Serenity in a barrel of diamonds

There are few sports that can be so exhilarating and full of adrenaline, yet still bring moments of supreme peace and tranquility.   There are few sports that allow you to get a damn exhausting full body workout and give you a chance to work on your tan at the same time.  There are few sports that allow one man to harness the raw power of Mother Nature, from her surging waves and powerful rip tides to easy swells and gentle currents.  If this sport sounds up your alley…the world of surfing is out there waiting for you.

 

Many people see surfing as one of those extreme sports that not everyone can be good at – and there is a learning curve to it, no doubt.  But with the right beginner break and a few days of nothing to do but relax and practice catching that swell, you would be surprised how quickly your body and mind catch on.  Once you perfect your balance when popping up from the board on a day of crumbling waves (a soft top long board is highly recommended for beginners!) and riding those in to shore, it is all a matter of strengthening your arms and reading the waves.  Practice paddling and increasing your stamina towards the end of every set to pump up your shoulder muscles for the next run.  Sit and watch the pros as they gauge the wave, when they paddle, how long they wait til they stand up, and how they balance once they do.  You may not be riding barrels in the first week, but the sensation of catching that first wave is enough to send anyone back for another try!!

 

Near the end of my day surfing in Kuta Bali, Indonesia, I decided to take a break and enjoy a moment of the sunset.  Straddling my board out beyond the break, farther even than the local surfers catching major waves that carry them almost all the way into shore, I turn away from the beach and bask in the orange rays of the dying sun.  Their reflection glints off the water like a thousand shimmering crystals, and the hazy clouds on the horizon permute the colours into everything from an optimistic yellow to a soulful hue of red.  I float gently on the calm ocean, bobbing on small swells that grow in size while approaching shore and giving the surfers behind me exactly what they want.  But at the moment I am seeking another aspect of the sport.
I am alone between the sea and the sky, being watched over by the sun, soaking in the last of the warmth it has to offer.  The beauty of the scene is fit for any postcard, and the moment lingers as the silence allows thoughts from the depths of my mind to come out and play on the quiet breeze for me to ponder.  The minutes pass as I take my time and enjoy the simplicity of the moment.  One man, 8 feet of longboard, and the eternity of nature stretching both outwards around me and inwards to the depths of my soul.

Life is good, but living it is even better.

Feeling refreshed and renewed, I again turn my eyes towards shore and promise myself I will catch the next big one home.  I lay forward on the board and paddle one stroke at a time with muscles rested and ready for the challenge ahead.  I glance over my shoulder and catch the sunset glittering through the mouth of a barrel wave curling out far behind me,  the wave seeming to be a carpet of diamonds glinting in splendor before collapsing in upon itself in hopeless chaos.  From the foam emerges a new swell, and I sense this is my chance.  I pull myself forward, four paddles, five, and the wave has me.  I can feel the acceleration as I am picked up by the immense power of the water, and I scramble to my feet.  The feeling of dropping into the wave, picking up speed as if growing wings and taking flight, is unparalleled to anything I have felt before.  To my left and right are local surfers cutting back and forth across the wave with gleeful abandon.  I don’t have those skills yet…but for me, the reward of knowing I have reined in the power of nature is enough.

It even makes up for being hopelessly battered in the surf all day.  =/

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Vietnam Roadtrippin’ – A Lesson on rules of the road in-country!

Vietnam has a reputation – a well-earned reputation, might I add – as the land of the motorbike. On the average city street no less than 90% of traffic on any given day consists of scooters and bikes from all walks of life: from turn of the century vespas and shiny semi-automatics to honkin huge Honda 250cc dirt bikes and old, rusted cliches like the Russian Minsk. It is the natural instinct of many tourists to hop behind the handlebars on one of these bikes to explore the Vietnam-less-traveled…and that’s exactly what I did – all in the name of research and development for Free & Easy’s new Vietnam adventure!

One thing you have to understand about Vietnamese rules of the road is that they are nothing like back home. One rule abides above all others, and I think it’s a pretty good one: Don’t run into what’s in front of you. That’s pretty much it. Everything else…signalling, looking for oncoming traffic before you make a turn, obeying traffic lights or road signs, driving on the correct side of the road, cutting people off…those are all entirely optional. Oh, how could I forget…rule #2 is to honk like your life depended on it. It just might! Honking back home is kind of a rude gesture, something you would use to display unhappiness with another’s driving (can be accompanied by a specific finger to add emphasis). Not so in Vietnam. You’ll want to honk most of the time you’re on the road, although I can’t quite put my finger on when exactly you should or shouldn’t lay on the horn. The Vietnamese honk at such deliciously random times, it almost seems like they’re doing it to throw off my attempts to learn their traffic culture. For example, attempting to pass a bike who is clearly taking up too much of the road – no honk. About to drive past the sweet old lady with a basket of mangoes who can clearly see us coming and is patiently waiting at the side of the road to cross after we pass – incessant, repetitive blasts, the kind that make you cringe and wonder when it’s going to end, the driver happily dishing out everything that obnoxious little noise-maker can offer. If I wasn’t so intrigued what that old lady did to deserve such punishment, it might even be annoying.

The way honking is responded to is intriguing in itself. I can only guess that a Vietnamese person has heard as many honks as grains of rice they’ve eaten in their entire lifetime, so you can probably imagine it doesn’t have the same head-turning effect as it would back in Canada. But I have seen on multiple occasions bikers who are being honked at do something a little unexpected – absolutely NOTHING. They don’t move, they don’t slow down, don’t give way…they go on about their business as if they were as deaf as John Stamos is handsome. Does this deter the honker from continuing his obtrusive habit? Oh no, our horn honker has no hesitation to lay it on the next rider we pass as well – often with the same effect.

Now that we’ve laid the ground rules for our little endeavour, let’s get on with the story. I jumped on a trusty ol’ 5 gear bike with a bit of an alignment issue and an engine that would inexplicably groan and shudder for more gas as I neared ever closer to 80 km/h, and along with Sylvio, the owner of Jungle Beach resort where we stay, took off along the coastal highway of southern Vietnam in search of paradise. As much as Mom wouldn’t approve of me playing frogger on a bike with sami trucks on a Vietnamese highway…that is exactly what we did for about 8 hours that day. At least along Highway 1, the main traffic artery connecting the north and south of this 2000 km long country. As soon as we got off the highway we were in for a much more pleasant journey. We rode far and wide, weaving our bikes around gentle curves along Vietnam’s phenomenal coast, crossing paths with pristine, untouched beaches, stopping to swim in water so clear it looked as if the whitecaps were riding on a shimmering wave of glass. We found more than enough drop-dead beaches to fill our days here and then some!

Mission accomplished, we turned around to head home, which is not quite the end of the story yet. Road conditions are anything but ordinary here – what is that in front of you? Could be a herd of cows. Might be a pothole the size of that truck you just passed. Hell, you might just be riding moguls just outside of town…on the main road! You’ve got to stay sharp on Vietnam’s highways…sharper than that tack you used to put up dirty pictures on your childhood fort building days. If you daydream for just one moment…thinking up your next blog perhaps…you may suddenly discover that your game of frogger has turned into a game of chicken with two trucks taking up either lane AND a motorbike going the wrong way on the wrong side of the road! Talk about threading the needle! Sometimes trucks even like to drive on the wrong side of the road for no good reason…shits & giggles, perhaps? As I sit in a taxi the next day writing this, our car slowly swerves over the middle line into oncoming traffic…again, for no apparent reason. Point made!

Sometimes, when something so ever-present, incomprehensible and potentially annoying as never-ending horn honking and seemingly reckless driving persists in a culture different from our own, there is nothing to do but sit back and accept it. Even enjoy it. Personally, I could sit on an uncontrolled street corner in any large city with a cup of tea and watch the thousands of motorists drive impossibly around, behind, and in front of each other in perfect harmony, against all odds. No wonder that reputation stuck.

Don’t take LEIF so seriously…

Here’s an old hitchhiking story I thought of the other day when Rachel, Steph and I did a charity hitchhike from England to Morocco…

As the three of us climb into a truck cab designed for no more than two, the two girls settle a little cramped on the bed area behind the seats and I take my spot in the passenger seat. “Thanks for picking us up! What’s your name?” I ask cheerily, obviously relieved to be on the road again. “My name is LIFE.”  And it was then that I knew my life was over.

Hey, Life!

The suspicion begins.

Freaky?  Freaky.

That’s probably how we’re going to end up.

Hitchhiking through Northern Spain with a serial killer who dubbed himself with exactly what he so enjoyed taking away from his victims. How suiting. I quickly check my surroundings for exits and weapons, taking into account the girls and our valuables. Two minutes pass…three. Nothing yet, and the conversation seems rather pleasant. Maybe this guy isn’t so bad after all.

A few hours into our ride, we stop at a scenic viewpoint overlooking the Spanish Pyrenees.

Purdy.

As one girl gets out of the cab to head down to the viewpoint and take some pictures, I step out for a view and to stretch my legs – forgetting for a moment the cardinal rule of hitchhiking with girls.  SHIT! Did I just leave Rach in the cab ALONE with Leif and all our valuables?!

There’s me, with no regard for Rach’s life!

No no, go further!  It’s not a problem!  We have all the time in the world, go get some more pictures!  Don’t worry about Rach and the serial killer in the truck behind me!

Eventually I scramble back into the cab…but all is still as it should be. Turns out it’s spelled Leif, and he’s not a serial killer, just Danish. Huh. Who’d a thought?

All good!  We can go back to sightseeing…nice scenery, anyway!

He even let me (pretend) to drive!  Actually I grabbed the key and jumped in at a bathroom break…tee hee.

 Although Leif was our most successful hitch yet, taking us over 1,000 kilometres in a diagonal slash right across Spain, he unfortunately could not take us much off of his freight path when dropping us off or his boss would know he went off-course.  Still trying to do us a favour, he dropped us at this overpass…in the middle of NOWHERE!

wdf we do now?

The goat skeleton pictured earlier is actually right behind us in the ditch in this picture.

Want to find out how we got ourselves out of this pickle?  The answer lies with a padre and a dozen donuts.  I’ll leave you to think about that one.

The Lottery You Never Knew You Won

This is a post done by a friend of mine on Facebook and I really liked it. I will cite my sources: This is by Madison “Big Cat” Schwartz. Awesome dude, and apparently he can write too! Our favourite pastimes include discussions about Russia, politics and failed states as well as doing push up competitions while drunk. Which I won. Even though he was in the army.  He also likes pizza.  Here is a picture of him in a bath with another man and a teddy bear named “Mrs. Bear”.

Told you he was awesome.

Take it away, Big Cat!

Whenever I meet people for the first time, the subject of travel seems to inevitably come up. Traveling is a major part of my life, I love it, and thus, I seem to always end up talking about it. People are sometimes unsure how to start planning, and saving for a trip, and a common response when I invite someone to travel with me, or to travel in general is “…Ya… when I win the lottery”. Well, here’s the thing, you’ve already won it, so pack your bags.

Think about your life. Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’re from a middle-class family, in the Western world. Now, I’m not a statistician, I’m not going to bombard you with numbers, but I wager you’re pretty stoked that you haven’t been born one of those people that live on less than $2 a day. These people number approximately 2.8 billion, we number considerably less. Not everyone in the world today has the opportunity to travel, we do, and we should take advantage of it. In addition, because of where we live, none of us were pressed into military service at the age of 18 (more than eighty countries worldwide still enforce some level of conscription, effectively removing the ability to backpack freely, at least for a time).

Now think about the era into which you’ve been born. Many of our grandparents, and great grandparents had the opportunity to visit Europe, or Asia, but it certainly wasn’t for pleasure (this is a reference to the World Wars, for those who are less historically inclined). We live in the freest era the world has ever seen, we’re not expected to join the army, get married, have children, or own a home by the time we’re 25, we can, but we don’t HAVE to. We’re part of what’s being dubbed the “boomerang generation”, we have a unique opportunity to have been born into a time when it is very acceptable to pursue a travelers lifestyle for a few years, and most of us still have the safety net of a home to come back to.

We live in the era of air travel. Sometimes, bleary eyed, and pissed off at the lack of movie selection on my 12 hour flight to Bangkok, I have to remind myself that only a few decades ago that same journey took several weeks, and a ship full of hearty sailors. Take advantage of this era when flight prices are at all time lows, don’t wait for that big retirement trip in forty years, the way things are going, there might be no aviation fuel left. Pretty good timing for us I’d say.

And yes, I know, even though all these things have added up to create an era where world travel is possible, it still costs a pretty penny, but here’s a clichéd idea you could try. If you’re a student like me, you drink a shitload of coffee, and odds are you buy your coffee at $5 a cup from the capitalist heathens at Starbucks. Brew your own for a year, and pocket the fivers, and next year we’ll go to this little café I know in Bangkok, and the coffees are on me. Deal? Deal.