So it’s been almost a year since I set sails away from the sophistication of the corporate world to find more primitive adventures. Although not all things went as planned, it’s been perhaps the most memorable year I’ve had: 14 countries in 5 continents, 2 broken bones, tried many new things and met many new friends. Main while, I guess the main plot of my life has somehow unfolded semi-unexpectedly: I became a Canadian permanent resident and married some French model theorist.
Updated map (places visited, by country)
Chapter 1. Snow, ice & mountains
January: Alps (France & Swisserland)
I started my journey in the French Alps, without having much clue about how the mountains work and where the best ski places are. I did the fool-proof thing of googling where Mont Blanc is and made my way there (logic being I probably won’t miss out by starting at the highest point, there’s gotta be cool stuff around it, right?) So I winded up passing through Moscow, Lyon and found myself in the ski/mountaineering mecca of Chamonix, where I tried paragliding, snowshoeing and took some first courses in snowboarding.
Then I headed to Swiserland and spent a week climbing frozen waterfalls. We ended up driving around Swiserland finding different falls everyday and moved from single pitch to multi pitch and towards higher grades. Conditions were generally -15ish degrees plus windchill. There’s nothing like hanging on vertical ice with painfully frozen fingers and toe trying to do pull-ups.
February: Alps to UK (Austria, France, UK, Ireland)
At the beginning of February I went from Austria back to France, doing more snowboarding on the way. Then I broke my wrist on the day which there’s a photographer following the class and we were asked to go down an easy slope to get photos taken. Of course I tried to look like I can ride better than I actually can, and fell hard. Luckily the doctors in Chamonix are extremely experienced with such injure, ‘We get this 20 times a day…everyday’ he told me while mechanically casting my arm.
After attempting to snowboard with the casted wrist (which worked relatively well), I decided to cut off the cast after 10 days and head to the Scottish winter mountaineering class as planned (which did not go well as my hand started to turn bright blue halfway up the mountain on the first day). So I spent the rest of the week wondering around the Scottish countryside, where I learned to embrace the slowness and developed a new understanding of where Turner got his amazing landscape colours from.
Then I did some museum-going and spent much of the day at coffee shops in major cities throughout England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland.
After a short stop back in Shanghai I decided to head out for some more Snowboarding, this time in Hokkaido, Japan.
Towards the end I was able to go off-piste and into the woods
Did some touristy things while there as well (by now I have officially been to all Disney parks in the world!)
Chapter 2: Ocean
After putting down my ski goggles and digging out my diving mask, I went straight to the warm ocean for some surfing and diving.
Found the new world of free-diving and got completely hooked (I feel like I’ll never want to use a scuba tank again)
May: Western Australia
Going further south I arrived in the vast empty lands of Western Australia.
Arrived in Exmouth – A small town in which the main industry is whale-shark tourism (i.e. taking boats of tourists out and drop them down to swim with wild whale-sharks in the ocean). Here I had a wonderful few weeks volunteering as a crew member on a whale-shark boat, of course applying some newly-acquired free-diving skills =)
I went back to Bali and volunteered for the freediving shop in June, painted logos, fishes and instructor’s fins while furthering my freediving training. After a month I was able to hold breath for 4’30” and reached -40m (which is sufficient depth for getting instructor license). Also received my custom-made carbon fibre fins from Greece, in red like all my other gear of course =)
Chapter 3: Land sky
July: Western USA
The plan for the summer was to get into the dessert, get skydiving license and start big-wall rock climbing in Yosemite. It did not exactly go as planned…
With a good friend I met snowboarding in Japan, we had a classical american road trip through Nevada and Arizona, camp and hiked in death valley and grand canyon.
August: Atlanta, USA
Then I went to Atlanta to get my AFF skydiving license, met lots of awesome people in the skydiving community, learned how to pack my own parachute and broke my ankle on the 8th jump.
September: Berkeley, California, USA
My original plan was to spend about a month in Yosemite to try breaking into the rock climbing community (by, perhaps, showing up at the infamous CAMP 4 and stay there until I find some cool guys with a van). The goal was to start big-wall climbing, hopefully attempt some classic multi-day routes by the end (El Cap being my lifetime rock climbing goal).
Obviously that plan was completely scarped once I broke the ankle…So what ended up happening was that I got ‘stuck’ in Berkeley for 6 weeks, during which I picked up some reading, mathematics, cooking as well as the above-mentioned French model theorist whom I ended up marrying a couple months later.
October: Canada to Turkey
My Canadian permanent resident application got approved! So I went quickly to Hong Kong and took care of the documents, went back to Shanghai to pack up, then officially ‘landed’ in Canada as new immigrant!
A week later I took my first ‘trip aboard’ as a Canadian PR =) Not wanting to push the ankle too hard yet, I decided to do some traditional backpacking without extreme sports, with a good friend I met earlier on the road, we set off for Turkey.
Did some standard touristic sightseeing (the greek and roman ruins far exceeded my expectations).
…and did some mellow exploration of nature
November: Morocco & Western Sahara, then back to Canada
After Turkey I arrived in another long over-due popular backpacking destination: Morocco. Starting off by city-hopping from Casa Blanca to Rabat, Fez, Marrakech, Essaouira.
Then into the desert:
Then I did something slightly less conventional: I took an overnight bus down south to the costal city Agadir, rested for a night there and took another overnight bus ride to a small town called Laayoune, in the rather controversial area of Western Sahara (former spanish colony, now officially belonging to Morocco). I went, to pay my tribute to Taiwanese author Echo Chen, whose books about the desert and living life as a wanderer and nomad had an undeniable influence on me from back in my teenage years.
The town is remote and rather unremarkable in general, with lots of UN personnels from the special mission which has been here since 1990. But I found various sites which appeared in the books, the author’s mud hut, the spanish church, the postal-office and even stayed at the legendary (and only) fancy hotel in town which remained exactly the same as 50 years ago.
– For those who are curious, Echo Chen was a Taiwanese lady who studied in Madrid, one day she came across a photograph of the Sahara desert in a magazine and felt a special connection, subsequently decided to move there. Those Chinese-language books are semi-fictional stories about her life in the desert. The books had a lasting popularity as inspiration for young people to ‘follow dreams’ and ‘wander around the world’.
From there I returned to Canada and got married at the end of November. It was quite fun, we found a street-corner with some trees and Christmas lights do perform the ceremony and finished right when it started to rain…
December: US, Bahamas, Belize
As I have already been to all Disney parks in the world at this point, I decided to finally try the Disney cruise lines! – Took a quick trip from Miami to Bahamas. Although cruise was not exactly my cup-of-tea, I was pleasantly surprised by the Disney experience (and so much so that I pre-booked an open-ended second trip while still onboard). Some highlights include the Animator’s Palate restaurant which changes from blank&white to full color through the course of a dinner, seeing the latest StarWars movie and Pixar’s Coco and the Christmas fireworks.
Then we took a trip to Belize for some Rain-forest and diving. In particular, I checked the great blue hole off my diving list (this last picture was not mine), applied free-diving skilled learned earlier this year and went down 21 meters without gear (decided not to do more since there wasn’t other good enough free divers around to rescue).
Finally, welcomed the first light of 2018 deep in the Rainforest of Guatemala! Hope this will be a year full of new adventures!