So this is the end...
Trip Start Feb 20, 2002
26Trip End Nov 18, 2002
Read on for the final conclusion.
-- Home bound... Oh my god...
Sitting in the black cab, on my way to Heathrow Airport, it hit me.
"My god, I'm going home"
That's when it really hit me. Not when me and Linda were saying goodbyes, or when I was packing my bags the night before, not even when I called Air Canada to reconfirm my flight home.
I was starring out of the window, out at the passing traffic and pedestrians bundled up in scarves and gloves to stay warm. I sighed for the 4th time in 2 minutes.
"Are you ok?" the Nigerian driver asked, looking at me in the rear view mirror.
I broke from my trance and propped myself up to see over the headrest. "Huh? Ohh, uhhh, yeah, ok. Just a little strange. You know, heading home and all."
"Been a long time, has it?"
After explaining my story to him, he was baffled.
"It's beyond me to understand why someone would leave for 9 months."
I agreed, somewhat. 9 months was starting to feel like one hell of a long time... although, deep down inside a feeling that I was actually happy to be going home lurked, a much stronger sense of that I was about to lose something was swelling in my stomach
We finally reached Heathrow and I slowly walked over to check my bags in like someone who knows something bad is about to happen but at the same time knows that he has to do it. Standing in line at the counter, I tried to remember my flight from Canada to Sri Lanka. The first flight of my trip. I knew it was in February last year, nearly 9 months before, and I knew it was from Montreal to Colombo, but for some reason, almost all of the details were blurred. I couldn't remember a thing. Then I realized, just how long ago that flight was. The flight, my travels in Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar... they all seemed so far away, so distant, so abstract. I'd seen so much and experienced even more since then that the early months of the trip seemed like a whole other trip all together. What was making me nervous was that in a few short months, my memories of the last parts of the trip would be just as washed out and dulled as those early one were now, dry and emotionless.
I had to admit, Air Canada was a pretty good airline
The woozy feeling which began to slosh around inside my gut earlier, was now crippling, I tried to distract myself until the drink cart arrived.
"Scotch... straight please"
Wine and Scotch helped me forget where I was headed to and I faded away, laying, feet up, on the 4 seats and drifting in and out of sleep for the next 6 hours of air time.
I was excited to be seeing the family again. This offset the feeling that I was ending my adventure and resulted in a strange cocktail of emotions which I wouldn't be able to describe when the inevitable question "So, how does it feel being back?" would eventually creep up. My mother and father were going to be waiting for me at the airport and as I pushed my luggage cart through the open door to the arrivals hall, I could already spot them in the crowd.
They'd changed, I'd changed, but some things always stay the same.
We drove 2 hours back to Ottawa and caught up. My brother stopped by the house with his 3 energy filled children yelling "Uncle Luc!!!!" as they charged through the doors like a battalion of Roman soldiers
The first of my relics from the trip to come out for all to see was, the sheesha. My water pipe from Jordan. We smoked for a half hour as I tried to master the skillful art of packing tobacco in the ceramic bowl.
This was my family, sitting around, smoking sheesha and eating little hot dog pastries, I was home...
I was still on London time but for some reason, no matter how tired I was, I couldn't sleep. After I managed 3 hours of sleep, I rolled out of bed at 3am and headed downstairs and got to work unpacking. That whole day, my first day back, I did my best to settled into the spare bedroom and feel a bit more like I was, well, at home. I was coming back to Canada, with almost no possessions, no home and no car. I'd be living with my parents for a while until I got back on my feet, which meant that carving out a comfortable nook in their spare bedroom would be crucial to me feeling like I wasn't a complete nomad
My stomach was still firmly locked in a double loop, boy-scout strength, knot but as the day went on, the feeling slowly began to drain away. Like a hangover gradually fading away the day after the night before, by the end of the first day, I was already starting to feel like the trip was ages ago. I was home. I was heading back to work... It was over. AHHHhhhhhh!
All the firsts were zipping by, and I didn't even realize it. The first time I'd put my clothes in drawers, first time I fully unpacked my backpack, first time I had a variety of shirts to pick from, first time I had access to a fully stocked fridge, first home cooked meal... once the "first times" where gone, there wouldn't be much of the "traveling feeling" left.
Feeling slightly depressed and somewhat shell-shocked I stayed in, didn't do too much and spoke to only one friend. I wasn't in a very social mood. With work coming up in a few days, I wanted to *slowly* re-adjust, decompress and settle.
I was a little skeptical about seeing my old friends again so soon because I knew that it would be a "first" which would quickly pull me back into reality, but I couldn't say no, after all, they were my friends, in the end they'd be the ones to keep me sane over the next strange weeks of adjustment
John and Dave, 2 old friends met up with me at some local pub where we caught up. It didn't take long for me to realize that things had changed. Life had gone on while I was gone. People were getting married, settling down, moving away, but beyond the material changes, things were still the same. Dave was Dave and John was John. Good friends who despite my 9 months of abandonment, were right there to greet me. Within minutes, it was as if I'd never left as we slipped back into our familiar routines of crude jokes and reminiscing on good old times.
The tame rendezvous gradually slipped into a night a heavy drinking and pub crawling as I reacquainted myself with downtown Ottawa's night scene.
...Some things never change.
-- Welcome Back Weekend
When the weekend rolled around, it was time to see the friends. A few pals had acquired a cottage on a ski hill close by and 20'ish old friends were set to come by for the "boys-only" weekend of poker, drinks and debauchery
With everyone packed into the chalet, it was easy to catch up with everyone, although talking about a 9 month adventure was not an easy experience to describe in one sitting. I gave up early on attempting to explain the journey and enjoyed catching up with life back in Canada.
The weekend passed by as most weekends like that tended to, very quickly. Before I knew it I was sitting in the car with my friend, on the way home, driving through 4 inches of snow, back to Ottawa.
On the ride back to Ottawa from the cottage, I turned to Gerry "Shit... we're getting old"
Life had gone on. Friends were engaged, had kids, had moved away, things had changed. Swallowing everything in gulp was a jolt which I hadn't expected.
-- Work day 1
35000 emails, 4 cups of coffee, 13 "welcome-back" hand-shakes and I was back. Things were just as hectic as I had remembered them. Manic projects, unexpected problems and copious overtime was still the way things went back at the office.
Rummaging through my drawers I found an old security badge with my photo on it. The photo was from a busy time, a year before I had left. As I stared at the photo I could see my face was bleached white from spending massive amounts of time working in the data center. Nights spent working in other cities, troubleshooting the crisis of the day until 4am were the norm back then. The big saggy black duffle bags hanging from my eyes were testament to that.
Although I would probably be doing just that in a few months time again, I couldn't help thinking one depressive thought. "What's it all worth"? Why do we work our buts off like this? Are we really happy? I remembered, 9 months before, I was more than happy to do it, but now, coming back, I had my doubts as to it's importance, and it's necessity.
"Luc, snap out of it!" I heard myself saying.
Well, if I was going to survive back in the west, I'd have to stop thinking these un-capitalist thoughts and focus on the deadlines and deliverables again... so I did. To inaugurate my return, I worked overtime my first day back.
So it's over... that's it. 9 months slipped by so quickly, faster than I could have imagined. Sitting back at home, in frosty Canada, I can't help but to reminisce on all I've seen, all the great people I've met along the way, all the good times and all of the hardships. Looking back, it wasn't all easy times, sickness kept me anchored to skanky beds and unwanted injuries slowed my progress down to a crawl at times. Let's take a quick look at the damage...
** Sri Lanka
The Burning Bowels Syndrome. Courtesy of the misleadingly tasty, yet uber-spicy, tear inducing, Sri Lankan roti.
Explosive-Delhi-belly-bowel-movements with a dash of fever and artic-cold sweats
5-Day-Gut-Crunching Diareah which kept me within a 50 yard radius of the toilette instead of basking in the warm waters of the ocean I'd traveled 3 days to enjoy.
Sprained ankle from a massive, well hidden, knee-deep, pothole on the wonderfully ( cough cough )maintained streets of Yangon.
Incapacitating viral Diareah with a smash of cold shivers which reduce even the hardiest of backpackers to a lump of damp flesh, curled up in the fetal position in a dark corner of their grass hut.
** Sri Lanka & Lebanon
Stubborn, look-away-I'm-hideous style, eye infections.
** Sri Lanka, India and Myanmar
Larium-induced, nerve-jolting nightmares
The ever-feared, long-lasting, slow healing, 2nd degree burns from the menacing Honda Dream Scooter muffler.
** Sri Lanka
Spotty-red-itchy-skin Poison Ivy. That taught me for frolicking around ancient Sri Lankan ruins bare foot ( I had to, it was my first stupa! )
Everyone's worse travel friend, the 3 week flu.
Water Festival induced foot infection. I'll bet you Buddha didn't have to put up with that s*#t.
Lay-flat-on-your-back-in-the-middle-of-the-road-and-pray-to-god-for-a-quick-and-painless-death motion sickness induced by a 12 hour, overnight, cargo bus ride perched on a rice bag
Nasty-sunburn-causing-lizard-like-skin-peeling resulting from a nasty cocktail of Indian sun and useless level 3 sun block.
Overstuffed-rucksack induced back pains causing tingling in bodily spaces that I didn't know previously existed.
SOOoooo... wasn't that fun! Well it wasn't all bruises and bodily dysfunctions, the good times rolled on as well! Here are just a few highlights...
The Holi Festival. I was lucky enough to just be in India for the Holi Festival but hooking up with the Brahmins and joining their Tikka throwing party all the way to the Maharajah's palace was unforgettable.
The sloppy wet, grab-a-bucket-and-douse-your-friend Water Festival
The explosive, sometimes-dangerous-but-always-a-good-laugh Rocket Festival raged on in the rainy rice fields of Vientianne.
** Eating odd and adrenalizing foods
From spicy curries in Sri Lanka to still-beating snake hearts in Vietnam, an open mind and a strong stomach guarantied wild, sometimes slightly freaky, but definitely memorable, culinary experiences.
Being the recipients of buckets of hospitality by complete strangers. Offers to stay with locals, to eat with them, or just to be their friends was one of the most powerful memories I could retain from the trip.
** Adventures beyond CNN
Northern Rebel controlled Sri Lanka, Palestinian Refugee camps in Lebanon, Israel, The West Bank, Belfast... when you venture off to these slightly volatile regions of the world you get to see something which is rarely seen in Western media, real life
** New Friends
Bonds of trust form quickly when you meet other travelers. Throughout my 9 months I'd met dozens of interesting and fascinating people ... a few of which will always stay good friends.
All that and ...
Golden Sunrises, crazy journeys on crazy transportation, floating cities, smiling monks, sleeping in the Sahara, near death incidents, zooming around Cappadocia on scooters, Tibet, solitude in strange places, Kathmandu, quiet moments in the ashram, meditation, strange local customs... and ... all that.
-- The end...
So it's over... I've gone through enough "Firsts" since my return to Canada that I have to admit feeling fairly well grounded again
So the big question ( drum roll please), did I find the "answers" I was looking for?
Considering that I wasn't even quite sure of what the "question" was, the answer now seems much more elusive than ever. Coming back home, I am even more confused and have more questions than ever before. Maybe that's what it's all about though. Maybe, were not meant to find the answers, maybe it's the questions that keep us going. Maybe once we find the "answers", in a bright shining moment of clarity, the drive to push on ends. Well, perhaps I can seek solace in this fact:
... if the questions are unanswerable and travel is the only way to seek out the answers, I'll always have an excuse to make another quest for the noble truth.
So... Where to next?