It’s the shirt, man.

Just putting together a few of my favourite photos of the title shirt. I have to give it back this Wednesday at our first Bomber hockey game of the season. It will be sad to see it go but it’s nice to share. It will be worn with pride.

 

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A Canadian in Lisbon.

 

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The famous Sunset Boulevard recreation.                Uncanny.

 

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I’m a passenger.

 

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Chillin in the Sagrada Familia

 

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The Dead Sea. It’s pretty dead.

 

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Chillin outside of the Sagrada Familia

 

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Sweet desert ride.

 

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Halloween at Drac’s.

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Best buds.

 

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Bia Hoi (fresh beer) on the street in Hanoi.

 

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All sexy in Portugal.

 

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Holiday in Cambodia.

 

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I’ll save you a seat.

Adjustment Department

“What’s it like to be back? Have you readjusted into normal life?” are the familiar questions I hear from many folks. My reaction, besides questioning what is “normal life”, is that I don’t really have an answer, or if I do, I just end up blurting out words like “weird” and “depressing” and “adjustment” and “vacuum cleaner”. I end up sounding like a mental patient.

I’m not exactly sure how I feel being back home. Happy? Sad? Horny? All of the above (or beside)? I do know that I still feel quite unsettled and odd. A stranger in a strange land. I walk around the streets of Vancouver and, while everything seems eerily familiar, it also seems like I’m seeing it for the first time. I’m just not quite comfortable in my own shoes and skin yet. Some of the unsettling might come from the fact that, out of the just over four weeks we’ve been home, we’ve had houseguests for more than 3 of those weeks. We haven’t been alone in our house for more than 5 consecutive days. It’s starting to wear thin. But that’s all coming to a close as the last of our houseguests have gone (save for one more night this weekend). We were facing another 6 nights of friends crashing at our place – a family of 4 were in need of some digs – but I managed to arrange for them to house sit for another friend for most of those nights. That was a blessing as I’m not too sure I could have handled another week of insanely loud children, utter chaos and sitting on the back deck drinking scotch until 2am. Sorry neighbors. They must think that we’re crazy party animals. I’m half expecting a note detailing our rude behaviour and asking us to shut the hell up shoved through my mail slot (no, that’s not a euphemism for anything).

It is great to be back at work (how many folks can say that?). I always forget how much I love my stores and my job. I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years now and I’m not sick or tired of it yet. 20 more years? Hah! I’ve worked a few shifts since I’ve been back (I keep getting asked if I’m the new guy) and I’m proud to say that the last few I wasn’t even hung over! That’s another problem upon returning: booze. Well it’s not really a problem in the biblical sense but we’ve been sampling many a fine wine (and beer and bourbon and tequila and…). Being that it’s summer means being outside a lot. With that and with our return we’ve spent much time hooking up with old friends, tipping the wrist while catching up. It’s great, of course, but I’m no spring drunky chicken anymore. I’m actually considering having a dry month in the future. September would be a good choice as it’s coming right up but I have lots of hockey to play and there’s some shows I might go and see and, hell I could come up with pretty much an excuse to have a beer anytime – “Oooh! It’s nighttime!”. Maybe February will be the month as it’s the shortest of the year. Hope that I can make it till then.

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Say hello to my little friends! The haul received for my birthday. I recommend everyone turn 50.

It has been a bit surreal and maybe even a little awkward jumping right back into life here. It’s almost as if I have to get to know my friends and neighbors all over again. I just haven’t really felt myself (stop right now, perverts) or at home in the past few weeks. But it is getting better. I imagine that it would be even more bizarre and otherworldly if I hadn’t been in constant contact with my friends, family and employees. So much has changed since the last time we had a big trip. In 2003, there was no Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Instaface (that’s a thing, right?) and email was more or less a pain in the ass. So without this continuous flow of updates and photos of everyone’s food, I had no idea what my peeps back home were up to or what the had for lunch. When we returned everything seemed fresh and exciting. All that has changed. Sometimes I feel like I hadn’t been away at all. And it works both ways – there’s so much information about anywhere and everywhere in the word that checking out spots you might want to visit takes away some of the mystery and magic of seeing a place for the first time. Still though, nothing beast travel. Nothing.

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Arty type shot of in inner workings of Black Dog. Home.

I guess time will tell if it’s just me or living in a busy house or a combination of the two that is the cause of my anxiety and restlessness. And while I’m happy to be home – I love Vancouver and the life we’ve built here – I do still think about the trip everyday and what I might be doing on some tropical island instead of trying to figure out my taxes or remember how to work the stereo at the store.

Epilogue – It’s been five weeks now, I’m sleeping better, drinking (a little) less, playing hockey as well as I can, getting into watching films, eating my beloved cheese, starting a number of projects I want to do, going to the beach (nowhere near as nice as Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia etc. but it will do) and starting to get back into “normal life” or whatever the hell that is.

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That’ll do beach. That’ll do.

It’s a Wrap Part II: The Reckoning

It’s been just over two weeks since The Return and we’re finally settling in. Sleep is, once again, our friend, eating food is delicious and edible and I scored two goals playing hockey. All good. Well almost. Even though it’s only been 2 weeks, my memories and thoughts are quickly dissipating like so much water in California (and here for that matter). That makes me sad. I guess I better get this last post finished before I forget that I went anywhere at all.

I’m going to expand just a bit on the last blog. This one will concentrate on my favourite places and things, a top 10 list so to speak. Although I’m not too sure that there will be 10 things. My apologies in advance if I’ve repeated anything. Anyhoo..

Favourite city – Istanbul. Such a lovely, vibrant, beautiful place. Great food and very nice folks. And they have little houses and nibbles for stray cats everywhere! I could live there (not in the cat houses, I mean).

Runners up;

Osaka, Japan

Hanoi, Vietnam

Barcelona, Spain

Porto, Portugal

Seville, Spain

Lisbon, Portugal

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Sofia, Bulgaria

Sintra, Portugal

Granada, Spain

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Pickering, Ontario (Hah! Just kidding)

Favourite place we stayed – The Seaflower on Koh Phangan, Thailand. No surprise there seeing as we spent 2 months enjoying the beach, the bar on the beach, the great food and the amazing folk who run the place and work there. Made us feel very welcome and like part of the family. I’d love to return.

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Chai tending his flock. Ya, it’s not too bad.

Runners Up

The apartment in Istanbul. Top floor of a lovely old house run by a very nice couple. There was a balcony which overlooked the city where we would have coffee in the morning. Pretty special.

The apartment in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Favourite Island  – Gili Air, Indonesia. Again, no surprise. One month on that amazing little island with no cars, great snorkeling, fabulous food and scorching sunsets.

Runners Up

Koh Lipe – For the best water. So strikingly clear and blue.

Koh Phangan.

Koh Lanta.

Favourite Eats – Breakfast in Istanbul. Found this place that does the most amazing traditional Turkish breakfast – eggs and sausage, cheeses, dips, breads, olives (the wife likes them). I’m salivating just thinking about them.

Other meals – Anything and everything I had at the Via Via in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Easily the best restaurant of the trip even if I didn’t care much for the city. Not one misstep and we ate their plenty. The martabak and beef rendang on Gili Air, oh man! The Joy Luck Club in Bangkok, Thailand. Terrible name, great food. Sushi and ramen in Japan. Lamb terrine in Fes, Morocco. Phở in Hanoi. Street meats in Indonesia. Pad Thai and fried mussels in Krabi, Thailand. Great little tapas restaurant in Seville that was recommended by a friend. I could go on but I’m too hungry to keep writing.

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Working his magic.

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Eating his magic.

Favourite activity/experience – Celebrating Songkran in Thailand. One big, city-wide water-fight. Still brings a smile to my 50 year-old face.

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Bring it.

Runners up

Riding a camel through the desert in Jordan.

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Me and my sweet ride.

Playing in the waterpark with Swanson at Legoland in Malaysia.

Walking around Hanoi and ending up at the Bia Hoi (Fresh Beer) corner. Great place to sit and watch the world go by.

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Yep.

Swimming in the waters of Koh Lipe.

Photobombing unsuspecting tourists. Swanson became quite good at it even if he got caught a few times.

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Practicing.

Hanging out on the beach in Barcelona (among the other great sites in that fine town).

Being driven around in a tuk-tuk by our man, Mr. Moth, in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Sunrises and sunsets in Thailand and Indonesia. The latter now with more volcanoes!

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Rise sun! Rise!

The train from Bucharest to Brasov in Romania. (Not a young girl’s erotic journey) Stunning country.

Snorkling with the sea turtles on Gili Air.

Meeting friends from home on the trip – in Spain, Thailand and Japan. Pretty awesome to experience these places with familiar faces.

Feeding elephants at an elephant rescue farm just outside Chiang Mai. Who knew they liked to eat children?

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Monsters!

Just walking. So many great cities and places we visited. We must have walked over 10,000 km.

I’m sure that there are tons more great moments and experiences – like kicking a dude’s luggage onto the subway in Lisbon as the doors were closing and he was taking too long to board – that I left out due to memory loss or brain damage, but that’s OK, I’ll regale you with my endless tales over beers in the future. I hope.

Annndddd…..

Some of the things that I will not miss about traveling and things and places that I’d rather not see or experience anytime soon.

Backpackers. The scourge of humanity. Most are fine but S/E Asia is just crawling with gap-mouthed, poorly-tattooed, short-fingered, Neanderthal, privileged assholes who look at this lovely part of the world as their playground and have no regard for the locals or their customs.

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There just aren’t enough pies in S/E Asia to hit all these fellas in the face with.

Music – Holy hotdogs is their ever a plethora of terrible music out there in the world. Terrible techno (always played way too loud) from about 11 years ago to bad pop music – think Carly Rae Jepsen – to the fucking Eagles (I must have heard Hotel California 15,000 times including reggae, ska, easy listening, muzak and various covers), Sting’s Englishman in New York (!), Jack Johnson and a million covers of Its a Wonderful World. At least I got to listen to some Led Zeppelin on the plane ride home. Physical Graffiti holds up pretty well.

7-11. The Sev. Spent way too much time in those awful, wonderfully air-conditioned hellholes with their cheap beer and heat-lamp hotdogs (at least I think that they were hotdogs).

Wet toilets. Most washrooms don’t have anything separating the toilet from the shower, so everything gets wet. Any idea what a drag it is to sit on a wet toilet seat? Also it’s nice to be able to flush the toilet paper instead of tossing it in the garbage. I felt very bad for the poor souls who clean the rooms and have to empty to cans. One thing I noticed was the insistence of installing wooden doors in these bathrooms. And yes, all were in various stages of rot and decay.

Cab Drivers. We tried to avoid taking cabs as much as possible as many seemed to go to great lengths to rip us off. I’m looking at you Romania, “Meter is broken!” he says turning it away from us. Not in Japan though. The drivers are very courteous and wear fancy white gloves and the doors open automatically.

Smokers. Smoking is so lame and I’m always aghast at how many people smoke and just how much they smoke. It’s everywhere. Especially in Romania where they smoke like fucking ghouls. It’s nice that folks can’t smoke in restaurants and bars and hospitals here.

Killing bugs – I actually punched a large red centipede to death with my bare knuckles (well, I tried to kill it with Tami’s shoe but to no avail. So I ended up punching the shoe to crush the critter – Tami’s foot was not in the shoe at the time). I don’t know how many times I said “Ow! I think something just bit me!”

Other tourists. Not just the lowly backpacker. Tourists are everywhere (can’t blame them at all since traveling is awesome!) but it doesn’t mean I have to like them. And what’s with everyone using their straw to slurp the bottom of their drinks?! I hate that sound so much. You’re not 5 years-old. Grow-up, jerks.

Driving. It’s so refreshing to come back to Vancouver and have cars stop for you at crosswalks instead of having them actively try to kill you. Even on the sidewalks (when there are sidewalks).

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What traffic, you ask?

Smells. Part of the joy of walking the streets of – insert city name here – is the variety of aromas that assail your senses. But you have to take the good with the bad. For every waft of grilling meat, you might get a nose full of an open sewer. Kind of kills the appetite.

Airports. We took over 35 flights on our trip (sorry Earth) and with that comes spending a lot, and I mean a lot, of time in airports, waiting. Just waiting.

One Room. No Love. So nice to come home and have our own bedroom. We spent that vast majority of the trip with all of us sleeping in one room. You get the picture. Now stop getting the picture. Perverts.

Where to go from here?

Not to Malaysia. The people were incredibly nice and the food was mostly excellent but it’s super hot and there really wasn’t a lot to see or do. Kuala Lumpur is a cool city but, outside of the awesome Petronas Towers, there’s not much else going on. Unless you like malls. They have lots and lots of malls. Georgetown was just OK. The island of Langkawi was nice but way too many partiers and jet skis for my liking. Malaysia is probably the only place on the trip I wouldn’t go back to. Maybe Morocco but we didn’t go to Marrakesh or Casablanca or anywhere else besides a couple of day trips out of Fes, so maybe a return visit. The sights and smells of the tannery will be forever etched in mine, and Swanson’s brains. And not in a good way.

I would love to go back to Turkey. So many places we didn’t get to check out. Another visit to the Seaflower on Koh Phangan is in order. I wish we visited Greece, Myanmar, Laos, Philippines, India (still on the fence about India), Europe, Hong Kong, South America, the Moon. So much to see and experience so little time and money. Well that’s about it for the blog (I am still trying to get our older photos from the backup so I can do a favourite photos blog, but who knows?) I hope that the seven of you who read it enjoyed our tales of travel and adventure. I loved writing it and plan to continue my bloggy ways. Probably will have something to do with movies…Stay tuned.

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Until then, I’ll save you a seat.

It’s a Wrap! Part 1 – The Return!

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Happy not to be pulling this goddamn thing around with me anymore.

Well, that’s it, we’re done. Back in Vancouver. All we have is our memories and I’ve done my best to obliterate those with the many bottles of scotch I received for my birthday. We’ve been back a week now and I think that finally we might be coming around to the idea that we don’t have to cram everything inside our suitcases, check the Tripadvisor, make boat/train/plane/camel bookings and head on down the road anymore. I have to admit it’s kind of weird. And maybe a tad depressing.

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Had to leave my knuckle duster behind. Damn rules!

It has been a tough week I have to admit. I wasn’t sleeping very well – waking up in the middle of the night with no idea where I was – walking around in a haze or daze or both, trying my best to communicate with folks and failing miserably and just trying to settle back into our former lives. I went to work my second day back and all I could do was change a light bulb before I had to flee the premises. I’ve had trouble eating and was (probably) drinking too much. I wasn’t getting nearly enough sleep – I went 25 straight hours last week with any shut-eye. It was tough. I was quite miserable, very emotional (I’d almost well up with tears just talking about any faction of the trip) and I missed our travel days way more than I thought I would.

I thought that the best thing I could do was throw a huge party at my house for my 50th birthday five days after our return. I’d get to see all of my friends all at once. Even my long-lost brother flew in from Toronto for the festivities. It seemed like a brilliant idea when I concocted it over cocktails on the beach on Gili Air a month and a half ago. Unfortunately, this brilliant idea just led to much stress and anxiety all week. It was weird, all of these fine folks were my good friends and they all wanted to see me and I wanted to see them, so what’s the problem? I’m still trying to figure that one out. I just don’t think I was ready for such and overwhelming situation. As mentioned, I could barely speak to anyone during the previous 5 days and now I had to chat and be social with 50 of my closest friends!

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The aftermath. The beforemath was much more fun.

But all my worrying and anxiety turned out to be completely unfounded as the evening turned out to be a ton of fun. Everyone was in a great mood, I reconnected with folks I haven’t seen or talked to in almost a year, much booze was consumed (thanks to Bomber Brewing for supplying a couple of kegs!). My only disappointment was that I didn’t get a chance to chat with everyone as much as I would have liked. Still it was good. Around 2 am, with most folks gone, the weight of the pressure I put on myself had lifted and I could relax and eat some terrific ham (thanks Angela!). I feel better, I’m getting proper sleep, my brother has gone home so my liver is happy and I’m back to work which is great and back on the ice (boy I sucked my first time out). I guess that “normal” life is settling back in.

So why did I put myself through all of that nasty business last week? It was all part of the trip – the coming home. One of the hardest parts among many difficult situations abroad (12 hour train trips, Swanson barfing on boats, in cars, on planes and in front of hotels, sweltering heat, nasty bugs, spiders on my towels, moving around way too much, 36 planes trips, unscrupulous cab drivers, terrible food, ugly backpackers, white knuckle drivers to touch on a few) is the reintegrating back into society. Well, looking back on the past 10 months I can come up with a myriad of reasons why we put ourselves through this;

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Spiders in our glasses…

Walking down through the canyon known as The Siq and having it open up into the ancient ruins in Petra, Jordan was easily one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen/done/did.

Trekking through the desert on the back of a camel is an experience I won’t soon forget. Even if I’m starting to forget about the ball-crushing last hour of it. We ate a great feast that was cooked in the ground and slept in the desert in a Bedouin tent. I left my hat there.

Stepping out of the subway in Barcelona and saying to Swanson, “Turn around”. He did and had his mind blown by the immense Sagrada Familia monstrosity looming over him.

Spending almost 4 months on various tropical islands is something folks dream about. I’m here to tell you to follow that dream because it’s everything you think it is. And more.

Sipping coffee on my balcony in Istanbul in the morning, listening to the Call to Prayer, watching birds fly over the many huge beautiful mosques.

Running through the streets of Thong Sala on the Thai island of Koh Phangnan with water pistols and buckets, squirting everyone in sight as we celebrated the Thai New Year festival, Songkran. We had so much fun I can’t begin to say (well I did begin to say, but that’s all I have).

Standing on the beach at the Seaflower on Koh Phangnan on New Years Eve watching hundreds of Chinese lanterns float out over the ocean as a myriad of fireworks exploded over our heads.

Swimming in the turquoise blue water of Koh Lipe. Postcard perfect.

Snorkeling with sea turtles in the warm clear waters of Gili Air in Indonesia.

Drinking port at a winery (portery?) in Porto, Portugal.

Washing, feeding and hanging with elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Spending Halloween in “Dracula’s castle” in Romania. It was fun, cheesy, cold, a bit disappointing, but still…Dracula’s fucking castle in Romania for Halloween!

Walking into the Medina in Fes, Morocco for the first time. It felt like stepping back in time 2000 years.

Seeing the joy on Swanson’s face spending a couple of days in Legoland in Malaysia.

Climbing to the top of a mountain in Sintra, Portugal and finding a huge castle. Then getting lost during a fun trek on the way down.

Getting up before dawn to watch the sun rise over a volcano on Gili Air and then, later that day, watching the sun set over a different volcano on the other side of the island.

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Ya, it’s alright.

Happy hour on the beach at the Seaflower. Almost everyday for two months!

Climbing up many the ruins of Angkor Wat.

Making Tami and birthday dinner (roast chicken and root vegetables) in our apartment in Sofia, Bulgaria.

I could sit here and go on and on about many more amazing, wonderful things we saw and did and saw on this adventure but I don’t want to put you all to sleep. I thought that this would be my last post but I think I still have a couple left in me including the top things/places/people we enjoyed, the things that I won’t miss about traveling, tips and advice for future travelers and what a difference the world makes when you get out and explore.

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On our front steps after 10 months on the road! The three of us plus some weird dog we picked up in Japan.

Friends in Japanese Places

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Japan is a land of contradictions. It is both ugly and beautiful, wild and controlled, weird and tame. After arriving from Indonesia and jumping on a bus headed for Nara, my initial impression of Japan was “Meh, this is kind of boring”. Unattractive endless cities overwhelm the nice countryside. Uninspired, uninteresting architecture filled up my eyes. No wonder Godzilla is always attacking Japan. I guess that most of the country was destroyed during WWII and rebuilt with a utilitarian frame of mind. But, whateves, we were in Japan – our first time out of SouthEast Asia since the end of November and I knew that we’d find much to like here. And we did!

All of the interesting, lovely and beautiful things I was hoping to find in Japan were there – they were just hiding in the details; in the displays of beautiful food lovingly handcrafted, in the crisp white gloves that the government officials wear, in the respect citizens have for each other, in the cleanliness (a nice change after all the garbage that littered Indonesia), in the amazing public bathrooms (the only place on the trip where I actually looked forward to using them) and their singing, magical toilets (I kept humming “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” by Pink Floyd whenever I entered a stall), in the sushi, the ramen, the tonkatsu and every other delicious food stuff we enjoyed, in the pride folks take in their appearance – we looked like a pack of rabid hobos compared to everyone else, in the kids school uniforms which mirrored the adults work uniforms – light coloured top and dark bottom half, in the deafening roar of the Pachinko parlors and in the big flashy neon, which I love.

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It’s not a ride.

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Little do they know.

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You can almost hear the insanity.

One bonus regarding our Japan adventure was that we had friends in every town that we visited. Not only was it cool to see friends abroad but they were quite helpful as getting around Japan and especially ordering food which was quite a challenge. It was the most difficult country on the trip to eat. One night In Tokyo we walked into a nice-looking little ramen joint. The woman behind the counter points to a machine with a bunch of numbers on it and some Japanese characters. Tami and I looked at each other in a “What the what” kind of way, tried to figure out what to do for a couple of minutes and then just turned and left. We ended up buying beer and food at the 7-Eleven (which wasn’t half bad) and eating it back at our guest house.

More often than not the menus would have photos of the food and many restaurants have fake food displays to look at in front of their shops. I imagine that there’s an entire industry that specializes in fake food models. Sometimes pointing at the menu and ordering worked – we had the best ramen I’ve ever eaten in Nara – and sometimes not so much – what was that squishy chewy thing covered in tempura we just ate, squid or cow eyes?

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Ramen-lamen-ding-dong.

We spent most of our first days in country wandering around Nara. They have an immense Buddha housed in a huge, beautiful shrine. I kept wishing it would come alive and start destroying everything ala Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. It’s surrounded by a lovely park populated by very tame deer who wander around, get in your way and shit on the sidewalk. We also quite enjoyed strolling through the old part of town where you could check out traditional old timey Japanese houses. Pretty awesome.

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“I will crush you, puny human!” – Buddha.

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Those are real deer. And real poop.

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I told you these deer were a menace!

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After a tough day of fighting deer, the littlest hobo takes a break.

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There’s always time to pet a giant cat.

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I could totally live here. Just need to find a place for my big TV, surround system, sectional couch and beer fridge.

In Osaka we hooked up with an old friend, Andrew, who I hadn’t seen since he moved to Japan some 15 years ago. He took us around to many cool spots including a gigantic vintage toy and cosplay shop which had tons of odd things including some robot monster toy that was selling for over $10,000! We spent the day and night traipsing around Osaka eating (deep fried octopus balls anyone?!) and drinking and playing. It was a splendid day. Osaka ended up being my favourite city in Japan. Love to go back.

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Andrew and Tami getting their Osaka game faces on.

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First stop, Nurse cafe! They’ll cure what’s ailing you!

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Godfather game! Can’t imagine how it’s played. I was tempted but a it was little out of my price range.

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Almost anatomically correct doll.

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Andrew is quite excited to be sampling some delicious kushiage which is deep-fried everything. This little number is deep-fried ice cream.

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Hey Fonzie, nice car!

Kyoto is a lovely town filled with many shrines (“Please Dad, no more fudging shrines” pleaded Swanson) and good food. It was recently voted best city in the world to visit. I’m not too sure about that but it was a pretty nice spot to spend a few days. I wish that we had more time to spend here and get to know the place. Tami had a friend from her library days who we met up with. Again, a day of walking around eating well and checking stuff out. Paul even invited us back to his house to dine with his wife on delicious cold noodles and sushi, all washed down with tasty sake and beer. Good times!

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Taking photos. This is a shrine dedicated to business. All of the gates were donated by local businesses. There are hundreds of them! I should get a Black Dog one in there pronto!

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There is also a lot of dead people in Kyoto. Not a good place to be when the zombie apocalypse breaks out.

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Haunted bamboo forest. Haunted by goddamn mosquitos!

We stayed in a old fashioned guest house and had some pretty good sleeps on thin mattresses on the floor. The people that ran the place were great and they loved Swanson, who would entertain them with his various Adventure Time character impersonations. Lemon Grab was a big hit.

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Beware of the monsters. And their children.

Tokyo was fucking bonkers. I was told that the population was around 18 million and it seemed that they were all near me everywhere we went. It was so damn busy, especially the subways. The novelty of being around that many folks wore off after about 10 minutes. By the time we left (with all of our luggage on the trains Monday morning during rush hour) I was happy to be on my way. But at the same time I loved it. All the neon, the huge buildings, the chaos. It was a great 2 1/2 days we spent there but I think that we tried to pack in a little too much in too short of a time. We saw lots of great stuff but I wish we could have had more time to take it all in.

I could write tons more about Japan (and I might in the future) but I don’t want to bore you so I’ll leave you with a bunch of photos. I hope that you get the picture.

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You can even fish for hats in the subway here!

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Fool in the Rain.

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Tastiest Egg Slut I ever done eat.

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We did manage to figure this place out. Sushi comes by on a conveyor belt. Grab and eat.

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We did manage to find a craft beer place. Had a fabulous (if expensive) IPA and Saison.

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Subway action! This is about as quiet as it gets.

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This guy wanted to fight me.

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Lost in Translation.

 

 

 

 

Tall in Japan

Just a word of advice – when flying high on airplanes (as opposed to narcotics) do not sit at the back of the plane. Especially if you want to sleep. Or make out. We had an overnighter on Air Asia (first mistake, although they are cheap) and were seated in the last row. If you are a fan of turbulence and constant noise, then this is the place for you! We were jostled all night by rather strong turbulence – it’s not a big deal until you stop to think that you’re in a tin tube going 500 miles an hour, 30,000 feet above the ground and the air is playing bumper cars with your ride – and we were seated next to the service station. The insanely loud service station. The hard working crew was busy all night with, what sounded like, a rather involved game of whack-a-mole. I didn’t sleep hardly a wink but, no matter, we were on our way to Japan!

Our first stop was Nara. Why Nara you ask? Where’s Nara you ask? It’s about a one hour train ride from Osaka. We had friends there – a mate of Gus’ from school whose family had moved back to Japan a few years ago after trying to make a go of it in Vancouver.  Any initial worries of awkwardness were dispelled as soon as we were warmly welcomed into their home. They were the best hosts! We had a lovely floor to ourselves above the family flower shop. They made us fabulous home-cooked meals – so amazing (very good cook) especially after 7 months of eating out, we were treated us to the freshest, tastiest sushi and nice Japanese beers and we were very well taken care of. I think that they enjoyed having us in their home as much as we enjoyed staying there. The most fun was just having food and drinks with them and their 83 year-old father. He didn’t speak a lick of English but we shared the same love of beer and travel. His handshake is as strong as a man 50 years his junior. My hand is still aching. Quite a character.

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They loved the Dangler. “It’s not an ugly shirt!”

The day after arriving we traveled with our hosts to Universal Studios Japan – an amusement park dedicated to such classic Universal films as Jaws, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park (which was still under construction – bastards!), Back to the Future, Backdraft and Waterworld. Yes, Waterworld. I’m not too sure what inspired them to include this dud of a film in the park but it ended up being one of the more entertaining spectacles we witnessed that day. Explosions (lots and lots of explosions), crashing planes, jet skis and some impressive stunt work told some sort of story about our bleak global warming future. It was all spoken in Japanaese so I didn’t really know what was going on but it made about as much sense as the original film. No Kevin Costner with gills though. I did find it a bit odd that the two main heroes were Caucasian while the rest of the cast were Japanese.

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Waterworld set. Looks like many places we visited in the past 10 months.

We got there at 9:30am and waited with thousands of others for the gates to open. When gates creaked open, folks started running. There’s a giant roller coaster that, by the time we passed by it at 9:40, had an hour-long wait (there’s a sign that tells you how long the waits are). Crazy. We walked over to the Harry Potter ride. It was pretty impressive in recreating the Hogwarts castle and town. The 3-D ride was pretty fun but all in Japanese so if there was a story to be told, it was lost on me. Didn’t matter.

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Run to the Hills! Or the roller coaster.

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Just like the movie. Except with a few more umbrellas.

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Swanson and his friend enjoying some Butterbeer. Sadly there was no actual beer in it.

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This is how tall I am in Japan. I average about 2-3 feet taller than the average Japanese human.

We checked out a few other rides – some fun: Spider-man, Space Fantasy (whatever that is) and some pretty lame: Back to the Future had not been updated in 30 years it seemed. The 3-D consisted of us sitting in a car that just jerked us and slammed us too and fro, tossing us around like a bag of garbage while some crappy, blurry 3-D sci-fi chase scenario played out in front of us. I don’t remember a dinosaur living in the centre of the earth in the movies. Our flying Delorean went into its mouth and for an instant I got excited that it might poop us out its dinosaur’s ass, but it just reversed back out its mouth. So bad.

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“Lengardian Lame-eosa!

The Backdraft one was puzzling as it was mostly Kurt Russell and Scott Glenn giving us a making of the film (dubbed in Japanese of course) until we were ushered into a large room done up to look like a warehouse that, for some reason, started exploding and burning down around us as the crowd stood around watching with a glazed, bored sheen in their eyes. Nothing like some searing fire on a scorchingly hot day!

But the biggest disappointment was the Jaws ride. I hesitated going on as the line was about a 50 minute wait. But I said if I’m going all the way to this damn amusement park, I have to go on the Jaws thing as it’s one if my favorite films. So I waited by myself (nobody else was interested – they are all much smarter than I was) for about 1/2 hour. The ride consisted of being in a “tour boat” that is attacked by the giant shark. We were protected and saved by a shrill tour guide, who shrieked in Japanese the entire way and, for some reason, had a shotgun with her. It was so lame as the giant fake-looking shark lumbered about, poking it’s head out of the water until it was finally killed by our teenage heroine (not too sure what happened but it looked like some BBQ at the the end). Sigh.

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On the Jaws ride, ready to relive my childhood nightmares!

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Swanson seems skeptical. Rightly so.

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“Something is happening!” Shrieks our teenage saviour!

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Intentionally blurred to heighten the terror!

Overall it was a pretty fun day. But I can honestly say that, as much as I love the movies,  I can’t see myself going to a place like this again. Although I do have a weird urge to watch Backdraft and Waterworld. But only if they’re dubbed in Japanese.

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Synchronized Japanese jumping team.

Free Kuta (Kinte)

We left the lovely confines of Gili Air and headed for the tourist-blotted landscape of Kuta on Bali for a couple of nights before flying to Japan. If Gili Air is the laid-back and chilled-out character “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski, then Kuta is John Belushi’s “Blutarsky” from Animal House, but without any the charm, wit or sophistication. Maybe it was the fact we spent a month on the lovely small island without a car in sight and were then birthed into the madness of tourist central on Bali that accounted for my disdain for Kuta. Maybe it’s just a reaffirmation of my dislike and intolerance for humans in general. Whatever the case, Kuta just didn’t do it for me.

But let me start with the good stuff – we caught an earlier boat by chance that went direct to Bali rather than the original one that included a couple of scheduled stops along the way. Nice start to the day. We then arrived at our ultra-swank 4-star hotel and were greeted by friendly staff who gave us a nice drink (no rum – sad face) and told us that we had been upgraded to a swankier room as they were overbooked. Nice! Tami mentioned to them that it was our anniversary and they brought us a cake to celebrate! Nice!! And to cap it all off, we got the room for free with a combination of a last-minute booking site promo code, and unused points on a credit card. Fucking Nice!!

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Enormous pool view from our balcony. I tried to convince Swanson that we could hit the water with a good, strong leap but he wouldn’t go for it.

I felt a bit weird climbing out of the mini-van and into our luxury hotel (complete with security guy who examined the under-carriage of the vehicle with a large mirror – but only did one side for some reason) leaving the rest of the backpackers to go on to their, presumably, not 4-star accommodations. It was like I was somehow betraying them, breaking some sort of unwritten back-packers code, even if I didn’t talk to any of them on the 2 hour car-ride. I imagined them muttering about this rich family of three, la-dee-da-ing our way to our sweet digs on their swanky vacation. Little do they know…

Anyways, we checked in, ate almost all of the cake (we were very hungry) drank a couple of beers ( chocolate milk for Swanson) and then headed out into the night to explore Kuta and eat some actual food.

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This room is so swank that even the mirrors come with TVs!

Kuta is strange. The strip that we were staying on is plastered with over-priced theme restaurants (best Italian! authentic Mexican! great Greek!), dodgy shops selling knock-off goods such as bags, sunglasses, DVDs – didn’t know Jurassic Park was available on DVD yet – hats, shirts (with bizarrely inappropriate sayings)   plus all sorts of shit. And for some reason many places also sold the most depressingly offensive bumper stickers I have ever seen. I don’t know who these things are meant to appeal to but I can’t even fathom what human might want to adorn their monster truck or whatever with one of these gross fucking things.

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Yep. Stupid is as stupid does. You said it Gump. I passed by this awful place (disclaimer – Forrest Gump is one of my most hated films) at least 3 times and each time “Sweet Home Alabama” was blaring from the outdoor speakers. Body shudder.

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Hands down, one of the weirdest things I have seen on the trip. Seems that there is a lot of gay folks around these parts. Even Tonny is gay! I was thinking that Sex Predator would be a good one for my van.

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“My Mum Washes Me” is pretty good. I’ll have to give them that.

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“Hey honey, should we go with the “Up the Bum no Baby’s” sticker or the “Your Hole is My Goal? Maybe we should get the “Sorry My Dick is Sick” one for your Dad for his birthday?”

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I would think that if I fucked Rhonda, I wouldn’t want to tell Kent, never mind yelling it on a tank top.

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The police were no help.

We spent 2 full days in Kuta and one of them was at this large waterpark, Waterbom. Swanson loves the waterparks and it was hot and we did have a blast at the one in Legoland in Malaysia and this is rated the 5th best (“We’re number 5!) waterpark in the world, so we thought, why not? It was pretty fun but very crowded. Legoland was virtually empty so we didn’t have to wait in any lines and it was great, but we expected this one to be busier so it wasn’t a big deal. But the folks that frequent this place, holy hotdogs!! It was if someone had rounded up all of the ugliest people in the surrounding area, stuffed them into swimwear and forced them to spend an afternoon at Waterbom. It was like a Wet ‘N Wild internment camp. One really gets to see just how weird and grotesque the general population is when everyone is wearing a bathing suit. We are still trying to erase from our minds the old man with extraordinary man-boobs and grey nipples and the thongs, oh the thongs. Who told you that was a good idea? Let’s not forget the dudes trying to stave off the aging process by wearing the smallest bathing suits available. Gunslingers, I call them. And all of the little girls, and I mean all of them, had their hair braided, Bo Derek style (I think the film 10 might have just made to these parts). It made me sad for some reason.

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I didn’t want to take any photos of little girls so there’s this.

And, of course, there is always the ubiquitous bad tattoos – my two favourites were the dude who’s entire chest, neck to naval, was taken up with the words “Death before Dishonor” surrounded by ribbons and skulls and shit. What does that even mean? Who might he rather die than dishonor, the army, maybe a biker gang, possibly his book club? Weird. The other one was an image of a sexy policewoman (or prison guard, not too sure) suggestively dangling a pair of handcuffs while her ample (fake) bosom attempted to burst out of it’s too-small sexy uniform. It adorned the entire thigh of a pregnant woman. Maybe it was her favourite Halloween costume? Or maybe it was that “big break” she was looking for in the movies? Whatever it was it was bizarre and I couldn’t stop staring at it while we waited in line for The Climax. The ride. Too bad her face looked like a half-baked loaf of bread with flowing locks of hair (the tattoo, the woman was oddly attractive – odd for this place). Sorry, we didn’t bring our cameras due to the ever-present water situation, so no photos.

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I’m guessing they left the “b” off of the end of bomb due to the actual bombings that occurred here in 2002. Might be considered to be in bad taste.

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The Waterbom round-up train will be right along.

But overall, it was pretty fun and I had more than enough water blasted into my nasal cavity. Kuta was interesting but not my kind of place and we were happy leave. It was too much of a shock to the system after the tranquility and beauty of Gili Air. I wouldn’t return. Well, maybe to get a “Darren is Gay” bumper sticker.

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A little Father’s Day photo.

B-Sides from Gili Air

Here’s a few more photos from our lovely time spent on the lovely island known as Gili Air…

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Night cows!

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One more sunset…

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illin and chillin…

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So many smelly goods. I wonder what the 4th point translated into? “Not for human consumption”?

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Swanson and his new best friends at Munchies, our local…

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As busy as it gets on Gili Air.

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One more for the road…

All Good Things

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Sunsets here include volcanoes! Suck it, Vancouver! Just kidding. You know I love ya, baby!

With less than three weeks remaining in our adventures, my mind is starting to turn to the life that I left behind. And with that, all the stupid stresses I’ve managed to avoid for the past 10 months have come flooding back into my brains. Of course, the state of the video stores is at the top of my list. They’ve managed to hold steady and actually had some pretty good months where we turned a slight profit! Imagine that. Why can’t every month be March! We have an amazing staff and they’ve done a great job keeping the ship afloat in my absence. It’s like I’m not even needed there…sniff.

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Hello, old friend.

After perusing the upcoming forecast for the summer – hot and dry and long – combine that with a fairly week release schedule and I imagine that I’ll have more than a few sleepless nights ahead of me. Damn you, global warming!

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At least I have this lovely sunrise to keep me company when I can’t sleep. And it comes with a volcano as well!

I was hoping that this trip would inspire me where to go next with the stores and what I might do in The Future. What is a 50 year-old man with limited skills to do in this day and age? Come on, inspiration, I have three weeks left, inspire me! Hopefully you won’t see me at Starbucks flipping burgers. But seriously, I’m returning with a renewed energy and excitement for the business. I love my job! I even have some new ideas that will hopefully help to prolong the business into The Future!

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What does the future hold? Please be this!

It also doesn’t help that my bookkeeper has vanished into some black hole without getting my taxes into my accountant! They are already 2 1/2 months late and I’m sure the government hates me. More loss of sleep and of what little hair I have left. Anyone know a good bookkeeper?

Anyways, enough about that shit. We’re wrapping up our last week on Gili Air. It’s such a wonderful place, near the top of my favourite places we’ve managed to experience on this excursion. It’s so relaxed and chill (as Swanson likes to say). It’s a nice mix of locals (most have been so friendly and Swanson has made many friends at some of the local bars and restaurants, complete with cool-guy handshakes. He’s become somewhat of a minor celebrity here on the island) and tourists. We’ve enjoyed great food, amazing sunsets, cheap beer, weirdly erotic statues, giant lizards and spiders (I’m slowly becoming accustomed to these creepy bastards) and excellent snorkeling – I had a few encounters with magnificent sea turtles. So cool. I still haven’t decided if I want to learn to dive or not but I can see the appeal. Maybe next time.

Swanson turned 10 the other day. He’s an amazing fellow and, mostly, a joy to be around who’s had such a great experience during this mega-trip. I only hope that much of what he’s seen and done will stick with him long into his life. I imagine that it will but, then again, he’s only 10.

We had a swell day eating cake, swimming, playing Minecraft and going for some great pizza. A couple of Italians opened an fine pizzaria here and it easily rivals anything I’ve had in Vancouver.

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Swanson about to dig into, what he claims, is the 4th best pizza on the trip. I think it’s easily the best pizza we’ve had. What does he know, he’s only 10. Pffft!

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Swanson enjoying some delicious satay. Weird that the food comes with Lego guys in it.

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I haven’t seen a car in almost a month. I have seen lots of horses though. Maybe I could drive Cidomo back home?

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Why did the chicken cross the road? Who fucking cares?

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Finally got a photo of the large Monitor lizard that resides near us. This is him posing in a tree at our restaurant. Poseur. Thinks he’s so big.

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Our alley leading to our guest house. It’s as creepy as it looks. It’s also dotted with frightening holes where trolls or grumpkins might dwell.

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“I’ll have what she’s having!” Erotic Breakfast Sculpture isn’t just the name of my new band…

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I just can’t stop taking photos of the trees. Where are your palms trees, Vancouver? Where!

So we’re just going to relax – at least try to – for our remaining days. I am looking forward and not looking forward to returning in a few weeks. It will be nice to be home, sleep in my own bed (it will be more than a year since I’ve done this), see my friends, play some hockey and drink some good fucking beer. But it’s going to be a weird adjustment as well. I’ll be back at work behind the desk at the video stores, we won’t have a car or scooter and all (well, many) of the problems I left behind last September will come flooding back. But I really can’t complain. I’m returning with a ridiculous tan. Damn life. Great life.

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You’d have to be a mad man not to enjoy life on Gili Air.

Going Mental on Gili T.

So I wasn’t too sure what to expect when we made our way on a 10 minute boat ride (which took 3 hours in total) from Gili Air to Gili Trawangan, or Gili T to those in the know. I heard it was a crazy, noisey party place. Mental was how it was described by a couple of friends. I half expected to see mayhem and much drunken debauchery in the streets – vomit and piss covered louts passed out in the gutter, people openly fornicating on the streets, dancing on tables, chickens with no heads running around, people fighting bears, maybe a Mad Max style Thunder-dome where 2 men enter, one man leaves type scenario. Or at least part of me was hoping for all of this.

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Well I guess there is this. There has yet to be a device yet invented that can measure my disdain for a party on a boat with any of these people. I just can’t get Jiggy with it.

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I was expecting more of this but with, you know, less ice cream.

Instead what we got was a lovely, busier version of Gili Air. The streets were a bit wider, definitely many more folks out and about, lots of music both live (Hotel California, Reggae style anyone?) and mind-crushing canned dance music to destroy your soul and tons of construction going on (these islands are rapidly being developed at an alarming rate). But much to my chagrin, there were to be no death matches, nudity or folks openly rutting on the beaches.

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I’d like to say that maybe these signs helped but many women either didn’t understand what they meant or just gave the middle finger to the locals. Tami suggested I take some photos of women in their bikinis to juxtapose with this sign but I thought it might come across as more creepy than I normally am.

We spent three days with the nice Australians we met on Gili Air. One of their sprogs is 9 and into Minecraft and Adventure Time! Swanson and him were inseparable. They had so much fun swimming and Minecrafting and whatever else 9 year-olds do. We all had a blast for the three days we were there (Swanson almost lost his voice with all the yelling). At least my liver can attest to the fun we had. It was so great to finally get a good, new friend for Gus to hang with on this trip.

We basically just spent the days drinking, hanging out, snorkeling, eating some pretty good food at the night market (spring rolls!), drinking, swimming and indulged in a bit of drinking. We splurged a bit on accommodations as it was to celebrate Swanson’s upcoming birthday and what he asked for was a some “swank” digs. It was nice as we had our own upstairs bedroom! It’s been a while since we’ve had any semblance of privacy so it was perfect for us as well (nudge, nudge, wink, wink! Or as Swanson would say “nug, nug, wick, wick). I even watched a movie lying in bed – a knock-off DVD of Ghost Writer. Good flick.

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This is the closest I came to getting a photo of our new friends.

As mentioned, Gili T is loud – music blaring to around 3 or so and one night some idiots thought that it would be a good idea to get into some construction – hammering, sawing and other assorted power tools – at around 1 am! What fools think night construction is a good idea. I guess that they were trying to get done whatever they were doing in time for the busy high season that starts next month but I hated them and wished for a quick death to them all.

It was a fun three days that went by quite fast. We all had a very good time, made some swell friends and drank far too much (well Swanson ate too many hotdogs). It was weird coming back to Gili Air. It was so quiet and underpopulated compared to Gili T. And while it would be nice if there were a few more folks around, we kind of like it that way.

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Cool street art.

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This was what the buffet at the night market looked like.

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Looks familiar. Can’t quite put my finger on it.

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Spent an afternoon watching dudes surf. Looks like fun. But too much work for me.

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Bob Marley isn’t looking too good. Maybe it’s all the bloody fucking magic mushrooms?

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I just love life on these goddamn islands!