“Don’t you ever just read a Grisham?” comments one of my friends. It’s been a busy summer, making up for summers past as travel returns to its pre-pandemic boom. After Tahiti and Sudbury, I dropped my bags, picked up my six-year-old son Galileo, and hopped over the Rockies to see what Calgary is up to these days. In a city accustomed to booms and busts, the boom is back. We’d spend a few days researching the urban and regional attractions that met my ‘bucket list’ criteria, chasing columns and new chapters for the upcoming second edition of The Great Western Canadian Bucket List. There would be time for bedtime stories, but that’s about it. .
We kick off with the Yamnuska Wolf Dog Sanctuary outside of Cochrane, a facility that rescues and shelters hybrid animals that belong in neither a domestic or wilderness environment. That doesn’t stop idiots breeding wolf-dogs, for idiots who think it would be cool to own a wolf. What they get are shy yet aggressive animals that make terrible pets, with untamed instincts requiring constant attention and secure zoo-like enclosures. Breeding wolf dogs is, inexplicably, legal in Alberta. The sanctuary does a fantastic job educating the public, looking after the animals they rescue, and advocating for both wolves, canines and hybrids. Next we drive into the foothills of the Rockies to spend the night with Tracey and Tim at Painted Warriors, a hands-on Indigenous cultural and wilderness experience that invited conversation around the campfire, archery in the forest, star-gazing, and nature walks. Among many other things, I learn I’ve been aiming with the wrong eye all my life (no wonder I always miss), how aspen makes natural sunblock powder, and that a professional archer can hit the top of a golf tee from fifty yards. Above all else, I learn yet again that meeting good people always results in a good time.
We drive back to the city, pick up outrageously good smoked meat sandwiches and ice-cream at the Calgary Farmers Market, and head across the highway for Downhill Karting. It’s the same luge contraption I discovered many years ago in New Zealand outside of Rotorua, and it’s fun to share the experience with my delighted kid. It’s the first time we’ve done a trip just the two of us together, and while Gali doesn’t have gunpowder energy of his Tahiti-toting sister, he’s observant, measured, and willing to give everything a go.
We’re here for a good time, not a long time, so it’s off to Lazy Day Rafting Rentals to float down the Bow River and experience one of Calgary’s more iconic summer activities. Gali super-soaked ducks and geese as the river gently floated us from our entry point to the Bow River Pathway Bridge. Drop off the boat, check-into the Residence Inn, and stroll over to The Mash, which upcycles grain from a microbrewery into delicious pizza dough. My pizza had everything on it, Gali ordered plain cheese. One day he will order toppings, add Tabasco, and say: “So this is why you order pizza with everything on it.” I look forward to that day.
We’re heading out the city again, but before we do, we pop into the National Music Centre to see Randy Bachman’s insane guitar collection, learn about Canada’s outsized role in the history of popular music, mix some beats, and gawk at the 64-foot one-man orchestra known as the Kimball Theatre Organ. We pop into the Hangar Flight Museum by the airport, and hit the road for the Good Knights Medieval Encampment for an evening of medieval glamping. This is an actual thing, and as you can read in my column for Canadian Geographic, it’s a very fine thing indeed! We dressed up, threw fake axes, jousted with real swords, and watched lords and ladies dance under the big prairie sky. We’d immersed ourselves in a fun, family-friendly world that is one-part history and one-part Lord of the Rings / Game of Thrones / Dungeons and Dragons fantasy. The things you can do in Canada never cease to amaze me.
A few days later, we’re out the country so I can take my kids to a place I swore I’d never take them to. You can read all about it here, with an honest column that I hope captures the parent’s experience of Disneyland. I’m not a theme park kinda guy, but visiting Disneyland was never going to be about me: it’s all about the kids, and the kids had a great time. We stayed the Grand California over the 4th of July weekend, when the park was heaving with visitors. The Genie + pass was essential to avoid the line-ups, but we probably should have eased Gali into the rides before kicking things off with a dark rollercoaster of Space Mountain. I don’t think he’ll ever forgive me. His sister, meanwhile, gravitated to the fastest, loudest, scariest rides. It’s remarkable these kids came from the same womb. I turned a shade of lime after the rollercoaster and falling elevator rides in Disney Adventure Park. In truth, the ride I was looking forward to most was a Harley Davidson Road King waiting for me back in Vancouver.
Last year I researched a story about renting a Harley from EagleRider Rentals in Vancouver, joining a bike crew on a road trip up Vancouver Island, ferrying to Bella Coola, and back through the BC interior. A year later, I join most of the same group (which happen to include the excellent Daniel Cook Band), and we roar off for a four-day loop of Vancouver to Osoyoos to Nelson to Lillooet to Vancouver. Once we got out of the congested city and past the summer construction, our bikes could blitz through the sweltering, rolling countryside. Motorcycles were out in full force, giving the eponymous biker wave when passing each other. Daniel and his band busted out their instruments in the evenings, which added a wonderful dimension to the trip, and delighted large groups of bikers with an impromptu roof top party at the Adventure Hotel in Nelson. We swam in the warm waters of Christina Lake, did a long, knee-cramping day in the saddle, played obligatory games of cribbage and did a memorable sidewalk jam in Lillooet. The diverse landscape and excellent roads of British Columbia delivered the goods. I’ve joined EagleRider’s membership program, and look forward to making this an annual tradition.
A weekend in Birch Bay, Washington (or as I like to call it, Canada in the USA), back across the Rocks for a wonderful wedding at the River Café in Calgary, and we’re up to date! I’m leaving early tomorrow morning to hike the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland. July has been one for the books, but it’s going to get really busy in August. Reading a Grisham can wait.
It’s difficult to describe the cultural whiplash, the immaculate jet set disorientation, that accompanies any traveller finding themselves in Bora Bora one day, and Sudbury Ontario a few days after that. As usual, I’m going to give it a go.
It was my first time in French Polynesia, although the coconut islands of Tahiti, Mo’orea and Bora Bora have long haunted my dreams, having featured in the pages of a paradise calendar that I cut out and plastered across my dorm room wall. I’d long heard about lagoons so clear you’d think the sea was an infinity pool, about beaches that squeak and opulent overwater villas. In truth, a week in the Maldives had made this nothing new. I’d also encountered Polynesian culture before through travels to New Zealand, Hawaii and the Cook Islands. I’d even explored the oddness of a French Overseas Territory before, on the island of New Caledonia in the Pacific and the Atlantic island of St Pierre and Miquelon off the coast of Newfoundland. Yet it’s the people you meet who create the paradise you find, and the people you travel with too.
Researching a story for an upcoming Islands and Wellness issue of Dreamscapes Magazine, I had set sail to capture the essence of multi-generational travel, how knowledge and attitude is transferred through experience. Joining me on this assignment was my mom and my daughter, completing a three-generation arc. We’d travelled together before, on a fantastic cruise around Atlantic Canada which resulted in a wonderful story for the Vancouver Sun, save for one critical detail: the cruise company went bankrupt shortly after our trip. Our days aboard One Ocean’s RCGS Resolute exploring Sable Island, Gros Morne National Park, St Pierre and the Magdalen Islands - and kitchen party nights in the ship lounge with the wonderful Barra MacNeils of Cape Breton - was truly a once-in-a-lifetime deal. On the other side of Covid, the time felt right to find a new ship, a different ocean, and see if magic can repeat itself.
Cruising on a small ship is a world away from cruising on a big ship. I learned this on the Star Flyer in the Caribbean, on the Scenic Eclipse down the coast of South America, and onboard the Wind Spirit as we anchor in Mo’orea surrounded by the island’s sharp granite peaks. Unveiled in 1988 as one of Windstar’s original vessels, the old girl – as her affable captain referred to her – is a beautiful ship: four towering masts, a fantastic crew, plenty of water toys, and just the right mix of luxury and adventure. We shared a cabin on the lower deck, and as the only child on the ship, my daughter quickly stole the show, running about as if she owned the boat. We visited a vanilla plantation and pearl farm, hired a scooter to circle Bora Bora (twice), kayaked and stand-up paddle boarded, and took advantage of some of the best snorkelling on the planet. Chats with the kids about shark conservation bore fruit when I watched my daughter jump into the sea with dozens of black-tip reef sharks, the first passenger to do so. The next day, my mom was molested by lovable stingrays in search of a cuddle. We listened to local storytellers, devoured fresh tropical fruit, did the cha-cha on the pool deck, and conversed with a diversity of personalities from around the world.
A few days later - luggage successfully retrieved after being lost in-transit between Tahiti, Los Angeles and Vancouver - I took my second red-eye of the week to catch an early morning flight from Toronto to Sudbury. The last time I was in the Big Nickel was for a book tour in 2013, when I spoke at the local Chapters bookshop. This time I had arrived to deliver a closing keynote at the Travel Media Association of Canada’s Annual Conference, which gathered over 200 of the country’s top travel writers, PR pros, influ..content creators, destination marketing organizations, and other professionals that make the business of travel media tick. It’s one of the few opportunities my profession has for stories to be told and sold, for connections to be forged, and destinations to be discovered. Workshops and panels inspire professional and personal development, and this year’s host city of Sudbury put on a show for our travelling circus.
Still bombed from the red-eye, I could have fallen asleep on the bed of nails inside the excellent and interactive Science North centre (a few minutes in the gyroscope woke me up and turned me green). An outstanding meal at the highly-rated Kouzzina was the first time I’ve had my appetite for carpaccio truly satiated. The event was an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues I haven’t seen since the pandemic, all of us bearing a few scars of that fever dream. It was an opportunity to chat about our industry, to learn, to gossip, to grow, and to plan the adventures you’ll be hearing about in the future. It was also an opportunity to taste fine Irish Whiskey (courtesy Tourism Ireland) and participate in the best karaoke party this side of Osaka. Sabrina Robson of Destination BC belts a version of Amy Winehouse’s Valerie that kicked up a storm and left the veteran karaoke DJ speechless. I did my part with perhaps the best karaoke performance of my career: Home for a Rest by Spirit of the West was simply the right song, delivered at the right time, for the right crowd.
My closing keynote addressed the past, present and future of travel media. I told everyone that we’ve been at the crossroads of change for so long I’m surprised nobody’s opened up a hotel resort at the intersection to take advantage of it. I looked back to the remote and recent past, discussing the transformations of mediums, the growth of tourism, overtourism, and the challenges and opportunities awaiting us around the corner. Stitched throughout was my own journey, discovering how to travel as an awkward teenager (Lawless Rebel!), learning how the media works as a student, and how I used curiosity to recognize potential. My goal was to celebrate our unique profession, and celebrate our good fortune to live and work in Canada. Receiving a standing ovation from my peers, colleagues and friends was truly humbling, making Sudbury yet another trip I’ll remember for a lifetime. Proving yet again: a bucket list experience is only as special as the people you share it with.
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 battered attention.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.