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Category: Trekking

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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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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Posters, Passports and British Snobs

Posters, Passports and British Snobs

I had a fascinating, if occasionally scary time in Northern Ireland in 1971, but I was relieved to leave (London) Derry and cross into County Donegal in the Irish Republic. My experiences in Belfast and especially the No Go areas of Free Derry were eye-opening and unforgettable, but I was now entering the part of Ireland I had really looked forward to travelling in. I made sure to find a somewhat disinterested Irish border official to stamp my passport because…

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Backpacking in Africa With Kids

Backpacking in Africa With Kids

Many of our friends thought we were being wildly ambitious, if not outright irresponsible. Why would you want to take your young children on a 12-week backpacking trip to east and southern Africa, they asked. How can you justify them missing three months of school? Aren’t you going to dangerous places? What about the health risks? Are you guys nuts? Edmonton Journal librarian and friend Deb Dittrick was the frankest. “If someone told me I had to go on a…

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Mountains of Mystery

Mountains of Mystery

There is no place on earth like the Mountains of the Moon. The gigantic vegetation that lines the alpine meadows, great bogs and valley bottoms of the fabled Rwenzori Mountains, and the majestic beauty of its great snow peaks shining through the constant mist have inspired many an intrepid traveller to poetic imagery. There is nothing to break the spell, nothing to dim the sense that one has journeyed back in time to a forgotten, almost primitive world, where the…

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An (Un) Reasonable Amount of Risk

An (Un) Reasonable Amount of Risk

I was shocked and deeply shaken when my pal Mick handed me a London newspaper with a terrifying front page story about wanton bloodshed in Uganda. The timing and the news could not have been much worse for me. It was January 23, 1984, the day before I was scheduled to fly from London to Nairobi, Kenya, on my way to Uganda to hike the spectacular but notoriously difficult circuit trek of the legendary Rwenzori Mountains, better known as the…

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Fear of Flying

Fear of Flying

I have racked up quite a few air miles in my many years of globetrotting, especially in the developing world. I hate flying the local airlines, especially the many ones with terrible safety records, but for a regular traveller to poor countries there is no other alternative, even when the local airline is conducting animal sacrifices to the gods to help repair its planes, or repeatedly shooing huge, wild animals off their busy runways, if not crashing into the poor…

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Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead

I have travelled a lot in Third World nations and I have had my share of annoying stomach bugs and other minor intestinal ailments, but one time in October, 2008, on the fabled Snowman Trek in Bhutan – a beautiful Himalayan country east of Nepal and south of China – I experienced the worst night of my life. I woke up just before midnight and felt a horrific rumbling in my guts unlike anything I had ever experienced. It just…

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