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Author: Tom Barrett

As Tears Go By

As Tears Go By

It was the hardest and most daunting work I ever did in my 30 years as a reporter for the Edmonton Journal. For the better part of two months in 1997 I spent countless hours calling specific Alberta Roman Catholic parishes to ask for the names of altar boys at specific times at their church. The time period ranged from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s in about seven parishes. The officials I talked to seemed puzzled but mostly did…

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The Road to Zanzibar

The Road to Zanzibar

Sometimes on a very long, very challenging trip, it is a good idea to take a holiday within your holiday. Our family had been travelling rough for nearly five weeks through Africa in 1998 and were fresh off an exhilarating six-day camping safari in four of Tanzania’s most famous national parks. Rachel 10, Danny, 8, and Sam, 6, absolutely loved seeing Africa’s wild animals in their natural habitat, but it was time for something different. Something mellow. From the beginning…

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The Outsiders

The Outsiders

Hitchhikers meet some of the most interesting people. Or at least they did when I was thumbing rides between 1968 and 1972, mostly in the US and Canada, but also in Europe and Africa. I even got picked up by some very nice moms whose own kids were hitchhiking. They felt an obligation to offer lifts to young people since other drivers were picking up their children. I told the moms that it was kind of them to stop for…

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The Snowman Trek

The Snowman Trek

Many people claim that the grueling 24-day Snowman Trek (or Lunana Trek) in the small Himalayan country of Bhutan is the toughest long walk in the world and they might be right. It’s certainly a strong contender for world’s toughest trek. The Snowman can be bitterly cold and many of the daily walks are extraordinarily long and hard, especially in the rarely visited Lunana Valley. There are also eight mountain passes of over 16,000 feet (4,877 metres) to cross. To…

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Singing the Mauritanian Blues

Singing the Mauritanian Blues

The dusty little town of Bir Moghrein, where I was dropped off in early February, 1972, was not the end of the world, but it was pretty damn close. It is located in northern Mauritania, a very large but little known former French colony, one of the last remaining countries where slavery is illegal, but still widely practiced. A long conflict with Polisario guerrillas (the Sahrawi national liberation movement) which began in early 1973 still continues. Happily, I missed the…

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Adventures in the Sahara

Adventures in the Sahara

I loved my night alone in the Sahara Desert. It was sharply cold, the skies were crystal clear and I have never seen so many stars. I got my sleeping bag from my backpack, climbed inside, and lay there beside the cargo we were able to save from the fire, staring up, mesmerized by the fabulous spectacle above me. For the first time in my life I experienced absolute silence. There was a peacefulness and joy to my solitude that…

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The Call of the Wild

The Call of the Wild

It was a lovely January afternoon in 1972 and I was lounging at a pleasant rooftop café in the old quarter of Marrekech, sipping mint tea, declining hash pipes, and swapping stories with a handful of fellow backpackers whom I’d come to know in the past two weeks. We were a happy bunch because the ancient Moroccan city was fascinating to explore, the food was cheap and delicious, we rented bikes and pedaled into the countryside, and there were a…

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Four Dead in Ohio

Four Dead in Ohio

Tin soldiers and Nixon’s comin’We’re finally on our ownThis summer I hear the drummin’Four dead in Ohio I have only participated in one major protest march and public demonstration in my life, but that one time was an experience I will never forget or regret. As it turned out I just barely missed witnessing one of the most bizarre events in American political history at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. My good friend David Clyburn had just finished his…

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The Grant Notley Plane Crash

The Grant Notley Plane Crash

Every reporter wants to cover the biggest story of the day, the week, the month, or best of all, the year, even if it’s a story that breaks their heart. If they would rather that someone else cover it, they’re in the wrong business. Sometimes tragedy is part of the journalistic experience, whether it’s the victims of an angry grizzly bear, the gross mistreatment of a foster child, or a terrible accident – like the Humboldt bus crash. In those…

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Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

It was November, 1971, and after two months of hitchhiking around northern Europe and having wonderful experiences, I realized it was time to head south like a migrating bird as winter closed in. It took me three days to cross France and when I reached the Spanish border, I headed west on a whim along the north coast of Spain, instead of due south towards Barcelona, Madrid and the Mediterranean beach resorts, as virtually all the other remaining backpackers did….

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