Saturday, June 26, 2010

Canada v England

Long time no see. How are you?

I haven't written an entry to my blog for a while as I didn't feel I had anything new to contribute. Now I do, so here I am.

I feel inspired to write again as a result of my recent trip home to see family and friends. I had been dying to see them and my short holiday quenched my thirst, however it also made me realise what miserable b*stards the general public are in the south east of England.

Everyone has a tendency towards nostalgia and idolising home when they've been away for a while, and I am no different - I was desperately looking forward to seeing quintessentially English things like green grass, oast houses, red letter boxes, good quality television programs etc and I certainly had my fill. It was amazing to see my family and friends too and it makes me really happy to realise what a thoroughly nice bunch of people I know. However, I was surprised at my surprise at things that I accepted as part of day to day life but now found uncomfortable and displeasing i.e. busy and crowded roads, shops and towns and the general public (in the south east) having a "what do you want from me?" and "please keep your distance" approach to life when dealing with other members of the public.

I was terribly home sick when I first arrived in to Jasper and could not invisage myself living happily here for a sustained period, however now I've had time to settle in and groove a nice social, work and leisure lifestlye I feel very content. There are aspects of this life which I now cherish i.e. the willingness of the average person on the street to meet my eye contact and exchange pleasantries, the helpfulness and competence of every day workers and serving staff and strangers' apparent happiness to have an amiable conversation with me. I will give an example to illustrate my point. I was cycling past the playing field the other day when there was a group of blokes kicking a ball around and it just so happened that I was wearing a Brazil football shirt at the time. One of the men saw me, and I assume as a result of seeing me wearing a football shirt, shouted over, "hey, come and join us, do you want to play football?". I thought it was a really friendly thing to do and made me feel very happy. Could I imagine this ever happening at home? In short, no. I think it is more likely a catholic priest would stay celibate.

In response to what I imagine will be the questions raised as a result of me saying this, no, I don't want to live in Canada permanently. Maybe were my situation different, and my family happened to relocate here, I could imagine doing so. But that won't happen and there are many reasons why I will be very happy to return living in England.

I have found that travelling to different parts of the world makes me appreciate England more each time I leave. I believe us to be a nation far advanced in terms of human rights, ethics, justice, political fairness and stability (well, I actually believe all politicians are cheating, self promoting w*nkers, but ours are slightly more covert with their dishonesty and cheating in comparison to the rest of the world I've seen), technology and the countryside is beautiful. Furthermore, stuff works and our climate is 'mild'. We don't have riots in parliament, tornadoes, tsunamis, droughts (well, councils do have a penchant for premature hosepipe bans) and we actually have a transport system that (a) exists (b) works for the most part and (c) is fairly priced. Here in Canada, if I want to travel from Jasper to Vancouver, which is about 500 miles away, I can do so, however it takes approximately 14 years to do so and I will have to take out a 25 year loan to pay for my journey. Also, there is a charge for EVERYTHING. I farted the other day and a local official came over with her hand out asking for money. If you want to receive a call on your phone, you pay for it. If you want to receive a text, you pay for it. If someone pours you a drink and does you the service of taking your money from you, they expect a tip. What a load of old shite I say!

In summary,I propose the simple solution of importing a few jolly Canadians in to England, particularly the south east, whereby I will have them interbreed with the miserable, incestuous miserable b*stard general public, and then everything will be grand. Our national sports teams will suddenly develop a sense of competitiveness and pride and people will actually start saying, "good morning" to each other.

The only problem is that I will have to pay excess baggage fees to bring them back. Any contributors to help fund my plan?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jasper, Alberta

We are here and one week into working for our new employers!

I will start from the beginning as to give the most accurate description of the events that have passed since our arrival.

We took the Greyhound Bus from Vancouver, and I was unpleasantly surprised at just how SHITE it was! I never imagined the scenario where I would be comparing buses in Canada to those in South America (on the large part in Brazil, Argentina and Peru, admittedly) and turning my nose up at them! The seats didn't recline, it was cramped and the bus was old. Yes ladies and gentlemen, that is Greyhound for you.

However, the ride was quick and smooth and the driver was very helpful. The view from the window was stunning too - tall pine trees, trickling glacial rivers and tall mountains capped with snow. For ten hours, all I saw was the above. As you can imagine, looking at the same thing, whether beautiful or not, for 10 hours becomes tedious. Furthermore, given that we passed very few signs of life on the way into Jasper during the journey, I was struck by a scary feeling of remoteness - it felt like I was being led into isolation! I had one vivid and worrying thought - 'what if Idon't like the place / the people / the job?'. It stuck with me for the remaining 2 hours of the journey and shaped my mood until the day after our arrival.

When we arrived into the bus station, or rather got dropped off at the bus stop (Jasper is SMALL), a lovely guy called Dwight was waiting there to meet and greet us. He was instantly likeable and we've had good banter ever since. However, he wasn't instantly recognisable. All I had been told through e-mail was that his name was Dwight and he was head of maintenance. Thus, when I descended from the bus and saw a portly gentleman in his 60s with a grey beard, I was certain this would be Dwight. I know that if my name was Dwight and I was head of maintenance, I would be portly and have a grey beard. Even if I didn't have grey hair!

Following this initial shock, Dwight loaded our bags into the van and took us of a quick tour of Jasper. Now, as I mentioned, Jasper is small. I'm not sure there is anything other than a quick tour therefore. I am certain there are some Wetherspoons' in England that are bigger. All the same, we were guided to all the main points of interest.

We arrived at our apartment block and again I had mixed feelings - the outside of the building was quite impressive, however the corridors were hideous - they would not look out of place in The Shining. Once the door to our apartment was open, I realised we were on to a sweet deal. Uninterrupted view of the snow capped Rocky Mountains, plenty of space and a nice new bathroom - perfect!

Despite the great apartment, my feeling of unease and slight sadness persisted.

On our first whole day in Jasper, Cressy and I got busy making ourselves acquainted with all the local facilities that we'd be using, i.e. library, gym, grocery shop, second hand shop etc. They were all excellent. Further to that, we were introduced to the other members of our chain gang for the next 6 months, and they all seemed normal and nice! I started feeling a lot happier, and since then, I definitely feel like this is a place I can happily call home for 6 months!

One last thing about Jasper - in spite of its minuscule size, there is an incredible amount of things to do here to keep oneself entertained. For example - plenty of good pubs with regular special offers, countless walks to explore the beautiful surrounding countryside, green / blue lakes with ample sized beaches to swim in and bbq around, excellent leisure centre and a library with a fantastic stock of good books and fast internet access.

I should mention the job too. The staff seem like the nicest people you'll ever meet in your life (apart from me obviously), the location, log cabins and grounds are in fact even MORE beautiful than the pictures on their website, which is a first for me and I have variety in my work. I am The Maintenance Man (in capitals as I am sure they will release a film about me in this role in the future) and have already checked smoke alarms, made sure TVs are working, shifted tonnes of dirt and driven a big manly truck that has the ability to tilt its back end and dump stuff. In addition to this, I get to ride a 3 wheeled bike with a basket on the back (I challenge any male to ride one and NOT look camp) next to a glacial river and look at the mountains whilst moving from job to job. I literally ride along whistling, smiling and wondering what my friends and family are doing at home!

This last section will be reserved to revere Dwight. He already has gained legendary status, for a few reasons. Firstly, all inanimate objects are female. For example, when referring to a garden rake, 'oh, just chuck her over there'. In addition, he calls his truck, 'the old girl'. Finally, he says very often, in a southern USA accent, 'Ooh heck'. Need I say more?!

I look forward to the next six months, and in particular the visits of my parents, some friends, and Cressy's family. I still dearly miss my family at home that I won't see until November and hope they can make it out before then if possible! Big up to the T Wells crew and Darren.

Keep it real homies and don't let David 'I'm an arseh*le' Cameron win the election!!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Island Life


So, here I am, back where I started, in Brian's chair in his apartment in Vancouver, using his computer and mouse that has a lead that is a fraction too short to be convenient - the perfect length to rile me but not short enough to incentivise me to do anything about it. I believe the formula is "perfect length / the square root of annoyingness".

Today is a sad day - Brian beat me at squash. Correction, he whooped my sorry, tired, lazy traveller arse. Admittedly I had a turd racquet and we used a blue dot ball which made my task all the harder, but a whooping still it was. My tail is well and truly between my legs. A rematch is defo on the cards!

Canada - we're back. And my god is it expensive. It literally pains me in my chest when I now pay $5.50 for a beer, having paid on average $1 for the last 4.5 months in South America. Thus, Cressy and I have resorted to shopping in what they call Thrift Stores (charity shops) for clothes, and convincing ourselves that the items do infact look excellent on us. I did get a Jansport jumper for $5 that looks in perfect condition - you have to see it to believe it.

Vancouver Island was heaven like. Our plan was to head to the west coast to a town called Ucluelet, or Ukee as the locals call it to surf, then head across to Mount Washington to snowboard. I spoke to the guy I know (Mike) who runs the hostel in Ukee, and he told me that hitchhiking is very common on the island. Cressy and I decided to do it, and along the way ended up saving ourselves over $150 and met some incredible people.

We must have travelled in excess of 500 miles just hitching, and every person who picked us up felt like our friend after a short period. The Vancouver Islanders are such a warm and friendly bunch - we were even invited into two of their houses, introduced to family and shown around like we'd known them for years. Each one said they'd hitched in the past and just wanted to help us out.

On a sadder note, having taken lifts from a couple of people who were Native Canadians (or First Nations people as they preferred to be called) I learnt about the atrocities the British committed against their ancestors in the past. First Nation children were forcedly removed from their families and sent to 'residential schools' where their culture and language was essentially beaten out of them. Physical punishments, brain washing and sexual abuse was commonplace. My heart literally felt heavy upon hearing the stories and at times I felt ashamed to be British. The situation has improved today to some extent, as they are allocated reserves where they can live tax free, but it is scant reparation considering the ethnic cleansing that occurred.

The time has finally come - we're off to Jasper tomorrow to start work! It's been a long journey, we've met some amazing people along the way and had lots of fun. I'm looking forward to having a routine again, and most of all, a uniform. Actually, I will be the resort's handyman, so in fact the most exciting thing is that I will have a tool belt. All I need is some stuff to put in it! I am already imagining the phone calls from guests - "yes Mrs Smith, I'll be right over, but this is the FOURTH time I've fixed your fan this week, are you sure you're not trying to seduce me?". We will see!!

Friday, April 9, 2010


The Lost City is so 2009!

So, it's all done with now. The verdict on our final trek: the jury is still out. There were parts I enjoyed, and other parts I didn't enjoy, and actually found annoying.

I'll start with the parts I enjoyed. Firstly, I loved the physical exercise - the challenge of walking uphill in temperatures exceeding 30 degrees centigrade at a fast pace was excellent. I've definitely discovered that the bigger the challenge, the more I enjoy it. I couldn't imagine anything more boring than a life without challenges and variety - if it hurts it is doing you good! Secondly, the scenery was beautiful - jungle and pristine waterfalls and rivers to cannonball into and then swim in. Made some nice friends too - Roddy, a nice chap from Northern Ireland was good banter and Julian from Adelaide was a laugh - the highlight of our exchanges was helping to locate the tics on his body and smothering them with Vaseline (not because they had dry lips, but because it suffocated them).

Now onto the things I didn't enjoy. For the first time, I think we got a sh*t group. There were two Swiss girls who made scant attempt to befriend others, with the exception of Julian whom they fancied, and spent the majority of their time just mumbling to each other in Cherman and letting out a constant fake laugh which was the audio equivalent of someone scraping a cheese grater on my face by the end of the 5 days. Also, I attempted general chit-chatter with them (which I am averse to) a couple of times, which was greeted by silence and a look on their faces which would normally result if I'd just farted and wafted it in their direction. There was a British guy who tried to make a joke out of literally EVERYTHING which got very tiring and a miserable git from Ireland who became irritable if anyone dared complain about anything, e.g. 'it's only a feckin' hammock, just pick one and feckin' get on with it'. In summary, I felt like the atmosphere sucked for about 60% of the time. For an unknown reason, I suffered my highest count of tumbleweed moments EVER in 5 days - I may not consider myself to be of Jonathan Ross' calibre (well, actually...) but I am 9/10 content with my level of banter. It's like they'd been paid to shut up when I said anything. To quote Eddy Murphy in Coming to America ("taste the soup!") 'aah, wha'd ya know about funny?'

By the end of the 5 days, I was happy to see the back of the majority of them and looking forward to having fun again, and most importantly HAVING MY EXCELLENT JOKES LAUGHED AT.

Following our return to Santa Marta, I returned to my modus operandi i.e. laying next to a pool and sunbathing. On occasion, for variety, I would get into the pool, then get out to dry off. If I was feeling wild I would leave the hostel premises and buy an ice cream. It's as energetic as I got.

Cressy and I met a lovely Colombian guy in our hostel called John Freddy, who had travelled all the way from from Medellin (the double 'L' in Medellin is pronounced like a soft 'J') on his Vespa moped. We are talking in excess of 800 km - in short, he is a complete legend. He walked and talked with a Caribbean-esque pace and oozed friendliness. We spent a day with him visiting a waterfall and he helped me to practise my Spanish and in return I helped him with his English. He bought us beer and food and told us a lot of interesting information about the surrounding nature and Colombian history. It's his dream to come to England and I intend to help him do so. The poor chap's Dad died only a few months ago and it was very evident how close to him he was. My favourite moment was when he told me a phrase his Dad had often told him when growing up, 'es mas importante para tener amigos que dinero', i.e. it's more important to have friends than money. Right on!

Now to Cartagena. I won't mention the bus journey where our driver crashed into the front of a taxi (albeit at only a few MPHs), neglected to stop, then got chased by the driver of the taxi, who promptly boarded the bus when it next stopped and started punching the driver of the bus and looked like he was trying to pull a gun out of his - to say I nearly cacked myself would not be far wrong - it would take too long.

Playa Blanca - what an experience! It's an idyllic beach approx 45 minutes from Cartagena and most easily reachable by boat. More or less, it is heaven on earth. As we approached I noted the white sand beach, clear turquoise sea (forgive the oxymoron), hammocks to sleep in and the bars selling beer. I was contented. We duly spent the next couple of days doing virtually nothing except sunbathing, relaxing, eating, swimming in the sea and tanning. And oh yes, I have a tan! Photos to follow. Several times I said out loud, "this is a hard life".

Now we're in Cartagena, following a one hour flight which cost less than $50! Perfic. On the plane a good looking Colombian girl stopped me as I was going to toilet and asked if I wanted to sit next to her. I politely declined, so she settled for two photos with me. She obviously has very good taste.

3 days until Canada. WEIRD!!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Colombia - Supermarkets and Waterfalls

Sorry I haven't called in a while, but I have been busy. Why? None of your business!

Well, Ecuador was a rush! Not in the adrenaline sense of the word (well at times it was, actually) but in the sense we only had 2 weeks in total! We were on the move the whole time pretty much!

The first week we went to Ban(y)os and I hurled myself off a bridge, for no particular reason! I was feeling a bit wussy that day so I agreed when they insisted Iattached rope to myself at one end, and the bridge at the other. We then booked our trip to the chungle and went!

It was amazing - we saw loads of animals, including the common house emerald Boa Constrictor which decided to reside a lado to my bed! The bastard! I was understandably concerned at first but then we came to an agreement - he eat the insects that were trying to bite me and I allow him to stay on a temporary basis. He was silent on the matter but I took this as a sign of his acquiescence. In addition we saw tarantulas (an excellent word for the letter 'T' in I-Spy), poisonous snakes, pink river dolphins etc.

I then took a week Spanish course in Quito. I had some contacts to call upon for assistance and they very kindly gave me and the missus a free en-suite room for the week - sweet - and a discount on the tuition. How did it go? - I hear you asking - excellently! Without doubt my ability doubled in the 5 days I studied and I managed to practice a lot too. It was excellent spending time with Diego, Patty and Sandra and the rest of the crew. Made some good friends in the student residence too - more to heap onto the pile!

Now we're in Columbia and it is blaady hot! The humidity is like a fat, hot, sweaty man hugging you all day and never letting go! Just as I would with a hot, fat, sweaty man hugging me all day, I got used to it after a while. I actually started to like it...

To cool off we went to a waterfall today. On the walk back a very friendly Columbian family offered us a cold beer. Well, it would have been rude to say no! As they drove past us on the way down, they insisted we jump in to get a lift back. Very kind! A party inside the car then ensued, including necking shots of whiskey, dancing to the same song about 15 times and sh*tting myself wondering why the old geezer in the back had a pistol in his belt! 'For protection' he claimed. So I turned back to the whiskey!

On Wednesday we're doing the Lost City trek, though I'm not sure we'll find it....

There is an excellent cat here!

Ciao for now brown cows

Spread the love

Monday, March 1, 2010

Santa Cruz Trek - The Most Beautiful Thing I've Ever Seen!

The title says it all.

We just finished a 4 day trek in Santa Cruz Valley, Peru, having started from the city of Huaraz which sits approximtaley 3,100 metres above sea level in the Peruvian Andes.

Without hesitation, I can say it was the best thing I have ever done and the scenery was the most spectacular I think I'll ever see. Having already done tours in Colca Canyon and Grand Canyon it is some feat, but I am adamant in my exclamation! Check out my images and videos on Facebook and you'll see what I mean.

The altitude was the first obstacle to overcome - on the first day alone we reached heights of over 4,800 metres above sea level. Just walking and breathing were a challenge whilst my body was still aclimatising. Our walk started with an ascent for approximately 1 hour and it felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest! The lack of oxygen in the air means your heart has to work much harder to pump the blood around to afford your organs the oxygen they need to function. Luckily I had a piano with me so there was no promblem there.

We arrived at our camp approx. 5 hours later and our tents had already been set up by the young chap who was guiding the donkeys that carried our equipment. Within half an hour lunch was being served and I was amazed at how resourceful the guides were with limited cooking facilities and ingredients - the food was always fresh, filling and nutritious.

Day two was the hardest slog in the world, ever - official! We ascended 1,100 metres up to 4,700 metres above sea level via a rocky path, avoiding bad tempered bulls (well, slightly agrieved) and the occasional donkey. I took my pulse at one point and it was over 140 bpm! I have come to realise I love hard challenges - there is a very fine line between be exhausted and ecstatic I believe. When we finally reached the pass through the mountains the views were breathtaking.

By days three and four my chicken legs had grown meagre amounts of muscle and my poor heart has started to aclimatise so the walking became easier - I am a machine!! The scenery continued to delight and we had so much fun. At one point were were transcending a valley that was criss-crossed by small rivers, and I took it upon myself to cross them long-jump style. I duly obliged to entertain the group and fall arse-over tit into mud (and possibly horse shit).

Our group was fantastic - a German, an Italian, an American, 2 French (yes, they ate garlic) and two Peruvians. And yes, of course, I was the most handsome!!

We head to Ecuador tonight and then after 2 weeks to Colombia - WHERE HAS ALL THE TIME GONE??!

Ciao for now.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sandboarding and Peruvian Wine Tours

Our latest point of call to note was at a place called Huacachina (easy for you to say). It is a very small town approx. 5 hours south of Lima that exists only due to an oasis lagoon that sits amongst the rolling sand dunes.

The main focus was sandboarding, but we found out we could also do a tour of the Ballestas Islands (known as the poor man´s Galapagos), which are excellent for spotting sea lions, boobies (yes, I did giggle and wink each time the guide said that word) and pelicans and also do a tour of the local vineyards.

Ballestas Islands were good - I refer you to photos on Facebook. Sandboarding was also good, but as I´d done a day of snowboarding before it felt pretty lame! Wine tour was definitely a highlight. We visited 3 ´bodegas´and each for each ´tasting´ they pretty much gave us half a glass! I was hammered by the end! Kept my composure as always though and held fort!

We´re back in Lima but heading to Huaraz to climb some moontains - we both feel like we have excess stores of energy so are looking forward to it!

Ciao England.