. We traded our lightweight, pick-up-and-go lifestyle for our own bed, in our own room, with no fear of bedbugs. Which, after 6 months on the road, we were more than ready for. The last leg of our trip was Vietnam, somewhere that Will and I had always wanted to go. This part of the trip was made even more special by the addition of Lil' Sebastian, our 110cc Honda Win that we purchased in Cambodia to take us into the south of Vietnam and travel the length of the country.
Let's start with the border crossing into Vietnam, shall we? It was Will and I's 8-year-anniversary and certainly an anniversary I won't forget in a hurry. We had been told all sorts of stories about the Vietnam land crossing and the scamming that went on, especially with a motorbike. As we approached the crossing we fully expected to be ripped off and have to bribe to get Lil' Sebastian through with us. I went in first and as there was only one person at the desk I went straight to them. He made me fill out a wee yellow form and asked if I had a motorbike, to which I replied, yes. That was the first and last mention of a motorbike. I got off lightly, only being scammed out of the equivalent of $1 for a 'health check', where he just pointed a ray gun at me that took my temperature. Soon the three of us were through and free to start our Vietnam adventure.
Although we had a few break downs, Lil' Sebastian was by far the best purchase of our trip. We bought him from a fellow backpacker at our hostel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for $200USD. Lil' Sebastian was used to only carrying one person with one backpack, so some minor adjustments were needed. Will and I packed pretty light compared to most backpackers but still needed to figure out how to attach our backpacks to the bike and for me to still fit on the back. After a lot of translation mishaps trying to find a welder, we ended up finding one on the side of the road who made custom side racks for the equivalent of $3! Best bargain of the trip seeing as it took him a good hour to specially measure it up. Lil' Sebastian allowed us to see a lot of the country and not just the tourist destinations. We got to go through small villages and interact with locals who never saw tourists. Breakdowns were never an issue as a mechanic was never too far away. The tiniest of towns always included a Phở joint, a petrol station, and a mechanic. The breakdowns were all part of the adventure. Hopping off the bike, problem solving, and trying to communicate what was wrong with the bike. Throughout the trip we had a couple of flat tyres, a tyre puncture, new shocks, a broken starter coil, a busted piston, pinched clutch cable, and multiple spark plug issues. This may sound like a lot, but the process of arranging to fix these were some of my favourite experiences. It may also sound expensive but all of these repairs would have cost no more than $50 TOTAL. Ridiculous. Riding a bike through South East Asia may not be for everyone, and if it wasn't for Will being able to ride a bike like a pro, I would have been on buses with the rest of the tourists. But if you've got the ability to see the country by bike, I highly recommend it.
One month in India complete! Compared to the Europe portion of our trip India has not been about sites or the specific places we have been. It has been about absorbing the culture and the sheer madness of it all. Our original plan was to start in the south and work our way north but with only 30 days that was proving difficult. If you want to travel cheap in India you have to travel slowly. So with that in mind we gave the south a good go visiting Varkala, Kochi, Munnar, Mysore, Madikeri, Kannur, Goa, Hampi, Anantapur, Bangalore and Chennai. These are the parts of Indian culture that touched me the most.
India is famous for their incredible railway system. Both the mass area it spans, and the way locals travel have fascinated and intimidated travellers around the globe. The journey starts at the station. Line up to buy your tickets if you were unlucky enough to miss out on getting them through Cleartrip. Prepare to have your patience tested as these lines have no end in site with people forcing to the front and throwing cash at the counter in urgency. I knew it was recently made illegal to ride on the roofs of the trains like portrayed in movies but I was still worried about the conditions of the trains, and knew it would be the biggest dose of culture shock yet. There are different classes to the trains: General Seating, Sleeper, 3 Tier AC, 2 Tier AC, 1 Tier AC and First Class. We did a mixture of general seating and sleeper which are the lower classes, and how the locals tend to travel. You're unavoidably in the middle of the action. Guys sell anything and everything up and down the aisles while Indian countryside flies past the open window. They know they've got a lot of competition so the sales call is key. There are upwards of 10 different people selling the same thing so you've got to stand out. Rather than just yelling "chai", throw an upswing on the end for extra attention-grabbing flare. AC is not needed in sleeper or general seating as the windows and doors are open creating a breeze. This breeze is delightful until the train stops and the stench of stale sunbaked piss fills the carriage. Then that breeze is pure savage, and will force you to mouth breath because your life depends on it.
The real charm of Indian railways is the people you meet. Entire extended families will move in next to you for the 6 hour train journey with enough food for a week. Small children run up and down the aisles, climb the bunks and hang out the doors. This is their turf, they were raised on these trains. They smile at you with cheekiness and curiosity not letting you out of their site. Occasionally they'll be brave enough to sit beside you and trade stories for a short while. It is these interactions that break down all preconceptions of train travel in India.
No words really describe the feeling of walking around here and to be honest I was hesitant of posting anything but here it goes. For me, going to sites like this is so important. We must acknowledge history and be aware of potential signs so it does not repeat itself.
Hi friends, while I have decent internet access and a computer to use - here is an update on what Willem and I are up to these days. From my last post you will know that Willem and I left Edinburgh in December after two wonderful years due to Willem's work visa ending. A while ago we decided it wasn't quite time to go back to New Zealand so looked into other countries for work visas and Canada came out on top. During our time in Edinburgh we didn't get to see all the places in Europe we had hoped so thought we'd do a couple of trips on the way to Vancouver. Well, that couple of trips has now turned in to 7 months backpacking through the UK, Europe, India, and South East Asia before eventually landing in Vancouver. I am one month into unemployment and am loving it. Here are a few highlights of the past month.
Morocco was the trip of a lifetime and we did so much during our week there that I am going to have to split up the blog posts! This post is going to focus on the city of Marrakech where we spent the majority of our time. Photos of Marrakech have been coming up a lot over the last few years due to more European airlines making it a destination. Each time I saw a photo of Marrakech, be it the colours, the markets, the spices, or the people, my heart told me I NEEDED to get there. It wasn't until I saw flights pop up through easyJet for £44 return that I knew getting my feet on Moroccan soil was in reach!
I mentioned in my last post that this was my favourite New Years ever and that was not an overstatement. I'm not really a New Years person because it gets so hyped up and never meets expectations. Last year Will and I had a disastrous night losing each other in a crowd of 80,000 and spending the whole night trying to find each other when we were completely wasted - not a good idea. Because of that fateful night, I decided that this New Years I wanted expectations low and to just get a house somewhere with friends, that somewhere turned out to be Spain. I didn't want it to be a clubbing night or an expensive night, just a good time. This was one New Years that worked out perfectly how I expected.
Since moving to the Northern Hemisphere I have decided that a winter Christmas is magical but New Years should be spent in the sunshine. Hence why we hopped on a plane and headed for Spain. A few days before New Years Eve myself, Will, Jamie, Scott and a last minute but valuable addition of Tim, flew from Stansted to Barcelona where we would then make the journey on to Sitges. This was my first group travel experience with friends and although trying to pick a destination in Spain was stressful, I wouldn't hesitate to do it again.
Last weekend, I had never even heard of The Highland Games then this weekend I was making the trek up to Braemar in the heart of The Highlands, to see men in kilts toss a caber. We were offered the tickets from our new landlord who could no longer make it. Tickets, accommodation and meals were sorted we just had to get ourselves there and back. This was the tricky bit. If you look at Braemar on a map it is in the middle of a national park. At first glance we thought it would be impossible to get there, but we were determined and searched every possible way. It turned out we could catch a train to Aberdeen and then a bus from there. Leaving after work on Friday, we knew we had to be in Aberdeen by 9.45pm to catch the last bus across to Braemar. We left ourselves plenty of time between the train and the bus, booking the 6.33pm train arriving in Aberdeen at 9pm. Everything was going to work out swimmingly. But, as we turned up to Waverley station, we saw that dreaded word that ruins everything – delayed. Due to a signaling outage between Newcastle and York our 6.33 train was delayed by 5 hours. This meant our 9.45 bus would be long gone. Thinking the Virgin train staff would be able to help, we went to them seeking guidance.
This weekend was a little different to last as we had our kiwi pal Scott with us. We went lighter on the shows and heavier on the exploring Edinburgh. Scott being the ride or die Harry Potter fan he is meant we explored Edinburgh's trail of HP treats. We also climbed Arthur's Seat for the first time in a long time and man did I feel it. That thing is hiiiiigh. But the views are unbeatable. Riddle me this though Edinburgh - Arthur's Seat is covered in Sheep poop, but I have never, not once, seen a sheep up there. Anyways, Fringe! See my favourite show's from weekend two below.
A writer, explorer, and music enthusiast. This site is where I share my thoughts, aspirations, adventures, and mishaps.