08 Jan 2016: Peru. Taiwan. Israel. Wyoming. Moved in with Paul.
This year was marked by two amazing events: moving in with Paul and some glorious travels, which didn’t appear magically, as some may think; to travel and write about it requires, as anyone in the business knows, hustling, perseverance and patience.
I began the year heading to Peru; the idea was to travel somewhere for six months, my longest time away, and write as much as possible. I choose Peru because, really, it has it all: ancient culture (Machu Pichu, Kuelap), wicked food (ceviche, pisco sours), and a whole range of climates (mountains, Amazonian rain forest).
When I arrived, I was set up to dine at some of Lima’s best restaurants for a story on Peruvian cuisine. For a week, I was in a food coma marathoning my way through 10 to 15-course tasting menus of new flavours such as nikkei (Peruvian and Japanese which is really spicy sushi) and Chifa (Chinese and Peruvian which is more fish based Chinese).
I also got to meet an inspiring chef. Gaston Acurio is hoping that Peruvian food will help heal a wounded country. This was a profile for a magazine called Canada’s 100 Best: Gaston.
Another highlight was writing about Kuelap for The Globe and Mail Kuelap. I try to do as much pre-trip research, to find out what I could write about beforehand, but this was one of those unexpected finds. Kuelap, as you will read about, dubbed the Machu Picchu of the North, is really a quiet and smaller version of Machu Picchu.
The region, and town of Chachapoyas, is also a million times more isolated and undiscovered. When I wrote the story for the Globe, I didn’t have space to talk about all things I experienced here such as waterfall hikes near Gotca Falls (one day I hiked entirely alone, not encountering anyone, and found three waterfalls). I love connecting with new people, but I also love the feeling that you’re the only one on the planet. Somehow it makes the place seem more special – yours.
And, I have to say, writing this was so exciting. I tucked myself away in a hotel room for three days and wrote like mad. It was something out of a movie: the crazy writer in seclusion writing draft-after-draft of my story until, bang, it was done, or the deadline forced me to submit it!
Another love was Huaraz, a mountain town about eight hours north of Lima. I went once, then returned again, twice, during my trip for more high altitude hikes, glaciers, horseback riding in the Andes. You can stay months and not hike or bike the same trail. Here’s a story about that stuff for Travelife Magazine.
And, here’s another story in ML about cycling to see the Paramount Picture’s mountain, which is in the region. Of course, I hiked the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu.
But, by the time I reached Colombia, I was whooped. Doctors called it, ‘walking pneumonia,’ which meant I was wondering around on 70% energy, and dry coughing till it hurt. To be in humid Cartegna, Colombia was painful. On my way to a nearby castle one day, I became so fatigued in the sweaty humidity that I turned around after walking half an hour; I didn’t even get to the castle. By the time I reached Bogota, I spent days in my hotel room binge watching Escobar–the Colombian version.
Back home was restorative. Back on my bike alongside Paul, I recovered quickly.
By the end of the summer, getting antsy to get on the road again, an opportunity to cycle in Taiwan came up. Taiwan? I had no image of this country, other than that phrase, Made In Taiwan. It is a manufacturing powerhouse, after all; but, after a few weeks of taking speed trains that served sushi and sweet rice balls, where every city had exciting night market stalls of whacky street food including dumplings, bags of tasty sausages and poo shaped pastries (don’t ask, I still don’t get it), an isolated ocean coast on the east that also included hot springs everywhere, and a country of amazing, funky cool bars that served cocktails which took 15 minutes to make, Taiwan quickly became one of my favourite countries. Really.
Here is a story about my cycling trip that appeared in Cycling Canada Magazine.
Another story, about night markets, is coming out in a few weeks in Dreamscapes magazine.
Ok, back to reality in September. Teaching writing at Western University, another wonderful opportunity to travel arose: Israel in October to compete in a three day stage race. “Do you want to participate or report about it?” asked the organizers. Participate, of course. This meant training like I have never trained before.
This is a sample of the pain, and glory for Mountain Life Magazine.
Back home, semester ends, marks in: holidays! But, not before squeezing in one more trip. Wyoming. Wyoming? Yes, home to Jackson Hole Ski Resort, one of the most challenging ski mountains in North America; for me I was more excited to see the Wild West. In 1930 John Wayne filmed his breakout role here and today is still one of the least populated states in America. I saw bison, big horned sheep; and then I also went fat tire riding and danced in a saloon. I’m planning to return to mountain bike in the summer. Yehaw. My story is coming out in Yahoo Canada in a few weeks.
This isn’t to say this all just spontaneously happened on its own. As I said at the beginning, to travel and write is hard work. I primarily teach for a living, and then I write about my travels. As I travel, I am either marking papers or writing bits and pieces of my stories: those few hours at the airport before a flight are golden opportunities to finish work. And unlike the media trips to Wyoming, Israel and Taiwan, my Peru trip, with the help of a great woman who set up my itinerary, was entirely my own research. These trips take time to cultivate. I think of this as I begin to research a trip to Africa. Africa. What does that place bring to mind? I’m completely enraptured, intrigued, curious, excited, scared, and giddy. And, the fact that Paul is coming at the beginning with me, to compete in a race, is even more amazing.
My big takeaway from 2016: if you want something badly enough, make it happen. It might not unfold exactly as you imagined, but just try. Take the steps to get there. Luck finds you.