Archive for the 'Travel' Category

The Diefenbunker


A few weekends ago, Sarah, Justin and I visited the Diefenbunker, a huge four-storey underground bunker that was designed to house crucial elements of the Canadian government during the Cold War in the event of a nuclear strike. The bunker is named after former Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and is now open to the public as a museum.  It was really interesting to learn about the Cold War and Canada’s history in it, from possible Canadian targets to how many nuclear test were conducted on North American soil, and to snap a few photos as well.  My favourite shot of the day, pictured above, is looking up the blast tunnel on the way down to the bunker.  The entire set of photos is available under a Creative Commons Attribution non-Commerical license for those who may be interested in using these photos for a project.

View and Vote for the Verge Magazine Travellers’ Choice Award

Verge Magazine Photo Contest ShortlistThe shortlisted photos from the Verge Magazine 2008 photo contest, which I entered back in the spring, are now online. You can see all of the amazing photos that have been shortlisted as well as vote for your favourite for the Traveler’s Choice Award. Two of my photos have been shortlisted – Solar Power (in the Developing World category) and Seasoning (Environments category) – so please check them out and vote for your favourite.

View the shortlist and vote here.

Verge Magazine Photo Contest Shortlist

Verge Magazine Photo Contest ShortlistI’m happy to announce that the two photographs displayed here, Solar Power and Seasoning, have been short-listed for the 2008 Travel with Purpose photo contest put on by Verge Magazine, a Canadian travel magazine that explores opportunities to study, work, and volunteer abroad.  Both of the images were taken while I was in Peru – Solar Power, which was selected for the Developing World category, was taken on the Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca and Seasoning was taken in the Salt Pans near Cusco, Peru and was selected for the Environments category.

The images will be on display at the Go Abroad Fairs in Vancouver and Toronto in September and other events through the fall. Some of the short-listed images will appear in the Verge Magazine photo annual later this year, so if I’m lucky, I may get to see these photos published. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.

Andean Adventure

Well, I’m off on a 3 week adventure that I’ve always dreamed about to Peru. The highlight of this trip will be a four day trek to Machu Picchu but I’m also looking forward to visiting Lima, Cuzco, Lake Titicaca and the Nazca Lines. I’ll be doing most of my travel with GAP Adventures and I’ll be on the Classic Peru trip from June 21-July 1 and checking out the Nazca Lines from July 5-7.

See y’all in three weeks!

Volcanic Blast from the Past

I wrote the following tale back in 2001 after an adventurous climb up the active Volcano Pacaya in Guatemala. At the time I had hoped to get the story published but instead I filed it and forgot about it. Now that I have very my own publishing medium I thought that it was about time to share the story. This titillating tale is also a hint of things to come, as in a week from now I will be embarking on a much more demanding (but hopefully safer) trek to Machu Picchu in Peru. So, without further ado…

I’ve always wanted to climb a volcano and studying Spanish in the charming town of Antigua, Guatemala provided me with the perfect opportunity. A trip to the nearby active Volcano Pacaya seemed like a great way to pass the afternoon as well as a nice break from Spanish lessons. Before committing to hiking the volcano, I sought out two pieces of advice. The first came from a Travel Report published by the Canadian Government, which warned of both the dangers of getting there and back, as well as the hike itself. It spoke of unsafe vehicles often operated by irresponsible drivers, and criminals who may target tourist buses on route to the volcano. Once there, it warned of the possibility of robbery, violent assaults, and rape by bandits who prey on hikers making the ascent. The second piece of advice came from a classmate at my Spanish school who had hiked the volcano a few days before. His only piece of advice: “It will make a great story”.

Eager for a great story to tell, and perhaps a bit too eager to brush of the warnings from my home country, I made the decision to go for it. I set of with Michael, the only soul brave enough from my Spanish school to join me, to sign up for the hike. Antigua is full of tour operators, some more reputable than others, so we decided to go with the tour that our classmate had recommended. After paying a mere $15 US, we were told to return the next day at 1:00 p.m. to begin our adventure.

The adventure began by piling as many of us foreign adventure seekers as possible into a run-down Mazda van that had seen more years than myself. Packed in like sardines, with twice as many people as there were seatbelts, we began our ride together quietly, leaving Antigua and heading south towards Pacaya. About 20 minutes into the ride as we approached the crest of a hill, the van stalled. The driver tried repeatedly to start the van, only to cause a medley of weird sounds to come from the engine. After a several more false starts and a few inspections under the hood of the van, we were on our way again. A concerned hiker with an adequate grasp of Spanish asked the driver what the problem was, and the driver responded that on top of a tendency to stall, the brakes on the van were not exactly reliable. The driver also mentioned that because of the brakes, he would have to drive slower down the hills, and the trip would take twice as long.

After hearing all of this, I began to wonder if going on this trip was such a great idea and we hadn’t even reached the volcano yet. Visions of the breaks going and us rolling down the hill, van in flames, ran through my mind, as well as us being robbed by a group of bandits the next time we had to pull over. I began to wonder if I would be the subject of a newspaper article about a tragic accident involving a group of travelers. I looked at the people around me and wondered if they would be who I spent my last moments with. I thought of the travel report, and wondered why I didn’t listen. I could tell by the expression on other people’s faces that I wasn’t the only person having serious doubts.

After a bumpy ride up muddy roads, we finally made it to the base camp, where we were greeted with much rain and no sight of it passing. Looking around, nothing but gray clouds could be seen above us and below us, and even the peak that we were supposed to climb was shrouded by the clouds. We began our ascent in the pouring rain, and I knew I was in for a cold and wet hike.

The first half of the hike was through the forest. The path was covered in roots and volcanic rock, which seem to have made their way down from the peak. There wasn’t much time to look around at the lush forest surrounding us, as every moment was spent planning your next step between the roots and rocks. Asides from the trees and bushes that lined the path, there wasn’t much to see as clouds surrounded us. We hiked at a fair pace, a pace which was reasonable for an out of shape smoker such as myself.

After about an hour and a half, we emerged from the forest to a flat black plain of volcanic rock and sand. Soon, the plain began to elevate, and we found ourselves moving upwards again, leaving the green shrubs behind us and moving towards the great expanse of black sand and rock. Looking around, all that could be seen was the black sand which we stood, and gray clouds all around us. Looking down at the sides of our narrow path, all that could be seen was cloud, and I had no idea how far up we were or what was below us. As the slope increased, so did the difficulty of the hike. The volcanic sand, wet from the rain, moved easily from under our feet. Each step forward felt like two steps backwards. Every few minutes, the active volcano would burp a gust of sulfuric gas, sending us all into a hacking fit.

We paused about 3 minutes from the rim, as the guide pondering if we should go on due to the poor visibility and the increasing gusts of gas. Not only we’re we having trouble seeing and breathing, but with the increased altitude, the temperature had dropped, and felt even cooler as we were all soaked to the bone. The guide asked for a show of hands for those who wanted to go on to the rim. Cold, wet, and tired, I was absolutely miserable, and couldn’t wait to get back to the comforts that awaited me in Antigua. But, I wasn’t about to let a bit of discomfort get in the way of achieving my goal. A few of us raised our hands, while those who had been defeated by the conditions sat behind. We trekked on to the rim, enduring the slippery sand, rough rock, and bouts of gas.

The rim looked like a cliff, with smoke and gas spewing from it. The guide, who stood at the edge of the crater, pointed down towards the red lava that was bubbling below us. I went to join him and the other hikers to catch a glimpse of the depths of the volcano, when a huge gust of the gas was belched from the crater. We all began to cough madly, grasping for air only to inhale more sulfuric gas. The gust of gas continued, and it became increasing harder to breathe. As I coughed, gasping for air under my rain jacket, I feared for my life the second time that day. I looked around and realized that there was nowhere to go – a steep hill populated with sharp volcanic rock was between us and breathable air. We were at the mercy of the volcano. Fortunately for us, the bursts of gas stopped after several minutes, and we were free to breathe again.

We began to make our descent, which proved to be more difficult that one would expect. The sand which had struggled with on the way up, had been loosened by our efforts, and was impossible to grip on the way down. I slid down the side of the volcano with limited control of my speed or direction, up to my knees in the sand and sharp volcanic rock. Recalling my training as skier, I made my way down the slope in a giant S, in order to slow myself down and exert some control. On the way, I passed those who struggled, several who had been brought to tears by the difficulty and frustration of the task.

Upon reaching the plain, we had a chance to put on our dry clothes and relax. Unfortunately for me, the rain had soaked through my bag, so I was forced to spend the rest of the day in cold damp clothing. By this time, the clouds had cleared, and we had a chance to see the top of the volcano we had just conquered as well as the valley below. The descent gave us more time to look around, and we were treated to a view of the surrounding volcanoes highlighted by the setting sun. I spent the descent speaking with one of the guides, who pulled me aside to share one of the secrets of the volcano. He pointed behind us, at the peak of the volcano that was glowing red.

When we made it back to the van, I felt relieved and proud. The ride back was much less stressful that the ride to the volcano, perhaps because I was too exhausted to care. I was glad to make it back to Antigua and enjoy the comforts of a hot shower and a warm meal. Would I do it again? You bet. What advice would I give? It will make for a great story, provided you make it there and back.

Sacred Destinations

Last night I had the opportunity to attend A Million Steps: Stories, Images and Music from the Camino Santiago, a photo exhibit of Peter Coffan’s two month pilgrimage from France to Spain along El Camino Santiago. Not only were his images beautiful but the stories and the sounds that accompanied them were fascinating thanks to the wonderful talents of his violin-playing companion Oliver Schroer. The presentation stirred something in me, an often forgotten yet ever-present urge to go on a pilgrimage of my own. The appeal of a pilgrimage isn’t so much about religion as it is the participation of a sacred ritual. It’s about the journey – the walking, the gradual progression – as well as the sites and sounds along the way. I’ve always been fascinated with sacred sites, from the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal to the temples of Angkor Wat. It’s been almost three years since my last visit to a scared sight and viewing this presentation made me realize that it is about time to go again.

After the presentation I found myself inspired and online searching for my next adventure. I came across the excellent Sacred Destinations Travel Guide and immediately came across the trip I always knew was going to be next – Peru. Given it’s rich ancient history and the fact that it is home to Machu Picchu (a place that I’ve wanted to visit ever since I first saw a picture of this magical city in the mountains) it became clear that the 4 day ascent to Machu Picchu was exactly the pilgrimage I was looking for.