Personal reflections on a turbulent, difficult and yet oddly reassuring year. 2020 was certainly memorable and entirely original within the context of modern history: let's hope it stays that way.
I’d often look out the plane window and wonder: how on Earth is this heavy piece of machinery flying? How does that wheel mechanism work, who figured that out? Modern air travel is a screaming, airborne testament to the power of human ingenuity, the practical benefit of science, and the accomplishments of very smart, innovative and daring people. Don’t get me started on satellites and wifi and digital cameras and glass buildings and full supermarkets packed with fresh produce grown on the other side of the planet. And all this gave me faith that, despite the political, environmental and cultural hiccups caused by lapses in our evolving hunter-gatherer brains, we got this. We’re gonna figure out climate change when we have to (because everyone knows the world is run by self-interested politicians who only do things when they have to). We’re gonna figure out racism and sexism and Anti-Semitism and how to get from A to B without gridlock traffic or a 23-car pile-up along the way. Smart people have got our back, because every time you hear something like “we need to change” and “it’s not too late if we act now” it’s not referring to you. Your impact in the we is almost comically limited. Rather, we refers to the 1% of the 1% who actually pull the levers of commerce and power, the we who can make a decision on a golf course that changes the course of history, the we who fund science labs or close coal mines or lobby legislators. I’ve never been to Davos, a TED main event or a shadowy Bilderberg conference, but I imagine it must be exciting to experience a gathering of such we that collectively drive the progress or decline of our human experiment. The we who founded, built and inherited airlines and space programs, digital research, architectural titans and global supply chains. The we who ensure that global pandemics remain spook stories in the media, not an actual reality. Hell, Bill Gates, among the smartest, most generous and accomplished of the we, warned about pandemics years ago! We got this. Growth, progress, order, technology, entertainment, design…we got it all. It’s not just a Boeing, it’s a Boeing Max! Those tragic plane crashes were a warning shot we couldn’t hear in 2019. When 2020 rolled around, the wheels fell off the goddamn plane.
Headline news today, December 8: a 95-year-old lady in the UK has received the first vaccination for Covid-19 outside of a clinical trial. Biomedical researchers have outdone themselves in the race to get our planet back on track, aided by unprecedented support from desperate health authorities weary of telling wearier populations to wear masks and do their part. Full credit to them, and all healthcare workers. It is a testament to what they – not we, unless you volunteered for an experimental vaccine jab - can accomplish when all the chips are on the table. Still, nine months of panic, uncertainty, misinformation, conspiracy, pot-banging, fear-mongering, vitriol, rolling numbers and opaque charts has taken its toll. Like so many others impacted professionally and personally by the pandemic, it’s a duty to ask: How could this happen? Why did this happen? Who was responsible for it, and who was responsible for ensuring it was under control? Then you look at our leaders: an idiot US President who doesn’t read books or care about anyone other than himself; Brexiters who somehow felt that isolation is the best step forward in a globally networked economy; a blundering Canadian PM learning on the job which he has only maintained due to a lack of dynamic competition; hard-line thinly veiled “democratic” dictators in China, Russia, Turkey, India and Brazil. Bezos, the world’s richest man, is hell-bent on putting everyone out of business unless they benefit his business, and Musk, now the second richest man, is hell-bent on pursuing some sort of techno outer-space utopia so that wealth and privilege have an escape route when the planet burns. How did we end up with this sorry lot, and how the hell can we expect this “we” to get us out of this mess? Thank god for the women in charge: New Zealand, Scandinavia, Germany – and soon but not soon enough, the US and Canada. Women who can tackle big issues with a lot more empathy and a whole lot less swinging dick.
I look back on 2020 as the year when my faith in the popular assumption that “smart people have got a handle on it” was shattered. A year when best laid plans crumbled, adventures were cancelled, tension rocketed, questions (not to mention emails) went unanswered, loved ones passed, and the stable ground shook. A year that never delivered. And yet, employing our incredible human talent to rationalize just about anything, I believe 2020 can be looked upon as being entirely necessary. Everyone needed to step to the edge, to peer over the ledge, and slowly back away with a newfound appreciation for what we have, how we have it, and why we cannot take it all for granted. 2020 demonstrated what is possible when the world of science, economics and politics mobilizes and the public makes sacrifices for the greater good. It wasn’t pretty. While I don’t condone or agree with the anti-maskers and hoax fruitcakes, I can certainly understand their frustration. The we with power sold the us without it a promise: work hard, do your job, don’t ask too many questions (especially about finance and politics) just keep cheering for your sports team and buying our crap. In return, we promise that your property value will increase, your kids will have jobs, the planes will take off. Everything will be fine. Well, obviously, it’s not.
Deep breaths then, have a drink, swallow some soma (the soothing, happiness-producing drug featured in Aldous Huxley’s increasingly prescient Brave New World). Perhaps they got us into this mess, but we are all in it. With a little luck and elbow grease, I’m optimistic they will get us out of it, and once all is said and done, we’ve had a critical dry run for the next widespread global catastrophe. The impact of climate change on cities, geo-politics and trade is going to make Covid-19 feel like an aperitif at a twelve-course meal. Even as 2020 shattered all illusions of our infallibility, it also removed the shackles that “it can’t be done.” Scientists developed several safe and innovative vaccines in mere months. Politicians shut down entire economies. Media changed popular culture. All this shifted the course of history – all to battle a tiny virus that threatened a tinier minority of the global population. After this, we can do anything.
Personally, 2020 was the year I spent with my young children – day in, day out. Hard, long days, and yet days I know I'll look back on fondly. Supported by government benefits (this was not the year to be in the business of tourism, events and travel media) it was an anxious, stressful time that nonetheless highlighted how much I have to be grateful for. Living in a world-renowned city in a stable, prosperous country, for starters. Having a safe, healthy, and loving family. Patient and supportive friends and neighbours who regularly withstood my rants. Time to write and reflect and put together a 700-page printed journal in an attempt to apprehend old memories and the passing of time. This year, my daughter won a lottery to attend a public arts school, my Dad kicked cancer, my wife’s career blossomed. Not one, but two friends bought hot tubs (like boats, you don’t want to actually own a hot tub, you want someone you know to own one). I even managed a romantic little adventure in a brief window between lockdowns. Summer was long and hot and dry. I took my kids camping to Vancouver Island and along the Fraser Canyon, on regular bikes rides, berry picking, kite flying on beaches, on trips to explore the best playgrounds in the Lower Mainland. Summer also brought weekly family picnics in the park, where we toasted our good fortune to live in a city that successfully flattened the curve (a term that feels almost archaic now, along with social bubbles and the 7pm evening pot-banging in support of essential workers). I shouldn’t forget that in January I also broke two bones in my shoulder learning to ski, another painful reminder that I’m not quite the invincible buck I once was.
The year was bookended by Netflix sensations that spoke to the times, commencing with Tiger King, a bonkers tale of excess personalities, and ending with Queen’s Gambit, a gorgeous drama about a chess prodigy’s battle for control of her life. We could all relate. Usually, I trawl end-of-year lists in search of the best music, books, films, photography, articles, etc. My heart isn’t in it this year. Even as I type, Spotify is streaming a Best Indie of 2020 playlist, but all I hear is generic-sounding beats of broken dreams. Tough times to be a travel writer, worse to be touring musician. And this is the theme, I think, of 2020. It was a bad year – no doubt about it – but wow, it could have been so much worse. Yet, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, vaccines will soon be here, and I expect there will be a global exhale. We’ll flock to the streets, unleash pent-up positive energy, embrace a new era, and look to new progressive leaders who actually believe in science. Don’t expect miracles: I suspect the United States will continue its inevitable disintegration into a handful of like-minded nation states. China’s Belt and Road initiative will continue to re-wire global trade for its own interests; economic inequality will continue its relentless march to barricade the haves from the have-nots; and the mass extinction event accompanying accelerated climate change – the real endangered elephant in the room – that’s coming up faster than an out-of-control Australian bushfire. Threats are real, and threats are here. Humanity can face the challenges, only because we now know what is possible. Take a page from the Mandalorian and believe it: This is the way.
I wonder how my children will look back on 2020. My four-year-old won’t remember much, but the seven-year-old will, certainly a lot more than I can recall about 1980 when I was her age. She’ll read books and watch movies and say: “I was a kid during the Covid-19 pandemic. I remember we couldn’t have playdates or go to museums or have birthday parties. And I remember how happy everyone was when it ended.”
I hope that’s all she remembers. As for me, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to look out the plane window with the same impressed sense of awe, assuming that whoever is in charge of the wheels has everything under control. As the saying goes: assume anything, and it makes an ass out of u and me.
I was recently speaking about the insanity of fixed gear biking, that is, bikes that don’t have brakes. I first discovered them many years ago one memorable Halloween night on the hot sticky-duck streets of Hong Kong. More recently I discovered my unpublished article about that experience, which was used as part of the script for the Hong Kong and Macau episode of Word Travels. Fans of biking, couriers and fixed gears will definitely enjoy. It also feels good to find a home for my long-lost and wayward words.
My bicycle accelerates into the crowd, zigzags through a small gap into the street, dodges oncoming traffic before turning sharply left into a side alley. A brick wall brushes my shoulder as I slice across two trams, ramp over a sidewalk, and pedal towards a major intersection. Sweat has drenched the shirt beneath my daypack, and in a city known to rush, people stare and wonder: why the big hurry? I have just a few minutes to get to the White Stag bar, do ten push-ups in front of someone called Big Glenn, have him sign my manifesto, and shoot off into the traffic to find the next checkpoint. I’m too busy playing chicken with traffic to ponder how many times I’ve almost tasted road burn. In a city famous for its pulse, fixed-gear Alley Cat bike challenges really gets Hong Kong racing.
A growing worldwide underground sub-culture, local Alley Cat races have their origin with bicycle messengers in North America. In order to test local couriers’ streetwise knowledge, their speed and ability to navigate obstacles, Alley Cat races were set up in cities like Toronto, Philadelphia, Chicago and Vancouver. Legends were born as couriers, often seen racing around these urban centers in dangerous traffic, challenged each other for titles, prizes, but most often fun. Races consist of checkpoints to be reached, and in some cases unusual tasks to be performed on arrival. Upping the thrill factor, most couriers ride fixed-gear bikes that have no brakes, no gears, and require an expert level of control and ability. Fixed gears are popularly used in the courier messenger community because they’re easy to maintain, and for anyone with a job requiring them to run into buildings to deliver packages, the bikes are confusing and difficult for thieves. Hong Kong has seen the emergence of an urban cyclist community, attracted to the lifestyle and challenges of riding on fixed-gears. Amidst the choking car and foot traffic beneath the late-night neon lights of the Central district, I went along for the city’s first unofficial Alley Cat race. When it comes Alley Cat racing, it's important to note that nothing is official anyway.
Em, where's the brakes on these things?
“In Hong Kong, you have the taxis, the cars, the trams, the mini-buses, buses and pedestrians, it’s a little crazy but we’re doing it for the challenge,” says Brian Fu, one of the organizers. “The key is, you never stop, you run into a problem, you turn right, you keep moving,” says Jeff Welch, a native of Washington DC and courier veteran who designed the race route. “People have always looked at messengers in a special way, with a mixture of envy and lack of respect,” he tells me. “They’re attracted to the freedom and the lifestyle, but repulsed because of the sweat, danger, and dirt.” With road rage, traffic, and pollution, it’s a high-risk game, but the money can be good - top couriers can earn more than $70,000 a year delivering envelopes. “You’re on the bike nine hours a day, you’re almost killed nine times a day, but you get used to it, and you begin to need it,” says Jeff, who has a few dozen Alley Cat races under his belt. For some messengers, including some of Jeff’s friends, the job costs them their lives. Messengers trade war stories about accidents, reminisce about fallen comrades, hold parties, and even attract groupies.
About half a dozen riders meet at 10pm outside a coffee shop. The manifesto is handed out, including a checklist of destinations and tasks that must be reached in order before reaching the finish line. One of them requires racers to find two girls and tells them that they are “sooo... beautiful!” Another requires us to find a bald man named 9-Ball and rub his head. In each case, a third party must sign our manifesto to prove the task has been accomplished. We count down to the start, and the race is on, each contestant racing off into the crowds. I decide to shadow a more experienced veteran, since without him I’d be lost in the traffic and spaghetti streets within seconds. We pedal frantically, every second counts. A policeman shouts at me from the sidewalk, but I’ve already disappeared around a corner. Alley Cat racing is a do-first-and-ask-questions-later kind of activity. Biking in a light drizzle at night in Hong Kong traffic is not for the fainthearted, neither is racing on a bike that, perhaps I forgot to mention, doesn’t stop with squeeze on the handlebar. But with the wind in my hair, the exhilarating speed and the quasi-legal thrill , I can certainly understand the attraction – it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about having fun, and hopefully surviving to trade stories at the finish line.
Just as prestige television has reinvented the high concept of broadcast drama, documentaries that investigate global issues have become vital components of civic society. Supported by the deep pockets of Netflix, Amazon, HBO and the like, it gives me hope that we’ve transcended the overly-commercial, ratings-dependant, and largely vacuous focus of traditional broadcasters, who seldom gave docs light of day. Important films and series are now being made that would never have been made before, and are seen by more people than would ever have seen them before. Their impact on our world is real. On Netflix, The Great Hack and The Social Dilemma have exposed the shocking consequences and murky mechanics of social media. Icarus unmasked Russian sport doping, 13th clearly explained systemic racism, while Capital in the 21st Century has revealed the scale of our financial folly. Produced by elite sports stars, Game Changers rewrote the book on veganism, while Last Dance and F1 Drive to Survive gave us wild access to wilder sports. Becoming and Knock Down the House hold up political heroes too. And then there’s David Attenborough.
Now in his 90’s, the legendary natural history filmmaker has grasped the potential of streaming to reach mass audiences, hosting ground-breaking series that air on Netflix as well as traditional broadcasters like the BBC. Night on Earth, Planet Earth II and Our Planet have truly pushed the boundaries (and no doubt the budgets) of what the genre can achieve, giving us jaw dropping never-before-seen glimpses into the natural world. Attenborough’s wise voice adds indisputable credibility and trust. For me, he’s always been the ultimate school teacher, an inspiring voice and authority worthy of respect. The teacher you listen to, and never forget. Other than perhaps Morgan Freeman, I can’t imagine another voice narrating spectacular natural visuals with such wonder, gravitas, reverence and enthusiasm. Which is why his latest film, David Attenborough: A Life on our Planet, moved me to tears. The final card reads: “This film is David Attenborough’s Witness Statement. Who else needs to see it?”
Everyone needs to see it. Absolutely everyone, and their families, friends and cousins too.
I read a review for the One World series that questioned why the show didn’t focus more on the imminent and deep threats to the natural world, why Attenborough is celebrating ever-diminishing diversity instead of hitting the panic switch. There’s no crime in focusing on the positive, and while all his series do address critical threats to our planet’s eco-systems, panic switches have never been Attenborough’s forte. Also, he likely knew well in advance what was coming, and exactly what his panic switch would look like.
A Life on Earth begins in spooky, desolate Pripyat, the abandoned Ukrainian city that once supported Chernobyl. I spent a couple days there, I’ve been in the same hallways, cracked apartment blocks and eerie streets. The world’s worst nuclear disaster has made this model Soviet city uninhabitable for thousands of years, an avoidable mistake blamed on human error. Likewise, we are doing the same for our planet, but our destructive global meltdown is taking place slowly in real time. When Mr. Attenborough (he deserves the prefix, as do all great teachers) tells us he has witnessed the devastation taking place over his own lifetime and with his own eyes, it warrants no discussion. For 118 minutes, everyone – boomers, millennials, scientists, corporations, politicians - needs to shut the fuck up and listen to what this extraordinary elder has to say, and respectfully bear witness to his statement. Accompanied by incredible images pooled from his many shows, he explains what is going on in clear, concise language so that a child might understand it. How the oceans and jungles and forests are dying, how we’re entering the planet’s sixth great extinction event, and how every step forward is through a series of one-way doors with no turning back. Once nature’s system is out of equilibrium, it all goes to hell. As a graphic shows the passing of his years, the loss of natural habitat, and the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, Mr. Attenborough becomes visibly more frustrated and upset. How fortunate we are to have shown up during the Holocene, a 100,000-year Eden of unprecedented natural stability. But like bad hotel guests, we’ve completely trashed the place. At this rate, Earth won’t be nearly as bountiful or habitable for future generations. The most harrowing part of the film is a projection of what the world will look like in 2030, 2050, 2080. Wildfires, dustbowls, ocean deserts, collapsing food stocks, melted ice, displaced millions…Attenborough looks away in horror, and we feel the blackness of his despair. We had so much, and we wasted it. How will the future ever forgive us?
But this is David Attenborough, a man who has seen more wonder and amazement than anyone could ever hope to see. All is not lost, and there is hope. “I’m going to tell you how,” he says. Once again, I sit up and pay attention, because as the film cuts to clips of Attenborough lecturing in Davos and for the UN, I know he’s not going into platitudes about recycling saving the Earth. Using real-world success stories in Costa Rica, Palau, and yes, even Chernobyl, Mr. A discusses the imminent approach of our peak population, with ambitious plans to protect our oceans, re-wild the scorched forests and plains, and increase vital bio-diversity. Because, he insists, that’s what it all comes down to: if we sustainably restore the system, our planet will breathe again, and it will be a win-win for our food security, stability, and human prosperity.
Often, the “we all need to change to save ourselves” diatribe can feel overly simplistic and dismissive of economic and political realities, but from the mouth of Sir David Attenborough, it left me with renewed hope and purpose. With any luck, it had an impact on his audience at Davos and UN, for those with political and economic power are the “We” that need to change most of all.
Other essential documentaries:
I compiled this definitive list with two very simple rules:
a) The items mentioned below should be available to members of the paying - and no doubt occasionally insane - public
b) To qualify, the thought of each dish should make my stomach swill over, my throat seize up, my nose twitch, and my eyes rattle.
This list demonstrates that we will devour whatever we are culturally conditioned to consume, and whatever creature with the distasteful misfortune to be around us if we are hungry. Presenting my global menu for those of iron will and titanium gut:
The Sour Toe Cocktail
Lets begin in the Yukon Territory, in the long-past-its-boom town of Dawson City. The Downtown Hotel bar serves up a drink of straight whiskey, with added flavouring from a real life severed human toe. A big, gnarly one too, shrivelled and yellow, with the nail still on. I joined the Sour Toe Cocktail club, and to qualify, the toe must touch your lips. I can still feel it today, like a pickled, phantom limb. Everyone gets the same toe, and in the past, some toes have been swallowed. Feeling icky yet? Just wait…
Duck can be delicious, and eggs can be delicious, so why does it get nasty when you mix the two together? Balut, a popular delicacy in the Philippines, is a fermented duck egg, that is, an egg with a crunchy, sometimes feathery baby duck inside. You peel the shell, slurp up the embryonic fluid, add some salt, and bite hard into the crispy mushy goodness. Apparently, balut goes down really well with cold beer. Slugging back a few bottles might make this gourmet treat go down better, and for that matter, up again too.
Deep Fried Hairy Spiders
Personally, I just didn’t have the stomach for arachnoids when I was travelling by bus through Cambodia. A popular roadside snack, the large spiders are eaten in big bites, or pulled apart, leg by leg, and consumed like French fries. Black bug juice dribbles down the chin as you reach the best part of meal, the pincers and the bulbous back. All the poison is removed when the spiders are fried, and apparently the appeal lies in its crunchy-chewy texture. Along came a spider, and sat down beside her, and so Muffin just ate the damn thing.
Ox Penis Soup
Let us just be grateful that, due to conservation laws and human evolution, it’s no longer Tiger Penis Soup. Some Chinese restaurants serve up this delicacy, known for its mythical and powerfully arousing properties. The broth is serviceable, but the reality of eating ox or deer penis is that it tastes like a hard, impossibly chewy sponge. Tourists wishing to partake in this dish may find themselves forced to spit it out, or swallow it whole.
Fermented Shark (Hákarl)
Moving over to Iceland now, where they like their sharks rotten, stinky, and air-dried out for 5 months. Oozing the odour and taste of powerful ammonia (think urine-scented cleaning products), hákarl is an acquired taste, even in Iceland. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay puked on it, a common reaction for first-timers, who are advised to hold their nose to avoid detecting the disgusting stench they’re about to put in their mouths. Those who eat it are associated as being strong and brave, although I mostly just felt queasy. As someone appalled by the shark fin trade, I reckon anyone who eats the fins of these increasingly endangered fish should be forced to try this Scandinavian delicacy first.
Cats and Dogs
Widely condemned by the West and pet owners everywhere, it’s a sad fact that Fluffy and Fido are still on the menu in parts of Asia. Breeds of dog are raised specifically as food, and as a friend of mine will testify, having adopted and therefore saved one such puppy from the roast, they remain viciously tempered. Dog has been eaten in China for thousands of years, and the meat is famed for medicinal properties. Meanwhile, Singapore’s Strait Times reports that up to 10,000 cats are eaten every day in the Chinese province of Guangdong. Brings a disturbing new meaning to the concept of “cat food”. Hug your Fluffy and Fido a little closer tonight.
I’m back, and in the mood for a little insect caviar! In Mexico, escamoles refers to the larvae of the giant, particularly ferocious Liometopum ant. Its eggs are collected from agave plants, spiced, and served in tacos. Escamole has a cottage cheese texture, and a buttery finish. I’ve eaten ants and termites in various jungles, and they taste surprisingly like walnuts. Perfect for anyone into nuts, or just plain nuts too.
Those who have read this far, and therefore possessed of iron guts, will appreciate the hop over to Sardinia Italy, where we can spread some thick sheep’s cheese onto a slice of toast. Only problem here, it’s been purposely allowed to rot and gather maggots, which adds to the soapy, writhing texture. Next time you have a cheese and wine soiree, think maggots!
Three Squeak Dish
By now, I hope you’re warmed up for the really gross stuff. Although not everyone is convinced this exists, it's just too sick to make up (or leave off this list). Supposedly served in some remote parts of Asia, the Three Squeak Dish is a plate served with three pink, freshly born baby mice. The first squeak is when you pick them up with chopsticks. The second is when you dip them in soy sauce. You can guess what the third squeak is. Apparently they’re easy to chew because the bones have not hardened yet. Excuse me. I have to go to the bathroom now.
Honorary Mentions: Lutifisk is a fish Norwegian weapon of mass culinary destruction. Laos Snake Whiskey is sold with farm-bred cobras at the bottom, some with scorpions for extra zing. We should also leave room for cockroaches, haggis, and cuy (deep-fried guinea pig). And how can I forget my delicious fruit bat stew in beautiful New Caledonia?
Fruit bats ready for the stewing in New Caledonia
Re-assuredly, deep fried guinea pig does not taste like chicken.
In a while, crocodile. Cango Wildlife Park, South Africa
have entered a cage four times to stare into the eyeballs of four famously dangerous creatures that one is strongly advised – and I cannot emphasize this enough - not to stare into the eyeballs of. Psychologists could unpack a fascinating study behind the motivations behind the people who choose, willingly and with good money, to get close to animals like sharks, crocodiles and lions. Not that such a study has ever been commissioned, since scientists of all ilk are currently laundering lab coats for more pressing concerns. Since we live in an age of misinformation, I may as well just invent one. According to global peer reviewed research study (*that was neither peer-reviewed, researched nor studied), thousands of people choose to cage-dive with dangerous animals because:
Curiously, 63% of these non-existent participants said they harboured a deep and unexplainable fear of the above-mentioned animals, and 12% said they only signed up having felt guilty for entering the booking office with the sole intention of using the toilet. Whatever floats your boat, and that's where we'll begin, bobbing off the east coast of South Africa on the lookout for man-eating Great White Sharks. Since they are widely known for bearing progressive and egalitarian natures, the Great Whites eat women too.
Nice fishy: Mossel Bay, South Africa
When I entered the cage, I was still between the teeth of the shark phobia that had plagued me since watching Jaws on a hotel movie channel as a 6-year-old on his first beach holiday. Fast forward a few decades, and I’d seen far better movies which highlighted the vital role sharks play in the eco-system, the horrific carnage behind their hunting for shark-fin soup, and their overall misunderstanding within popular culture. Fact is (and this is a real fact): Sharks are amazing. If they wanted to eat people, hundreds of us would be attacked every day, all around the world. In reality, you have more chance of struck by lightning or drowning in a bathtub (this is also true). I jumped into the cage, and had a life-changing experience with a rather large great white who could have attacked me from beneath (where the thick cage inexplicably and unnervingly morphed into a wire-hangar-thin mesh). From that moment, I resolved to learn how to scuba dive, and have since shared an underwater, cage-free space with sharks from Hawaii to the Papua New Guinea. That first cage dive truly changed my life for the better. If you insist and persist on eating shark-fin soup, please look at yourself in the mirror, then jump out a high window. Millions of sharks needlessly massacred each year will thank you.
Swimming with Salties: Crocosaurus Cove, Australia.
Crocodiles are an entirely different beast. For starters, they simply want to eat you. No curiosity here, no meeting of creatures or confusion because you look like a seal. To a crocodile, we look like lunch, which is why they quickly surrounded me in the pool. At Cango Wildlife Ranch in South Africa, I entered a steel cage and was lowered into a pool. At Crocosaurus Cove in Darwin, northern Australia, I was inside a cylindrical Perspex tube with a few too many croc teeth scrapes for comfort. The Nile and Saltwater dinosaurs that decided I looked too delicious to pass up bumped me around a bit, their large orange reptilian eyes gazing deep into my soul. 17% of our fictional survey participants mentioned they enjoyed the sensation of feeling like prey. I, for one, did not. While my shark cage encounter made me want to dive with (admittedly less fierce) sharks in the wild, the croc cages left me twitchy about the Crocodile Warning signs I later encountered at popular swimming holes outside of Darwin and in tropical north Queensland. The mere thought of saltwater crocs patrolling the coast keeps locals off the beaches, and one taxi driver told me about a pet dog that ran to the beach, jumped into the water, and was promptly gobbled up by a lurking croc. According to a BBC Report, the best tip for surviving a crocodile attack is to avoid getting attacked. That's one helpful report, I don't know what we'd do without it.
Somewhere in Bohol, Philippines.
The Burmese python acting as a living sofa above was a roadside in attraction I passed somewhere in the Philippines. Entering its cage seemed like something to do. Once I was seated, I started questioning what on earth they could be feeding this thing. The answer, I hoped, was not dumb tourists who enter snake cages at roadside attractions
Lions 360 at Monarto Zoo, South Australia
Finally, I should mention that I once got into a cage surrounded by hungry lions. Inspired by shark cage dives, the Monarto Zoo in South Australia offers a Lions 360 experience, with feeding time for the zoo’s female pride coinciding with lucky tourists paying a little extra to be in a caged enclosure. The lions, which roam in a very large space that resembles the African bush, get to walk on the cage feet above your head, and close enough for you to smell their aroma, breath, and, if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, their urine. My daughter was five years old at the time, and the lions paid special attention to her, recognizing our group’s weakest link. As well fed as they were, I had little doubt they would have gladly added a curly-haired dessert to their carefully monitored intake of horse (or perhaps kangaroo) meat. For further insight, here's a little video of Lions360 that I made about that experience.
Lions, crocs, snakes, sharks…getting close to dangerous wild animals is always memorable, especially when you’re in an environment designed to ensure you’ll live long enough for the memories. I’ve had close encounters in the wild with hippos (which kill far more people than crocs in Africa), grizzly bears, polar bears, piranha, elephants, orca, cheetahs, baboons, snakes, scorpions, spiders, and far too many mosquitoes (which kill many, many more people each year than any of the above). Every experience left me in awe of nature and the creatures we share this planet with. Except the mosquitoes. Those bastards just left me itchy.
Six months ago, I wrote a blog post that we are officially living in the best of times, and the worst of times. This balance has almost certainly tipped. For fifteen years I’ve believed in the power of travel to spread inspiration, connection, and knowledge. COVID-19 didn’t just come for my industry, it came for everyone. There have however been winners. The System (sometimes known as The Man or The Matrix) has long fought against citizens who are inspired, connected and knowledgeable. It distracts us with sport, bamboozles us with Terms and Conditions, divides us with electoral colleges and by ethnicity, and builds high walls of exclusivity around the increasingly inaccessible rich and powerful. Over the years, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge, and so if you’re tuning in for paradise, I hope you’ll forgive me this one post of protest.
On his best day, the most powerful man in the world is a narcissistic, racist imbecile with the intellect and self-control of a three-year-old. The tech genius who created our most powerful platform of modern communication believes it’s morally acceptable and better for shareholders to spread false information that incites violence, massacres, fear and discrimination. Herd immunity didn’t work out as nearly as well as herd mentality when it came to dealing with a pandemic that experts have been warning governments about for years. An understandable rush to avoid the worst has resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of jobs, a crippled global economy, and the utter devastation of one of the few industries that creates a net positive for human experience, namely, tourism. A billion-plus school-kids have been forced home, adapting to dystopian and enforced social distancing, germaphobic neurosis, and a new normal of 24-hour tracking that will never, pinkie-promise, be used for nefarious purposes. Formally stable geo-political forces are being undermined, resulting in democratic abuses, political disappearances, suspicious arrests, bold assassinations, and previously unimaginable calls for state independence and annexations. Racist and anti-Semitic attacks have dramatically increased, with the ignorant emboldened by deeply flawed leadership, grotesque echo-chamber information bubbles, and our own ever-present reptilian dark side of humanity. Unarmed people of colour are being routinely targeted by law enforcement forces operating above the law, while the important fifth estate of journalism has been targeted by those in power even as the traditional media model suffers an economic meltdown. All the while, cyclones and monsoons, floods, wild-fires, melting icecaps and acidic oceans continue to fester unabated. Society has been locked down, pressure cooked, and force-fed non-stop inflammatory misinformation. We are spilling into the streets with a new level of frustration, anger, rage and confusion.
Yes, SpaceX and NASA just launched humans into space at a fraction of the cost, but there was the bigot Trump, staining the occasion like the repulsive spores of a reeking mushroom fart. Celebrities banded together to remind us we’re all in this together, albeit not all in large, opulent mansions with Jacuzzis and cigars (I really think it’s time for Arnold Schwarzenegger to not be back). Neighbourhoods and communities have banded together to flatten the curve with impressive dedication and devotion, considering we long ago stopped wondering why Winnipeg is not Montreal, Vancouver not New York, or what the curve was about in the first place. Front line workers showed us the colour of true heroes, and just about all of them don't carry weapons.
Believe me, this is not the post I thought I’d be writing at the gateway to summer, 2020. I was expecting to be planning an epic family adventure much like last summer’s incredible journey to Atlantic Canada. Perhaps the fact that the small-ship company we sailed with went bankrupt shortly afterward amid accusations of fraud - and later sunk a Venezuelan navy vessel - was a warning shot over the bow of the year to come. A year of drowned dreams and dashed prospects. At least half a year of it, anyway.
And so today, I put my intention forward for the next six months. Being honest to myself, I can’t imagine how things will improve in the short term. I can’t imagine how, given the civil unrest, fear and unemployment, there will be much to celebrate this summer. My plan is to take two spontaneous road-trips into some of my favourite regions of British Columbia, and hope for the best. I predict a rejuvenated sense of local, provincial and state pride, because unlike banks getting government bail-outs under the auspices of being too-big-to-fail (and cashing it all the way into executive bonuses), the small businesses that drive the tourist economy are too important to fail, and we won’t let them.
By the fall, the true cost of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the economic panic that accompanied it, will come home to roost. It’s not going to be pretty, but it’s going to be short-lived. Because come November, Americans beyond the 35% of rabid Trump supporters (the people who wouldn’t believe he was guilty even if Trump stood with a smoking gun over their own bullet-ridden bodies) will vote the idiot out. And while Biden doesn’t quite bring with him the fresh hope of a new era, he does represent a return to the day when adults were left in charge of nuclear arsenals. The new president, supported by a blue Congress, will dismantle four years of Trump in a matter of months. Laws will be passed at a breakneck pace restoring environmental regulations, restricting unchecked industry, and funding vital social programs. And while this is all great for Americans, the impact will flow across the border into Canada, and around the world. Progressive and inclusive ideas will flood the world with such force it will sweep away the last of the despots. The caged tigers of Russia and China won’t be put back in their cages, instead they will be invited to participate under international rules of law that are fair, free, and enforced. It will be the honeymoon of Obama's first term, only this time, liberal progressives won’t eat nearly as much shit, and they will know how low the other party is willing to sink. For Trump didn’t drain the swamp of Washington, he increased the size of the corrupt swamp to cover much of the known world. The pace of 2021’s land reclamation will be both invigorating for the economy, and re-energize the global soul.
And we will awake as if from a dream, having learned vital lessons about the empty promises of tanned vanities, the nauseous cost of exploiting both environment and consumers, and just how important it is to know how information is gathered, verified and disseminated. Perhaps above all else, we will recognize the importance of washing our goddamn hands, and not going out when we're sick.
I’ll check back with you in six months to see how it all panned out.
Be grateful you’re not a chef-owner who’s worked tirelessly to recently open a restaurant.
Be grateful you’re not a server at that, or any other restaurant.
Be grateful you’re not a school kid hoping to improve your grades for college.
Be grateful you’re not a college kid, in debt, hoping to graduate into a hungry job market.
Be grateful you’re not a museum, aquarium, zoo, or tourist attraction.
Be grateful you’re not a tourist guide, tour operator, or concierge.
Be grateful you have nothing to do with the hotel industry.
Be grateful you’re not a band on tour.
Be grateful you’re not a concert promoter.
Be grateful you’re not involved with a folk, arts or music festival.
Be grateful you’re not a sports professional.
Be grateful you haven’t spent your whole career training for the 2020 Olympics
Be grateful you haven’t spent your whole career training for the 2020 anything.
Be grateful you don’t work in a hair or nail salon.
Be grateful you don’t have lots of children to school, entertain and feed.
Be grateful you’re not single and alone.
Be grateful you don’t own a martial arts studio.
Be grateful you don’t own a book shop, gift shop, or boutique.
Be grateful you don’t need to visit the Emergency Room.
Be grateful you're not a massage or physiotherapist.
Be grateful you’re not an artist who landed a big gallery break.
Be grateful you’re not a gallery.
Be grateful you don’t pay an exorbitant amount of commercial rent.
Be grateful you don’t have an unmanageable mortgage.
Be grateful you don’t live month to month, or week to week.
Be grateful you’re not supporting your family who live in another country.
Be grateful you’re not a refugee.
Be grateful you’re not completely invested in the stock market.
Be grateful you’re not caught up in a civil war, locust plague or ethnic violence.
Be grateful you’re not a filmmaker stalled in production.
Be grateful you’re not a retail store.
Be grateful you’re not an event or wedding planner.
Be grateful you’re not in recruitment.
Be grateful you’re not working in media.
Be grateful you don’t work in the casino industry.
Be grateful you don’t work in the cinema industry.
Be grateful you’re not in the fashion retail industry.
Be grateful you’re not in the convention industry.
Be grateful you don’t have to sell advertising.
Be grateful you don’t work in a crisis-hit senior’s home.
Be grateful you don’t work in a stadium or venue.
Be grateful you don’t work in the oil industry.
Be grateful you don’t work in the airline or airport industry.
Be grateful you’re not neurotic or obsessed with conspiracy theories.
Be grateful you don’t own a gun, or see any reason to do so.
Be grateful you don’t have to worry about starving.
Be grateful you don’t have to worry about being cold.
Be grateful you don’t believe everything you read.
Be grateful you are not a professional speaker, or own a speaking agency.
Be grateful you are not a travel writer.
Be grateful your wedding or family event wasn’t planned for spring or summer 2020.
Be grateful your graduation wasn’t scheduled in 2020.
Be grateful you’re not in theatre, dance, comedy, or public performance.
Be grateful you don’t work on a cruise ship.
Be grateful you’re not stuck on a cruise ship.
Be grateful your finances are not dependent on tourism or oil.
Be grateful you don’t work in catering.
Be grateful you are not in construction.
Be grateful you are not homeless.
Be grateful you do not live in a household with domestic abuse.
Be grateful you do not suffer from addiction.
Be grateful you are not a magician or a wrestler.
Be grateful you are not a professional busker.
Be grateful you haven’t had to lay anybody off.
Be grateful you haven’t had to shut anything down.
Be grateful you haven’t had to cancel the whole damn thing.
Be grateful you are not vulnerable.
Be grateful you have not lost a loved one to COVID-19.
Be grateful you are not a pessimist.
And while you’re at it, or even in it:
Be grateful you are physically and mentally healthy.
Be grateful you love someone, and someone loves you.
Be grateful you live in a country with a social net.
Be grateful there are people that care.
Be grateful that there are adults in the room (most of the time).
Be grateful for science.
Be grateful for entertainment.
Be grateful for innovation.
Be grateful that level-headed, rational and empathetic politicians exist.
Be grateful for the global logistical supply chain.
Be grateful for technology.
Be grateful for fresh drinking water on demand.
Be grateful for streaming.
Be grateful there is food on the shelves.
Be grateful for your neighbours and community.
Be grateful there is a number you can call.
Be grateful there is help.
Be grateful there is soap.
Be grateful for online banking.
Be grateful for online shopping.
Be grateful you still have a job.
Be grateful for respectful discussion, critical thinking, and debate.
Be grateful educators are figuring something out.
Be grateful for vaccinations.
Be grateful for the commitment and diligence of doctors and nurses.
Be grateful for people who show up for work when others don’t have to.
Be grateful for the weather.
Be grateful for the things you have seen and done.
Be grateful for fresh air.
Be grating for deliveries.
Be grateful for the tenacity of society.
Be grateful we will be better prepared for COVID-20.
Be grateful the environment has had a brief pause to breathe.
Be grateful tourism will resume locally and more sustainably.
Be grateful there are more people who love than people who hate.
Be grateful the virus does not discriminate the way people do.
Be grateful we are in this together.
Be grateful for optimism.
Travel bucket lists suddenly belong to another era, like a monocle, or camera film, or more recently, over-tourism. After a decade of rampant tourism growth - buoyed by cheap flights, sophisticated marketing, digital, broadcast and print storytelling – it has all come to a crashing halt. Nobody is going anywhere. It’s over folks, and life can not and will not return to normal. We are slowly being conditioned into sterile states of isolation, detachment, and alienation. I took my kids for a walk in the forest – a legal activity at time of writing – and we watched a middle-aged lady jump into the trees to avoid crossing our path. My 6-year-old thought it was funny, but it broke my heart. For all the positive, heartwarming stories shared on social media, there remains deep Orwellian undertones beneath the phrase “social distancing” and the spectre of constant dread. Next week, our neighbours are sticking birthday wishes on their doors for my daughter. I’m going to walk her around the ghost town of our once thriving townhouse complex, and we'll wave to the faces behind windows. It’s doubtful her cancelled birthday party would have proved nearly as memorable.
As with many of you, I’ve been asking a lot of questions about the cost of social distancing. There’s so much we don’t know about this pandemic, but a global narrative has emerged of the vital importance to “flatten the curve.” World-renowned scientists, economists and journalists risk their careers arguing otherwise, while an over-abundance of caution feels prudent. Politicians are crushed between too many rocks and more hard places; damned if they shut down their countries, damned if they don’t. A choice between economy and lives? A disputed testing methodology? Political opportunism? The last stand of democracy? So many questions, few answers, horrific fear-mongering, and of course ravenous media feeding our addiction for information relentlessly splattered across our bruised news feeds. Did a viral cat spook our cultural elephant and make Dumbo jump off a cliff? Did the planet figure out a way to make our political leaders act in a manner that will prove decisive when it comes to the real existential human threat of climate change? Do I believe the frustrated Stanford epidemiologist who says we’re doing too much, or the professor from Wuhan who says we’re doing too little? How did Italy and New York not turn out like Germany and Washington State? What crimes and disasters are flying under the radar while we obsess over mortality reports and daily infection numbers? Meanwhile, there's Zoom drinks, Zoom dinners, Zoom classes, Zoom romances. Zoom is no substitute for human connection, and humans are social creatures above all else. Millions out of work, billions in emergency war-time aid, fights over toilet paper, and we haven’t even got to the social unrest yet, when the economic and social consequences really come home to roost. It’s hard to think about anything else, which is why this opening is about six times longer than I wanted it to be. Because I need to make one important point above all else: amidst all this thinking, we need to start dreaming.
Bucket Lists are very special kinds of Dreams. We stop thinking about money, time and logistics, choosing instead to project ourselves into an unspecified future to fulfill a personal longing. When people tell me what’s on their bucket list, I often ask why. What do you expect will happen when you finally stand at the foot of the Great Pyramids, jump out of a plane, or sail in the Galapagos? Take it from me, reality is often too vivid – hot, bumpy, weird and overwhelming – to fully appreciate the moment until much later. It’s the dream that counts, much like a lottery ticket. One day…one day…one day, and now more than ever, we need as many “one days” as we can muster. We need to identify, capture, and hold onto those dreams, for it is dreams that will shine a light into the dark days to come.
Covid-19, and the measures that have been put in place to combat its spread, have ruptured society as we know it. The notion of one people living in a global village, one that is already under threat from rising nationalism and a refugee crisis, is in tatters. Our bonds have been sliced apart, our walls raised, our webs untangled. Success against the spread has been attributed to the kind of surveillance, control and social conditioning we'd read about in a dystopian nightmare. What incentives do governments have to return such tools to the box? Wait…I’m thinking too much again. Weight is creeping up on my shoulders. So, I close my eyes and dream again…of wild horses on the dunes of Sable Island; of sharing a purple fuzz sunset with my Dad in Algonquin Park; of floating with salmon as they swim upstream in Vancouver Island. I dream of the mighty Rockies and golden prairies, of the Maritimes and Magdalen Island winds. I close my eyes again, and I dream of Canada.
Travel in the future might involve medical tests and health passports, banned countries and demographic restrictions. We will miss the freedoms we once knew. Now we are confined to our homes, and soon, we we will be confined to our cities, provinces, and country. If your dreams must be restricted to one nation, there are far worse places than the world’s second largest country, jammed with abundant resources, unique experiences, inspiring people and extraordinary space. To be in Canada is a stroke of undeniable good fortune, a winning geographic lottery ticket. When we’re finally released, I hope we remember that people need hugs and handshakes. That it’s perfectly safe to share a beer, campsite chow, a hostel dorm or dining table. That large crowds at events and festivals are not dangerous, and that kisses were romantic long before they became viral weapons. I hope we remember that we share a desire for adventure, experience, community, romance, history, culture and natural beauty. I hope we remember the dream that was once The Great Canadian Bucket List.
I’m relieved, reassured, and deeply grateful to live in this country. Canada’s admired social, medical and economic net is being reinforced, emboldened, and strung up across all 10 provinces and 3 territories. No further evidence is needed to see that we live in a special country going through remarkable times. My heart breaks for all the people I’ve met around the world who will not be nearly so lucky.
Remember when times were just...interesting? Ah, the good old days! When quarantine sounded like an exotic nectarine and we didn't keep a running score on how many people got sick and died every day. We're not going to beat this virus, but we will flatten the curve so our health services can cope, even if we have to drive the economy at high speed into a steel cliff to do it. Of course, all this is good practice for the true zombie apocalypse, and plenty of anxious quality family time ahead. Watching the world react has been the most insightful reality show ever produced. Wouldn't it be ironic if Donald Trump was brought down by a virus from China with the name of a Mexican beer? Wouldn't it be strange if a pandemic put the breaks on our excessive materialism, global emissions, and political absurdity? It's certainly taken care of the Overtourism conversation...although I don't think Venice, Dubrovnik and Iceland will have to worry once the virus inevitably subsides due to media fatigue, vaccines and whatever virus awaits the next time someone gets kinky with a horny armadillo. For this will happen again. And again.
A global crisis will either bring the world together, or tear us even further apart. As I write, there are plenty of people and organizations working hard to make both scenarios a reality. No sports, concerts, events, festivals? No cruise ships, parades, parties, schools or restaurants? No offices, no staff meetings, no touching, no looking, no French kisses or Italian hugs? How much can the economy take? Will it snap back with vengeance, or evolve into something altogether different? When the curtains drop, and the Coronovirus circus ends, will humanity celebrate with a debauchery the planet has never seen before? There's a scene in the prescient Kathryn Bigelow film, Strange Days, that shows a city combusting. You're not quite sure if the masses are rioting, protesting, destroying or celebrating. That's what we can look forward to when this is all over. Business as unusual. Meanwhile, as icecaps melt and forests burn, scientists are beseeching the world to do something already about climate change, a call to arms that mustered but a fraction of the response to the latest pandemic. To use another entertainment analogy, I can't help but wonder if the coronavirus is akin to the politics of Kings Landing in Game of Thrones, while the larger existential threat of the White Walkers marches ever closer. Climate change won't just target the vulnerable elderly: it's coming for us all. Forgive me, I've just been streaming too much.
Speaking of which, I'm delighted to share news that my show (the most misspelt title in the history of television) WORD TRAVELS is now available to stream on Amazon Prime. That's all three beautiful seasons, filmed in 36 countries, visiting spectacular locations to tick off incredible adventures that will inspire dreamers of all ages and interests. Since it's likely most of the world is going to be in quarantine for a while, I hope you'll continue to feed your travel bug, keeping that poor, battered creature nourished within the insulated warmth of your soul. Rest assured, the planes will once again take off, the ships and trains will depart, the museums will open, and the world will be a better place soon. I know this, because it has always been so.
Note from the Future: The post below was written just a few months ago, and already it is a time capsule. The full onslaught of Orwellian-sounding "social distancing" had yet to be implemented, perhaps because authorities were still counting on people taking their initial "low-risk" measures seriously. Too many people didn't. It's always harder to motivate with a pretty-please as opposed to the fear of big sticks. I believe many aspects of the measures to combat COVID-19 are still way over-the-top and based more on a political-charged narrative than empirical data. Wearing a bottle on your head is still as stupid today as it was back then. Still, I acknowledge there's a reckless flippancy to the below, and apologize if it causes offence accordingly. Some posts are indicative of the time in which they were written. Unfortunately, a pandemic of ignorance will continue to remain as relevant as it ever was.
Someone needs to just come out and say it: We have full-scale pandemic of unprecedented proportions! Scientists have now proven that if someone even looks at you askew in 2020 - and that someone happens to have neighbours with distant relatives in remote Pingxiang - it’s pretty much guaranteed your cranium will machine-gun mucous from your double-barrel nostrils and vaporize everyone within a fifty-two-mile radius. Oh, how we look back fondly on Ebola, which conveniently only killed people in Central Africa, victims that never gave us anything remotely as delicious as Balsamic vinegar. Remember how Zika deformed that entire generation of children? No joke is it, sitting behind millions of kids at the movies with their ginormous, misshapen, screen-blocking heads. Flus from birds and swine killed hundreds of millions across the galaxy, but somehow we endured, and let’s face it, waiting on hold for internet support is more manageable as a result. Humanity is nothing if not tenaciously opportunistic. We endure and survive and thrive in the face of asteroids and dinosaurs and cancelled Series A football matches. At least until the Coronavirus came along, this deadly contagion that spreads at the speed of light by sound, light, fluid, metal, thought, and more alarmingly, urine-hued Mexican beer.
Vigilance must be practiced. All schools must shut indefinitely so we can return to healthy states of stupidity. All social, religious and trade events must cease so we can withdraw into fear-crazed paranoid isolation (don’t worry, Amazon deliveries will continue unabated, Jeff Bezos will take care of that). It is necessary to close all the factories, shops, stores and businesses, because the virus can’t get us if we’re unemployed and starving to death during an economic Armageddon. Ground all boats, trains and planes, which are the true super disease carriers, transporting viruses under the finger nails and poorly disinfected toilet seats. And ban all Chinese nationals, I mean all of them, even the ones who have absolutely nothing to do with any of it, because although racism is a virus too, some viruses must thrive for others to wither.
There is now a 99.9% certainty that you will die within the next one hundred years. There’s simply no escaping it: YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. So please don’t judge imbeciles buying three tonnes of toilet paper and locking themselves up in quarantine because they sprained a toe. Celebrate their vast concern for the community, even as they run you over with their overflowing Costco cart and water bottles on their heads.
As an abundance of caution, urban surveyors are now scouting caves, preferably ones with smooth walls to hold the rock art that will replace Netflix and Disney+. Anyone know how to scrawl a pangolin with a burnt stick? Your career is looking a whole lot more promising than mine. At least according to the media, which is doing a cracker job keeping the score charts ticking over. Every morning I wake up and can’t wait to see how many more are infected, and how many more are dead. Is South Korea threatening China’s dominance? Is Northern Italy giving Iran a run for its money. Europe v South America? It’s the World Virus Cup. As we count the beans, who has time to worry about gun deaths or drug wars or Syrian refugees or the Big Mango inviting oil and gas consortiums to drill for gold in the San Diego Zoo. Cheetoh Mussolini is obviously taking this seriously, appointing a Vice Presidential robot in charge, a bureaucrat who doesn’t believe in science, evolution, the dangers of smoking, or women. COVID-19 is just where we want it, shaking on its microscopic knees. Over in China, doctors are incentivized to raise future health alarms with one-way tickets to hard labour Kashgar re-education camps. In Russia, anyone claiming the weather is too warm is permanently Putin-dipped into frozen Lake Baikal. Fortunately North Korea is quite content, as the more of its people who die of COVID-19, the less mouths there are to not feed. As for travel? Well, we’ve been freaking out about overtourism for a while, the impact of relentless masses descending on places that used be great when we went there, but now that you’re going there, isn’t so great anymore. Since the only Chinese person still travelling is a mid-level pantsuit designer from Chongqing, overtourism has fast being relegated to history, along with other formerly pressing issues, like Rachel’s haircut, and Justin Trudeau’s fancy dress. It’s a rough, tough time to be selling meaningful global interaction, or any interaction at all.
It’s a pandemic all right. A pandemic of fear and ignorance. A pandemic of media saturation and headline baiting. A pandemic of economic uncertainty and distrust. And while you have more chances of being stung to death by earthworms than dying of the coronavirus, I understand your feverish concerns, the media that fuels them, and why the economy must collapse so we can return to a simpler, more Stone-Age-like time. A glorious age when it was normal and encouraged to spit in our palms and shake our hands in trust. In the meantime, please don’t read this. Your eyes on my words will make me sick.
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.