Posts Tagged With: White Desert

My Seven Wonders of the World

At some point all of us have fallen into the quicksand powers of Who doesn’t want to put off _____________________(insert any task of importance) in favour of scrolling through gauzy photos of the world’s best beaches or caves you can sleep in? I’m a sucker for all those treehouse and igloo hotels. I can’t get enough of the sunsetty images that channel humidity and kick up that inner well of travel-induced adrenalin. It’s nice to put our brains on slide show mode and dream from the comfort of our home and pajamas.


Every time I distractify I’m eager to see how many of the coveted places I’ve been to. It’s like a scavenger hunt I didn’t even know I was actively a part of. On a recent post of 41 Secretly Incredible Travel Destinations I felt an inner glow to see the Ancient Library of Alexandria in Egypt included. Ohhh, and Giant’s Causeway in Ireland! Been there! And Grindavik, Iceland. But having scored only 3 out of 41 destinations I thought I should create my own list. Because what’s secretly incredible to me didn’t make that list and wherever we choose to travel, it’s like love and our devotion to certain coffee beans or dog breeds or Sons of Anarchy. It’s deeply personal but the neat part is in the sharing and finding overlaps with each other. Surprisingly, album-creeping on Facebook has presented unexpected travel ideas and networking—from lattes at D’Espresso in New York to a $100-a-plate fish and chip joint in the Yukon to the merits of running a marathon in France.

In no particular order, I’ve flushed out my personal seven wonders of the world. With time, I’m sure this list will be revised again and replaced with more marvelous encounters, but at this very moment—these places are deeply embedded in my mind. Come see why.

1. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda

I’ve always been enamoured with Dian Fossey’s brave and brazen attempt to protect the mountain gorillas of the Virungas from poachers. I have the January 1979 issue of National Geographic that refers to her as “Miss Fossey” throughout. In tandem, Miss Fossey and Jane Goodall brought Africa to my bedroom in Brantford, Ontario. Of course, just as every 10-year-old envisions a fancy marine biologist or vet career, I thought I might be a primatologist and observe gorillas eating bamboo all day long. Somehow I became a massage therapist instead (and sometimes massage backs as hairy as gorillas I suppose), but, for one surreal moment, I slept in those verdant mountains of Fossey’s tuned into the echoes of life and death.


Only 32 $500 US permits are issued per day at Bwindi. Our permits were included in a package with G Adventures—otherwise, they are issued on a lottery basis. The encounters with the gorillas are strictly timed to ensure that they are not inundated with human distraction. The hour begins upon the first sighting and armed rangers are quick to get the group moving out of the area immediately. You can’t help but feel Dian Fossey’s presence, struggle and the patience in her passion.
But that hour? That musky smell of gorilla deep in your nose? The wet jungle, hot piss and humidity stays with you. Being spitting-distance away from a docile silverback and youngsters somersaulting about is a pure wonder. Have you ever held your breath for an hour? Have you ever been so transfixed by your surroundings that the trance feels like a super drug you might not be able to shake? This is Bwindi.

2. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Iceland

The guide book warned us that sometimes startled drivers slam on brakes or skid off the road when they come over the rise and see the lagoon for the first time. Despite expecting it, and realizing that we were nearing the lagoon, the sudden appearance of sheer dream-like icebergs bobbing along stops everything dead in its tracks. Your conversation, your mind, the rental vehicle. Wow.

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On the edge of Vatnajokull National Park in southeast Iceland the 18 square kilometre lagoon is full of calved icebergs making a silent procession towards the Atlantic. The layers of sky blue and black ice make for a photo frenzy. Unfortunately, we had 160km an hour winds whipping off the lagoon and threatening to blow us into the Atlantic as well.
The lagoon has been a Hollywood star, providing the setting for James Bond, Batman and Tomb Raider flicks. On a side note, in the wind shelter of the nearby cafe, we sucked back perhaps the best latte on the island. Though, the view over the latte froth might have greatly influenced us.
Even with gale force winds and bare skin pelted with fine gravel and debris, the magic of that lagoon still shakes my marvel meter.

3. The White Desert, Egypt

We were already high on life after staying at a Shali fortress in the Siwa Oasis. We’d spent days traveling around by donkey, watched the sunrise over the salt flats, drank hibiscus tea and smoked the sheesha pipe by a fire after being buried in a traditional sand sauna. We had eaten camel stew on the rooftop of the fortress under a bazillion stars, soaked in cold springs and discovered a thermal lake. Yes, we were fully spoiled by the makings of a very dreamy time in Egypt already.


Of course, we already had knotted stomachs and daily blasts of diarrhea, but, travel can’t be 100% sunshine and lollipops. Oh wait, we did have 100% sunshine and 100 degree days. It was the desert after all. After barreling along unmarked ‘roads’ ( I use the term as loosely as our bowels), we entered the White Desert. The alien landscape is 200 square kilometers of bone-white natural sculptures that resemble hawks, hearts, mushrooms and pythons. Without a guide, you would never find your way out. The silence here is almost overwhelming. Far from any source of light or noise pollution, the White Desert is a retreat for all your senses.


After hours of being awe-struck, the pink and tangerine hues that dusk brings upon the stone and sand makes way for an incredible cosmic show. Here, you sleep under the stars and remember how tiny and insignificant your presence is.

4. Bartolome Island, The Galapagos

I had five solid Jeopardy categories that dominated my childhood. Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, Birds of North America, Pop Tarts and The Galapagos. I made sure my dreams came true the year I turned 30. I was headstrong about seeing the blue-footed boobies, frigates and tortoises that I had become consumed with.

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When I arrived in Quito, Ecuador (flights depart from Quito to Puerto Ayora—a 1,000km flight west to the Pacific isles), I met a charming Aussie who insisted we drink pisco sours and try guinea pig. Something went sour in my gut and I’m not sure who or what to blame. The following morning I had a bowl of entirely raw eggs, so, whether it was the pig, the pisco, the Aussie or the eggs, I’ll never know. Add a huge, rolling Pacific to that mix and I was throwing up most days of the nine day trip. But, despite heaving overboard, I was stunned for nine days straight.
The boobies and the frigates performed and displayed. The animals and birds of the Galapagos have no predators, and, incredibly there is no fear of humans. You can be mere feet from sea lions and iguanas. I was in birding la-la land.

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Bartolome was probably the island that struck me with the biggest wow wave. Like Neil Armstrong said, it’s the closest landscape to the moon that you’ll find on earth. The hardened lava tubes and windswept harshness is nearly unsettling. Barren and beautiful—a sharp contrast to the chain of islands that are alive and vibrating with bird life.

5. Michamvi Peninsula, East Zanzibar

Have you ever felt like you’ve walked into a postcard? The beaches are icing sugar white. The water is so many shades of blue that a paint company could find a whole new line of Indian Ocean tints.
It’s breezy and soupy with African heat. The sky is an opposing mix of brilliant blues and sometimes it’s difficult to determine the ocean from the sky. Sunrises here made me want to write poetry and smoke long menthol cigarettes (not really Mom).

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The tide tables were erratic and amazing to witness. At night, the ghostly roar of the waves pushing back in woke Kim up, even with ear plugs. Watching the tide pull out was like listening to the ocean funnel down a far away drain. It was a torrent of water rushing reverse through the tidal beds.
We spent hours squatting by the pools, looking at the black urchins and tiny starfish. Some of the pools were hot tub hot by noon. The water was as clear as the Perrier I’m drinking—no guff.
Here, life revolves around the tides and the flux of fisherman and women collecting seaweed were indicators of this balance. After heading to the Rock for a beer, we learned quite quickly of the speed and power of the ocean as we high-stepped it back to our lodge. The coral cliffs and coral underfooting made for a nervous and grateful walk back. Inlet to inlet the level of water pushing into shore proved that Mother Nature is boss.
Whether you find yourself on a dhow at a distance, on the balcony of the Rock, having a blue marlin burger at Ras Mchamvi or distracted from your book at Kichanga Lodge, the Indian Ocean and its ever-changing “oh-my-god-look-at-it-now” beauty has established the benchmark for all oceans.

6. Masai Mara National Park, Kenya


It’s Out of Africa in 3D. It’s blonde savannah, blurs of zebras, trumpeting elephants and sun-bathing lions. I had binoculars fixed to my eyes until dark. And at night? Falling asleep in a tent with Masaai keeping watch by a snapping fire and hearing a cheetah in the distance (think of a log being sawn in half—that’s how they sound). This is the good Green Hills of Africa-esque Hemingway life. In the morning the flies are incessant jerks though, swarming your milky tea and dive-bombing the surface until you have a pool of 30 flies in your mug. Oh, and their fly friends are buzzing in your ears and hanging off your eyelashes.


But, if you can surrender to the fly annoyance and forget about all the red dirt up your nose (where the flies are sometimes too), a safari in Kenya is a bonanza of animals. It’s a full time job to take in all the meerkats and water buffalo and dik diks and impala without rest. Because you don’t see just one—you are bombarded with fauna.


Before VCRs were invented (or, maybe they were and we were just unaware, content with the old TV aerial and snowy five channels in the country), I used to record Lorne Greene’s New Wilderness on my tape deck. I’d listen to old episodes about this very view in my lower bunkbed. The real thing will make you want to return—physically and mentally whenever you close your eyes.
I can’t tell you how many about-Africa books I’ve read since I’ve been to Uganda, Kenya and the Congo. But, to get in the groove—shortlist these:

The Poisonwood Bible—Barbara Kingsolver
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight—Alexandra Fuller
West With the Night—Beryl Markham
Land of a Thousand Hills: My Life in Rwanda—Rosamond Halsey Carr

7. Caye Caulker, Belize


There are no cars here and this is so refreshing. And, the fact that there is ‘nothing’ to do (hurray!). Kim and I get so lusty thinking about a Belizean retirement. The beach shacks are simple, life is simple and the curries are outstanding. Every single thing we ate on Caulker was instagram-worthy. I’m talking tangy shrimp ceviche, ham and Cheese Whiz waffles, perfect fried chicken and fire-breathing curry from Fran’s. Oh, and then there are the panty-ripper rum drinks to enhance the sunsets where everyone gathers for an applause-worthy show.


We spent time on the mainland (Placencia, Cahal Pech and Hopkins Village) and zoomed out on a choppy ride to see the Blue Lagoon and the red-footed booby colony on Lighthouse Caye, but memories of the coral island just 8km by 1.6km wide resonate bigger and brighter.
If you want a break from the wi-fi and masses of people, you can truly live here barefoot. No shirt, no shoes is really no problem. Ever.


Okay, so now I get why those distractify lists are always 40+ destinations long. At seven wonders, I’m cutting myself short. My best advice? Travel with someone you adore and can’t get enough of. And, advice to myself? Buy a new hoodie and hat already!


Categories: Passport Please | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Noise Cancelling: The Plight of the Urban Refugee

We’re ready. Pacing. Mentally moving furniture. However, we have another month and a half to do so with our mid-January closing date. On the flip side, Kim and I have maxed out our days off with recreational window shopping. We’ve sized up bar stools, sketched out kitchen islands and sourced salvaged wood warehouses for the perfect planks for our tabletop. This is monumentally more enjoyable than the highs and lows of scouring MLS listings for our dream house.

Now that we have the house part secured, we can indulge in the fun elements of moving into a new (150-years-old/new) place like listening to Bose home theatre sound systems, finding the perfect mill cart for a coffee table and eyeballing wooden wine crates for a project we have in mind.

As the date approaches, we (mostly me) are beginning to let certain annoyances become amplified. Once you have a deadline for annoying things coming to an end, it’s easier to bitch and complain about them. I know that it’s now temporary. However, my normally high patience threshold is becoming increasingly challenged. All of this is the ammunition that is propelling our move out of the city. Largely, it’s the noise.

I have lived above, below and between people for too many years. I cannot wait to crank Madison Violet at any time of day or night, just because I can. I no longer have to be courteous or ever-conscious of those above or below or between. Soon we will be able to watch movies at MOVIE THEATRE SURROUND SOUND LEVELS. Currently, I find myself letting Tostitos dissolve on my tongue during the dialogue bits of movies because crunching the chips will mute out the church mouse-friendly sound entirely. We’ve taken to renting sub-title flicks for this reason. Hyper-aware of the early bedtime of the upstairs tenants, we can still watch movies without disturbing them.  A pesar de quetenemos que leerlas películas. رغم ان لدينا لقراءة الأفلام.

Not that I’m a loud person to begin with, but, I like knowing that I can be. I like to do dishes at midnight and shower at 2am if need be. Sometimes my best sweeping is done around 3:30am. Being respectful of other tenants has been doable, but, trying.  And, yes, I know that I have probably miffed them off in equal measure—especially when the dryer buzzer lets out its heart-attack-inducing end-of-cycle BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzz in the absolute dead of the night.

Photo credit: Tommy Vohs

Photo credit: Tommy Vohs

Living and renting in the city naturally equates noise. However, my initial concern of living on the subway line that barrels past every two minutes at peak service subsided immediately. The subway and its mild vibration felt in my apartment is white noise now. The only time I am aggravated is around 5:40am, when I hear the system start up again. Which means I’ve usually only been asleep for two hours, and I don’t have much sleeping time left.

What does not constitute as white noise would be the very energetic tenants upstairs who do morning wind sprints (Kim recognized and identified the rapid back and forth movements as such). They’re not late night revellers, but, worse, they are morning revellers. They are firm believers that the early bird gets the worm.  Shortly after the subway lurches along the Bloor line at 5:40, the tenants begin wind sprinting. They stop moving when we get up. It’s a very perplexing timing syndrome.

This of course is nothing compared to the Legend of Stompy. Remember the tenant with strong affection for Yo Yo Ma and wearing cement blocks on her feet? Who left her clothes in the washer for three days so they’d be so sour and ripe she’d have to start the cycle all over again—only to leave them in the dryer for another three days? Now, that was loud and obnoxious at its best. She once gave me a slice of slightly burnt banana bread as an ironic “peace” offering. Even a weekly loaf of banana bread for the rest of my life wouldn’t suffice. My cortisol levels were at a record count until she moved out and stomped on to ruin someone else’s peace and quiet.

I was beginning to have dangerous flashbacks of the 2004 pyscho drama Noise with Ally Sheedy and Trish Goff. Let’s just say the plot didn’t involve such niceties as banana bread.

And don’t even get me started on the fridge. My landlord replaced the former behemoth that was moaning so loudly I had to start shutting my bedroom door at night because it kept me awake. I don’t have the heart to tell him that the new fridge is actually louder than the last. When did they start making them with Boeing 747 motors? When it finally stops its chill cycle (it’s not even busy making ice cubes, it’s just maintaining itself and our shelf of beer and five blocks of cheese), I can feel my shoulders relax. My heart rate returns to normal. Even when I’m alone I find myself saying “finally!” out loud. The fridge actually interrupts conversation. Don’t even try to whisper sweet nothings in its vicinity.

I want the quiet pollution of a small town. Life on the river with real, live birds as a soundtrack—not ringing cell phones and car alarms and horns and sirens and jackhammers.

When Kim and I were in Egypt last year, our pal Mohammed picked us up at 4:30am so we could drive out to witness the most serene sunrise over the salt lake in the Siwa Oasis. It was so quiet there that our ears almost hurt, straining to hear something. The stillness was startling.

It was quiet as a tomb in the White Desert as well. As comforting as certain sounds can be, the absence of sound in the desert is a remarkable experience.

It will be as remarkable as not having to listen to this fridge, the subway and morning wind sprints.

Categories: Home Sweet Home, Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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