This Ain’t 90210

My formative years were highly contaminated by 90210.  I grew up wishing I could have Brenda’s bangs and boyfriend.  My perception of California is basically 90210.  Here’s the reality: western store front filled tourist towns heavy on subarus and big trucks, barbeque, and subarus.

I’ve learned that dirtbagging is easier and much cheaper than I ever imagined; roughly $10 per day.  My life now consists of eat, sleep, climb. Order is restored.  I’ve been to Red Rocks and Bishop, and I’m now dodging dodgy park rangers in Yosemite.

The Best Things In Life Cost $1000 A Month

Money. It’s probably the most common topic for questions about my trip. “How much did it cost?” “How do you budget for a trip like that?”  “Didn’t you work at all!?”  The third question is the easiest, nope. Nada.

I did spend two weeks volunteering at an English Corner in Yangshuo in exchange for free lodging.  I had to volunteer two hours per week to chat with some local Chinese students, and I was given free beer.  I don’t count that as work!  The truth is, Asia is cheap.  Unbelievably cheap.

I kept a daily budget for the first 11 months of my trip.  Every single day I made a record of every baht, rupee, yuan, etc. spent.  I also kept track of all ATM withdrawals.  I do the same in Canada, so this wasn’t difficult for me. My initial budget was to spend 1,000 CAD per month.  Japan was the only exception; I budgeted $70 per day.  Japan was my first country, and I didn’t yet have the need or know how to be a dirty, budget backpacker.  Here’s how the budget worked out in Canadian dollars per day:

  1. Japan  $67 (1 month)
  2. Thailand North $44 (1 month)
  3. Laos $36 (6 wks)
  4. Thailand South $42 (2 months)
  5. Malaysia $36 (13 days) & $38 (6 days)
  6. Singapore $55 (2 days)
  7. Indonesia $24 (1 month)
  8. China $20 (4 months)
  9. Hong Kong $89 (3 days)
  10. Nepal $25 (32 days)
  11. India $15 (55 + 72 days)
  12. Slovenia $20 (6 weeks)
  13. England $15 (5 days)
  14. Trinidad $0 (3 weeks)

Disclaimers: I’m extremely grateful to my family for making the England and Trinidad portions of my trip possible.  The budget includes things I paid cash for, like diving lessons and visas, but generally doesn’t include the things I charged, ie. flights and travel insurance.  Hong Kong is expensive, but not that expensive; the price was inflated by my train back to Beijing and a new Chinese visa.  The start of my trip cost more, partly because those places were more expensive.  The bigger reason is that as time went on I lowered my accommodation standards and lost interest in the expensive things, like shopping and tours.

There it is…how to go from cashed up to cashed out is 18 glorious months.

White Van = Black Monolith

After some time destressing at home, I realized (for the second time) that I have a friend driving a van around the US hitting up various crags.  I feel a bit like the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  How could I not have thought of this before?  That white van is my big, black monolith. With a tiny budget and a continuing status of happily unemployed, the US trip is rebooked.  Coming up:  Bishop, Yosemite, and Smith Rock.  Drool inspiring trip reports and photos to follow.

note: edited to make the internet a more family friendly place

A Solution

The solution to all life’s problems can be found in a metallic shoe, a pencil skirt, and an empire waist.  At least that’s what five hours of back to back What Not to Wear has told me.  I’m pretty okay with my current wardrobe; it consists of what I’ve been carrying around for the last 18 months and a few random things left at my parents.  The rest is happily lounging in unlabelled cardboard boxes in Edmonton.  Now that I’m in Canada, we are soon to be reunited.

When I got back to Canada I felt like I had to compensate immediately for the last 18 months of contentment by being super-industrious.  JOB HUNTING. STORAGE UNSTORING. APARTMENT FINDING. GO ON NEXT TRIP.  I booked a ticket to go climbing in the US, then canceled it.  I variously decided to become a full time travel writer, an ESL teacher in China, and a Phd student.  Phew.  At least when I do something, ie. panic, I really do it all the way.  Realizing that I was being INSANE, I decided to stay in the house, go for the occasional run, and just try to breathe a little.  Plus I sent out SOS messages to good friends that were tolerant enough or bored enough to encourage me.  Now?

Right now my life feels a lot like my wardrobe.  After an initially rough two weeks of back to Canada nervous breakdown, I have what I’ve always had: the necessities.  The rest is just quietly waiting to be needed.  I get a good feeling that I will find a job when I need one.  That I will find a place to live.  My parents are quite graciously allowing me to spin in ever smaller circles inside their house.  I’m rethinking that trip to the States; bouldering!  Most importantly, I’m pretty sure that there’s a metallic shoe, a pencil skirt, and an empire waist inside one of those boxes.

The Arrival (originally published Apr 1, 2010 via facebook)

My first few days in Canada can be described as such:

manic energy with thoughts of what i can do, when i can leave, where i can live all wrapped up with the excitement of no strings attached and the promise of a new start, followed by equally manic bouts of repetitious thoughts of all my stuff is stored in edmonton, i don’t know anyone here, i forget how to drive, i don’t have a job, impending doom!

There is some relief in finally being here. Ever since I booked my ticket out of India my brain started to turn to the future in a way it hadn’t done in over a year. Suddenly it seemed that simply existing from day to day wasn’t viable anymore. It’s frustrating, because in the end that really is all that a person wants. If you ignore everything else, you just want to exist happily, and it doesn’t take much. Unfortunately, that little voice of complete contentment is drowned out in Canada by the constant pressure to do something more. Lucky for me, this is my second arrival.

Last time I came back from Asia I made the mistake of trying to force myself back into the same thing I had left. I tried to pretend that I had squashed the pesky travel bug, scratched my itchy feet, and was ready to ‘settle down’. If it were true, that would certainly make life easier! This time, I’m not allowing that. I can’t waste any more time in my life trying to fit into a mold that just doesn’t fit. It’s so much harder when you don’t fit the mold, but now that I’ve had 1.5 years of full happiness, there’s just no alternative.

Deep thoughts aside, there are some amazing things about going home:

  • Knowing how to dial the telephone and what each of those seven numbers are for
  • Instant recognition of currency
  • Kraft dinner
  • It’s got clams and tomatoes, it’s clamato juice!
  • Kraft dinner. Really.
  • People are nice here, and I understand the social norms.
  • An abundance of western men
  • There’s French on everything. Even the DVD’s.
  • Also, you can always leave again.

Uh-Oh (originally published Mar 2, 2010 via facebook)

Over the last year and a half it seems like I’ve been in my share of impossible situations. Eat this sheep’s foot, no problem. Sleep in a room infested with cockroaches and enormous spiders, no worries. Share a tiny tarp tent meant for two with two other smelly climbers, okay. Navigate the bus, train, subway, airport, rickshaw, tuk tuk, boat, coracle, raft, camel, whatever mode of transportation is available in whatever country I’m in. Even harder, wake up remembering what country or even town I’m in. Now I’m only 27 days from returning to Canada. I can’t say going home, as I’m not sure exactly where that is.

Even though I still have 27 days of fully enjoying being out of Canada, little hints of real life are starting to come in. I’m in the most impossible situation of all – the shock of reentry. Sure, it will seem big, clean, and boring, but the hardest part, the most unexpected part is already starting to take me. What will I do, where will I go, I’m almost out of money, and I can’t be expected to work like the rest of you people, right? right?

I still have a plan for cheap living in Squamish so I can boulder throughout the summer, but somehow around the edges of that plan are questions pinging around my brain. My brain wondering about what comes next and next and next. My brain that hasn’t made plans more that a few days in advance for the last year and a half. My brain that wakes up in the morning and then does whatever it feels like for the rest of that day. Now I have to consider, will I live in Vancouver? Will I move my stuff from storage in Edmonton across the country? Will I get a normal grown up job or will I go back to Asia right away?

Oh, real life, piss off. This is not an appropriate time for you to come calling.

Nepal (originally published Nov 1, 2009 via facebook)

I think I’m the only person on the planet who doesn’t like Nepal. I don’t like trekking, I don’t like tourist food, and I feel uncomfortable around loads of tourists with money and trekking poles. I arrived in Kathmandu at 2 am after a terrible journey from Varanasi, and that set the tone for the rest of the trip. I spent 9 days in Kathmandu – roughly equivalent to an eternity in hell.

When we finally got out of Kathmandu and walked to Namche, we found the prices were disgustingly high. 300 rs for dhal bhat. WTF!? Then it got better. Rocktoberfest 2009 started. My first bouldering expedition. After setting up camp in the Zarok area 200m above Namche, we proceeded to clean the dirtiest, sharpest boulders I’ve ever seen. We spent three weeks surrounded by beautiful mountains away from the tourist mele.

As always, when feeling lazy, here comes the bulleted list of events:

  • lots of flappers
  • a missing expedition member
  • a barking dog attack
  • crows ate our food
  • a horse stalked our campsite

Now I’m back in Kathmandu and relieved to again be in the warmth. Pollution cough is sure to start again soon, along with eye infections. India, here I come!!

Reflection in 15 minutes or Less (originally published Oct 6, 2009 via facebook)

It’s been just over one year in Asia, and here I am watching the cybermeter run on the computer in this netcafe. I might as well spend an hour, because I’m already at 80 rs, and it’s only 20 rs more for another 15 minutes. It seems that right now this is the biggest concern on my mind. Expense, expense, expense. I don’t think in CAD anymore, but I spent 150 rs, less than $3 on breakfast, and it felt like a lot. Last night I had a big splurge and spend almost $10 on beer. Oh, regret…

After a year traveling it seems that I’m supposed to write a big note and reflect. Talk about the adventures I’ve had and the amazing things I’ve seen. I guess I have seen some amazing things. In the last two weeks I’ve smoked with Babas beside the Ganges in Haridwar, rode the local bus to Agra to see the Taj, viewed the kama sutra temples of Kharajuraho during the durga festival while fending off advances from my skeezy hotel manager, and seen the cremation ghats of Varanasi. These are amazing things. I still feel every day that I’m lucky to be able to do these things. I’m blessed that I finally stopped thinking about traveling and finally started doing it. BUT. I think any traveller will tell you it is not these tourist things that make the trip, and in the end they feel unimportant.

You know what I really remember? I remember the faces of the people in Sumatra, and my heart is breaking for them knowing that after the earthquake, some of those faces are no longer there. It feels personal to me. I imagine the places I slept and ate, and I imagine most of them aren’t standing anymore. Maybe it’s the rain, or the beer, but today is a melancholy day.

I don’t know when, but somewhere in the last month I realized that I wasn’t going home in December. I’m planning to stay in India until the end of January. I don’t know where I’ll go after that…Canada, Europe, Mexico? This trip has really become a selfish one. If I hadn’t found climbing, maybe I would have worked for an NGO and tried to put my engineering skills to some good use. Instead, it feels like it’s just about me, but that vision of me is getting cloudier and cloudier.

Paraphrasing a number of good books, a person travels too long and their soul loses it’s moorings. You are out of context. I think it will take some time at home decompressing before I

how NOT to go bouldering in the Spiti Valley (originally published Sept 10, 2009 via facebook)

August 14 – arrive in Delhi. August 16 – over pay for the 14 hour overnight bus to Delhi that turns out to be a local bus with some unhappy tourists stuck in the bumpy back. Four confused nights in Manali trying to figure out how to best live in a cave. Rent a tent and sleeping bag, then get on the 6 hour local bus at 6 am for Chattru, going through the rohtang pass on the way. Friends are not at Chattru. Hitch to Chota Dara. Spend two nights in a cave, then take a 6 hour bus over even worse roads to Kaza. Two nights in Kaza, then back to the cave on the 4:30 am local bus. Six nights in the cave before the weather starts to suck, and decide to go to Manali with a friend. Not the best choice when the roads are full of water and falling rocks. Two nights in Manali, then back to Chattru on the 5 am local bus. A half day of climbing, then snow. Another half day of climbing, then a climbing accident! Back to Manali, in a jeep thank god. There was some awesome climbing in there, but a lot of bus rides. After almost a year in Asia, the last three weeks may have finally cured me of my itch to travel!

First Impressions in Delhi (originally published Aug 15, 2009)

india is anticlimactic. it’s national day and raining so it’s actually pretty boring and quiet! most of the shops are closed and i’ve only been touched up by one man. he left me alone when i turned around and told him to get away from me. no slapping necessary.

last night i arrived at about 9:30 and everything went smoothly. got a cab voucher, got a cab, got to the general area, saw a cow, found my hotel. the best part was the flight. i haven’t been on any luxury mode of transportation in so long that i almost didn’t know how to behave. i nearly ran in the aisles shrieking “red wine and ferrero roche”. i’m seriously considering becoming a stewardess now!! i had to sit beside a nepalese tibetan monk during the flight. although nice, he was either socially or just retarded. he spent most of the time staring at me or sitting half in my seat. thank god for headsets.

the few shops that are open promise to send me into overload very quickly. i want everything. every glittery, bangly, patterny thing!! the food is amazing. i’ve eaten dahl and breads, lassi and tea. sadly, i’m catching something so i’m really just making short forays up and down the running cesspool that is pahar ganj main bazaar in the rain before running home to wash my feet and lie down.

tomorrow night i’m off to manali on a bus that i booked through my hotel. with any luck it won’t be a disaster and i’ll be there safely in under 20 hours!!