Friday, May 18, 2012

Around the World: Conclusion

May 18, 2012

When I first decided to blog about my travel journals, I had to decide how to handle a perplexing problem. I had no choice but to omit certain people that were present for various parts of my travels for different reasons. In some cases, names were changed, in others, the combined experience was absorbed as my own. I considered the impact this decision would have on retelling this story as one of fact while not disturbing sleeping dogs.

With all my heart, I thank my husband and children for their tireless support, for giving me the time required to put each entry together.  Without your encouragement, I would never have been able to complete this project that has haunted me for so long.  I also wish to thank you, loyal blog follower, for reading and sharing this adventure with me again.  

There is something liberating about living out of a backpack. Being reduced to basics and essentials for an extended period makes life uniquely simple. Exploring different countries and learning about different cultures is educational for everyone, but especially so from a female perspective. 

Especially valuable for a young woman are the life-skills one learns on a long term trip.  Not only did I learn a little self defense, I had daily lessons in budgeting, planning, communication, geography, history, language skills and math.  Finding your way around a strange city that doesn't speak a language you understand can be a very entertaining way to develop some useful problem solving and critical thinking skills.  In fact, many employers view a long term trip as time spent gathering useful skills and real world experience.  

In a way, I still travel, in the sense that I am on a great adventure.  In the two decades that have passed since my time abroad, my knapsack has gotten bigger. It's now a 3 bedroom house that permanently contains a husband and two children.  It's not quite as portable, but it exists on the same principle.  Things work best when they're somewhat organized, which means I know where things are.  It is, by no means, neat and tidy. The stairs are constantly covered with frequently used items that don't have a permanent home. Very much like a day pack that contains things I use on a daily basis.  Surfaces are magnets for clutter.  Notes, receipts, hair ties, school stuff, pieces of toys that young toddlers could ingest or need to be repaired.  Much like corners in the bottom of a backpack where souvenirs and other items tend to gather when they haven't been needed in a while.  I usually know where to find something. It's a lot like shoving a hand blindly into a pocket looking for my passport.  It's in here, somewhere.

Our little family lives in a daycare.  In its natural state, it has crafts in various states of completion that spread over tables and walls; art supplies that leak out of drawers; dismantled toys in a continuous state of reconstruction. Papers, crumbs, bits of Play-Doh and little hand-prints decorate almost everything; the result of the cyclonic destruction only a distracted four year old, two curious toddlers, three adventurous six year olds and a rambunctious nine year old can create.

This is my backpack now.  It anchors me in this safe haven, yet remains in constant motion.  Every day is a new adventure, filled with moments both chaotic and content, and mixed with a whole lot of curiosity.  I have searched the world over and discovered that where I am is where I have always wanted to be. 

Wife.  Mother.  Family.

• ¤ •

"I may not have gone everywhere I wanted to go, but I think I ended up where I needed to be."
~Douglas Adams

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Around the World: Homecoming

May 17, 1992

I'm on my way back to Toronto.  I have stuffed my backpack to it's absolute maximum capacity, having carefully wrapped anything fragile in smelly socks and stinky shirts.  On the plane, I have a bag stuffed with  shoes and the coat I bought to keep me warm that I only wore once, and another bag of records stuffed into the overhead compartment.  Two bottles of duty free liquor are stowed under my seat.

The last flight of my journey touches down safely at Pearson.  After clunking my way through the narrow airplane aisle with my collection of carry-on baggage, I splurge on the first trolley I find.  I join the crowd of passengers waiting patiently for their luggage and watch for my backpack to appear on the luggage carousel.

Airports have become a common occurrence, and navigating them has become second nature.  After a brief stop at Immigration and a wave past Customs, this adventure of a lifetime will come to an end.

Immigration takes my passport, asks me a few questions about all the stamps and scribbles some mysterious code in red ink on the customs form I completed on the plane.   I join the line to exit the security area, expecting the usual wave to bypass customs when I notice that the people ahead of me all have cards with their mysterious code scribbled in black.  My turn comes to show the form and my homecoming is suddenly delayed.

"In here, miss," the official says, guiding me into a private room. 

My backpack is opened, and my carefully packed souvenirs are taken out one by one to be inspected, identified and explained.  For the next two hours, a pair of customs officials carefully inspect my backpack, suffering the stench of dirty socks and underwear.  Finally satisfied that the most offensive crime I have committed is being in desperate need of some soap, I am finally granted clearance.

My journey is complete.  I have come home.

• ¤ •

“Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.” 
~Cindy Ross

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Around the World: Turn Out The Lights

May 13, 1992

Drinking must not be done today.  I am soooo hungover, the hangover of all hangovers.  The final tally of beverages consumed doesn't help me feel better, although it does explain the pain.

8 kegs of Guinness and 1 keg of Harp shared between 7 people.  Oh dear lord.

A friend of David's has come to drive us back to Limerick.  Richard and I lay in the back of the hatchback, begging for relief in whatever form it comes.

Sleep would seem to be the best option, but it hurts to be unconscious.  It hurts to be conscious.  It hurts to move, breathe and groan. I'm going to be on a ferry tomorrow.  Don't think about ships.  Movement .... bad.  The agony.  The moving.... oh, stop moving.  I did this.  I did this to myself.  I am never drinking again.

Safely delivered to Limerick, David asks me if I would like a pint.  "Hair of the dog," he calls it.  If a dog's hair will cure me, sign me up.

Tomorrow, I'll meet Rich and his mom for for a farewell brunch and then make my way back to London to catch the final flight of this journey.  I've come full circle around the globe.  The next plane I board is taking me home.

• ¤ •

"You'll have to excuse me, I'm not at my best, I've been gone for a week,
I've been drunk since I left.
And these so-called vacations will soon be my death.
I'm so sick from the drink, I need home for a rest.
Take me home"
~Spirit of the West

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Around the World: Carrig's

A week in May, 1992

The Carrig's pub became a therapeutic haven of lighthearted discussion, song and friendship.  Terry's bottomless and embracing hospitality was the very thing this weary traveler needed after a lengthy wander. The regulars that gathered daily included two "local-ish" guys, David and Paul, Anne who lived in a trailer with her team of Whippets, Terry, Richard and myself.  Richard's mom, Josephine checked in on us regularly, being the only sober soul in attendance. 

Not only did Carrig's draw in a comfortable crowd, entertained by a steady stream of musicians, it was a place that begged you to stay for one more story, one more song, and one more round.  The disarming ambiance, an atmosphere dripping with frivolity and Terry's welcoming nature, convinced me one night that I could sing.  There are some things even a few pints of Guinness can't fix.

As much as I wanted to see more of Ireland, the music festival in Doolin, the Giant's Causeway in the North, Temple Bar in Dublin, then snake my way through Scotland's hills on the way back to London, I had no desire to leave the sanctuary of the pub.  The conversation never ended; there was always a story being told, someone to meet, music to enjoy.  Carrig's, in all its captivating glory, was a place to rest in the company of friends, both old and new, and never a moment short on laughter.

I, unfortunately, didn't scribble down any notes during this time.  I only have my hazy memories and stories from those who were there.  My good friend, Richard, was kind enough to share one:


"Irish traditional music lives wherever people fall under its spell.  But for a brief period each year, it thrives in Doolin, a town I've never been to, but to which I'd planned to drag my friend Skye.  We left Limerick on a Friday morning, planning to hitch the distance.  Unaware of the Irish lift-catching rules which included a straightforward first-in-first-out system and effective use of intersections, we wandered a fair way up the highway and wound up toasting a curious herd of cows with some fine whiskey.

Finally a car screeched to a halt, and the driver patiently explained the rules of catching a "lift" (never a "ride").  Shortly we found ourselves in Ennistymon, outside a pub that an old friend from Canada owned.  We didn't know it then, but the Carrig's drinking team had arrived. 

Terry was, and is, a whirling dervish of mirth and laughter and although we'd only stopped in for one drink, we set up in a booth and laughed and drank too late into the night to find lodgings.  I think we became a bit of a draw in the town as everyone seemed to drop in to meet the mad Canadians.  Certainly Saturday passed in a blur of Guiness and cigarette smoke.  I'm pretty sure I didn't hallucinate John King's arrival, former all-Ireland accordion master,  but the cast of characters couldn't really have included three Swedish banjo players.  

John King with Terry

By late Saturday night, the ladies had acquired admirers and the party was on.  If we didn't simply stay awake, we slept in the attic under heaps of costume clothing left behind by the building's former tenant.

One morning I woke with a panicked feeling that the Doolin festival was rapidly slipping out of our grasp.  Over 10 AM drinks,  I gently suggested a short hitch to at least spend one day at the festival.  Out of a pool of blank stares, a curt voice informed me that no mission more complicated than a change of socks and underwear was going to be undertaken.  I remember a pang of disappointment, but Terry pointed out that pretty much the whole cast of musicians from the festival seemed to be passing through Carrig's anyway.  

With no choice but to cave to the demands of the group, I drank another Guinness.

I still haven't been to Doolin."  


Once the idea that the rest of Ireland wasn't getting any closer, it was decided that we should at least make the short trip to the Cliffs of Moher.  Directions were offered, snacks were packed, a map, water and money were carefully gathered in a small pouch.  Richard and I boldly stepped away from the pub booth in search of the Cliffs.  We made it to the door of the pub when we realized there was something frighteningly horrible outside. 


Recoiling in pain from the blinding bright sun, we limped in agony back into the welcoming darkness of the pub and requested another pint. 

We did successfully made it to the Cliffs of Moher on the cloudy day that followed.  We also agreed that further discussion of activities beyond walking distance from Carrig's was just wishful thinking.

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare


Mornings blurred into afternoons.  Evenings blended together over the span of about a week.  Familiar faces passed by, stayed, left and returned as days rolled from one to another and time seemed to stand still.  

Paul, one of the nightly regulars, occasionally spent the night in the attic after the festivities paused briefly in the wee hours of the morning.  On this one occasion, he was supposed to meet his father at work by 7a.m.  It's possible that those asleep in the attic all awoke at the same time, although it's more likely that we were roused by Paul focusing on his watch.

"Shit!  It's almost noon!"

It was a more pleasant sound than the squawking siren noise that most alarm clocks make.  A few yawns and stretches and the realization that nothing would make Paul arrive on time, we descended the stairs to start another day with a pint of Guinness.

Paul opens the door that leads to the pub and darts back, wide-eyed, into the shadows of the stairwell, "My dad is standing at the bar!"  

Paul races back up the stairs to the floor between the pub and the attic and exits by the side door in the kitchen. The rest of us stumble into the pub, passing Paul's father, who inquires about his son's whereabouts.  "Um... I saw him last night,  he said something about work."  Meanwhile, Paul races down the steps on the side of the building and enters through the pub's front doors, greeting everyone with a friendly, "Top o' da mornin', lads!"

It's always nice to greet a friend you've not seen in a while, even if that while only amounts to a few minutes.


In Amsterdam, I discovered Potter's Original candies, little millimeter drops of licorice packaged in a black metal tin.  From a traveler's point of view, they were awesome for holding me over until I got a chance to brush my teeth.  Not knowing if I would ever find these magical little mouth cleansers in Canada, I stocked up on a supply before leaving Holland.

So, after a few days of Guinness drinking (and I vaguely recall the odd meal was eaten here and there), I dug out my tin of Potter's and passed a few little candies around.  Conversation turned to polite opinion on the flavour and the temporary sensation of a clean mouth.    

And then, I had a sip Guinness.

The combination of Potter's and Guinness creates this rich, vaguely sweet flavour, almost like a vanilla milkshake.  It's a good thing I had lots of tins with me because everyone soon wanted their own supply.  In addition to the collection of pint glasses and ashtrays on the table, Potter's mints became an essential staple of the Carrig's drinking team. 

• ¤ •

"We arrived in December and London was cold,
We stayed in the bars, along Charing Cross Road.
We never saw nothin' but brass taps and oak
Kept the shine on the bar with the sleeves of our coats..."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Around the World: Ennistymon

May 8, 1992

"You'll have to excuse me, I'm not at my best. I've been gone for ..." ... 5 months.


As Richard predicted, hitch hiking is a fairly reliable way to travel.  It would probably be a little more productive if there was more traffic, but we are making progress.  In the meantime, the walking isn't unfamiliar, or all that unwelcome.  Ireland is very pretty to look at.  What we believe is heather cascades over the rolling hills and into the distance like a blanket of violet.  There's a comforting scent on the breeze, like some vaguely soothing fragrance remembered from early childhood. It's like stepping into a grandparent's house, which is pretty much where I'm headed now.  The forks of my family tree lead straight back to County Clare.  

The Emerald Isle:  It's not easy being green.

Arrived in Ennistymon, thanks to the generosity of a cube van that dropped us off almost on the doorstep of the Carrig's pub. Richard opens the front doors and introduces me to his friend, the establishment's proprietor, Terry.

Terry invites us to sit at a bench in the small pub and welcomes us each with a pint of Guinness. 

I've tried Guinness at home and wasn't a fan.  I remember it had this distinctive flavour of nasty, much like the leftover beer that was used as an ashtray.  In its defense, I'm told Guinness doesn't travel well and tastes remarkably better the closer one is to the brewery, which, incidentally, is just up the road (across the island) in Dublin. Not wanting to be rude, I bravely take a sip.

It's different.  Not nearly the nasty flavour I was expecting.  Another sip.  Yes, this is definitely drinkable.  The third sip is the clincher.  While Terry searches for a book for us to compare family history on our shared surname, I find it very easy to empty my glass.

Which is promptly refilled.

Terry asks me how the trip was from Limerick.  I answer in my best traveler's English, which is breaking the sentence down into the simplest words, minus the superfluous prepositions and adjectives with lots of charades.  Richard pokes me on the arm and quietly says, "He speaks English."

I've been communicating this way for so long, I'm not sure that I still speak English.  Fortunately, the claims that Guinness is good for you are true.  Near the bottom of my third pint, I find my grade school grammar.

The plan is to leave in a day or two to see the rest of Ireland and continue on to Scotland before returning to London and then home.  That's not what happened.  Sometimes, the best adventures are the ones that are unplanned.   

• ¤ •

"... I need home for a rest."
~Spirit of the West

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Around the World: Friends in Limerick

May 6, 1992

Yesterday, I said goodbye to Jane at Heathrow, where she caught her flight back to Toronto.  I made my way back into London to make arrangements to travel to Ireland to meet my friend Richard in Limerick.

The journey began last night by bus to the west coast of England, another many long hours overnight at sea, and more hours this morning on another bus across Ireland to Limerick.  A hostel bed never looked so good.    

King John's Castle on the River Shannon, Limerick, Ireland

Richard tells me of a family friend who owns a pub on the west shores of Clare, in a little town called Ennistymon.  When I ask how we get there, he says its no bother to hitchhike.  We make plans to meet this evening with his mom, Jo, for drinks and make our way west tomorrow.

• ¤ •

"A true friend is one who thinks you are a good egg even if you are half-cracked."
~Author Unknown

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Around the World: The Best Cure

May 2, 1992

After a long hike, Jane and I found ourselves in Camden Town.  I bought a pair of Doc Martin boots to hopefully repair my raw-like-hamburger feet.

Happily snugged into my new boots, Jane and I wisely decide to take the Underground back to Paddington station.  Nearby is Hyde Park, a beautiful place to enjoy a beer and chips.  It's not long before we are joined by our hostel room mates who quickly spread the word that yesterday was my birthday.

As daytime turns to dusk, we pack up the picnic and head back to the hostel.  One of the guys demonstrates how to make free phone calls from a pay phone.

Back in the dorm, the party continues.  Three of the guys are blowing up condoms like balloons and participating in a dare to see who can pull one over their head.  It's all very hysterical, except for the blinding headache pounding on the inside of my skull. One of the guys nonchalantly pulls out a fairly large case for a backpack.  Inside are several divided compartments containing his pharmaceutical collection.  He gives me a blue pill, which knocks me out within minutes.  When I wake up a few hours later, the party is still in full swing and my headache is gone.

I wake up just in time to participate in a rowdy game of inflated condom, bunk-bed volleyball. 

• ¤ •

"A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book."
~Irish Proverb