A Travellerspoint blog

December 2007

My Favourite Souvenir

snow -10 °C

Upon my recent return from Trinidad, I flew on an Air Canada flight that went to Toronto from Port of Spain, Trinidad via Caracas, Venezuela. We spent a total of 45 minutes on the ground in Caracas, and they didn’t even let us off the plane, so unlike Danny Glover, I didn’t get an opportunity to visit with Hugo Chavez.

After spending the night flying over the Caribbean Ocean and the United States of America, the plane landed in Toronto at 6 in the morning. I sleepily approached the Canadian customs booth with my completed Canadian Customs Form.

After pursuing the form, the pretty, blonde customs agent asked, “Where are you coming from?”

“Port of Spain, Trinidad.”

“That flight comes through Caracas, correct?”

“Yes, it does.”

“Did you disembark in Caracas?”

“No, they didn’t even let us off the plane"

“Hmm,” she said, looking down again, and circling in red marker the area where I had written that I had $0 worth of good coming back with me. “You didn’t buy anything?” she asked.

“No,” I replied.

“Why did you go to Trinidad?” she asked. I said that I had gone down for vacation, and there was a line of questioning regarding why I had chosen Trinidad (because the flights worked out for my week vacation), if I knew anyone there (no), and again if I had bought anything.

“Do you have any checked luggage to pick up?” she asked. I replied that all I had was my backpack. “You went away for a week with just that small bag?” she asked.

“A bathing suit, a towel and a couple pairs of t-shirts and shorts don’t take up much room.”

“Hmm,” she said again, and wrote down some cryptic red numbers on the back of my form. They always write down red numbers on the back of the forms when entering Canada. It is, apparently, some sort of code to indicate if a secondary screening was required, and apparently today it was determined that I should be screened.

A second customs agent questioned me again before I passed by the baggage claim area, where I was waved into a separate room for a check by a third set of agents. They unpacked my bag and looked at all I had which amounted to a bathing suit, a towel, a couple pairs of t-shirts and shorts, some toiletries, a hat, a flashlight (never actually used) and a camera. They asked more questions about why I travelled to Trinidad, how often I travelled and why I travelled. Eventually I was waved on and got to walk outside into the cold of Canada.

I understand completely the suspicion I aroused. A single traveller with no bags and nothing to declare flying through a couple countries where drug and money trafficking is an issue, so I probably would have pulled me aside too. I was treated well, so no hard feelings with the Canadian customs.

All three sets of agents asked me, “You didn’t buy anything?” This of course makes sense because that’s their job, however there was something more in the tone of their voice. The tone suggested that more than just ensuring I was following the rules of Canadian custom laws, they seemed surprised that anyone would go away and return with nothing at all.

I know it’s strange that I tend to return from most of my trips with nothing to declare. Most people seem to return from travelling with stuff they’ve bought. When I was in France in 2005, a few people asked me what I had bought in the great shopping city of Paris. “Umm, nothing,” I replied. Frankly, I can’t stand crowds in malls and most everything in Paris was pricier than back home, mostly due to the exchange rate between the Euro and the Canadian Dollar. Returning from Beijing, China, I brought back no knock-off bags, pirated DVDs or works of Chinese art.

I don’t return empty handed, exactly, though. I do bring back something from every trip, and strangely, it’s something that I left home with. It’s my shoes. More than any product purchased abroad, or even photo of a place, just looking at my shoes reminds me of the great trips I’ve taken. The mud dried on my shoes may be free to pick up, but it feels priceless to me.

In 2002, in preparation for my trip down to South America, I went out and purchased a pair of waterproof, Gortex covered day hikers made by Solomon. The next day, it rained, and so I went out and splashed around like a 6 year-old, testing the waterproofness of my boots (they were). Those boots took me throughout South America, trips to the USA, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, France, the Netherlands and three-quarters of the way up Mount Kilimanjaro, where my lungs gave out but my shoes were ready to keep going.

I loved those Solomon shoes, and was ready to travel the entire world with them. I had hoped that I would be able to stand on all 7 continents with those shoes on my feet, and managed to stand atop 4 continents with them on. I grew very attached to those shoes. They were like a security blanket. Wearing them made me feel outdoorsy and worldly. However, even the sturdiest shoes aren’t built to last forever, and soon I had worn a hole in the sole, which ruined both the waterproof benefit and any support for my foot.

In 2005, I replaced my Solomons with a pair of Vasque shoes that had many of the same qualities as the Solomons, like being waterproof, and providing both high ankle support and good arch support. Those shoes saw me from France to Hong Kong, a few stops in Central America, a bunch of trips in Canada and the USA. While wearing the shoes in Trinidad however, I could feel the bottoms getting mushy and I could tell it was only a matter of time until the ball of my foot wore a hole in the sole. With the support fading from the shoe, I started to feel pain in the balls of my feet, which after my previous experience with Metatarsalgia (an inflammation of the balls of the feet that comes from over-use, especially if one is wearing shoes without adequate arch support), I knew it was time for some new shoes.

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I’m sad to see my old Vasques go. Like the Solomons, I’d grown unusually attached to them. I always felt like a traveller when I put them on. They provided more than just physical comfort. They were emotional comfort as well. I always felt I could face anything that came my way when in a nice comfortable pair of shoes.

So today, I went out and bought myself a new pair of shoes. Unlike the experience of replacing my Solomons in 2005, when I was unable to find any Solomon shoes that were like my old ones, I managed to find the exact same “model” of shoe. The only difference is that instead of yellow stripes on the fabric eyelets for the laces, there are orange stripes.

So I have a new pair of shoes, and after a short period to break them in, I am sure I will feel ready, both emotionally and physically to take on new adventures in this big world.

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Posted by GregW 12:10 Archived in Canada Tagged preparation Comments (0)

The Candid Photo

The Composition of a Seemingly Natural and Organic Photo

sunny 25 °C
View Trinidad and Tobago November 2007 on GregW's travel map.

A man is walking down a beach in the sun, his sandals in his hands so he can dip his toes in the warm surf of the Caribbean Ocean. He looks out towards the water, letting the light breeze kiss his face. He is oblivious to the photographer up ahead, and can’t hear the snap of the camera as his image is captured on the digital memory card. Posted on the internet, web surfers come across the candid photo of a man on a beach.

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Not all, however, is as it seems. Let us return to November 19th, 2007, and examine the events leading up to the photo.

I am walking along the beach beside the road that leads to Pigeon Point. The beach is a thin strip of sand running beside a paved road, and I haven’t seen another human since passing a few booths selling trinkets about 5 minutes ago. I am wandering along, sandals in my hands and bag (containing my camera) slung over my shoulder, letting the waves run up and over my bare feet.

“God, this is beautiful,” I think to myself, and my gaze glances up from my toes in the wet sand to the sandals in my hands, swinging lazily as I meander along. “Wow, this would make a really cool picture – a guy on the beach with his sandals in his hands.” So I decide to get that picture. However, because I am alone and there aren’t any other tourists around to impose upon to snap a photo, I will have to take the photo using the timer on my camera.

I look behind me, and off in the distance I can see a few boats moored near the shore, and a sliver of the rock breakwater built by the Coco Reef resort. “Hmm,” I think, “I don’t want all those signs of civilization behind me.”

I look ahead of me, and see nothing out in the water except a few white caps as waves crash over shallow sand bars. “Much better if I take the photo when I am walking in the other direction.” So I make a mental note to snap the photo on my return from Pigeon Point.

A few hours later, after lounging around at the beach and the bar at Pigeon Point, I am heading back the same way I came, along the thin sand strip of beach along the Pigeon Point road.

“Now, where should I take that photo?” I mentally check off what I need. A nice background, something with a couple palm trees would be nice, and no signs of human constructions (or, god forbid, other humans). Some place where the beach isn’t too covered with flotsam and jetsam. Some place where I can find a flat surface to put my camera on for the photo as well.

I round a nice looking palm tree jutting out over the water, and see a fence post which has been flattened, but which is still anchored in the ground. The fence post, parallel but a few feet off the ground will make a perfect spot to set up my camera. I wander over, get out my Joby Gorillapod tripod and set up my camera, taking time to ensure that the picture is nice and level. I snap a few test shots, making sure that the lighting is decent.

Once I am sure that the setting looks good, I set the timer. I remove the sunglasses and hat that have been offering my pasty white skin sun protection for the last few hours, and leave them with my bag and my 2 litre bottle of water on the end of the fallen fence post. I hit the button to start the timer, and sprint to get into position.

After running what I think is a decent distance, I turn around, and slowly walk forward, ensuring that my sandals are hanging lazily from my fingertips. After counting in my head to 10, I walk back to the camera and check the picture.

“Nope, no good,” I say. I’m looking straight ahead in the photo, not longingly out to sea as originally envisioned. I reset the camera position, set the timer again, and press the button. Again I sprint into position, and take up my slow amble.

After a few seconds, I go to check that picture. “Nope, no good.” This time, my right hand is up near by face. I take a swig of my water, and recompose the shot in my head. “Okay, Wesson, this time you’ll nail it. Hands at your side, look out to sea, walk with big exaggerated steps so that your foot is posed nicely in the air. Let’s get it done!”

Pep talk complete, I reset the timer and sprint into position again. Returning to the camera, I see I have nailed the shot. “Third time is the charm,” I say, admiring my work. The shot looks pretty natural, like it was captured in a complete and total spontaneous moment.

My spur-of-the-moment photo took a good 10 minutes to structure, plan and execute, but it sure looks good.

At least I didn’t photo shop it, though looking at it, I could probably use a little photographic tummy tuck. If I give the guy in the photo better abs, maybe I could sell the photo to a resort for marketing purposes. Though he’d probably need a little more hair as well to be a real beach body walking along the beach…

2007_11_19..t_Beach.jpg
An actual candid photo. The tree didn’t pose or anything for this shot.

Posted by GregW 19:52 Archived in Trinidad and Tobago Tagged photography Comments (0)

The Sunday Night Before...

Why a decent Sunday nights sleep is a hard thing to find for the business traveller

snow -10 °C
View Work Trips 2007 on GregW's travel map.

Since early November, I have been taking the very first flight leaving Toronto, a 6:05 am flight to Houston, Texas. Interestingly, no plane is allowed to take off from Toronto's Lester B. Pearson airport before 6:30 am, but Continental is so excited about getting me down to Texas as early as possible, they load up the plane 25 minutes early, giving them time to get de-iced and head out to the runway to be sure they are right there, at the edge of the runway, ready to go when the minute hand reaches the bottom of the clock.

This week, instead of travelling down to Houston for the usual Monday through Thursday work schedule, I’m doing two days in Norfolk, Virginia then heading down to Houston for a couple days before heading home for the last time this year. As my flight to Norfolk was leaving Toronto on Monday afternoon, I actually got to sleep in on Monday morning!

Now, I should explain what I mean by sleeping in, because I actually got up this morning at 8:00 am. But usually on Monday mornings, I am turning off the alarm at 4:00am, before grabbing a quick shower and heading out of my apartment and into the awaiting cold taxi for the ride to the airport.

And unlike most Monday mornings, I was actually woken by my alarm clock this morning, even though it went off a full 4 hours later than it usually would. On the nights before I have those 6:05 am flights to catch, I never really sleep all that well. There is this nagging fear that grips me all night that I am going to sleep through my alarm and miss my flight, and so I never really am able to fall asleep. Ocasionally I'll drift into a fitful few minutes sleep, only to awake with a start and a feeling of dread that I've slept through my alarm. My heart will start racing and adrenaline will pump through my body. I'll look over at the alarm clock, only to see that I still have a good 2 hours before the horrible buzzing claxen of the alarm clock.

Clock.jpg
photo courtsey of Imageafter.com

The only real rest I get Sunday nights or Monday mornings is once the flight attendent closes the main cabin door on the plane, and I can sink myself into my airplane seat and finally shut my eyes, confident that I didn't miss my plane.

I'm not alone in this malady. Many of my fellow road warriors, business travellers who hit the road many times a year, describe a similar problem, the inability to sleep on those nights before early morning flights. I've tried a million things to try and sleep better - getting up early on Sunday morning so I'll be more tired on Sunday night, warm milk, booze (warm or cold), stretching exercises, counting backwards from 100, but so far nothing has eased the fear of missing that flight.

So this weekend was a blessing, and I'm doubly blessed when I think about the fact that come Friday I will be arriving at home and hanging up the laptop bag and black dress shoes for a full TWO WEEKS of not doing any business travel. I haven't even planned any big trips for my vacation, instead choosing to stay close to home, visiting with friends and family, hanging around the house drinking tea and watching DVDs and most importantly, sleeping in, especially on Monday mornings.

Posted by GregW 19:22 Archived in Canada Tagged business_travel travel_philosophy Comments (3)

Is my head part not part of my body?

sunny 10 °C
View Work Trips 2007 on GregW's travel map.

I am working down in Houston now, staying at the Marriott West Loop By the Galleria, which seems an unnecessarily long name for a hotel. The hotel is decent - soft beds, good selection to TV channels, decent room service selection. It's nothing to sneeze at.

In the bathroom, they provide you a nice range of toiletries to use. There's mouthwash and skin cream (which is good, because hotels are notoriously dry and you can soon find your skin cracked and flaking in the dry atmosphere of a hotel room). In addition, there are three items for the shower - shampoo, conditioner and "invigorating body wash."

Shampoo.jpg

I've been using the body wash all week, but have found myself stepping out of the shower and still feeling sluggish and tired. It is not invigorating me as I would have hoped. I only find myself really invigorating once I get my first dose of caffeine via a Diet Coke.

The shampoo and invigorating body wash look very similar, both yellowish liquids in a clear bottle. Today, I accidentally washed my hair with the invigorating body wash. I hope there are no long term side effects, like my head becoming confused and thinking it's part of my body. I'd hate for my head to suddenly morph into an arm or something. While an extra arm extending out of the top of my neck might make it easier to reach canned food on the top shelf, without a mouth I wouldn't be able to consume it.

ArmForAHead.jpg
Sure, now I have a can of beans, but I can't enjoy it!

- - -

Sharp-eyed readers will notice at the bottom of the right hand menu there is now a section for links. In addition to a link to the Travellerspoint site that hosts my blog, there are two other links (at this point).

The first is to a public google calendar that I keep up to date with my most up to date travel plans. It's probably complete arrogance for me to think that anyone cares where I am, but in the event you ever think to yourself, "hey, it's Tuesday, I wonder where Greg is," click on the link to find out. If you see white space, it means it's one of the rare days I am actually in Toronto.

The other link is to a site called TravelBlogs.com, which is a site that collects some of the best travel writing on the internet, and for some strange reason, the little corner of silliness on the internet that I call my travel blog. If you ever get sick of reading about chickens or people with arms for heads and want to read some serious and interesting travel tales, I would suggest checking it out for sure. There's some pretty interesting stuff on there, including a dude who is trying to travel from London to Sydney without using a plane. Cool, and much more interesting than me washing my hair with bodywash...

Posted by GregW 20:50 Archived in USA Tagged business_travel Comments (1)

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