Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Travel Plans

Kathmandu 2006
We're planning a trip to Asia this fall, something we've been talking about for a few years. Practically speaking, that means breaking my five years of (almost) no flying. (I did end up doing a few short flights between islands in the Caribbean) I feel a little guilty about it, but unless you're going to live completely off the grid, living in our current "civilization" is never going to be "pure". Overall, I think my footprint is still smaller than most.

They say planning is half the fun. I'm not sure of the exact proportions but planning and anticipating are a big part of travel. Of course, the planning isn't without it's stresses - there are a lot of moving parts in a trip like this! Try booking a train in India from Canada - I ended up doing it through an Australian company!

We knew we wanted to go trekking on the Himalayas and hopefully do some scuba diving somewhere but other than that we didn't have definite goals. I was interested in visiting Darjeeling (of tea fame) and that was near Kanchenjunga, third highest mountain in the world and one of the 14 eight thousand meter peaks that we haven't visited.

At first I was thinking of several shorter treks of maybe a week or so, but the classic treks are all quite long. We decided to do one longer trek instead - the Kanchenjunga trek - which takes three to four weeks. I thought that would be out of Darjeeling but it turns out it's actually in eastern Nepal. (Darjeeling is in India, and Kanchenjunga is on the border between India and Nepal.) So we would start in Kathmandu, a place we know and love (despite its many flaws) from previous Himalayan climbing expeditions.

The next question was how to get there? My preference was to fly west, over the Pacific (instead of east over the Atlantic and via Europe) and to avoid going through the US and their hyperactive homeland security theatre. That meant something out of Vancouver. I also wanted a direct flight. The main option that fit all that was Hong Kong.

Both Cathay Pacific and Air Canada fly direct from Vancouver to Hong Kong. My initial preference was Cathay since they are a higher rated airline and we've had good experiences with other top Asian airlines like Singapore and Thai. Air Canada had a little better timetable (shorter layover in Vancouver and arriving in HK earlier in the evening) but what made the choice for us was that we could get Premium Economy on Air Canada for a reasonable amount whereas On Cathay it was very expensive. Premium has slightly more seat room (8 across instead of 9) but the big advantage to us was that Shelley could have her preferred aisle seat and I could have my preferred window seat since the premium seats are 2-4-2 (instead of 3-3-3).

In the past we would have connected straight through to Kathmandu but that led to marathon trips. (My last trip to Kathmandu in 2006 was 43 continuous hours in planes and airports!) Being older and either softer or smarter, we plan to stop for a few days in Hong Kong. (Total time from Saskatoon is about 20 hours with a single four hour layover in Vancouver.) I'd never really thought about visiting Hong Kong. I'm not a huge fan of big cities. But it is a famous place with a unique history and once I got used to the idea it seemed like a good addition to the trip.

enroute to Cho Oyu in 2006
After Hong Kong we'll fly to Kathmandu. In my mind the Himalaya make Nepal a "big" country, but in reality it's quite small (relative to Canada at least). It's roughly 200 km north-south and 800 km east-west. To put that in perspective it's roughly from Saskatoon to Regina north-south, and from there to the BC border east-west - a boring days drive. But trekking on foot in huge mountains is a far cry from driving prairie roads. Our three week trek will span just a small portion of the north east corner of Nepal. For an idea of what the trek is like check out this amateur video (30 min), these trek notes, or this GPS map track.

After the trek, instead of returning to Kathmandu we'll go by road across the border into India and to Darjeeling. Then from near Darjeeling we'll take the train to Calcutta (aka Kolkata) and then fly to Kuala Lumpur. After a few days there we'll take another train to Singapore. No doubt we'll visit the world class zoo and stop at the Raffles hotel for a Singapore Sling at its 1915 birthplace.

Finally, we wanted to get in some diving. There are lots of possible places. Thailand was close and easy, but we've been there before. We considered the Philippines, especially when we were looking at flights via Manilla. In the end we decided to go to Raja Ampat. It’s remote, hard to get to, and expensive, but it’s also one of the best and most pristine places in the world to dive. It’s not easy to book at these remote spots so I was happy to find an agent - Faces of the Sea - who are actually in Edmonton! With their help we settled on Raja 4 Divers.

After the diving we head back to Hong Kong and then home via Vancouver. In total we'll be travelling almost 10 weeks. We're looking forward to it. Stay tuned for photos and stories.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Walk in the Dark

After supper the other evening I decided to go for a walk. I thought I'd catch the last of the low sun but I was a little late and it had already gone down. My next thought was that maybe I'd catch sight of the beavers or other animals that come out at dusk. But apart from a lone duck I didn't see any wildlife. There were no clouds so there wasn't even much color in the sky.


Airplanes were leaving trails in the cloudless sky that were high enough to be lit by the sun despite it being below the horizon.


Of course, there are always images to capture. I never tire of the water, the way it moves, the way the light reflects off it, the lines and shapes it makes. This photo had almost no color to start with, so black and white was an obvious choice. (ripples from a rock just under the surface)


As I get further into photography, I think more about lines, shape, texture, and color. Although nature is still my first love, I can get drawn into more abstract embodiments of these things.


This one above is somewhat more processed, but still not too far from the original. As it got darker, I noticed the reflections of the streetlights on the bridge dancing on the water. The original images didn't really capture the feeling I wanted so I started to play more with the color and contrast. (It wasn't really this colorful.)


By the time I took this next one (looking straight down from the bridge) my shutter speeds were getting quite slow (even at ISO 3200) - 1/15 of a second was long enough for the points of light to trace out paths on the water.


See all 10 photos as a slideshow or overview

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Photo of the Day

Fall is definitely in the air, but from the right angle things still look pretty good.

Another shot of the pond at Innovation Place on the way to work.

pond at Innovation Place

Monday, September 08, 2014


At McNallys (on our morning rounds after the farmers market) I ran into a book that I’d been aware of for a while - Microadventures by Alastair Humphreys. My first thoughts were that I didn't need a book like this - I had my fair share of adventures. But I started to wonder if that was really true. I was just as prone to inertia as the next person, waiting till the handful of times a year when I travelled. For example, all summer I'd been saying I should get the kayak out more, but somehow never "getting around" to it.

So that afternoon I got off my butt and took the kayak out on the river and had an enjoyable paddle.

The book is also big on sleeping outside, not in official campgrounds, but wherever you find a bit of wildness. I used to do this, but sadly it’s been years.

So late in the evening, after a movie (and a glass of wine), I grabbed my pack, with my sleeping bag and water and not much else, and set out into the darkening night. I took a familiar route, down the alley, across the park, and over the pedestrian way on the bridge. At the far side I turned left, away from town and into the Sutherland Beach area. These used to be my favourite running trails, but after it became an off leash dog area and I got harassed and bitten several times I quit coming here. But I'd timed it well and after passing one exiting dog walker I didn't encounter any others.

It was a warm evening, peaceful and quiet in the dark. The almost full moon was plenty to follow the trail by, except where it passed under the trees and got darker and spookier. Hearing a noise I looked over and saw several deer running away from the surprise of my appearance.

I took no gadgets (other than my camera) - no phone, not even a watch. I didn't even take a book, part of the goal being to think, not to fill my mind with someone else’s story.

I wasn't planning to go far since I wanted to get back early in the morning for my long run (20k again). I found a suitable spot on the river bank, away from the trails and with only a few city lights in the distance. I lay on my back in my sleeping bag and watched the scattered clouds drift slowly by. Most of the stars were overpowered by the bright moon but I could see the familiar Big Dipper.

It was surprisingly noisy. Music faded in and out. Traffic droned in the distance. Planes coming and going to the airport. A chorus of yips sounded at one point - foxes perhaps?

The ground was surprisingly hard for what had at first appeared to be soft grass. I'd only brought a thin foam pad and it was a far cry from the soft air filled sleeping pads I was used to.

The bugs were the worst nuisance. They weren't really bad, but just as I'd start to drift off one would land on my face and I'd startle awake and slap at it. Because of the bugs I had my sleeping bag drawn up around my neck but that made it too hot. I have to admit it crossed my mind that in 20 minutes I could be home in my own comfortable bed.

But patience solves many things. Eventually the night cooled off and the bug disappeared. The music stopped and the traffic quieted. And I slept surprisingly well, apart from waking occasionally to change position on the hard ground.

It seemed only a short time later that the sky started to lighten and a new day arrived, heralded by honking geese. Fighting the urge to turn over and go back to sleep, I sat up and pulled on a light jacket. The air was cool but not cold. It was only a few minutes work to pack my sleeping bag. No more than 10 minutes from waking to walking.

sunrise and geese

It was a beautiful morning with clear blue skies and not much wind. After a few minutes walking I found a good spot to stop and make a cup of coffee on my little folding twig stove. No big "white man" fire as my father called them. A handful of twigs burn quick but hot and boil a cup of water in no time. Coffee in hand I resumed walking.

I was glad I'd gotten up early. It was calm and silent, no one out walking their dogs yet. As I crossed the bridge one of the few people I saw was a lone fisherman casting in the early morning sun. I paused in the back alley to snap a few photos of the backlit flowers - wild stragglers managing to last late in the summer.

flowers in the alley

Friday, September 05, 2014

Photo of the Day

Autumn may be coming, but the sun is still shining bright on the pond at Innovation Place.

flower in the sun

click to view larger

Thursday, September 04, 2014