One journey ends, another begins. And so it goes, amigos.
I started writing travel stories in response to one summer spent abroad: I was young and wide-eyed, I hadn’t the faintest clue of what I was doing, where I was going, but I came back somehow. Somehow. I was hooked, as it were, but suddenly I was living in a silly little house in Westdale, I was paying rent, I was going to potlucks.
A fundamental shift had occurred in my head, in my heart too, and it was hard to come down from that. I wrote my first article in 2010 as both a reminder of the things that happened and as a lesson for the few who read it: if it could happen to me it can happen to you.
It’s 2012 now (I’m told) and after a dozen or so travel stories I’ll be hanging up my cruddy boots to dry. That was my journey, those were my stories, and I trust that they were skimmed with a mild sense of enjoyment, perused with a hint of pleasure, and I hope, just hope, that they gradually inspired one or two people into packing their bags and hitting that long, open void that we call the road.
I once wrote about a man I met on a subway in Athens, shortly after the austerity measure riots of July this year. Athens was a mess, the cabs were on strike, graffiti everywhere, people were fighting and looting and doing whatever they could to stick it to the government… and there’s this man on the subway who can’t stop smiling, can’t stop telling me how much he loves bees.
He was a professor who specialized in the behaviour of bees, and he’d been learning and teaching about them ever since he was a child. He was late 50s, early 60s, delivering a small little bee lesson on a subway ride before he went his way. I’ll always remember him for telling me that life was pointless unless you do what you love, unless you drop everything you have to chase a goal, however unattainable, for the sake of yourself and those around you.
I’ll never forget that silly old man, I’ll never forget about his simple lesson, and after following this advice, I must be going. It’s time to embark on a new trip, a new start you could say, pursuing what I enjoy. I love travel, I love to take shitty little photographs, I love to write about it; that’s what I’ll be doing, I don’t see any other option now that the flame’s been lit.
So to all of you, boy and girl, big and small: never give up on those plans to fly away and see the world. It seems like a daunting concept, doesn’t it?
We’re all scared, all worried about what’s out there, but the ones who accept this and fly anyway are the ones who are bound to get the most out of life. Don’t wait, don’t excuse yourself, plan now. Money might be out of line, schedules might not link up, but that shouldn’t stop you from planning, dreaming, and eventually doing. When that opportunity arises, when that chance to escape presents itself, you’ll be ready, and you’ll be on the road.
Farewell folks, it’s been a trip.
I woke up on a dry August morning with a mild hangover and a silly grin. Everyone was already up, walking around my bunk, showering, talking about the tides. In an hour I’d be paddling in the Atlantic on a softboard, learning how to surf for the first time.
My grin lasted for an hour. I could barely eat my breakfast (try eating cereal with a cheeky grin – not possible), but I was set, full and ready to go. I hopped into a beat-up station wagon, owned by one of the hostel managers, and we ploughed our way to the beach.
Surfing had been a pipe dream of mine (har, har) ever since I caught the movie Endless Summer on a late February night when I was going through my annual winter blues. As per usual, between the winter solstice and reading week I get a horrible sense of powerlessness that can only be resolved by looking forward. Endless Summer, the essential surfing movie of the 1960s, documents surfing around the world. I start dreaming, plotting my escape, and that’s how the Portugal trip began to develop.
Andy and I crammed into the car with some Germans and drove through the Portuguese countryside, ending up at the beach in less than ten minutes. All the surfers around me were jumping up and down, screaming with giddy anticipation – they hadn’t seen waves this good for months. We couldn’t have chosen a better day.
We went through the rigmarole of surf instruction in the sand before we entered the water, which only took 20 minutes. The water was wonderfully warm and welcoming, the wash was light and the waves were glassy and constant. 45 minutes of paddling, watching, wading and falling, and I was up on my first wave. Andy was slapping the water with exclamation, as were the other students, and every time anybody else made it up we all celebrated like we’d just learned to ride a bike for the first time.
This kept going for the better part of the afternoon: standing up and falling, wading and anticipating, until my shoulders ached with dull exhaustion and my neck was ripe with sunburn. Paddle into the beach, avoid the body borders who plague the shallows, and walk along the sand to the lazy hostel-goers who just wanted some sun. Eat a sand-filled sandwich with some Pringles and fall asleep in the middle of the beach, sprawled out, with the sound of the waves all around me. I’d done it, I’d surfed it, and I dozed off to that happy accomplishment in the back of my head.
Surfing was paramount to my happiness that week, but it was only half the story.
The most important part of my week in Raposeira was my encounter with the people there – the beautiful, outlandish, insane guests of Good Feeling Hostel in the South of Portugal – and the reason why I’ll return again and again and (guess what) again.
Any hostel-goer will tell you the same thing: your experience with the people in a hostel can make or break your time in a given city. I’ve been miserable in beautiful cities, and lost in others, because the guests can put you in a funk. Conversely, the smallest and unlikeliest hostels can deliver the greatest experiences of your life. Good Feeling, above anything I’ve ever seen, delivered this. Sometimes, time and place permitting, you fall into a place you never want to leave. A collection of travelers all in the right place at the right time, on their different ways, only there for a second – but a second worth remembering.
One of the travelers was Maria, an Austrian surfing babe with a big smile and a bigger heart. She called me Sandy (because I could never get the sand off my skin) and rolled her eyes at my German curse-word vocabulary. Another was Vincenzo, an Italian fashion company owner, a complete nut from Italy and an epic traveler. Jimbo and Sam were Aussies, completing a one-year transcontinental odyssey, stopping by Good Feeling for a few days before heading to Spain. The German girls, students from Munich, played me at backgammon every night and drank with us for almost a week straight. They told me how to pick up German girls at a bar and they actually wrote a script for me (which can be found somewhere on the internet). Now I know how to say “you are beautiful” and “I am no longer infected” in German … could come in handy?
But by the most important person I met while at the hostel was Ben, a loud, German, lone traveler with a big mouth and a ridiculous attitude to everything in life. Ben would drink with Andy and me every night, sharing stories from back home and talking about the places he’d seen. He, Andy and I were as thick as thieves, getting up to the stupidest of shenanigans.
All of these people were at the hostel at the same time, all interacting with one another, all feeding off each other’s energy. If only you could have see it.
I spent the week like this: surfing until my arms fell off, sitting in the sun until my skin burnt, eating until my stomach was full, drinking until I couldn’t stand, talking until I couldn’t stay awake. Eight days of this – eight days of love and interaction with everyone around me, eight days of a time spent and gone.
The 12-inch gash in my bag wasn’t going to fix itself, so Ben took it to the beach one day and spent three hours sewing it. To this day I don’t know how or why he did it, but my bag is bulletproof now. I was to leave the next day, and my pack was fixed and I was ready to go home. Vincenzo drove us all to the train station for our train to Lisbon. Good Feeling faded out of the rear-view window and that time was gone – temporarily, at least.
Another adventure awaits; it always does. I’ll return to Portugal, and to Good Feeling, in time. Never forget the promise of human interaction, the wonder of temporary friendship and the power of a bottle of wine with complete strangers. I may never experience a time like that again, but I’ll always keep looking for it.
Until next week, and my final travel article of my student journalism career, farewell, readers.
Since last week, the “Kony 2012” campaign has raised awareness of injustice globally. McMaster University students, being part of a globally minded community, are equally capable of raising awareness and promoting justice worldwide.
With technological innovations and social networking online our world is more global then ever before. We are all connected and can share ideas instantly with people across the globe.
Our generation is the first to experience this, and being the leaders of tomorrow, we can make a difference in ways we never could before. Student internships provide an avenue for just that, creating global citizens, one internship at a time.
Travelling abroad allows students to take an active role in their learning to increase youth impact in the world.
The most recent international intern at AIESEC McMaster, a student-run organization dedicated to youth leadership development on the global scale, is Ghanaian exchange participant George Takyi Asiedu. He arrived in Canada this past January for a paid internship with the Oakville company B2B Chex Inc. The opportunity for international exchange is parallel to no other, offering unique and valuable experiences to last a lifetime.
“They asked me about countries I’d like to visit, and I stated ‘Canada,’” said Asiedu. “They told me there was ‘no way.’” Despite all odds, he fulfilled his dream of coming to Canada.
He describes his travels as “a lot of moments to live.” Asiedu was amazed at “how trusting and kindly strangers are in Canada, the community and people are very warm. A very nice, friendly, safe environment.
“There are so many good things about Canada too. What is striking is the diversity of people who live here,” he says.
Upon arrival, Asiedu attended an AIESEC conference in Montreal, where he grew accustomed to Canadian culture. He engaged in workshops, simulation groups and tasks that cause you to think outside the box. He was able to learn leadership skills in a global learning environment catered to young professionals. This offered him a great transition and beginning in Canada.
He has now contributed to societal change in his community and abroad while exploring and developing unique skills and competencies. International talent and a global mindset help foster peace and fulfillment of humankind’s potential. The various Canadian internships provided this year help maintain good global connections.
Asiedu’s boss Bruno Santia says “he has been nothing but positive” and is an “excellent, hardworking and reliable individual.” In terms of his actual work, Bruno confirms Asiedu is currently in a sales environment.
He is making great progress and is moving the sales cycle forward. Although initially hesitant about his new workplace, everyone is very helpful in his transition at B2B Credit Chex. He now describes his work environment as “like a family.”
Since he started his position in January, George has created his own impact. Doing credit reports has allowed him to work with companies all over the GTA, Ontario, and Canada, even in New Brunswick.
The challenges George had to face in order to come to Canada were more than worth the rewards he gained.
One of the ways McMaster youth can develop their leadership potential is by becoming an international exchange participant. In this way, youth can truly make a difference in world issues. Asiedu’s internship offered B2B Credit Chex Inc. and himself the opportunity to be global citizens.
It is through experiences such as Asiedu’s internship in Oakville that globally minded communities and international talent can be linked and developed.
It’s day two in Paris and my travel companions and I are already getting comfortable; we’ve been parading around town, drinking wine, making noise and capitalizing on every cheap thrill that confronts us. It’s been a wine-fuelled parade, and the beautiful neighbourhood of Montmartre, Paris’ former artistic district, is our next showcase.
We sit on the stairs in front of the Sacre Couer church and look across the city in wonder. At this point, brothers Daniel and Dave, Medina, our adopted American counterpart and I are sharing stories as we walk, occasionally met by tourists who’ve been looking at their feet for too long in their ascent up the stairs and have realized that we’re blocking their route. “Sorry!” we said. We weren’t. It was funny.
We drink a bottle of wine each, passing around the baguettes, and we finally decide to grab dinner. We find a nice little restaurant, where have more wine and have some terrific French beef. The West-Virginia girl we’re with slaps down cash on the table and covers the bill – over a hundred Euros – but we’re way too gone at this point to really show our appreciation. “I make good money back home, you guys are taking me out, consider us even.” We were stunned.
We metro back to the apartment to gather our stuff for the big night. Medina knows of a small bar we can go to in an elbow of the city and we’re all for it, mainly because we aren’t aware of how dodgy this place really is. Fifteen-plus metro stops later and we’re in a rundown mess of a neighbourhood. Nobody knows where we are.
We buy two bottles of whisky and drink one on the street corner. A guy comes up to us and begins conversing with those in the party who speak French, occasionally taking swigs of the red label. He tries to sell us drugs, and we kindly decline. Poor fella.
We head to a hole of a bar where the group splits up – some of us smoking outside and some swaying and drinking on the inside. I finally sneak in a kiss with the American. Success. The bar is full of French students, all of whom are aware that there are some loud and obnoxious American-sounding buffoons in their presence. We feel odd and estranged. The bar closes, and we think that’s it.
Oh no, that wasn’t it. Far from it.
The bar next door – scratch that – the pit next door says it’s open. Once some people from the outside fill the place in, they shut the doors and, unbeknownst to us, lock us up – metal girders on the windows and everything.
Yes, it’s a bar, but hardly. I suppose there are certain French laws which prohibit such establishments from existing in the wee-hours of the morning. They serve shitty beer and the staff are all North African and extremely stern-looking. We keep drinking with no intent of stopping. We’re far gone at this point.
One of the guys in our party steals a woman’s crutch and begins hobbling around the bar with it. This isn’t taken very lightly, but hey, it was just one of those nights. At this point, Dan has a woman yapping and slobbering into his ear, stealing his cigarettes. He’s forced to sit through the degradation, in fear of upsetting the others.
In retrospect, we were waiting for something to happen, something to go wrong, but we were either too drunk or to confused to care. It was only until I wanted to go outside for some air, since the place was locked up and full of smoke, that I actually realize we’re locked in.
At this point I get it in my head that this is a setup. When I ask how I get outside, the people at the bar don’t have an answer for me. I begin to panic. I look across the bar to see my friends completely oblivious to the knowledge I’ve come upon.
I talk to the staff, I ask how we can leave, and finally one person says they’ll escort us through a back alleyway. I share our situation to the group, which falls upon deaf ears, but after a little persuasion we decide to leave.
We’re escorted through a back alleyway in which I was certain we were going to be robbed and we made a quick exit. Three of our party are missing, all girls (including the American girl), but they quickly re-appear. We wander the streets for a cab, breaking bottles and making noise on the way.
We cab back to the hostel, slam on the door at 4:30am and wake up all those sleeping soundly inside. We make an incredible amount of noise – comparable to that of the bar from 30 minutes earlier – and really mess up the joint, banging shit around, waking up new hostel guests. Complete terror. And so there we were, left way-gone on a beautiful Parisian Tuesday night. And it didn’t matter what city we were in, or the way we got there. What mattered was the company.
No, it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t elegant or civilized, the way it ought to be in a place like Paris. But I will say this: it was something.
You don’t need to see the sights to feel enthralled. You don’t need to stare at a painting to find meaning. Sometimes, if the time is right, all you need is a few friends, a few strangers, a few baguettes and a crutch.
Oh, and a shitload of wine.