Published in Pique Newsmagazine - November 13, 2020
Reflecting on the past nine months and the prospect of what lies ahead resembles a parallel reality. If somebody had shown me a video of life under lockdown when I was 18, I would have thought it a scene from a sci-fi movie. Having lived under lockdown in France for two months and entering a new round this fall, sci-fi has become reality.
I crossed into southern Portugal from Spain's Rosal de la Frontera border and turned northwest to nearby Grande Lago Alqueva. In 2002, Portugal completed the 96-metre-high dam on the River Guadiana, creating Portugal's largest artificial lake.
The "Amihan," a northeast wind that blows from mid-December to mid-April in the Philippines, was howling and massive rollers hammered the Overcomer, an oversized banca boat bound from El Nido, Palawan, to Coron Town, Busuanga. Screams rang through the air with each deluge and the crew worked the hand pumps.
These boats are built light, habitually overloaded—Overcomer was licensed for 40 passengers but carrying 52 today—and crossings can be sketchy, as the record of sinkings confirms.
On Thursday, March 12, the French government announced schools would close the following Monday, crowds over 500 were prohibited, people over 70 were recommended to stay home, yet, for some bizarre reason, voting in municipal elections would go ahead Sunday.
Pha Nga Bay National Park is iconic for the dramatic karst limestone landscape and famous for its "hongs" (rooms), entered via cave passages that open to colossal chambers walled by sheer cliffs open to the sky above. Although full of day-tripping tourists, late afternoons and early mornings are conceded to the few yachties and kayakers.
The sleepy border town of Tha Khaek, Laos, is best known for the “Loop”, an easy 4-day motorcycle circuit. We were here to rent dirt bikes, find tracks less travelled and seek out the historic Ho Chi Minh Trail for the next three weeks.
Astried’s clutch cable was on its last strand so we found a repair shop and the guy said he would install it. The cable was short so he tried to jury-rig it, but the clutch would not engage. I tinkered with it to get it going while Astried found a shop with a proper cable. We limped over, the boys looked at the crude installation, chuckled, and had the correct cable installed in minutes.
"It's not the destination, it's the journey," or so goes the adage, and there is a kernel of truth in that declaration.
I was behind the wheel of my van, winding through rural southeastern France en route to the Parc naturel regional du Verdon. The Verdon River slices through this part of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence on its descent to the Mediterranean carving an impressive series of canyons that run nearly 25 km and, in places, 700 meters deep.
I was trying to assemble my Vancouver-made Feathercraft Wisper XP collapsible sea kayak, but my eyes were repeatedly drawn to the implausibly clear, blue-green sea dotted with islands. The Karst limestone outcroppings of panoramic Bacuit Bay exploded from the water to extraordinary heights, demanding attention. My eyes darted from the kayak's frame assembly to another island and back. I could hardly wait to begin the adventure.
The mouth of Malampaya Sound is chock full of rocks and we needed to run the gauntlet between them and a perilous point. As I pondered how best to do this, I watched the local bancas (central dugout-style hulls with two outriggers) run the narrow channel and set course—splitting the crazy currents and the wild waves left little margin for error.
"Follow me and don't stop paddling," I said to my travel companion Ian Taylor ....
The Whistler downhill crowd is no stranger to Finale Ligure, the "Italian Eden of mountain biking," with its picturesque Mediterranean backdrop. It is also home to Oddone Bici, a bike shop that's been in operation for more than 90 years—a true gem, which blends tradition and technology.
Walking in the historic centre of the Italian seaside town, I stumble upon the Oddone Bike Café and am immediately drawn in.
Imagine an exotic destination where cyan waters meet cerulean skies. Throw in a handful of downy-white cumulus clouds scudding overhead. Picture dramatic karst limestone outcroppings soaring hundreds of feet vertically from the sea. Add iconic sea gypsies plying the waters in timeless traditional wooden dories.
"I can make Kang Khao Island," my paddling partner said. "It's only 15km." We had just rounded the southwestern point on Phayam Island and conditions were good to cross the strong currents of Ratchakrut Channel.
Ian Taylor and I were on our third kayak expedition - this place is hard to shake - down 600 km of Thailand's western coast in 22 days.
Remote Ranong is typified by the extensive mangrove estuaries of Ranong Biosphere Reserve and Khlong Kapoe. Offshore, a couple dozen islands are scattered along the coast and a large portion is designated national park.
Access is difficult from land. From the sea, everything is possible and this is where you encounter virgin stretches of barren beach.
No loon call from the middle of Khao Laem Lake as Brent Bateman slips his canoe into the water and pushes off toward the Buddhist temple across the lake.
Sangkhlaburi is a Thai frontier town near the border of Myanmar, also known as The Country Formerly Known As Burma. It’s full of Burmese refugees, Buddhist temples and soldiers—not the place you would expect to find someone launching a Prospector canoe; let alone a canoe-building business.