Saturday, December 26, 2009

End of Year Thoughts

Tripoli, Libya, Dec. 26

It is a distinctly un-White Christmas outside today, although I have reinforced my burgeoning reputation as a rain god by bringing rain to Libya a few days ago. What with the drying out and spreading of the Sahara, maybe I have a career ahead of me in this field in the Middle East!

2009 has been a banner year for me in terms of travel. I saw in the New Year in the mountains of Japan at my friend Greg's ski lodge in Sugadaira, where I spent almost two weeks skiing, playing chess, tennis and guitar, and generally having a superb break from the tropical heat.

I returned to Burma from Japan refreshed, ready for the final 5 months of my teaching contract in Yangon. I spent my free time as usual playing tennis, and my long weekends paying farewell visits to my favourite corners of the country. In January, Joanne and I flew up to Inle Lake for a final look at the prettiest corner of the country, the magical aquatic world of the Inwa.

February had two major highlights--the Venetian Carnival celebrated at L'Opera restaurant, in which Joanne and I wore elaborate period costumes that Joanne designed, and a long weekend at pretty Ngapali Beach--and a major lowlight, when I crashed my bicycle while wobbling home from the pub and was lucky to escape with only stitches in my eyebrow and an AC displacement in my shoulder. It was hair-raising to go back to the crash site and see how close I had come to hitting a light pole or going headfirst into a ditch.

March was a month of heavy travel. I headed up north to Mandalay, Pyin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw escorting a group of grade 9 students; my stay was curtailed when I drew the short straw and had to escort four miscreant students back to Yangon for being caught drinking in their rooms. Then Joanne and I headed to EARCOS, our annual regional international teachers' conference, in Kota Kinabalu, where I caught up with a few friends from various parts of the world before racing home to play in the playoffs of the L'Opera tennis tounament. Last year I was the singles champion, but this year my damaged shoulder kept me from playing for six weeks beforehand, and I lost tamely in the quarterfinals. I did manage to make it to the doubles finals where my partner Fenton and I lost a heartbreaker that turned on an unfortunate let cord.

In April, Joanne's cousin Rob and his friend Geoff came to visit Burma in the savage pre-monsoon heat. I escaped the inferno for 10 days by flying off to Switzerland for a reunion with my sisters Audie and Saakje in the Alps. Lots of fondue, raclette, skiing, ski touring and cycling ensued before I returned for the final six weeks of the school year.

The pre-monsoon rains put an end to tennis for the year, although I did manage to sneak in a couple of matches when my friend Greg nipped over from Japan for a quick visit. I spent a long weekend riding my bike from Mandalay to Bagan (I completely melted in the convection oven heat), and another visiting Bangkok to dump luggage in storage and set up the summer's travel plans. The last few weeks flew by, and suddenly Joanne and I were saying goodbye to the palatial apartment we had called home for the past three years.

The summer was a whirlwind of airplanes, as I visited Ottawa, Toronto, Thunder Bay, Algonquin Park and Vancouver (where I picked up my new Rocky Mountain touring bike), before heading back across the Pacific to pick up the remainder of my bike touring luggage and continuing westward to Kuwait.

The second half of the year had a completely different rhythm to it, as I rode nearly 10,000 km on my bicycle through Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia. I finished my Silk Road bicycle ride, first started way back in 2002 (see for details) and then raced through the Balkans in a cold and somewhat soggy month (again, has a lot more about the trip). Overall, it was a much-needed break from the routine of working, and a chance to reconnect with the pace of life involved in a bicycle tour. I was fortunate once again in the people that I met along the way, particularly in Iran and Georgia; eastern Turkey, with its sullen stone-throwing children, was a glaring exception to this rule. I finished the trip a few days early with a cracked rear wheel rim in northern Croatia, and rode ignominiously into Trieste on a bus.

I was pretty tired and far too thin after my exertions on the bike, so a prolonged break from pedalling seemed called for. I met up with Joanne in Trieste, and after a couple of days at her aunt's house in Friuli, we spent four days in Venice at the vacant apartment of a friend (a huge stroke of luck!) and four days exploring Rome. We are now on the eighth day of a ten-day jaunt through Libya, and will ring in the new year in Malta, bringing my country-bagging total to 90 and bringing down the curtain on a truly excellent year.

The year brought home to me once again the ephemeral fragility of life and health, and the need to seize each day and live it to its maximum potential. I learned that my body is not as indestructible and untiring as it once was, but that I can still coax it into riding a bike or skiing down a mountain. I also had the great satisfaction of seeing a big project, the Silk Road ride, through to a successful conclusion after over seven years in progress. The next project, which I hope will take significantly less time, is to write a book about the trip and get it published. I hope to bring that idea to fruition this coming year.

I trust that this letter and the holiday season finds everyone healthy, happy and squeezing the most out of life. I hope that everyone, in his or her own way, had as good a 2009 as I did, and I look forward to a 2010 that is even better, for all of us.

Peace, tailwinds and a huge hug from

Your Travelling Correspondent


PS This blog address will be the permanent home of my travel blogging from now on; I'm tired of creating a new one for each trip. So please bookmark this page and keep an eye on it for further updates from around the globe!