The Long Way to Santiago de Cuba

Somewhere between Havana and Santiago de Cuba

Somewhere between Havana and Santiago de Cuba

Post of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together.
This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you as we get through the pandemic.

July 6th, 2020

After yesterday’s tour of Havana, we’re headed all the way south to Santiago de Cuba. Today we’ll go by magic carpet, but my journey there in 2016 wasn’t quite so easy.

It was July ~ the peak month of domestic travel in Cuba. Going by air was impossible (sold out far in advance) and undesirable (communist-era planes that haven’t been well maintained). Trains were infrequent, if they ran at all. Buses were packed with people and made infinite stops along the way. Our last best option was to take a taxi 565 miles (910 kilometres) all the way to Santiago de Cuba.

The owner of our casa particular helped us arrange said taxi after much discussion about price and vehicle (large and comfortable, please). In the end I think we agreed to $100 for the journey, divided among the four of us (we were traveling with two close friends). Not a bad price for a journey by land across the ENTIRE island of Cuba.

Havana to Santiago de Cuba

Havana to Santiago de Cuba

The taxi arrived in the dark at 6:00 a.m. We spotted the NOT-so-large vehicle from the balcony. Immediate, fervent discussion began about what we were going to do. Should we go? Should we bail? Would we make it? Would we fit? Would we hate each other at the end? After negotiating through a yes, a no, several maybes and a dash of ambivalence, we agreed to go as far as Sancti Spiritus, where we could bail out to Trinidad if we really needed to. We took our bags downstairs, squished them into the trunk and then squished ourselves into the tiny taxi to the other end of Cuba.

Our driver was an older guy, partially blind, but he knew the route like the back of his hand. I was in the back seat sandwiched in the middle, with my feet on the hump near the console. My direct view out the windshield was a tiny reward for folding my body like origami. Away we went in silence with the sun rising, the AC only whispering, and the summer heat increasing with every mile. All I remember is countless potholes, miles of sugarcane and a brief stop for lunch and a coffee.

After 7:00 p.m., we finally arrived in Santiago de Cuba.

Elapsed Time: More than 13 HOURS
Average Speed: A whopping 43 miles per hour (70 kilometres per hour)
Cost: $100 USD or $7.69 per hour
Travel Memory: Priceless

So, maybe you’re asking yourself … why was it so important to get to Santiago de Cuba? Well, find your feather boa because I have more about that tomorrow!

Until then,
Kelly

Local Color Road Trip Daily Dose of Beauty

Daily Dose of Beauty: Foray Into the Desert

Daily Dose of Beauty: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together.
This series features travel photos and stories from my archives, shared with you as we shelter in place.

April 24th, 2020

Since we’re exploring Oman through this week’s posts I’d really like to re-visit Wahiba Sands, the vast desert of southern Oman that blends into the Empty Quarter. J and I had so much fun off-roading to our camp and staying overnight, I’ve decided to re-share my post about the experience. If you’ve read it before, I hope you might enjoy it a second time — from quarantine!

Tomorrow we’ll stop at a pool for a dip and on Sunday we’ll make the rounds to a handful of weekend markets around the world.

Until then, camp on!
Kelly

***

We wake up on the beach in Ras Al Hadd, having met a large yellow fin tuna and having enjoyed a peaceful night camping next to the ocean. The Omani sun burns bright white after closing out yesterday with a blaze of pink over the dark blue ocean. We make coffee and pack up the tent while noticing the paw prints and thievery of a small army of stray cats that came calling late in the night.

We drive from Sur toward Wadi Bani Khalid and Wahiba Sands. The coastal landscape changes to a bleak but mountainous panorama of blues and grays — practically a moonscape with minimal vegetation and only an occasional goat or camel. The road climbs up and finally transitions into canyonland with a lush border of date palms along each side.

We park the Pajero and venture by foot into Wadi Bani Khalid, one of Oman’s most popular wadis. We could be in Utah or Arizona — the colors and the canyon are reminiscent of Zion and Havasupai — were it not for the young boy hiking with us in his kuma, leading the way to Moqal Cave. We reach the entrance and peek inside, but the prospect of crawling around in the dark is overshadowed by our attraction to the numerous swimming holes dotting the canyon. We hike back to the water and stop for a swim in Bani Khalid’s crystal clear water.

We’re once again racing against the Omani afternoon, knowing we need to get to our next destination before sundown. We pack up and hike out of the canyon, and get on the road to Safari Desert Camp in Wahiba Sands. It’s 2:00 p.m. so we know the camp’s main office in Bidiyah is closed for the afternoon. Luckily, I’ve got a map — printed from the camp’s website and beautiful in its simplicity. Looks like a few left and right turns, and then 20 kilometers farther into the desert and… we’re there! Right?

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We make those left and right turns and come to the literal end of the road. As we stop, gobsmacked at the adventure we’re about to embark on with 20 kilometers to go, I vaguely recall the brief but important words of the camp’s booking agent: “Requires a four wheel drive. Hope you have!”

Yes, we do have, but something tells me we might need a little more than just a four wheel drive. So, this is the road? For 20 kilometers? Shake it off. This is OMAN. I guess if we need help we can ask a Bedouin for a camel ride to the nearest outpost.

We push the gas and drive forward into the frontier of Wahiba Sands. The Pajero, as skittish as we are, reacts with squirrely tires and a slight tendency to steer left. But after a kilometer, we settle into the routine and begin to enjoy the wilderness of the desert — a new experience for us.

And then, like a video game, the terrain becomes more difficult. Small hills appear, with deep sand tracks indicating the struggle and success of people who have come before us. We start to understand the importance of speed — going as fast as we can bear, into ruts of shifting earth, tail end sliding left and right, with a hope and a prayer that we’ll make it to the next crest.

And then… the Mount Everest of dunes appears before us novice drivers of the desert. We stop — mouths agape — look at each other and laugh at the audacity of what lies ahead. Not only is this the hill of all hills, but the tracks lead left AND right, leaving us with no idea which way to go. It’s nearly 4:00 p.m. so turning around won’t do us much good. J revs the gas and we decide to give it a go, slightly aghast and slightly exhilarated by what we’re dealing with.

We make it halfway up before the tires on the left side sink in and force us to stop. We hop out and hike up the hill, deciding we’ll try again and follow the tracks to the right. J backs down the hill and guns it a second time while I take photos of our dilemma. No go — stuck again.

Divine intervention -- help from a couple of locals

Divine intervention — help from a couple of locals

J backs down the hill again, this time continuing halfway up the next hill so he can get a good run at it. He’s just about to hit the gas when a truck comes barreling over the crest of the hill and down toward where he’s parked. At this point I realize the potential of the situation we’re in. I’m on the hillside, he’s in the car alone a fair distance away from me, and all I can do is hope the people who have stopped have good intentions because there is nowhere to run and nothing we can do.

The passenger of the vehicle gets out of the car and crouches down next to the front tire of our Pajero. Exhale. Divine intervention has arrived — these people are here to help us. Yay! They deflate our tires and then show us how it’s done, powering straight up the hill in a sandy blaze of glory. As luck would have it, one of these men is Ali Salem, owner of Safari Desert Camp. He asks if we have ventured toward the camp without an escort from the office. When we say yes, his reply is simple: “Brave.”

Full petrol

Full petrol

J bravely tries the hill a third time and gets stuck again, and the men reiterate the need for full gas — pedal to the metal — to get to the top. A fourth time gets the Pajero nearly there, and with one last right-turn push from just below the crest, J finally conquers the mountain as I watch and take pictures. Good job, honey! No pressure!

The owner and his passenger tell us to follow them, and leave us in a trail of dust because we’re in Oman and that’s how they do it here.

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Arrival at Safari Desert Camp

We finally arrive at Safari Desert Camp as the sun gives everything a warm glow, shifting the sand from taupe to rust. We’re greeted with Omani coffee and dates, and decide a sunset camel ride is the perfect way to decompress after our foray into the desert.

The camp is perfectly sparse, with a variety of small huts sprinkled around a large dining hall. We’re staying in a yurt/hut with a huge open-air bathroom. We’re elated to learn that just seven people will be staying here tonight. We chose this camp hoping it wouldn’t be a manufactured desert experience over-run with tourists. It is nothing of the sort. Ali Salem has created an authentic experience — quiet and basic, just as the desert should be, with no electricity except for a generator used for cooking.

Dinner at dusk

Dinner at dusk

The dining hall glows with candlelight and dinner is a beautiful buffet of covered dishes — grilled meats, fresh baked breads and homemade desserts. We are far away from anything familiar, and completely enthralled by the magic of a starry night in the desert. After dinner, we climb into the netted bed — one of the most comfortable of our entire trip — and sink into the eerie sensory deprivation of desert silence and darkness.

Morning reveals a chalky landscape with a drape of fog extending along the dunes. It is surprisingly cold until the sun gets high enough to warm the desert floor around the camp. We visit the camels nearby and drag the sleds up a dune for a few slides down the hill. We spend an hour getting to know Mohammed, the reception manager, who comes from India but much prefers the isolation of the desert in Oman.

We say goodbye and drive confidently back toward civilization, knowing there’s no dune we can’t conquer now. We arrive back at the edge of the pavement — a visceral boundary between one lifestyle and another. J stops the car and in his typical, lovable, selfless way, pulls out the ring Frisbee he’s been carrying in his backpack. Kids instantly appear from nowhere — beautiful, curious, shy, competitive — and pretty soon they’re all chasing after the latest greatest toy to appear in Bidiyah, as we get back in the Pajero and drive on to the Saiq Plateau.

***

This is the third post about touring Oman. You can read from the beginning starting here.

Beauty Daily Dose of Beauty Local Color
Poppies in Ardales, Spain

Divine Gifts

Poppies in Ardales, Spain

Poppies in Ardales, Spain

Last spring, we spent three weeks exploring Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Throughout those three weeks we kept seeing hints of glorious wildflowers as we traveled through the countries in cars, taxis, trains and buses. We would point to the flowers from the windows as the blooms whizzed past us in a blur of color.

Driving north from Marbella to Seville in a rental car, we had finally regained the luxury of stopping whenever and wherever we wanted. As we flew down the highway near Ardales, we saw a flash of crimson to our left. We looked at each other. Should we go back? Yes. Can we turn around here? No idea but we’ll figure out how. A couple miles down the road we exited the highway and back-tracked to a paved road near the red swath. We had a hunch that something wonderful lay just beyond the crest of the hill.

We drove up, turned left onto a dirt road, parked the car and set out on foot. In the first three minutes, J was farther up the hill, knee-deep in bright red poppies, silhouetted against the blue sky along with the wind turbines.

Poppies in Ardales, Spain

Poppies in Ardales, Spain

Walking south, the poppies intensified. Their dotted mass blotted out the stems underneath in a pointillist’s gradient from green to red.

Poppies in Ardales, Spain

Poppies in Ardales, Spain

The sight was overwhelming, unexpected, spectacular. If we had not slowed down … if we had not been looking … if we had not been curious … if we had not been willing to change direction … we would have missed it. Barely in view, just beyond reach … a divine gift waiting to be discovered, marveled, and ultimately left behind in every way except memory. What a memory.

Life’s gifts are everywhere. Some are clear and present, others can only be discovered. (A traveler’s spirit helps, I think!)

On this Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the divine gifts in my life — a wonderful family, a super adorable husband and travel partner, exceptional friends around the world, a life and career I love, and all of YOU who find something in my writing that compels you all the way to my final words, right here and now. Thank YOU! Happy Thanksgiving!

The super adorable husband

The super adorable husband

Miscellaneous Photography

Stones and Bones of the Alentejo

Castle of Arraiolos

Castle of Arraiolos

Driving through the Alentejo, it’s one of those experimental travel days when we leave our itinerary entirely up to choice and chance. The only thing we know for sure is that we need to reach the Algarve by nightfall. What happens between now and then, here and there … who knows? Who cares? It’s a beautiful day in Portugal.

We arrive in Arraiolos, drawn to the town by its history of rug making. But first, we’re drawn to the decaying stone castle on the highest hill. We take a left turn and drive up to investigate.

A modest stone wall trims the hill around the Castle of Arraiolos. The wall feels proportional and reasonable — as if the architect was motivated more by aesthetics rather than fear. The castle was built between 1306 and 1315, and shows its age in partial walls and missing cornices. A few beautiful details remain like the keyhole window and castle keep. According to the plaque at the entrance, D. Nuno Alvares Pereira, a Portuguese commander who was eventually beatified and canonised, lived here at some point during his life.

We get back in the car and roll on down the hill to Arraiolos. It’s a sleepy town. None of the shops are open yet but we arrive at the central plaza where a gaggle of men is stationed along a bench, ready for whatever the day brings.

We walk to the Arraiolos Rug Interpretation Center which tells the story of the region’s history of rug making from the 16th to 19th centuries. Arraiolos rugs are hand-embroidered rather than woven, with a thinner profile than traditional carpets. Early Arraiolos rug designs were influenced by Oriental and Persian carpets but this was followed by a transitional design period in the 17th century. According to the Center, “Arraiolos embroidery was always a freely practiced craft that fell between the scholarly oriental form and the popular concept influenced by local traditions and artistic freedom.” Arraiolos rug making nearly died out in the late 1800s but visual artist José Queiroz revived the craft through classes and a dedicated workshop in Évora which resulted in new appreciation and demand for Arraiolos rugs that still exists today.

One of the most interesting things about the Arraiolos Rug Interpretation Center is what was found underneath and outside of it. The plaza became the subject of an archaeological dig when a centuries-old dying complex was discovered just below the surface. As you can see in the photo above, large circular vats were used to dye the wool for the rug embroidery. The dying vats have since been covered up and in their place is a decorative stone mosaic.

Cork trees in the Alentejo, Portugal

Cork trees in the Alentejo, Portugal

Back in the car, we aim for Évora but yet again we’re intrigued by what we see on the map. We make a few quick turns down a few small roads and arrive at a cork tree forest. I’ve never seen a cork tree before. Mature and evenly spaced, the trees have wide, wandering canopies above their trunks which have been stripped of their bark. The bark regenerates every 8-10 years, making it a sustainable resource. Portugal is the wine industry’s leading cork supplier, exporting a quantity valued at more than US $1 billion in 2016.

Just past the cork trees, we arrive at Cromeleque dos Almendres. This place is a bit of a mystery — kind of like Stonehenge. It’s a megalithic complex with 95 granite stones set in a circular arrangement, possibly related to the vernal equinox and winter solstice. The stones were placed between 6,000 and 3,000 B.C. Truly ancient! I had no idea that such a place existed in Portugal. The countryside is loaded with history.

We arrive in Évora and park the car just inside the fortress wall. Walking into the town center we come to the Igreja de Santo Antão. A Canterbury cross marks the front entrance of this 16th century church. The vaulted interior suspends elegant chandeliers above a beautiful runner extending through the nave.

We stop for lunch at Café Alentejo. This is not grab-and-go cuisine for tourists. This local hangout has a cozy interior where an afternoon could easily slip by with the help of a couple bottles of Portuguese wine. I decide to be adventurous and try the fish casserole — a stick-to-the-ribs dish that could feed an entire family.

Ceramics are everywhere in southern Portugal and as we wander Évora’s streets we see lots of colorful pieces with intricate patterns and signs of Moorish influence in geometric patterns.

We arrive at the Cathedral of Évora. Initially built in the late 12th century, the cathedral has been the subject of continual architectural additions during the centuries since then.

The cathedral’s full mass becomes evident as we climb the stairs to the rooftop terrace and lantern tower — the highest point of Évora. We descend to the cloisters and view the grandeur of the main chapel. My own faith is of no particular type or description, but I never tire of experiencing the magnificence of divine spaces such as this.

Back on the streets of Évora, we hurry to see one more sight before it closes for the day: Capela dos Ossos. This is one of Évora’s most popular sights but I haven’t read much about it or prepared myself for what we’re about to see. The art museum is nice, but the 16th century chapel below it is a rather creepy experience.

Capela dos Ossos is an ossuary. The bones and skulls of more than 5,000 people are stacked and stuck at every turn, even lining the arches of the vaulted ceiling. I can’t imagine that any of the people whose bones and skulls are here would have expected this to be their final resting place. The purpose of the ossuary isn’t entirely clear, at least from what I’ve read about it.  It may have been built to encourage self-reflection about our mortality or it may have been a solution to overflowing graveyards of the time. Either way, I feel lucky I can walk out of here, unlike so many others.

It’s late in the afternoon so we find an outdoor cafe near Evora’s stunning relic of a Roman temple, where we stop for a cold beer and contemplate the scenes of the day — including this poem at Capela dos Ossos (translated by Father Carlos Martins):

Where are you going in such a hurry traveler?
Stop … do not proceed;
You have no greater concern,
Than this one: that on which you focus your sight.

Recall how many have passed from this world,
Reflect on your similar end,
There is good reason to reflect
If only all did the same.

Ponder, you so influenced by fate,
Among the many concerns of the world,
So little do you reflect on death;

If by chance you glance at this place,
Stop … for the sake of your journey,
The more you pause, the further on your journey you will be.

Architecture Culture
2016: A Ski Odyssey

2016: A Ski Odyssey

Somewhere between British Columbia and Alberta, Canada

Somewhere between British Columbia and Alberta, Canada

Winter is almost here, so how about a ski story?

Last March we packed the car and set out on a two-week ski odyssey around British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. It wasn’t just any car. It was a Chevy Suburban of Secret Service caliber — black, with tinted windows and enough room to fit all the president’s men. We debated with the rental car company about the vehicle being TOO big and even drove it back to try to exchange it for something smaller.

When we returned to Budget Rent-a-Car, the irony was thick. Here was a lovely Budget employee from India, about five feet tall standing next to the Chevy Monstrosity, who had never skied a day in his life yet insisted this was the perfect four-wheel drive vehicle for our trip. His enthusiasm was so irresistible, we went with it. And it turns out he was absolutely right. Not only did the Secret Service Ski Suburban (SSSS) accommodate the obscene amount of gear and clothing we had for every foreseeable winter condition, but it also gave us a real sense of setting out on an epic road trip through the Canadian Rockies. We don’t own a car, so suddenly having our hands gripped on the steering wheel of the most massive winter expeditionary vehicle was like … Yes! We are doing this! And it’s going to be awesome.

We drove from Vancouver to Kelowna to Revelstoke to Golden to Lake Louise to Nelson to Osoyoos and back to Vancouver. We skied Big White, Revelstoke and Kicking Horse, and J also indulged in a day of heli-skiing in the Selkirk Mountains. Lucky for us, March was a winter wonderland with great ski conditions throughout the trip and we also enjoyed a couple of snowy days at the Fairmont Lake Louise.

Big White

Big White hulks with mass — it is not a steep mountain, but a heavy blanket of snow transforms the upper reaches into a bizarre and beautiful landscape. The snow entirely engulfs the trees, kind of like that clumpy white flocking on fake Christmas trees. Known as “snow ghosts” with their unusual costumes, the trees resemble everything from dinosaurs to shrimp tempura (bang on description, J). The tree skiing at Big White is fantastic — again, not too steep and not too fast, with dips and dives like little roller coasters off every run. With such beautiful terrain, even riding the lifts at Big White was enjoyable.

Revelstoke

From Big White we pointed the SSSS to Revelstoke. We passed some bighorn sheep along the way and pulled into our hotel in the early evening as flurries began to fly. Revelstoke is an old mining town still clinging to its identity and character. The architecture retains the style and scale of years past, and the shops and restaurants have a friendly, welcoming charm rarely found in bigger cities. No stop in Revelstoke would be complete without at least one visit to the Village Idiot Bar and Grill for great food and hospitality.

We hit the mountain in the morning and although the sun wasn’t shining, the runs were empty and easy to cruise. The slopes at Revelstoke Mountain Resort are much steeper and more difficult than Big White. Off-piste terrain is plentiful and you might even come across a cliff here and there — but they’ll try to warn you with a tiny orange sign. Pay attention!

Eagle Pass Heliskiing, Revelstoke

For J, the highlight of the Ski Odyssey was a day in the backcountry of the Selkirk Mountains with Eagle Pass Heliskiing. They accidentally over-booked and since we had some flexibility with our days, he got bumped to a different day with unlimited vertical and better weather. Win-win. He suited up in an inflatable pack, did about 15 runs with a group of four and enjoyed one of the best ski days of his life. Needless to say, the views were breathtaking and the powder was fresh. (Maybe I’ll join him next time.)

Kicking Horse

After Revelstoke, we drove on to Kicking Horse in Golden, BC. This resort was my favorite of the trip. It’s heavy on the double black diamonds and, with wide open bowls, there are endless lines to ski and lots of drop-ins to make your runs just a little more thrilling. The Stairway to Heaven lift gives a scenic view of the entire Crystal Bowl and the view from the top explains how the lift got its name.

What I enjoyed the most (aside from no lift lines) was dropping into Feuz Bowl and looking back at the massive panorama behind us.

Kicking Horse, British Columbia, Canada

Kicking Horse, British Columbia, Canada

Lake Louise

From Kicking Horse, we hurried over to lake Louise for two days of luxury next to the lake. We arrived on a beautiful, blustery afternoon. After banging around in ski boots for more than a week, it was nice to warm our toes in the comfort of the Fairmont. Winter cocktails and fondue made it extra wonderful. Because who doesn’t love hot cheese in the middle of winter?

Lake Louise Ski Resort is just across the highway from the Fairmont, but with so much fun right outside our hotel door we never did make it to that mountain. Lake Louise was frozen and covered in snow, inviting a walk across to the other end. The Fairmont had also constructed a magnificent ice castle on the lake, inspiring people to play, pose and get outside to experience the beauty of winter. With a sense of adventure and a few shots of Fireball, who knew a frozen lake could be so fun?

Happy winter everyone! Let’s get outside, point our feet downhill and see where the next adventure takes us.

Miscellaneous Photography

Woon Chi Rides the Western U.S., Final Thoughts & Sketches

“Take your protein pills and put your helmet on…”

It seems appropriate that Woon Chi would end his road trip around the western U.S. by singing David Bowie’s Space Oddity, as you’ll read in his journal below. Growing up in one of the world’s smallest countries and traveling by motorcycle throughout one of the world’s largest must feel like exploring a spatial frontier. One of my favorite moments from Woon Chi’s whole trip was when he looked out on Yellowstone and wrote, “I never knew there was this much green in the universe.”

“Commencing countdown, engines on…”

While collaborating and sharing his journey, it feels as though we’ve played the roles of Major Tom and Ground Control — Woon Chi as the former and me as the latter, observing his route, hoping it all went to plan, and ready to help if it didn’t.

“Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong…”

Despite a breakdown on the first day and summer temps that took Death Valley off his list of destinations, Woon Chi rode almost 5,000 miles through Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and British Columbia. You can see his route here.

He stopped in Vancouver and tuned up his bike before continuing on to Tofino, the last stop on his month-long journey.

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Woon Chi rode the ferry from Vancouver to Nanaimo, then motored on to Port Alberni and Ucluelet where he stopped for the night.

Ucluelet

Ucluelet

“I’m stepping through the door and I’m floating in the most peculiar way…”

The ocean called so Woon Chi hit the waves in the late afternoon. He sent photos and noted, “Just came back from surfing! Had a great session!”

He met up with friends in Tofino and explored the coastal forest of British Columbia.

Tofino

Looking at his photos, I can’t help but wonder if there’s an X-Wing hiding in there somewhere…

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“And the stars look very different today…”

The culmination of his road trip coincided with his 32nd birthday. Good times with friends in the moody, misty forest.

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Throughout Woon Chi’s road trip, his illustrations have been a delight for all of us. While in Tofino, he sent some final sketches of memorable moments on the road that weren’t included in his daily journal.

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In this first sketch, he recalls Hawk vs. Bike, noting that “I thought I would have died for a second when the hawk flew out. We almost collided. Almost.”

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And finally, this one…

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Woon Chi says, “I freaked out n’ stopped by the freeway, couldn’t make out if it was inside or outside. Took my goggles off n’ flicked it out. It was inside, ha. Fuck.”

Yeah, fuck. Keep calm and don’t carry on, or crash. I think Woon Chi has given new meaning to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

“Far above the world,
Planet Earth is blue…”

Until today, this photo of the Canada coast was the final shot from Woon Chi’s road trip.

Tofino

But hold on… there’s just one more thing:

van

“For here I am sitting in my tin can…”

It seems Woon Chi really meant it when he said, “I want a campervan omg.”

Please welcome the newest addition to Woon Chi’s Road Trip Armada.

His first comment about his “new” campervan?

“I’m crazy.”

Maybe. But isn’t that how all the best dreams begin?

“Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go…”

Drive on, Woon Chi, drive on.

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Experience
Woon Chi Rides the Western U.S.

Woon Chi Rides the Western U.S., Part 7

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Woon Chi Rides the Western U.S., Part 7

Dear readers! Yesterday I experienced some technical difficulties when publishing this post. I think most everyone missed the post as the published date showed incorrectly as three days ago, thereby burying it in readers and tags (unless you follow by email). I’ve asked for help on the WordPress support forum.

In the meantime, please use the link above to get to the post. And if you’re seeing this post twice, please accept my apologies!

Thank you! ~K.

Miscellaneous
Woon Chi Rides the Western U.S.

Woon Chi Rides the Western U.S., Part 7

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Entering his fourth week on the road, Woon Chi motored north from Grand Teton National Park toward Yellowstone National Park. Or as Woon Chi called it … Yhellastone. Bumper sticker, anyone? Yhellastone is America’s first national park, established in 1872.

Perhaps the only thing that could rival his excitement at being there was Old Faithful, known as “one of the most predictable geographic features on earth.” That sounds really boring, but in reality it’s pretty cool to see this percolating geyser spew between 4,000 and 8,000 gallons of boiling water straight into the air every 60 to 110 minutes. Wait for it …………….. or just get the app. Yes, there’s an app that will tell you when it’s about to go off.

Woon Chi noted simply, “Excited earth.”

Montana campers

Driving further into the park, he looked for camping at Norris Campground. No sites available, but his bike (and slight resemblance to a Stormtrooper?) attracted a young family who struck up a conversation with him. When they found out Woon Chi couldn’t find a campsite, they gave him their reservation they had at Canyon Campground to the east. The family had decided to stay put at Norris instead of moving on to Canyon. So, what are the odds of crossing paths with the ONE family that just *happens* to have an EXTRA campsite reservation at the EXACT moment that you need a campsite in the middle of summer at one of the most popular national parks in the United States of America??? It seems Woon Chi found a unicorn in Yhellastone.

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Driving around Yhellastone, Woon Chi admired the sites and colors. As he parked his bike on the side of the road, he offered this thought:

“I never knew there was this much green in the universe.”

He stayed only long enough to see the sites and smell the air — at times thick with hydrogen sulfide gas from the geysers.

“Smells like boiled eggs.”

He snapped a departure photo at the stone archway out of Yhellastone and continued into Montana.

Leaving Yellowstone National Park

Leaving Yellowstone National Park

Montana

Hello, Montana

He arrived at Three Forks Campground where he pitched his tent for the night and met a French couple camping at the site next door. They were on a six-month road trip in a camper van and, like Woon Chi, had experienced a mechanical breakdown right at the start of their trip.

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That evening, the Singaporean and the French forged a friendship over burgers, beers and breakdowns. They plugged in the disco dance lights for a certain … je ne sais quoi … and the sun set on another day in Big Sky Country.

Van has a character!

Over breakfast and coffee the next morning, Woon Chi decided to alter his route and go to Glacier National Park avec les amis nouveaux. Allons-y!

Montana

Montana

While filling up at the petrol station, Woon Chi’s bike attracted yet another inquisitive conversationalist. This guy was riding free and fearless, with no helmet. He shared a life story with Woon Chi that happened to him years ago, then noted the time on his watch as the two of them were talking.

“Had a chat, talking about no helmet laws, said he’s not afraid to die cos he had an out of body experience. Said something like he was in bed at 9:07, when he returned it was 11:11. Said something told him “not yet.” He thinks it was God or an angel. Then he showed me the time … 11:11. Crazy!”

Regarding his own bike, Woon Chi added, “Ya it’s crazy how much attention I get with this bike, ha! People talk to me at campsites, gas stops, traffic stops, visitor centers,  grocery stores, cafes … I guess it looks ‘friendly.’ Harley riders look more menacing but they are hella nice.”

Woon Chi and his French friends entered Glacier National Park, and when he sent me this unbelievable photo I remembered his thoughts about green and the universe.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

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After camping together in Glacier, Woon Chi bid adieu to his French friends and continued north into Alberta, Canada. The featureless border crossing gave no hint of the mountainous terrain ahead.

Entering Alberta, Canada

Entering Alberta, Canada

It was right about here when Woon Chi’s route started orienting back toward Vancouver. In the photos he sent, the weather turned dark and cloudy, mirroring that dreaded feeling of a once-in-a-lifetime vacation coming to an end.

“I’ve that sinking feeling it’s going to be all over soon! Man, time flies when u’re having it good.”

Frustration set in, too.

“I’m trying to get to Banff. In Calgary now. I keep getting lost on the highways. They use trail names instead of numbers, arghh. Like Cowboy Trail, wtfff”

But Woon Chi channeled his inner Taylor Swift, shook it off, and found his Cowboy Trail.

Revelstoke, B.C.

Revelstoke, B.C.

After camping in Banff, he moved on to Revelstoke and Kamloops. Woon Chi noted, “Yeah, all the ski towns are cool! Banff is the fanciest of them all, haha. Wanna snowboard at Revel, Kicking Horse, Lake Louise n Banff in the winter!!!”

Kamloops, B.C.

Kamloops, B.C.

On the last night of his road trip around the western U.S. and back to Canada, Woon Chi pitched his tent in Kamloops, B.C. But this isn’t where the story ends.

“Camping at Kamloops. Tho it was raining, the scenery was dramatic and I enjoyed the ride, a very zen moment, I guess there’s no more destinations, no more plans, it was all about the ride. Will be in Vancouver tmrw. n chill for a few days before leaving for Tofino.”

On the way back to Vancouver, Woon Chi “took a longer scenic route on highway 1. Was awesome.”

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Woon Chi

Woon Chi

Next up: Tofino and the final chapter of Woon Chi’s road trip, including additional illustrations of some of his memorable moments on the road.

Until then, Woon Chi says, “I want a campervan omg.”

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Missed part of the road trip? You can catch up with Woon Chi here:

Woon Chi Rides the Western U.S.

Woon Chi Rides the Western U.S., Part 2

Woon Chi Rides the Western U.S., Part 3

Woon Chi Rides the Western U.S., Part 4

Woon Chi Rides the Western U.S., Part 5

Woon Chi Rides the Western U.S., Part 6

 

Experience