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Chronicles of the Extraordinary. The tale of a never-ending journey, for two.

66 Square Feet nominated 2009 South Africa Blog Awards finalist

A little promotion, while you’re here with time to kill. Marie’s blog 66 Square Feet has been nominated as a finalist for the 2009 South African Blog Awards in the Best Photographic Blog and Best Travel Blog categories! Time to go vote for her. Click on the "Vote this blog" tag, scroll down to the bottom of the page that opens, type in your email address and the captcha letters and vote away. A confirmation email will soon arrive, containing a link on which you must click to cast your vote. That’s it. Thank you! :-)

Posted in: Always & Blogging on March 22, 2009 | Show Comments(1)

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A colour fever

For those of you who might hate the blog’s new color theme, rest assured that it was only the result of a high fever and much frustration over technicalities. However, I have restored the option for visitors to change the skin at will and placed for that purpose a drop-down selection box on the right.

The old midnight-dark theme is back, and I will soon reintroduce the prior grey-green theme. This is just me playing with my toys while looking for some combination that will make me sigh and say yeah, this is what I’ve been waiting for… Haven’t found it yet, blog-wise. Can’t always be as lucky with my web design as I was with my coffee on Friday, September 21st, 2007, Newark airport. :-)

Update: original theme restored in the drop-down selection but I’ll leave the new orange one up for a while to get feedback…

Posted in: Always & Web site news on March 12, 2009 | Show Comments(7)

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Roasting (in) the Namib – A road trip recipe

This serves two people. As the name implies, better cooking will be achieved in summer. Gather all ingredients over the course of a couple of weeks. If you’re missing a few, don’t sweat it. You’ll sweat later. Mix in well. Watch out, sand gets everywhere. Consume while in the oven. Keep cameras handy. This is, after all, the oldest recipe in the world.

The idea was probably born in my heart decades ago, when I stood in my Montreal apartment examining a map of Australia and making hopeful plans towards a desert-like area in the center that seemed about as remote as the moon. I didn’t make it there but got a much better trip through Southeast Asia, arriving by sea from French Caledonia and barely ricocheting off Cairns before taking on Indonesia.

Much later, having blown a fuse while living on Little Cayman and decided once again that forward escape was the queen of all strategies, I set out for Utah and Arizona with a new camera and my paraglider, a memorable solo trip that will forever remind me of the color red and my love of photography coming to its apogee.

Then last year – on my airborne way to the lovely place I am writing this from on a late afternoon cooled off by rare rain showers, Table Mountain having disappeared above us in a shroud of clouds and while chickens roast in the oven and Sauvignon Blanc chills in the fridge – I overflew the Sahara Desert and, in awe, instinctively knew that my love affair with reds and sand was only in its infancy.

But it was Marie who initially suggested the Namib trip. She must have gotten a hint from my many involuntary references to the stunning pictures I kept finding on the web of perfect sand dunes calling me, luring me to them. Since then, she will have had ample time to measure the depth of the trouble she got herself into.

The Namib Desert, said to be the oldest on Earth – and I wonder how they decide such facts without a birth certificate, lies on the desolate southwestern coast of Namibia, South Africa’s northern neighbor on the Atlantic side. At about the same latitude inland but out of reach on our trip, is the Kalahari, straddling Namibia, South Africa and Botswana. Further still to the east are the famous Kruger Park and Mozambique, and then the Indian Ocean.

A desert, by definition, is a hot place. A desert in summertime, hence, is a bloody hot place. The vacation calendar, however, rules our weather preferences and not the other way around. Our only window was January. We took it. We are now two weeks from departure and have received an impressive array of recommendations, opinions, advice, suggestions and warnings from a rather diverse crowd. From the horrible jumping spiders to one’s feet cracking open in the 40°C-plus heat, via 4×4 dune-edge crashes and triple tire flats, we’ve heard it all. With a grain of salt.

Our various maps are out, Google is roaring, emails and phone calls are flying across the border. We have acquired a hyena-repelling tent for the price of a small yacht. It sleeps four and features side windows to see the desert monsters approach. A semi-automatic setup system requires little more than a couple of moves to erect the tent, in which we can actually stand tall. The valiant 4×4 V8 Landcruiser has once again been kindly placed at our disposal, and a portable fridge should soon complement it. Four bottles of Prosecco were offered to us in order to keep our minds hydrated at night. The bodies will have to use water. Lots of it.

Based on our current information, we are hoping to do the outbound trip in three days. That intentional rush will lead us to the core and from then on, we can adjust. From Cape Town to the Namibian border, a full day of driving on a large paved road, some 700 km. Then another easy day will take us past the Ai-Ais Park to Aus where we will sleep again. The third day should be memorable as we follow some of the most scenic roads in Southern Africa - or so they say. All dirt, some 500 km of it, in full heat. Yay.

We’ll have then arrived in Sesriem, gate to the Sossusvlei sand dune area, major photographic spot and highlight of our trip. After that, it’s all up in the air. 15 days in total of pure bliss in searing heat. Stay tuned. Lots more to come at a later date. Now has someone seen my suntan lotion?

Oh, and Happy New Year, everyone! :-)

Posted in: Always & Namib Trip & On the road & South Africa on January 2, 2009 | Show Comments(3)

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South Africa – The eagles have landed, bouncing only twice

Cape Town, on a sunny day after a sunny day and before another.

Rainy Vancouver and chilly New York are now mere memories and South Africa is once again spinning around us her fine web of sunshine, wind, mountains and sea. Life has slowed down to an almost lazy rhythm punctuated by langourous coffees, hearty lunches and candlelight dinners, with the ocean ever-present even if out of sight, in all directions and behind every landmass, in our minds and hearts and ears.

The inbound flights on South African Airways were uneventful; 7:30 hours from New York JFK across the Atlantic to Dakar where we waited aboard the aircraft on the tarmac for almost an hour, a ritual culminating in the fumigation of the cabin, a comical attempt to kill some hypothetical evil spirit that would have boarded under the appearance of a mosquito. It might have missed the mosquito but it sure got us.

Then on to Johannesburg, another 8 hours or so of flight time. Upon arrival, we cleared customs after spending an eternity in line, Africa making a point to brief its visitors thoroughly on the local time and pace changes. We got our luggage back even though it had been tagged all the way to our destination, and checked it back in, double measure meant to ensure double guaranties of success. Everything seemed peachy. The flight to Cape Town took another hour and a half. We landed almost on time, headed for the now familiar Domestic Arrivals hall and waited for our luggage to arrive.

It didn’t.

Almost everybody else’s did, but not ours. After a long and decreasingly patient wait, we had to accept that our three suitcases had gone missing. Our hand luggage contained laptops, cameras and the like. But no clothes, no clothes, no clothes. Sigh. Paperwork was hastily filled and then duly stamped by a representative with doubtful English language skills. And we left at midnight with Marie’s dad who had kindly come to pick us up. We figured we might have a lot of curative shopping to do.

But the next morning, around 11:00 am for the first two and again maybe by 1:00 pm for the last, our lost suitcases arrived, dropped off at home by an airline representative. Mine had been opened and shuffled through. A jacket was missing, either chosen by a stranger for its sheer black beauty and unsurpassed warmth, or left by myself in NYC. I’ll find out in 2 months. Who cares. Clothing is once again a delight we can contemplate with confidence.

Many delicious lunches and dinners have now already happened, the green belt playground has been reopened and beaches are being revisited. Hikes will soon follow. A trip to the Namib is brewing. And this morning I went flying with Marie’s brother François in his microlight (the local name for an ultralight or ULM for the Frenchies), a wonderful flight over the northwest coastline – post and pictures coming soon.

Tot later.

Posted in: Always & On the road on December 21, 2008 | Show Comments(3)

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See ya later, l’tle Vancouver…

She’s putting up a last fight. Right before I am scheduled to leave her behind, the city of glass is attempting to steal my heart again. After a seemingly endless – but normal – stretch of rain and grey weather, this morning shines like a single jewel on a forgotten crown.

It started as I was leaving home. About to turn right towards the bus stop, I spotted a flock of birds on the beach and a closer look revealed crows harassing a beautiful bald eagle. The bird of prey eventually landed just by the water and the crows having given up, it just sat there, prince of the sand and king of the moment.

I forgot about my bus and hurried to the beach for a closer look. The eagle was the size of four seagulls, perfect white head on an ink-black body. Just as I stared, a harbour seal popped up a mere 15 feet away from the bird, stared at it calmly for a while and then went on with his bouncing morning swim. Up, down, up, down.

A fog bank was receding offshore, revealing the freighters at anchor one after another but still hiding the opposite landmass in a dark menacing shroud. And behind me, to the east, the sun was beginning to sip through the clouds. The mountains were standing out in all their glory and I took a deep breath.

"Nice try," I said to the city, "but no luck. I love you very much, but no matter what you do to impress me, next week at the same time I will be be visiting your long lost sister Cape Town, a half a world away and a hemisphere across. It will be summer, the table cloth will be clinging to its mountain, the wind might howl and time will take on a new dimension. I will have left beauty behind only to find it again ahead. And more important, I will be whole."

Posted in: Always & On the road & Vancouver on December 11, 2008 | Show Comments(4)

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Cape Town to the Namib Desert – A stretch?

This is the stuff dreams are made of. A road trip from Cape Town to the Namib Desert. One border and 2000 kilometers on African roads in unknown conditions, in the peak of summertime, with no cell phone reception nor wi-fi hotspots, aiming for the oldest desert on Earth and the most incredible landscapes one can imagine.

Of course, the word dream implies many – still – loose ends, including securing the use of said vehicle, swallowing the cost of fuel, leaving loved ones behind when they thought they had finally been granted the luxury of our company, and finding the guts to actually hit the road.

But as with any dream, anything is possible. The three or four cameras invited on the trip would go nuts and ample material would be collected for later publishing.

And most of all, the limits of a daily reality would be stretched yet a little further and deeper than once thought possible. The envelope would be pushed a step closer to the edge and souls would soar a little higher, stoned by freedom, inebriated by raw beauty and hardened by a tougher commitment.

Wishful thinking? Not quite. A lot remains to be evaluated and probed but it’s feasible. It’s actually quite possible. Heck, it’s almost tangible.

To be continued…

Posted in: Always & On the road on November 27, 2008 | Show Comments(13)

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