Back to reality

This past week, I took a break from all things word-related to head to Sauze d’Oulx in Italy for a week’s worth of skiing. For the most part the weather was crystal clear, cold, and perfect for skiing. Sauze itself was beautiful, and the skipass included one day over in France at Montgenèvre, so I got to practice my French a little. The food was great (as expected for Italy!) although there was so much of it we could scarcely make our way through each night. It was a little bit of a trip of misadventures, though, as I took a bad fall on the first day and hurt my arm (luckily nothing broken!), another of us ended up with a black eye, and half the group were struck down with nasty norovirus at the end! Even stomach flu couldn’t keep us down though, and as befitting a holiday that was meant to be a break-from-words, words can’t really describe it as well as a few pictures can:


Quiet on the blog front

It might be quiet on the blog front this week, as I’m heading off to Sauze d’Oulx for a week of skiing!

I do have a blog scheduled over with The Lucky 13s on Thursday, so be sure to head over there to check out my ode to my writing partner.

See you next week!


It’s Over; I’m Home

17 countries. 259 days. Thousands of miles. 67 blog posts. 56 books. 1 stolen wallet. A million new friends. And I’m finally home.


I’m writing this from my place in Toronto with only a vague shimmer of a realization of what has happened to me over the past nine months. I have sat down to write this final entry so many times and yet… nothing. Even now I’m fighting the urge to put down the pen and turn on the TV or pour another cup of tea. It’s funny how quickly you settle back down into “life.”


The future is uncertain. Maybe that’s the reason I’m so against closing up this past. And although once again I’m going to find myself on the move – to the UK in the fall – there’s no ticket showing me where I’m going to end up and that’s disconcerting. But I am the eternal optimist.


I think no matter how much they try to deny it, all travellers are optimists. Only an optimist could stand on the side of the road and know that the next bus, bike, pick-up truck or car will take them to their next destination. Only optimists go alone to the middle of nowhere knowing they are sure to meet a kindred spirit in a bar to stave off the loneliness of “far from home.” Only an optimist can be sure that the very last dollar in their bank account is worth spending on yet another bus ride to yet another place. You have to know it will all work out alright, or else you wouldn’t have left in the first place.


Looking back over Sarah and my travel blogs is hilarious – it’s amazing what has changed and what has stayed the same. Team J-A-S broke up early on.  At least half of my original packing list got trashed in Africa and had to be replaced in Australia. We not only made it to the Aussie Open but scored incredible seats. My first reference to Lofty is as “a friend from Stray bus.”  The most useful item I brought with me turned out to be my sarong.


One thing I did get right is that this trip changed my life. One thing I got wrong is that this was a “once in a lifetime.” I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve caught the bug! Travel will always be high on my priority list. South America calls, as does China, Japan, the Middle East and most accessibly, Europe. Is that the whole world yet?


My favourite country was New Zealand, followed closely by Zimbabwe (just don’t get me started on Mugabe). My favourite city was Cape Town, then Melbourne. The best island was Zanzibar. The best beach Matai Bay in northern NZ. The best dive in Fiji. The most relaxing moment? A tie between gliding through the Okavango Delta in a makoro and having a Thai massage on Chaweng beach. Finally, the scariest moments: standing on the edge of Bloukrans Bridge, rolling a car outside Brisbane and approaching the bone-filled stupa at the Cheung-Ek Killing Fields.


I learned so much – how to scuba dive, how to survive in the desert, how to surf, how to sky dive, how to make a killer tom yum gai soup, what to do if a lion/rhino/elephant starts to charge you. The Oasis tour in Africa was fantastic and I made so many friends for life. I would recommend it to anyone. For that matter, I would recommend travelling to everyone.


Compared to the hundreds of travellers I met on my trip, it’s not as if I had a more exciting itinerary than anyone; tried harder to get off the beaten track; visited more remote islands and exotic places; felt more alive or been closer to death. Most of them are still going and I am back home. But that’s the beauty of it. I know how accessible the world is, now. It can happen for anyone. It could happen for you, if it’s what you truly want to do.


Final words of travel wisdom? Trek towels stink. Exchange books at secondhand stores. Never refuse an invitation. Remember that – just as rules are made to be broken – plans are made to be changed.


Always use the hostel kitchen. You never know who you might meet.



Dust. Dust is my second impression of Kenya. My first is of wonderful, helpful people who lead us to the front of the line at security and pass us through in under 5 minutes, and pick us up at the airport as promised. But it is night, and I can’t see anything of Nairobi. So my next impression of Africa is one of dust: a reminder that I am no longer at home.

Our driver throttles down empty streets to the 7USD/night hostel – which, as you can expect, is nothing like what we expected. A little side road leads to a rusted gate. We unload and follow our driver down a narrow alleyway behind a house. Isn’t this exactly what the guidebooks tell us not to do? It’s late, almost 11pm, and the driver bangs on the door. There is no answer for a nervous few seconds. Then we are allowed in, and we enter a wide courtyard, washing lines weighted down by clothes crisscrossing over our heads. The hostess of the inn splits us up. Sarah and I share a double bed. Jason is alone in another room in a bunk. There are no other westerners, or even any other guests as far as we can tell. All together, we sit on the big double bed and laugh. There are showers. Sit-down flushing toilets. Warm covers. Is there really any more we can ask for?

The morning brings a different tale. We are woken before 6am by clanging and scraping of knifes and forks. Just outside our room, a group of school kids from Ghana are eating breakfast. I throw my sleeping bag liner over my head and try to catch a few more winks of sleep. It doesn’t happen. By 8am, I decide to venture out to have a shower. Turning on the water heater, nothing happens. I experience my first freezing cold African shower. It is not pleasant, and turning off the taps shocks my hands. I run back to the room in my sarong, and Sarah braves the shower in my place.

Breakfast is served outside our room, Weetabix and eggs and oranges. Tea is made with warmed milk, no hot water. We flick through the Lonely Planet guidebook to East Africa that I brought along with me (and thank goodness!) and decide where to head for today. Then the driver takes us down to the train station and we book our tickets to Mombasa.

Nairobi is a crazed city. If I could taste the dust in the air upon our arrival last night, it is visible everywhere during the day. The weather is overcast; not hot, but quite humid. Every bus and car and matatu is covered in a thin smear of red dust. We are the only Caucasian people in the city, so it would seem. We wander, no real direction in mind, head to a bank and internet cafes but of course it is Sunday – forgot that minor detail. Luckily we find a bank that is open 10-11 on Sundays. And, obviously, an internet cafe that is featured in Lonely Planet and so draws the attention of several other travellers. Suddenly we don’t feel so alone.

Today will take us to the Bomas of Kenya and Carnivore Restaurant. Adventure awaits, and I cannot tell you how glad I am that we are following the path less traveled.


The End of “To-do”?

With only 8 days left until my flight, I’m supposed to be in countdown mode. Instead, I feel like I’m still ‘crossing off’. My to-do list is still a million miles long, but today I finally feel like I can see the end of the road (or the page, as it were!). I took my number and stood in line to notify the province of Ontario of my extended absense, I got my international driver’s permit, I phoned VISA and changed my address and informed them of all the countries I would be visiting.  The best thing about all these tasks was talking to people about my trip and having them share in my excitement. I was feeling lost these past few days — lost in missing people, in facing the fact that I will be away from my family and friends for 10 months, in wondering about how leaving would affect my future plans.  But nothing brings the excitement swelling back than by having people, random strangers even, remind me of how much of a BIG DEAL this trip is. This is every cliché: a once in a lifetime experience, a dream trip and it will change my life forever.

I can’t thank Sarah enough for allowing me to hijack her trip and tag along. She had been planning this trip with Jason (whom I’ve yet to meet!) long before I decided to join them. Their plans to “travel around Africa by truck” were too good a deal to pass up. Africa, especially Kenya and Tanzania, have been dream destinations of mine since Roald Dahl’s Going Solo. Pile on the rest of the itinerary and you’ve got an irresistable trip!!

I plan on blogging with regularity throughout my trip. So keep checking back! If you would like a postcard, then e-mail me your address at mcculloch.amy @ (no spaces) or visit my facebook profile.

Now back to that to-do list…