When the going gets tough, the tough get wet. Presenting 10 of the world's mightiest rivers for bucket list rafters. Paddle up, there's rapids ahead!
The Nahanni, Canada
Rafting UNESCO’s first ever World Heritage Site is one of the grand Canadian adventures. From Virginia Falls, where a 90m cascade plummets in to the river, canoe and kayak trips typically spend a week paddling downriver through huge canyons and pristine wilderness.
The Colorado, USA
Spend a week in a motorized raft (or two weeks with paddles) floating down the Colorado River, through one the world’s true natural wonders, the Grand Canyon. Thrilling rapids, epic geology, waterfalls, creeks and companionship await.
The Zambezi, Zimbabwe
Regarded as perhaps the world’s best one-day whitewater rafting experience, conquer the mighty Zambezi River at the foot of Victoria Falls. The most thrilling runs take place during low water between February and July, when the rapids are so rough as to be almost unpassable. Do your best to stay on board, and watch out for the small (harmless) crocodiles.
Enjoy the staggering scenery of Patagonia aboard a whitewater raft, as you navigate the Class 3 to 5 rapids of the Futaleufu River. You don’t have to rough it during this week-long journey: Earth River Expeditions have permanent camps with hot showers, stone hot tubs and comfortable beds.
The Ganges, India
Raft the Ganges from outside the town of Rishikesh, as the river bursts forth from the Himalayas, safe from the pollution it gathers further down. Rafting trips run from hours to days, starting October through June, although it can get pretty chilly around December/January.
White Nile, Uganda
Flowing through the heart of Africa, the Nile is a mystical river with a storied history. Its source was the subject of doomed expeditions and controversy. You won’t be thinking about any of it as you crash through a series of Class 4 and 5 rapids. Half and full day tours depart from the town of Jinja, located about 80km northeast of Kampala.
Kaituna, New Zealand
It’s not the Ganges or the Nile, but the lush Kaituna River does allow you to experience the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. There’s a 50/50 chance your raft will flip as you plummet over the 7m high falls, but that’s all part of the fun.
The Yangtze, Nepal
The Big Bend of China’s Yangtze River flows through a dramatic 10,000 foot deep gorge. That’s almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. A 10-day rafting tour runs 120 miles through the bend, crossing Class 4 rapids aplenty. Along the way you’ll get the chance to explore rural villages, and do some serious hiking too.
The Saint Lawrence River, Quebec
You don’t have to travel far to challenge the Saint Lawrence. Located close to downtown Montreal adjacent to Habitat 67, the Lachine rapids offer some of the world’s largest standing waves. Various class of rapids means even kids can conquer this mighty river.
Sharing its borders with Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, Iguazu is well known for its spectacular waterfalls. You can also climb into a raft to conquer the river from below, spending an hour crossing Class 3 rapids amidst the dense vegetation and exotic wildlife found in Iguazu National Park.
To find the best beaches, you usually have to get as far out of urban centres as possible. But some cities are blessed with amazing beaches of their own. These are cities with large populations, business, traffic – and long golden sandy stretches that make you feel like you’ve entered a holiday resort. Here’s my favourites:
Ipanema, Rio de Janiero
White sand and blue water frames Rio’s most famous neighbourhoods, Copacabana and Ipanema. While Copacabana enjoyed much of the world’s attention in the past, it has been surpassed by the energy of Ipanema. Ipanema Beach is signposted by the famous “postos” lifeguard stations, which helps find your way on a beach that is generally packed all year round. Stroll up, rent a chair and umbrella, and have your own beach waiter serve you cold beer, fresh fruit, and snacks throughout the day. Striking mountains rise further down the beach, and there’s usually a friendly game of volleyball on the go (or foot volleyball, which is terrific fun to watch). There’s also a parading flea market as polite vendors roll through selling bikinis, hats, and towels. With so much skin and beauty on display, it’s no wonder Ipanema is one of Rio’s most expensive neighbourhoods. An interesting note: topless bathing is prohibited.
Clifton, Cape Town
Cape Town is blessed with extraordinary natural beauty, and it’s best beaches are in the upmarket suburb of Clifton. Driving up from Sea Point, cars line the side of the road early, and parking is seldom easy. It’s a walk down the stairs until you hit the fine white sand. There are four beaches in Clifton, separated by rocks, and attracting different crowds. All four beaches are protected by rocks and spared the strong winds that blow through the city. As a teenager I used to walk between beaches to see where the action was. Today, the most popular beach is Fourth Beach, which has the calmest waves. First Beach gets the biggest waves and is popular with surfers. Third Beach is a popular gay hangout. Second beach continues to attract teenagers and students on the prowl for love. Capetonians and tourists soak up the sun, and since the water is a frisky 12-16C, a dip in the sea is truly refreshing.
Bondi Beach, Sydney
During my first visit to Bondi Beach, the temperature in Sydney cracked 50C. Bondi Beach, a beach that has spawned a hit TV series (Bondi Rescue) was absolutely chockers (full). The odd part was there was nigh an umbrella in sight, here in a country with one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world. Sydney is surrounded by fantastic beaches, but Bondi is its flagship. A perfect 1km crescent, reliable waves for surfing and body boarding, pubs, shops and cheap eats right across the road. It attracts the city’s most beautiful people, showing off their most beautiful bodies. With Sydney’s weather, there’s always people on the beach, with crowds picking up in the afternoon post work, and young couples pushing babies on the promenade. When people fall in love with Sydney, it’s usually Bondi on their mind.
In the late 1990’s, my brother and I decided to immigrate to Vancouver. He went first, putting in his papers, without visiting the city first. I was working in England at the time, and the mountains, forests and beaches of British Columbia were very far away. I had a good job, and was second guessing Canada, until one day, my brother sent me an email with a picture from Kitsalano. He had found a two-bedroom apartment two blocks from the beach, and summer was in full swing. The subject was: Wish You Were Here. The sand wasn’t fine and white, but it was fine enough. People were stacked up against scattered logs. In this distance was a towering mountain, the tree tops of Stanley Park, and some of the apartment blocks of English Bay. Having grown up in a big, landlocked city, I couldn’t believe people could live in a city like this. I wished I was there too. Six months later, I arrived as an immigrant and beelined straight for Kitsalano.
Photo: jenschapter 3
Waikiki Beach, Honolulu
The surf is usually up at Waikiki Beach, once the playden of Hawaiian royalty, now a hotel and surfing mecca. Waikiki has attracted all the major hotel chains and serves as a centre of tourism in Hawaii, but lets not forget it’s also a terrific beach, with a great view of the striking Diamond Head - all that’s left of a massive volcano and one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Waikiki actually refers to several beaches chained together, usually crowded with tourists pouring out the adjacent hotels. A good chunk of the beach is reserved strictly for surfers. The neighbourhood is abuzz with open-air bars, restaurants, volleyball and beach sport, and most days it’s just a perfect spot to watch yet another gorgeous sunset.
Venice Beach, Los Angeles
What I love most about Venice Beach is its sheer character. Only Los Angeles could churn out the bizarre folks who seem to hang around the Venice Beach Ocean Front Walk. There’s weird guy with the guitar, punky guy with the Mohawk, body building guy on rollerblades – each seemingly the star of their own mental TV show. You might catch the stars on the promenade too: Nicholas Cage, Christian Bale, Elijah Wood and Viggo Mortenson are all residents of Venice. Regardless, there’s plenty of eye candy to look at. The streetball on Venice Beach is reported to be the best in the country, the starting block for future NBA stars. Hard bodies pump iron at the outdoor gymnasium on Muscle Beach, and there’s great surfing off the piers. If the whole thing looks like a TV show, it’s because Baywatch was set and sometimes filmed here. Who knew a show featuring actors in red bathing suits running in slow motion would become the most watched TV show in history?
South Beach, Miami
The beaches of Miami vibrate with action, and South Beach (or SoBe) is its heart. With hundreds of clubs, bars and restaurants, South Beach is the city’s entertainment district, popular with locals and tourists alike. There’s a real multicultural element to the neighbourhood. Brazilians, Cubans, Israelis, people from the Caribbean, and a large contingent of Canadians too, escaping the northern winter. Famous Art Deco hotels look over the white sandy beach, one of the reasons why SoBe is also known as the American Riviera. Picture flashy cars cruising past flashy shops, while toned bodies run along the water. The atmosphere is festive year round.
Metzitzim Beach, Tel Aviv
Not many people know that Tel Aviv is a true beach city. Fine sand, decent waves, clean water, all in a city that never sleeps. The promenade even resembles the Copacabana, with its mosaic patterns. There are several beaches along the strip, but Metzitzim, also known as the Sheraton Beach, consistently wins the accolades as the city’s best beach. It’s definitely the most trendy, a place for fit young Israelis to bare their olive skin (as opposed to Nordau Beach further down, which is where religious Jews go for the separate male and female areas). Metzitzim, which means “peeking” in Hebrew, is close to the Old Port which has recently been upgraded into a hip area of restaurants, bars and clubs
Barceloneta Beach, Barcelona
Sticking to the Mediterranean, Barcelona is blessed with 4.2km of golden beaches, close to the city centre. Barceloneta, the first beach along the boardwalk, has long been called one of the best urban beaches in the world. Besides its wide open space, it has a vibrant atmosphere and gets packed with locals and tourists. While it is Barcelona’s most popular beach, thanks largely to its location, it does get some criticism for the quality of sand, which some say is mixed with cement. But the weird artwork, atmosphere, local characters and buzz make up for it. Close to the port, it's also the best place for fresh seafood in the city.
Scarborough Beach, Perth
Perth may be amongst the most isolated major cities in the world, but it consistently ranks in the Top 10 for lifestyle and quality of life polls. That might have something do with its beautiful beaches located a short drive from the city centre, like Scarborough, 15 minutes away. The sand is white, the Indian Ocean is a clear blue, and the weather sizzling. Restaurants, hotels, ice cream shops bars and clubs attract locals and tourists, giving Scarborough a famously laid back coastal holiday town atmosphere. Families picnic in adjacent grass areas, enjoying the clear views all the way to an island 20km away. Perth has other well-known city beaches nearby, like Trigg and Cottesloe, but “Scarbie” remains a local favourite
Hot, cold, dry, wet and windy – there are some places in the world where everything is taken to the extreme. Those craving excitement might put them on the radar. Others should make a mental note to avoid these spots at all costs.
The World’s Hottest Place
Here’s a contentious category, with various contenders vying for the top hot spot. Historically, the victor was El Aziza in Libya, where the ground temperature was recorded in 1922 at a whopping 58°C. Furnace Creek in California’s Death Valley clocked in at an impressive 56°C, but it was not until satellites could measure thermal temperatures that the true victor could scorch their way to the top. Researchers at the University of Montana analysed infrared satellite data and the results were surprising. According to five years worth of data, the hottest place on Earth is Iran’s Lut Desert, where the land skin temperature was measured at 70.7°C. At that heat, you can fry an egg on your hand!
The World’s Coldest Place
On November 23, 2010, Alberta recorded temperatures that made it the second coldest place that day on the planet. What’s remarkable about this fact is that it included populated cities like Edmonton and Calgary, where the wind chill cranked the chill to around -41°C. Pollockville, 250km east of Calgary, had to deal with -49°C. But that’s toasty compared to how cold it can get in Antarctica, which reigns supreme for recording the coldest temperatures on Earth. Scientists in Vostok, near the magnetic south pole, recorded land temperatures at a brrrr-isk -89.2°C, measured during the dark winter months of June and July. The coldest permanently inhabited town is said to be Oymyakon in Russia’s northern Sakha Republic, which clocked in at a frisky−71.2 °C.
The World’s Wettest Place
There are half a dozen contenders in this category, with different research methodologies determined to soak up the glory. When I visited Kauai, Hawaii’s Garden Island, I was told by proud locals and guides that Mount Wai-‘ale-‘ale is the wettest spot on Earth, with rain falling between 335 and 360 days a year, drowning in up to 13,000mm each year. The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes this achievement, but the US National Climatic Data Center gives the title to Colombia’s Lloro, which receives over 12,000mm a year. Cherrapunji in north-eastern India is another contender, even more remarkable since its annual rainfall (almost 11,000mm) falls mostly in the monsoon months between June and August. Back in Colombia, a freak rainy season in 1974 deposited 26,303mm of rain on the town of Tutunendo. It puts living in rainy Vancouver, where the average annual rainfall is just 1588mm, in perspective.
The World’s Windiest Place
For 75 years, Mount Washington in New Hampshire held the record for the highest wind speeds ever recorded, 231 miles per hour at the top of its peak. It was a freak event, much like the cyclone in Barrow Island, Australia that blew right past the record, clocking in at 253 miles per hour. The most consistent windiest place on the planet is Commonwealth Bay in Antarctica. As for the windiest cities, forget Chicago. Citizens in Wellington New Zealand, Reykjavik Iceland and Cape Town South Africa would do well to invest in extra strength umbrellas. As for the windiest city in Canada? The title goes to St John’s, Newfoundland.
The World’s Driest Place
The Atacama Desert stretches across northern Chile into parts of Bolivia and Peru, and is known as the driest place on the planet. Average rainfall is as little as 1mm a year, with some weather stations having never recorded any rain at all. The town of Arica, a launchpad for tourism excursions into the Atacama, did not record any rain for over 15 years! Crossing the Atacama in a 4x4 is one of my highlights of visiting South America, witnessing its otherworldly landscapes and rock structures. Scientists have compared the Atacama to conditions of Mars, which is why NASA test-drove their Mars Rovers here. Oddly enough, the driest continent is Antarctica, which receives less than 2mm rain a year, even though it is primarily made up of compacted snow and ice.
The World’s Deepest Place
James Cameron, director of Avatar and Titanic, broke the world record to become the first human to visit the deepest spot on the earth – the desolate, alien and lunar landscape that sits almost 11km deep at the bottom of the ocean known as the Mariana Trench. Located in the Western Pacific, the 2550km long trench forms the boundary of two tectonic plates. While pressure at the bottom is over 1000 times that found at sea level, researchers have still found life in the form of fish, shrimp and other organisms. Decaying animal skeletons, shells and other organisms give the seabed a yellow colour. Cameron filmed his descent in 3D for a documentary, and collected samples for scientists to shed more light on the darkest of ocean deeps.
The World’s Highest Place
The world’s highest mountain is Mount Everest, towering at 8848m above sea level. If you dared to climb atop its dangerous peak, as thousands of climbers do every year, you wouldn’t however be the closest to the moon. The planet’s shape is an oblate spheroid, much like the shape of balloon if you were to sit on it. The result is that mountains close to the equator stick out further than mountains closer to the poles, not in terms of height above sea level, but in terms of its closeness to the stars and distance from the earth’s centre. Cleverer people than I have done the calculations, and determined that the 6310m high Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador lies on the bulge, and as such is about 2.4 km closer to space than Everest!
The Deepest Place Below Sea Level
On dry land, you can’t get any lower than visiting the Dead Sea, the salty lake that shares its banks with Israel and Jordan. To get there, you’ll drive along the world’s lowest road, and float in its famously buoyant waters 423 metres below sea level. 67 kilometres long and 18 kilometres wide, this lifeless sea is 8.6 times saltier than the ocean, which is why you can comfortably sit back and read a newspaper during a dip. The health benefits of the mineral waters and thick mud of the Dead Sea have been prized since Biblical days, making it one of the world’s first health resorts. A drop in groundwater and flow of water from the Jordan River has resulted in significant shrinking of the Dead Sea, causing much concern for both the tourism and cosmetic industries that support it.
The World’s Most Dangerous Country
Forbes Magazine went through data looking at crime rates, risk of terrorism and kidnappings, police protection, corruption and political stability to determine the world’s most dangerous countries. Receiving the bronze medal on the podium is Somalia, which has not had a real government for 15 years, where militants run wild and piracy is rampant. The silver medal goes to Iraq, a hotbed of fundamentalism and instability, its citizens living under the constant threat of bombings and deeply corrupt government officials. Winning the gold medal, which will probably make its way to a Swiss bank account faster than I can type this sentence, is Afghanistan. Tribal warfare and corruption is rife, especially on the Pakistan border, where it is estimated that every citizen owns an automatic weapon.
The Youngest Place on Earth
Iceland, the real land of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones notwithstanding) boasts the youngest place on the planet with its southern-most point, Surtsey Island. This 1.4 km2 island dramatically emerged from the sea during a volcanic eruption in 1963. The volcano stopped erupting almost four years later, with the intense flow of lava resulting in a newest island in the Atlantic. Since then, erosion has whittled away some of the land, but its hard igneous core has remained firm. The island was declared a nature reserve in 1965, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, for its scientific value. Scientists are studying how plant, bird and marine life are evolving on the island, with human impact carefully monitored and kept to a minimum.
Ten years ago, I set out to backpack the world, chasing a dream of adventure and who-knows-what, with the what turning out to be a career of chasing a dream of adventure. 2015 saw my 10 year Travel Anniversary, and it was a year of candied cherries on the bucket list sundae. I’d publish three new books, all of which would become bestsellers, and at years end my first book would still be the #1 selling Canadian travel title, two years since publication. I’d successfully produce and tick-off a 10-city speaking tour from Toronto to St John’s, driving across the country with my Mom. In the time it took my daughter to become a full-tantrum two-year old toddler, I’d zip around the world (yet again), craft my life’s work, give presentations to hundreds of people in Canada, the US and Mexico, buy a drone, destroy a drone, and celebrate my good fortune with one final tattoo. I crossed the Northwest Passage for hell’s sake. Even a salty dog sailor would be proud.
When I started my original blog, Modern Gonzo, it was selfishly as much for my own recollections as it was for sharing stories. This particular post follows that tradition, a brief look at the year that from a global, professional, and personal perspective.
A firelight procession on New Years Eve at Sun Peaks Resort, BC
I welcome the New Year snowboarding down a mountain under the stars, holding a flare in a magical torchlight procession at Sun Peaks Resort. I was about as memorable a new years as one could hope for. In Paris, two gunmen murder 12 people at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Shockingly, this would not be the worst atrocity in Paris this year. The East Coast gets pounded with record snowfall. The West Coast is milder than hot dog mustard.
Ice sculptures on the Assiniboine River, Winnipeg
I visit Winnipeg where I tell CBC viewers that you can’t do Canada if you can’t do cold. It’s the coldest snap of the winter, but there’s always a warm welcome at the the Festival du Voyageur, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and Assinniboine Park, where I watch a polar bear stand above my head. Is it blue and black or gold and white? RIP Leonard Nimoy, along far too many innocent victims in Syria, a country that many people felt couldn’t get any worse, until it did, and didn’t stop.
Three expanded, revised regional bucket lists.
I’ve begun diligently working on The Great Global Bucket List, and planning an epic summer. Meanwhile the planet’s two biggest scumbags – ISIS and Boko Haram – make bloody goo-goo eyes at each other. 20 people are murdered by terrorists at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, and ISIS start blowing up Syria’s UNESCO World Heritage Site treasures. A lunatic German pilot decides to commit suicide in the cockpit of a passenger plane, killing 150 people on board. Not a good month for tourism. I have to watch my TEDx talk again to remind myself that people will rather help than hurt you. By year-end, nearly 300,000 people would have done the same.
My Mom, a Mustang, and a 10-city speaking tour
A random email arrives and next thing you know CBS are flying me to New York for an interview with 60 Minutes Sports about the rise of bucket lists. The following week I’m in Saskatchewan with my brother chasing down mustard seeds and climbing up Canada’s very own Ayers Rock aka Castle Butte in the Big Muddy Badlands. The last week of the month sees my Mom and I fly into Toronto and pick up a saucy royal blue Ford Mustang. With Starwood Hotels looking after us (and by year-end, Marriott Hotels looking after Starwood), I tick off a visit to Casa Loma, surf the standing wave on the Lachine Rapids in Montreal (well attempt to anyway), and plunge in the freezing waters of the Bay of Fundy outside St John. Along the way I give talks in Indigo stores, MEC, for a packed room at World Expeditions in Ottawa, and my personal highlight, for the friendly community of Lindsay, Ontario. Meanwhile, there’s a massive 7.8 earthquake in Nepal, with over 9000 dead. Baltimore is shaking with racial tension after the first of several high profile deaths of African-Americans by police officers. Apple Watch goes on sale (wearables shmarables) and more optimistically, there’s a nuclear deal brewing with Iran and a real thawing between the US and Cuba.
Footsies on the Aria Amazon, Peru
My speaking tour continues to Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and it’s wonderful to be able to show my Mom around Atlantic Canada (even if she does order tea at an Irish Bar on George St in St John’s). Back home, I get to demo Harley Davidson’s new electric motorcycle (it sounds like a Star Wars Speeder Bike) and finally bring my wife along on a mind-blowing bucket list adventure to the Peruvian Amazon on a luxury riverboat. FIFA, a corrupt excuse for a sport governing body, starts to fall apart. John Oliver, who’s weekly Youtube rants are essential, summed it up nicely. There’s a Fight of the Century in boxing, which is something of a has-been sport, with has-been boxers boring the hell out of everyone, even with a has-been scandal. Hundreds of migrants (aka refugees) drown trying to escape the quagmire of Syria, Iraq or Sudan. Even as the Conservatives stay in power in the UK, Ireland legalizes gay marriage.
Hiking bliss in Ivvavik National Park, Yukon
We didn’t have much of a winter in Vancouver, but it’s sure sweet to see summer. Back from Peru, I pack for a week of hiking and camping 200 km north of the Arctic Circle in beautiful Ivvavik National Park (more people visit Everest Base Camp each year). I also spend a few days in the Western Arctic capital of Inuvik, a frontier town built on permafrost. Showing just how far it has come (despite the Bible-thumping lunatics), the US Supreme Court votes 5-4 in favour of gay marriage. Everyone’s Facebook profile pic gets attacked by rainbows. But it’s not all love and unicorns. Mass shootings in the US continue to shock, the latest (in a Charleston church by a white supremacist) at least serving to finally force the removal of the Confederate Flag (a not-so-secret white supremacist symbol) from government buildings. After missing a debt payment, the Greek economy collapses, again. More tourists are murdered by Islamic fundamentalists in Tunisia, this time on the beach. North America is far more concerned with the fate of Jon Snow (no way he’s dead!?) and a freakshow limelight-addicted reality star changing gender. The FIFA (yuck) Women’s World Cup (yay!) kicks off in stadiums across Canada.
Stuff you see in the Galapagos
I was a little nervous to visit the Galapagos. How could it possibly live up to the expectations? Well, it did, and then some. Sailing on a luxury catamaran, snorkelling with sea lions, turtles, penguins and marine iguanas, hiking on lava – Darwin’s islands quickly became a highlight in my Global book. The US and Cuba announce full diplomatic relations. Cuba is going to change fast, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Japan didn't stand a chance in the Women’s World Cup Final, but the country does legalize military participation in foreign conflicts for the first time since World War II. For a better handle on geo-politics, this year I turned to podcasts, in particular Intelligence Squared and Dan Carlin’s Common Sense. The world goes gaga for our first glimpses of the ex-planet Pluto. It looks nice, but I wouldn’t want to live there. A douchebag dentist kills a famous lion in Zimbabwe and gets a mouthful of hate on social media. China’s stock market starts to teeter but Vancouver real estate prices respond like a honeybadger (just.don’t.care). Best viral clip of the month has champion surfer Mick Fanning tangling with a shark (and somehow keeping all his toes). More mass shootings in America (cut and paste this line for every month).
On the way to board One Ocean Expedition's Vavilov off the coast of Greenland
Two days before an epic cruise to the Arctic with One Oceans Expeditions, I get a call that sea-ice has trapped the ship and the trip is cancelled. (Tears). Instead, do I want to attempt the Northwest Passage as Writer-in-Residence? (Of. Joy). An unbelievable adventure from Greenland to Baffin Island and following the footsteps of Franklin caps the highlight chapter for my Northern Canada Bucket List. Bonus: that’s me toasting life in a hot tub with icebergs in the background in stories written by Science Editor (and Scotch tutor) Robin McKie for the UK Observer and the Guardian. Although I was on the same boat in Antarctica last December (joined again by the intrepid photographer Jeff Topham) it’s a completely different polar adventure. Having less of a maritime adventure are the hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean to the relative safety of Europe. It’s now the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. How different countries react to the crisis range from inspirational (Germany, and later Canada) to horrifying (Hungary, the Arab states). Also horrifying: ISIS blow up Palmyra, the most famous historical site in Syria. Also horrifying: Donald Trump leads the polls as the front runner for the Republican presidential nomination. The more misogynistic, bigoted, ignorant and frightening his remarks, the more light shines on the dark, scary shadow of the United States. It’s not the best time for Jon Stewart to retire, but he does, choosing young South African comedian Trevor Noah to replace him. In Canada, tension rises for the upcoming election, with the NDP running neck and neck with the Conservative Party.
My daughter Raquel loving life at Echo Valley Ranch, BC
Let no one tell you that writing a book isn’t a lot of work. My Great Global Bucket List is a monster, so much so that I have to cut 17 chapters for space! And this month is my deadline for both the Northern and Prairie Bucket Lists too. Why write one book when you can write three? Between long writing days, I take my family to a magical place called the Echo Valley Ranch in the BC interior. For a year that includes the Amazon and Galapagos and Greenland, I fondly recall Echo Valley way more than I expected to. Beside the wingnuts lined up at the mall, who gives a crap about the new iPhone when dead kids are washing up on beaches? The world is shocked when the media publishes an image of a drowned toddler washed ashore in Turkey. The refugee crisis is truly staggering: over a million people braving terrible conditions and risks to get away from monsters, some of them arriving to find monsters trumping all over them on arrival. Meanwhile, thousands die in a stampede during the annual Hajj in Saudi Arabia, and Russia starts bombing ISIS and US-backed opposition forces in Syria. Because that’s what the region needs: the possibility of igniting World War III. Volkswagen is revealed to have been cheating omissions tests with software, one of the largest cases of industrial fraud ever. At least they owned up to it. What the hell happened to the NDP? All of a sudden, strategic voting is elevating the Liberals to the neck-and-neck title. Canadian politics may be civil, but this is turning out to be an interesting election that could change the future of the country.
Showing off my maritime tattoo at the Vancouver Maritime Museum gala
It crunch time for deadlines. When you work by yourself, there’s no office mates to high five when you file a 120,000 word manuscript. Or nail a keynote at a conference on the Mayan Riviera in Mexico, or on stage in Tacoma, or for the BC tourism industry annual gathering. I’m high fiving myself all over the place. On October 19, Canada goes to the polls. I vote on the way to dropping off my daughter at daycare. That afternoon I visit a tattoo artist in Strathcona to permanently ink a reminder of the year’s incredible adventures. If I don’t, I simply would not believe all these adventures had taken place at all. By the time I return home after my five hour sitting, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have somehow swept to a majority government. It’s the dawning of a new Canada, one that I believe is far more recognizable and in-line with the values of its people. The Conservatives campaigned on fear, the Liberals on hope. By the end of the month, you could taste the optimism in the air. Trudeau appointed a gender-equal cabinet. Trudeau reversed policy decisions on refugees, on climate change, on austerity. The last time I lived through a political honeymoon like this was when Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa. Two decades later, South African politics is in a sorry mess (#zumamustfall), but there’s no denying the “moment” while it lasts. On the world stage, Canada is back. #becauseits2015. A bomb explodes on a Russian commercial jet with 225 passengers shortly after take-off in Egypt. Putin says there will be blood, and promptly starts dropping bombs on innocent Syrian civilians. 32 people die in a Romanian nightclub fight. October 21 is the actual day Marty McFly arrives in the future in Back to the Future II. Our hoverboards have wheels. Our laces still don’t tie themselves. Damn Marty, the future ain’t what it used to be.
Diving off Lizard Island, Australia
No offence November, but you’ve always been the worst month of the Northern Hemisphere year. Winter starts biting, but the festivities of December have yet to begin. And it doesn’t help that it rains, and gets dark at 3pm, and everyone starts coming down with year-end fatigue. Fortunately, there’s always a trip to Tropical North Queensland to dive Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It was a last minute chapter in the book and an opportunity to tick off one of the world’s great natural wonders. I was driving in rental car in Gold Coast, tuned into local radio, and first heard about the massacre in Paris. The news stopped all of us in our tracks. We all know Paris (or of it). We know what it’s like to go to a concert, or chat in a coffee shop. Each attack makes us angrier, and that anger translates into action, and unfortunately, more fear of the other. It’s exactly what these rectal slimebags want. More hatred, more fear, more terror. More yahoo cowboys with bazookas in kindergartens. A religious civil war is sucking the world into its fundamentalist vortex, Allah help us. Turkey shoots down a Russian fighter jet and the old claws of NATO and the Warsaw Pact get sharpened. At least Taiwan and China seem to be moving in the right direction, with the first formal meeting of its leaders. And Aung San Suu Kyi appears to be having her Mandela moment in Burma aka Myanmar. Adele’s new album smashes records in its opening week. It’s full of heartbreak, aching and longing.
Canadian lunch at US Tour Operators Conference, Chicago
I kicked off December with a visit to Chicago to talk about the wonders of Canada to a room of US tour operators. Even more memorable than strolling beneath the Xmas lights on the Magnificent Mile was the fact that, for the first time in my life, I showed up at the airport without my passport. Yep, true story. I hopped into a cab, and with a sympathetic driver (who turned out to be a fan), pushed the limits of a Prius to somehow get home and back to the airport, through customs and security, before the plane took off. Now that was magnificent. For all the bad news in the world (another mass shooting in the US, and another) there was also optimism. For the first time, the world’s nations came together to agree on a plan to move away from fossil fuels. Implementation will be nigh on impossible, but at least there’s a global political consensus that the weather is changing, and unusual droughts, floods, storms and temperatures are not a good thing. 2015 is the hottest year recorded since records began in 1880. For all our current geo-political turmoil, at least we’re not living 12,800 years ago. A fascinating talk (and new book) by one of my favourite authors Graham Hancock convincingly suggests that impending comet strikes sent us back to the Stone Age. And probably will do so again. Oh well, one more reason to start ticking off that bucket list sooner than later.
Some of the better books I read: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari; The Martian by Andy Weir; The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern; Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins; The Girl who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonassen; The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert; One More Thing by BJ Novak and Magicians of the Gods by Graham Hancock.
Some of the better movies and TV shows I saw: Game of Thrones; The Martian; Mad Max Fury Road; Ex Machina; Inside Out; Sicario; The Jinx; Narcos. Of course, there’s a lot I didn’t see, and regrettably. all the superhero stuff just sort of blended into one explosion.
It was a weird year for music. Normally I run through critics list and hunt new tunes and bands with impressive tenacity. This year I just didn’t get it. Everything sounded so…derivative. I must really be getting old. Some of the better songs I listened to (whether they were released in 2015 I’m not sure): 10,000 Emerald Pools by Borns; Every Other Freckle by Alt-J; Kill vs Maim/Flesh without Blood by Grimes; Generate/Mirage by Eric Prydz; Anna Sun by Walk the Moon; Kygo remixes; Trojans by Atlas Genius; Science-Visions by Chvrches; Flash Junk Mind by Milky Chance.
I am the passenger and I ride and I ride
I ride through the city's backsides...
Next time you're walking through a crowded subway, tune a little Iggy Pop into your headphones. We are all passengers, and we all ride and we ride. The last time I rode the tube in London, I got thinking about the world's major subway systems, asking questions that this blog post would later answer:
One of the oldest and largest urban transit systems in the world, New York’s subway currently has 468 stations in operation, with approximately 660 miles of routes clocking in at over 1.5 billion rides annually. It’s one of only four subways running 24 hours a day in the USA, vital for shepherding New Yorkers (and tourists) around the city, especially in Manhattan, where traffic is choked during rush hour and parking exorbitant. New York has the world’s largest fleet of subway cars (around 6200), and is probably the most recognized system thanks to being featured in movies like Saturday Night Fever, Ghost and the Taking of Pelham 123. Here’s a neat fact: New York’s subway has only 60 stations less than all the combined subway stations in the United States.
The oldest underground rapid transit system in the world is the London Underground, known affectionately as the “Tube.” Its first sections were built in 1863, and the Northern Line was the world’s first electric train. The tube currently has 270 stations and 402 kilometres of track, covering central London and stretching way into the suburbs, Heathrow airport, and even surrounding regions of Essex and Buckinghamshire. Linking seamlessly with an excellent bus system and above-ground trains, including rail and the Docklands Light Rail, the map of the iconic coloured lines of each route have become a design classic. Be aware the Underground map doesn’t correspond to geography above-ground, which is why some tourists might spend 45 minutes taking the Tube to a destination just a ten minute walk away.
China’s largest municipality (over 23 million people!) is served by the world’s longest metro network. The Shanghai Metro’s 11 lines and 278 stations delivers over 2 billion rides annually, at about 5.5 million rides a day. Three lines converge at the busiest station, People’s Square, located near the popular Nanjing Road shopping district. Fares are based on distance, and allow you to transfer between lines, as well as railways and buses. Transit cards can be purchased as stations, convenient stores and banks, and can be used to pay for buses and even taxis. Connected to the Metro, although it is not included in the system itself, is the Maglev. Reaching a speed of 431 km/hr, the train’s magnetic levitation system makes it the world’s fastest commercial regular service, and a 30 km thrill ride from the airport.
25 Stations opened in 1966 in time for the 1967 World Fair. Today, the Métro de Montréal has 68 stations running on four lines. It is Canada’s busiest subway system, third in North America after New York and Mexico City. Designers looked to Paris for inspiration, and Montreal’s rubber-tired efficiency has in turn inspired other Metros like Santiago, Lyon and Mexico City. Rubber tires were chosen because they are quiet, turn at higher speeds, and reduce vibration for passengers. They also allow faster speeds than conventional steel tracks. Due to winter weather, the 759-cars run entirely underground, and are not weatherproof. Although public art in stations was popular in communist countries, Montreal was a pioneer introducing stained glass, sculptures and paintings to western metro stations.
With millions of people flocking to the capital from around Russia, Soviet leadership in the 1920’s recognized the potential for the Moscow Metro to be more than just a transportation necessity. It was designed to serve as an ambitious vehicle for propaganda and communist ideology. The Moscow Metro opened with 13 stations in 1935, with 285 000 passengers using it that day. Today’s Metro receives a 6.6 million passengers each day, the second most heavily used transit system in the world after Tokyo. It was Stalin who commissioned some of the era’s greatest architects and artists to design stations that would inspire and overwhelm the proletariat with the power of the state. Unlike the functional transit systems that were being developed in other major world cities, the Soviet goal was to build underground palaces, reflecting a radiant future to all who used it, designed and lit up like grand ballrooms. Visiting the most famous stations - Ploschad Revolutsii, Komsomolskaya, Mayakovskaya – is a must for any visitor to the city.
Distinctive by the Art Nouveau entrances of some its stations, the Paris Métro is one of the world’s most compact transit systems, cramming in 245 stations and 87 kilometres of track within the city itself. First opened in 1900, by the 1940’s, there was no more space to expand lines within the city, and so faster cars were introduced to increase ticket sales. You can choose your direction on the 14 lines, distinguished with colours and numbers, by selecting the destination terminus. 4.5 million passengers use the Métro every day, so you won’t be alone. The Métro does not run 24 hours, which is why locals call the last train the balai, the “broom” that sweeps up the night’s last passengers.
The busiest subway in the world – over 8 million passengers daily – has a map that is a labyrinth of lines and colours, leaving many visitors confused and disorientated. With over 880 stations on the extended rail network, it’s a Sudoku puzzle figuring out where you want to go. During rush hour, white gloved “train packers” jam people into every square inch of space so the doors can close. Just getting around the stations can be quite a trek, and because each mode of transportation in Tokyo is operated by a different company (including two subway systems), you’ll require a different fare ticket if you transfer. Your best bet is to buy a Suica, a pre-paid card that works on every system, and can even be used for vending machines. Alternatively, the Tokyo Free Kippu allows one day of unlimited travel on all subways, trains and buses.
Canada’s oldest and largest subway system currently has 4 lines, 69 stations and 70 kilometres of track. Typically named for its nearest artery, it carries over a million passenger rides each weekday, and is integrated with streetcars and buses throughout the Toronto Transit Commission. Hanging around the platforms, you may notice some of the two-dozen artworks that breathe life into the system. My favourite is the opposing murals at College station entitled Hockey Knights in Canada. The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs eternally face off on opposing platforms. Artists have used glass, tiles, and paint to create wonderful works in stations like Spadina, Dupont, St.Clair West and Eglinton. The busiest stations: Bloor (Yonge-University), Yonge (Bloor-Danforth) and St George (Bloor-Danforth).
With an average of 7 million rides each day, Seoul’s Metropolitan Subway is one of the world’s busiest transit systems. Many of its 18 lines are still expanding, with a current total of 560 stations operated by seven different organizations. All signs are in Korean and English, and helpfully for tourists, all announcements are made in Korean and English too. Along with single-journey tickets, various transportation cards work across all the systems, with discounts for kids and seniors. Navigating is fairly easy: each station has a name, number and colour. Transfer stations are clearly marked, and trains are generally very efficient. Ever pushing the technology envelope, the Seoul Subway introduced the world’s first virtual subway supermarket, where passengers use their smart phones to scan QR codes of products (laid out like a shopping shelf) which can be purchased and delivered to their homes.
South America’s most extensive and expanding subway system is in the Chilean capital of Santiago, with 105 stations servicing five lines and over one hundred kilometres of track. Inspired by Montreal, three of the tracks use rubber-tired cars, and like Montreal, art features prominently inside the stations. Over 45km of new track will be laid in the next few years alone, highlighting the success of the government’s overhaul of the city’s public transport system. Line 1, servicing downtown Santiago, is the city’s busiest track. Bike lockers at various stations have further eased the traffic congestion in the city. When a massive 8.8 Richter scale earthquake hit Chile in 2010, the Metro held up strong, with only station closed for superficial repairs.
I just returned from the most incredible research trip cruising the Northwest Passage in the High Arctic. I was sailing on One Ocean Expedition‘s Akademik Sergey Vavilov, a Finnish-built, Russian-flagged by Canadian chartered expedition ship that is ice-strengthened for wild polar trips. It felt great to return to the Vavilov, which I sailed on in Antarctica last December researching my Great Global Bucket List book. Flying from Ottawa to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, I’d be joining 88 other passengers from around the world. We boarded the ship and headed up the ragged coastline (80% of Greenland, the world’s largest island) is covered by a thick ice sheet), arriving in the town of Sisimiut. It was like stepping into Iceland, or Norway, or northern Sweden. From there we spent two days crossing the Baffin Strait to the Inuit community of Pond Inlet on Baffin Island. Quite a contrast between the communities of Nunavut and Greenland! In Pond Inlet I went to the cultural centre to see some demonstrations of throat singing, one-footed high kicks, drumming, dancing and other Inuit games. You can’t believe you’re in Canada, but the local Co-op takes Canadian dollars (of course) and remarkably, you can get fresh veggies every day. Everything fresh is flown in, and the prices reflect this accordingly.
From Pond Inlet Captain Beluga (yes, that’s his real name) steered the ship north into the Lancaster Sound, and the start of the Northwest Passage. Now we were firmly on the trial of the doomed Franklin Expedition. With the discovery last year of the Erebus, the flagship of the 1845 expedition that vanished, there’s been a lot of news and interest into the fate of Franklin and his men. Forensic scientists recently confirmed signs of cannibalism on recovered human remains found scattered along the coast of King William Island. The Erebus and sister ship Terror didn’t get very far before sea-ice boxed them in for two years in a bleak, desolate place called Beechey Island. We visited the grave markers of three of Franklin’s men, lucky enough to have died of natural causes and not starvation. John Torrington, a 20-year-old sailor, was exhumed in the 1980′s and he’s been basically mummified by the permafrost. It was a bone chilling place, all the layers I was wearing didn’t stop the chill running down my spine. The stark landscape of the islands was contrasted by the lively crew and passengers, delicious hot meals, stocked Scotch bar and hot tub on board the Vavilov.
Hiking the tundra at Dundas Harbour on Devon Island, life in the Arctic was distinctly more colourful. Arctic cotton, poppies, willow and lichen practically glows under a bright sun. The colours on a clear day are unusually pure, as you can see in the images above. It took a while to find the famously scarce Arctic wildlife, but it was worth it when we did. Two large polar bears feasting on belugas on the shore of Conningham Bay. Hundreds of thousands of sea birds nesting on the dramatic cliffs of Prince Leopold Island. Some of the kayakers managed to spot some narwhals. I was more swept up in the history of the Franklin Expedition. How early explorers into the Northwest Passage suffered is beyond comprehension. In solidarity, I fell down a flight of stairs on my way from the hot tub to the sauna. How we suffer for our quests!
I’ll be writing more about this trip in the coming months, and it’s a terrific chapter in my upcoming book, The Great Northern Canada Bucket List (on shelves in February) as well as being featured in The Great Global Bucket List (on shelves in Fall 2016). Check out some of these incredible images taken by my talented photographer, shipmate and buddy Jeff Topham. Thanks to all my fellow passengers, One Ocean Expeditions, and the fabulous crew of the Akademik Sergey Vavilov!
This month I’m a talking, highly animated head on a 60 Minutes Sports episode about the rise of Adventure Travel. Why are more and more tourists leaving the all-inclusive beach resorts to go hiking or cycling or bushwhacking? In effect, why are tourists becoming travellers? I call it the Rise of the Bucket Lister.
Here’s a preview of the episode. Warning: I’m pretty certain my two year-old daughter fell into a cauldron of Red Bull and is incapable of any form of rejuvenating sleep. My eyes tell this story accordingly.
I’ve seen this trend with the success of the Canadian Bucket List project. Bucket Listers, as I call us, are drawn to unique and memorable experiences. Beach vacations tend to blur together, but you never forget seeing a polar bear in the wild, or staying in an ice hotel, discovering an island by bicycle or crossing the country by train. Not that there’s anything wrong with a beach vacation, especially if we’re looking for relaxation and rest. I’ve always said that travel is as personal as the underwear you’re wearing (assuming you’re wearing underwear!)
Demographically, we’re at an incredible time for travel. Active boomers and empty nesters with more disposable income than any other generation in history are game for adventure. Millennials and Gen X’ers are taking advantage of low-cost airfare and helpful online tools to find great deals, information and inspiration for their own adventures. Factor in online bookings, credit cards and e-devices, and there’s never been an easier time to travel. Clumsy travellers cheques and paper airline tickets have gone the way of the dodo. A tiny USB stick can hold hundreds of albums for any road trip. Even in far-flung Albania, I could access local currency at ubiquitous ATM’s. Tour operators have become more professional, and more environmentally responsible, and the rise of volun-tourism has brings with it the opportunity for more meaningful travel.
For 60 Minutes Sports, I spoke about my recent trip to Antarctica, and how a night camping on the ice turned into a bigger adventure than anyone bargained for (thank you snowstorm!) I also explain it was the highlight of my trip. I was cold, wet and uncomfortable, but I was experiencing Antarctica as it is – a cold, wet and uncomfortable place. So while the fantastic meals and service and friendships I enjoyed on One Ocean Expedition’s ice-breaker might fade in my memories, surviving one miserable night on the forbidding seventh continent will not. I would argue there is Bucket List travel, and there are Bucket List moments, and this one was of them.
In August, I’ll be heading to Baffin Island one One Ocean’s sister ship, the Ioffe. You are welcome to join me for this Photographic Symposium, it’s going to be a Bucket List journey to be sure. As the Writer-in-Residence, I’ll be researching a new chapter for The Great Northern Canada Bucket List edition, to be published next year, and putting the final touches on my international opus, The Great Global Bucket List too. Visiting the starkness of the Arctic in a Russian-flagged expedition ice-breaker is sure to be unforgettable. Massive glaciers crashing into shark-fin mountains, abundant wildlife, the rich culture of Inuit communities, hikes on the tundra – is it any wonder that yesterday’s tourists are becoming today’s adventurers?
60 Minutes Sports airs and repeats on Showtime. My segment appears in Episode 6 of season 3, titled Backroads.
Montreal to Fredericton is an eight hour drive. Quebec’s ice-scarred highway runs into the smooth double lane bliss of New Brunswick. My Mom and I listen to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, a thought-provoking three hour podcast about the decision to use nuclear weapons in World War II, which is more interesting than it sounds (especially after our recent visit to the Diefenbunker). It’s a smooth, uneventful drive east, although more and more snow appears on the hills that bracket the highway. New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia got nailed with the worst winter in living memory. Everyone we meet tells us about it, shows us pictures, and is obviously relieved it is finally over. In Fredericton, I take my Mom to see the Dali masterpiece, and the Santiago el Grande delivers its magic. We pop into the Lunar Rogue, which offers over 300 whiskeys (described in a “bible” that defies description, see Gallery above), and I give a talk at the local Chapters. Onwards to Saint John, for a booksigning, polar bear dip, and a fascinating visit to the Jewish Historical Museum, and Moncton, where Magnetic Hill was closed due to snow. Without being able to see it, my Mom still doesn’t believe the car rolls uphill (it does). Our Moncton accommodation is in the new Sheraton Four Points, a welcome option if you’re visiting. Best line from a local in New Brunswick: “The Nova Scotia Tourism guys should give its annual award to the New Brunswick Highway Authority!” You simply won’t find better roads in the country, but the Bucket List has proven there are plenty of attractions in New Brunswick along the way.
There’s plenty of sea ice floating beneath the Confederation Bridge as we make our crossing on a crystal blue day, a welcome return the Gentle Island. Snow and rust-red earth had yet to turn Prince Edward Island’s countryside into the lush green hues I know from my summer visits. I’m reminded how different places look in different seasons. We head straight to the famous Water-Prince Corner Shop to feast on a lobster dinner, rejoicing that they’d opened for the season just the day before our arrival. I host a hilarious trivia night at my favourite pub The Churchill Arms, awarding prizes I’ve picked up along my journey, including a Voyageur scarf from Winter Carnaval in Quebec, Roughrider mittens from Saskatchewan and water bottles from Banff-Lake Louise. A book signing at the local Chapters, and blessed with a sunny day, I take my Mom to Prince Edward Island National Park, with the incredible Gulfshore Parkway practically deserted before tourism season kicks in. We gaze over the red cliffs at Orby Head, explore Cavendish, pop into the Dunes Gallery dusting off its wares after the long winter, and hear how the snow was piled up so high locals had to dig tunnels to their doorways. I also learn from my new friends atBookmark on Queen Street that The Great Atlantic Canada Bucket List fills a niche, with nothing else on the shelves like it. I celebrate with a taster flight of a dozen brews from Gahan House.
Back across the Link, and now we’re in Nova Scotia, which instantly seems wilder and more untamed than the farmland of PEI. We roll into Halifax just in time to tape a segment with CTV’s Jayson Baxter at Garrison’s Brewery. It’s the second taster flight in 12 hours and not a pip of a complaint from me. Opposite the craft brewery is the grand Westin Nova Scotian, one of the original CPR Hotels with hallways bigger than highway tunnels. We drop our bags and head out for a lovely walk on the waterfront, locals in shorts and sandals already, on what we’re told is the first true day of spring. We’ve been bringing the weather with us, all the way from Vancouver. The next day, Ford gathers some of the city’s most dazzling lifestyle bloggers for me to wine and dine at the fabulousOcean Stone Seaside Resort near Peggy’s Cove. We learn to shuck huge oysters, sip back sparkling pink Nova 7, and after a decadent lunch (lobster-stuffed chicken breast!) I give my final presentation about the importance of journeys. One of my key points is that a journey is only as important as the people you share it with. Illustrated beautifully by the afternoon’s visit to Peggy’s Cove and Lunenburg.
Last time I was here, the sky was muted, a dull grey failing to light up the wonder of these Nova Scotian marvels. This time, I’m with my Mom, the sun is shining, and she’s beaming on the rocks next to the iconic lighthouse, and exploring the grid streets of Lunenburg. The memorials of the Swissair Flight 111, which crashed near Peggy’s Cove with the cost of 229 lives, and the list of vessels and people that drowned off the coast of Nova Scotia, is a telling reminder to enjoy these special moments. Having spent 12 days with my Mom crossing the country, she has proved to be a friendly roadie, fun travelling companion, and proud promoter of the Canadian Bucket List. Not to mention a doting Mom. With two book signings in Halifax, a steady stream of people arrived to chat and talk about the book, having seen me on TV or my profile in the Halifax Chronicle. Many told me their own stories of exploring Canada, or ticking off their Bucket List.
A final hop to the Rock – St John’s Newfoundland, looking out over the port from our room at the Sheraton, exploring the jellybean houses the likes my Mom had never seen. We shopped for gifts on Duckworth and Water Street, had a delicious lunch at the Rooms, watched Irish music at Shamrock City (my Mom ordered tea in the Irish bar. I’m surprised the musicians didn’t fall off the stage). Hopes for an iceberg tour were dashed by poor weather, this being Canada’s windiest and foggiest city. The plane over was not fast enough to bring our weather system, for the teeth in St John’s icy wind cut right through us. I signed some books and that’s a wrap! We’d travelled 7500 kilometres promoting the joys and wonders of Canada, meeting t hundreds of peoples across a dozen events, not to mention in the many restaurants and activities we popped in along the way. The Great Canadian Bucket Listsold out its 5th print run, and according to Amazon, we’re sold out the first batch of The Great Atlantic Canada Bucket List too. Don’t worry, more is on the way. As for my own Bucket List: I got to drive a Mustang, visit an urban castle, surf in a river, polar dip in the Bay of Fundy, and show my Mom some of the most incredible spots on Canada. Tick!
The 2015 Bucket List Tour is finally here. After ticking off 18 cities in 2013, this time I pick up in Toronto and head east east east, all the way to St John’s Newfoundland before a final talk in Vancouver. Click here for dates, venues and times. Joining me is the most able roadie I know, my Mom! For the first leg, Ford Canada graciously provided ahot blue Mustang. Because everyone should travel across Canada with their mother in a Mustang!
The first event was at MEC Toronto. Right after that, I met some lovely Toronto bloggers for a talk at the Toronto Archives, and a visit to Casa Loma to see if it is indeed bucket list-worthy. First time I saw the huge medieval castle, I couldn’t believe it! Dozens of visits to the city and I had no idea it existed. It was built by Henry Pellatt, the city’s richest man back in 1911. 96 rooms, no expense spared, just for him and his wife. Needless to say, the guy ended up in financial ruin. We got a site tour, including the underground tunnels now refashioned with images of Toronto’s dark past (plague! fire!). I also recognized the hallway from the X-Men movies. Geek note: X-Men will also appear later in the blog post as well. Casa Loma is bizarre, unique, fascinating and memorable…definitely a new chapter for Canada’s Bucket List.
From Toronto, I did a talk at the Sandford Fleming College in a small town called Lindsay. A couple years ago I received an email asking me if I could stop by to give a talk to help raise funds for the local segment of the Trans Canada Trail. Glad I could! Fantastic turnout in a lecture hall at the college, lovely people, and a passionate commitment to this Bucket List trail. My Mom and I spent the night on a farm outside of town with the kind of people that make Canada the place it is. Click here to learn more about the Trans-Canada Trail.
I’ve never driven a muscle car before, and as a skinny guy, the muscle felt great. I felt like hunting a Prius on the highway. I had a 6 speed manual transmission, bucket seats, and a dashboard that lit up like the Starship Enterprise. My Mom called the Mustang Sally, of course. A sweet ride. We’re swapping Sally out for a hot red Focus in Ottawa for the rest of the drive.
Before arriving in Ottawa, I returned to the Diefenbunker to meet with some local bloggers and media and introduce them to this quirky, historically bonkers chapter in the book. I appeared on CTV Morning News in Ottawa, gave a quick presentation to some lovely folks at the Ministry of Tourism, stopped off for a book signing at theChapters-Indigo on Rideau, and gave an evening presentation in the offices of World Expeditions (who have created guided and self-guided itineraries for many experiences in my books through their Great Canadian Trails division). Never a dull moment on tour!
Starwood Hotels have been my generous hotel sponsor for the tour. An amazing room overlooking Lake Ontario from the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto, a bucket list view from my room on the 22nd floor at the Westin Ottawa, and tranquil room in the Le Meridien Versailles overlooking Sherbrooke Avenue in Montreal. With this much racing around, I need more than just a comfortable bed and hot shower at the end of the day. I need an inspired ambiance. Well played Starwood, well played. I signed up for their SPG Program, as should you.
In Montreal, I got to tick off another bucket list item: surfing on the standing wave of the St Lawrence River. There’s only one other major city in the world that has anything remotely like this (Munich) and let’s face it, Munich is not Montreal. After snacking on Schwartz’s and poutine, Ford arranged for me to visit KSF Surf School with some fetching local bloggers to learn how to surf a river wave. As with most things in life, it’s a lot harder than it looks. The river flushed me through the waves, but snug in a 3mm wetsuit, it was awesome just to be in the water, with good company, on a beautiful spring day. A Bucket List is only as special as the people you share it with, and the five of us (led by guides Luka and Hugo) had a memorable Montreal adventure. I also appeared on Breakfast TV Montreal.
After an eight hour drive, we arrived in Fredericton, New Brunswick! The highways of New Brunswick are legendary, and even though I left the Mustang behind in Montreal, the Ford Focus Hatchback ate up the black-top with no problem whatsoever. I have to run to the first of eight events in Atlantic Canada events, so this is where I leave you for now.
Glamping, short form for glamorous camping, promises all the rugged adventure of the outdoors, with the velvet luxury touch of high-end comfort. A growing trend in the world of modern travel, here’s my first round of picks from Canada and around the world:
Lets kick off on Vancouver Island’s Clayoquot Wilderness Resort (pictured above), which offers 20 luxury tents, connected by cedar boardwalk under a rainforest canopy. Each tent has antique furniture, thick rugs, wood stoves, and a shower house, blending opulence and wilderness at the mouth of the Bedwell River.
It was a stormy, cold night when I arrived at Rockwater Secret Cove, so I appreciated the heated slate floors, glowing fireplace, terry cloth robes and hydrotherapy soaker tub. All the more so because I was staying in a tent, and these are not things one normally associates with tent accommodation. Located on the Sunshine Coast, Rockwater’s tent accommodations sit off a wooden boardwalk , illuminated at night like a runway, with beautiful views of the Malaspina Strait.
Le Camp, France
Located in the countryside of southwestern France, Le Camp offers six two-bedroom luxury canvas tents, and private yurts located deep in the woodland. Each tent looks out over the countryside, and comes with handmade beds, solar lighting, composting toilets, and an indoor/outdoor shower. Private luxury for couples, or big enough to accommodate whole families, Le Camp has space to roam, explore or relax. You will however have to share the 20m natural swimming pool. Your company: butterflies, dragonflies and frogs.
Spicers Canopy, Australia
An hour and half from Brisbane, Splicers Canopy offers glampers a back-to-nature experience atop a plateau, and an 8000-acre private reserve. Accommodating 20 guests, each tent has king size beds with fine linen, polished floorboards, luxurious armchairs and covered deck. Gourmet meals are included, as are guided walkabouts into the Main Range National Park. Dining is communal, taking places around a large stone fireplace, under stars sparkling above the clear air of the plateau.
Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia
Perhaps the most exotic destination for today's glamper, the Three Camel Lodge is an environmentally sustainable development built in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. Accommodation comes in the form of luxury gers, the traditional circular tents used by Mongolian nomads. Felt and canvas cover a wooden frame that can be dismantled easily, with a wood stove keeping everyone warm in the middle. Three Camel’s gers have handpainted furniture, a private bathroom, king size beds, and Mongolian style bathrobes and slippers. The lodge features a restaurant, and Dino House, built in the style of a traditional temple, for evening entertainment.
Please come in. Mahalo for removing your shoes.
After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your love.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.