Thursday, November 22, 2007


Life isn’t about what you own. It’s about the experiences that make you who you are.

I treasure the moments in my life when I’ve truly understood what life is all about.

82 kilometers along a trail, at various points two kilometers up and two kilometers down, at 2500 meters above sea level. I was walking the same worn stone path that the Quechua people had walked for centuries before the Europeans arrived. Our group had endured four days of hard travel, fighting through bad weather, altitude sickness, rough terrain, and steep climbs, braving nighttime stories (of various creepy-crawlies that might sneak their way into our sleeping bags if we left the tent flap open) and bland soups of quinoa and boiled river water. All leading up to this point. We got up at the crack of dawn, and walked the last few kilometers of the trail to a steep, stepped incline, crawling on our hands and knees, to the Temple of the Dawn. And as I sat there amongst the remnants of an ancient civilization, catching my breath, the clouds parted, and there was Machu Picchu -- as pristine and beautiful and untouched as the mountains that surrounded it, cradling the sacred city like a newborn child. That was the reward. But that was nothing compared to the feeling of accomplishment I felt after conquering the rugged peaks of the Andes.

At midnight, sitting alone on a white sand beach, surrounded by swaying palm trees and the distant, fragile light of the ring of clubs and restaurants along its span. A swift breeze rose up and I could hear the sounds of conversation and light music drifting on the wind from down the beach. Eerie streaks of blue heat-lightning were arcing across the sky, horizontally, without any sound or evidence of it having been there at all. As I sat there, I watched the moonlight reflect off the rippling waves and saw a burst of sudden movement, flying fish taking wing over the water and then disappearing again. As I stepped closer to the water, I saw that it was sparkling with thousands of points of light, swirling in eddies, tiny phosphorescent krill that could be found only here, at Koh Phangan. I breathed in deeply, waded out into the Gulf of Thailand, and dove in, headfirst.

Sitting on a wall, breathing in the crisp autumn air and sipping back a diet cola that I had brought along with me that day. My tripod and camera was set up in front of me, ready to capture the sunset that was still hours away; in my naivety, I had misjudged the time and the movement of the sun. I had spent the day trying to make up for lost time, capturing the last fading colours of the season as best as I could. Yet as I sat there, in the Arboretum in my home town, I realized I hadn’t missed anything at all. I saw the spread of yellows and reds and oranges and greens set before me, set afire by the golden light of the setting sun, and watched as a little girl crossed the hill in front of me, pulling a homemade kite made out of a plastic shopping bag and some sticks behind her, laughing and smiling and running in circles. And as I looked up at the sun and realized that the sunset wouldn’t be as colourful as I had hoped, I still felt like I had seen something even more beautiful.

Taking shelter in a small gazebo built for one, next to a hedgerow, water dripping all around me. My plans had changed; a storm was coming, with threats of lashing rain and pelting winds. The weather forecast made me head to my planned destination a day earlier. When I arrived, the weather was still holding off, so I took a walk around the grounds of Herstmonceux, exploring, and getting a feel for the English countryside. I walked amongst the centuries-old graves around a church that was there at the time of William the Conqueror, shuffling my way though the sodden grass, and made my way down to the castle. And as I was wandering around the manicured gardens, the storm hit suddenly and the rain began to pour down, drenching me to the skin. I ran to the gazebo and briefly took shelter, smoking a cigarette and watching the Queen’s University flag waving above the crenellated top of the castle’s battlements.

Life moves fast, and it’s often full of pain and hardship. Sometimes you need to slow it down to appreciate it.