2014 FIFA World Cup. Our time.

It’s been done for a few weeks now but the Bolivian Internet Gods weren’t wanting to let this YouTube video go live.

Here’s the final highlight video from our time at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Once in a lifetime experience.

After three plus months on the road there are a few packing decisions I’m very happy I made and a couple others I wish I could do-over.

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Pati Valley, Chapada Diamantina Brasil.

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My original South American plan was significantly more logical than what’s eventuated. After our Gringo Trail of Peru my plan was to keep going north to chase sand/surf in Northern Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Central America – ideally returning to the start of another epic NZ summer (the story was supposed to go “an endless summer for Will”). I was so certain of this awesome story line that I almost didn’t pack any layers or winter gear… What’s the point when you’re only going to be wearing boardshorts and jandals for five months, right?

This all changed after we got to Copacabana in Bolivia. I realised the evening we hiked up Cerro Calvario (and its sacred monument atop the hill on Lake Titicaca) to watch the sunset over this massive lake that sits 3,800m above sea level and lines the Andes that my travels were now going to lead me south and not north – into winter and far more developing regions.

THE GOOD 

All Icebreaker, everything

Thankfully I brought a few of my Icebreaker layers to South America. As I’m sitting here in La Paz, a month on from that ‘aha sunset moment,’ it’s been between zero and single digits every night since. Not only am I happy I had the foresight to pack this gear ‘just in case,’ I am also stoked I made a sizeable (and very compulsive) purchase at the Icebreaker’s Auckland Airport store during my exit, stocking up on more socks and grabbed a few pairs of their underwear. It was expensive and I was somewhat apprehensive but after being on the road and not knowing when the next ‘lavandaria’ is going to be I’m so glad my bags kitted out in merino (see photo below). Being able to put on that dirty shirt again without being a smelly mess is something a lot of other travellers haven’t quite figured out yet – and it’s not the kindest to those around you when you’re sitting on a hot bus for 24 hours. Cheers Icebreaker, keep being awesome.

New electronics – laptop & camera (read: phone)

I was warned not to bring nice stuff to South America – it’ll get stolen, (knock on wood) this is total BS. I decided to buy a small laptop and had recently purchased a new phone with a solid camera. Both have paid dividends already. Firstly, tablets are great but they still don’t function the same as a computer – whether it’s searching trip advisor for a restaurant, catching up on emails, doing a bit of work on Word/Excel, Skype, whatever – for me at least – nothing beats a laptop. More importantly though, it’s pretty much impossible to keep your photos/videos backed up solely using a phone. The internet’s too slow here (at least for the rate I’m clicking away) so when you hole up for a day or two in a place with reasonable bandwidth you can let your laptop idly do all the work. There is this great moment when Dropbox tells you “Folder ‘Camera Uploads’ is up to date.” Which brings me to my next point:

The Cloud

For me this is Dropbox, for others it’s iCloud or Google Drive, it’s crazy not to invest in one of the platforms in this day and age. One of the only downsides about travelling places like I am where you need to be more vigilant about yourself and your possessions is the opportunistic crime that goes with it. Thankfully so far I haven’t been a victim, but unfortunately it is a reality (albeit a rare one). Even worse though is meeting a person whose stuff has been lost or stolen but who has also lost all the data and stored memories that went along with that device. In all instances so far, nobody gives a shit about their phone or camera; it’s the photos/videos/contacts that were of value. I don’t see the point in risking that by travelling for more than a few weeks without backing it up. Long live the Cloud.

Solid etcetera gear. 

Prior to leaving my role at Athletics NZ I was given a fairly wicked going away present: it was a good bag from Kathmandu, a 50L + 15L attached day bag. Functional, quality, and comfortable. Travelling for this long without a good bag is a nightmare with ripped zippers or holes in interesting places. I’m very fortunate my boss, a knowledgeable world traveller, got me not just a bag but the right bag for this trip.

Prior to leaving NZ I picked up brand new kicks: good minimal shoes and solid trail runners. People hiking mountains or descending +3000m on a mountain bike in Chucks and Toms need a reality check. Unfortunately my trail runners were the victim of opportunity and are now in the hands of another unfortunate soul (they were disgustingly smelly at the time). Since then my minimals have held it together as my only pair of kicks better than I could have imagined (and better than any pair of casual shoes ever would). That being said as soon as I get to a country that has shoes bigger than size 9 I’m getting myself a second pair again.

Because I had a bit of extra room in my 50L bag I made another game time packing decision: bring a sleeping bag. It may not make it home (sorry Mum), but it’s been a huge asset. Bolivia is friggin’ cold and it’s been a lifesaver in a few hostels and on some overnight bus trips. During the World Cup I was also staying in AirBNB apartments with very high occupancy rates, so the additional sleeping bag was a huge asset when linens were scarce.

THE BAD

No Kindle, you dummy!

In all the haste that is packing your life into boxes to be stored in a garage over the winter I inadvertently packed my Kindle amongst my worldly possessions (probably between my box set of 30 for 30 DVDs and unopened bottles of Scotch that have accrued over the past couple years of travel). That was a huge blowout, I’d just stocked up on ebooks and was looking forward to the additional space/weight saved not carrying around binds of paper. It hasn’t been the end of the world but I won’t make the same mistake twice.

Phone/camera space

Sixteen Gigs seems like a lot when you buy a phone but I now realise it isn’t. If you like capturing videos (and by now if you’ve seen any of my updates you can tell I do), you need more space. When you go to take a shot of something and the warning pops up “not enough room to store, make more space” it sucks as much as a first world problem can. I now see the value in the additional cost of more internal space on a smartphone.

Anyway – figured it was time for a bit of insight rather than just a highlight reel of recent experiences as a post. Any other suggestions on gear, good and bad, that change your backpacking experiences?

The Gringo Trail. Peru.

After an incredible two months in Brazil it was time to switch coasts for a whirlwind trip of Peru with a crew from BC. After confirming my trip to South America in January we decided July/August would be a perfect opportunity to all catch up  for an adventure – something that’s hard now that we live in Auckland, Vancouver, Red Deer, and Halifax.

None of us had been to Peru or Machu Picchu before, except for Kyle who has been twice (but he’s been everywhere twice), so as a collective it was an obvious first choice. Not only were the rest of us able to get to a place that was on our ‘to do’ list, but we also had an incredibly wise tour guide for the infamous ‘Gringo Trail’ (which roughly consists of loop of Southern Peru: Lima, Cuzco, Machu Picchu/Aguas Calientes, Lake Titcaca, Arequipa, Nazca & Huacachina).

I’ve made a video to better show what we got up to but some highlights worth mentioning are:

  • Sunrise at Machu Picchu, we lucked out on the day and didn’t have a cloud in the sky. The hike up from town takes about 90 minutes and we were aiming to get there to see the sun to break over the mountain range on to the ruins. In a bit of panic, we raced the last section worried we’d miss it. We didn’t. It was epic. I also now know the difference between ‘sunrise’ and ‘first sun.’
  • Isla del Sol & Lake Titicaca with the Andes in the backdrop. There’s something different about a vista like that 4,000m above sea level.
  • Bull Fighting in Arequipa. In Peru they don’t have matadors, instead two bulls lock horns and fight for alpha status until one breaks (trust me we’re experts now, six of us joined an Arequipan Bull Fighting Syndicate that day – we’re lifetime members). The event itself was crazy: two bulls broke through fences into the crowd, bull trainers got in full on fist fights in the ring while their bulls were fighting, we got sweet hats (part of the syndicate initiation), and we made some new friends – thanks to our translator Alex. This was a definite highlight from my whole trip so far.
  • Huacachina Oasis and sand dunes. I’ve seen sand dunes before, but nothing like this. Summiting any of the 150m high dunes around the oasis and all you see is sand for 360 degrees. Unreal. We were advised to go dune buggying “with the crazy bald guy” and he came through. I later found out that he rolls his buggy about three or four times a year. After our ride, I’m surprised it’s that few.

It’s pretty awesome that after four years away from Vancouver we were all able to find a time and a place to catch up. Well done team, where are we meeting next year?

It goes without saying, but it’s been a crazy month in Brazil and I’m behind on updates – written and otherwise. To keep it quick and easy… here we go:

  • Got to Salvador the day before the World Cup started and parked up in the city through to the end of quarterfinal stage of the tournament – Barra Fan Fest & Arena Fonte Nova delivered;
  • Moved on to Belo Horizonte to attend the first semifinal between Brazil & Germany – still debating if what we saw was real;
  • Completed the World Cup journey in Rio de Janeiro for the final two matches of the tournament, watching both at the Copacabana Beach Fan Fest – think of any Fan Zone you’ve ever been to and crank the atmosphere up to 15/10… then put it on one of the most iconic beaches on the planet.

All of these things are awesome and deserve their own story, I’m currently in the midst of (many) gigabytes of Dropbox sharing regarding the aforementioned and will put together this stuff shortly.

In the meantime, here is a video from the four games I was fortunate to get to in Salvador (& the stories of the two I didn’t get to in the city I’ll be happy to share over a beer or coffee – in person or on Skype).

A special kudos is awarded to that tall blonde guy who sat in the middle of the Dutch section and threw his Spain jersey on to the pitch in the last minute of that epic 5-1 dismantling of the Spanish Football Empire! He must have lost a bet or something.

Muito Obrigato Salvador & Bahia!

Best viewing in HD 1080 by clicking the ‘cog’ icon on the YouTube video!

This is why we’re here.

I’ve been here before, I know this feeling:

Nervous, can’t watch.
Can’t – not.
Feel sick.
What’s going to happen if they lose?
Surely they won’t…
But, what IF?
[expletive]

Fortunately I’ve been on the good side of this situation on home soil twice in the past few years – NZ’s 2011 Rugby World Cup victory & Canada Men’s Hockey Gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

To be fair though, it’s precisely why we’re all here in Brazil and why billions of people around the world get hung up on sport and mega-events like the World Cup… but… Brazil advancing essentially coming down to a coin toss in the Round of 16s? Not like this, please!

Here is Salvador’s response to Chile’s final penalty miss. The celebration was as much relief as it was joy, as you’d be well aware if you saw Julio Cesar’s interview following the game.

This is why we’re here. This is sport. This is awesome.

Here’s to hoping Brazil can push on against a very strong Colombian side next in the Quarter Finals 4 July.

Highs and lows of mega-events.

After our luck in sorting out the Spain/Netherlands game we were feeling pretty confident about our chances for Monday’s Germany/Portugal fixture.

We quickly went from confident in success to a more realistic outcome of either watching the game in a bar or rushing back to Barra to try and get into the FIFA Fan Fest. After fighting the crowds only two of the six of us ended up in there (and in hindsight, probably paying a bit more than they should have), but hey this is the way things work.

Here’s to better luck again as we move into the do or die stages of this thing.

Day 2 saw a replay of the 2010 World Cup Finalists showing off in Salvador, what a welcoming party for the next month. Only one problem – we’re six guys with zero tickets. With that in mind, we all made our way early in the day to Arena Fonte Nova to have a bit of sniff of the scene.

We split the team in half and each threesome made their own way around the stadium. Tom, Dave & I found ourselves in front of the South Entrance, debating the likelihood of our chances of success here… we saw a huge group of Dutch supporters drinking outside a bar. After a quick chat we were able to get three seats together – we were pumped. We’re going. Our new friend hands us the tickets – Section 101, Row B, Seats 8, 9, 10. After over-celebrating our success we quickly realised these were Category 3 tickets (aka, the cheap seats), bit of a letdown but hey we’re still in the stadium right?

We grabbed a stadium map to double check these seats – we’re sitting on the corner flag. We’re back to euphoric again. Too excited to wait around we headed into the stadium to check it out. This stadium is off the charts (as we find out later, there really are no bad seats in the house).

I won’t break down the game as most people know the result but will say Spain’s implosion started early and was felt through the whole game. Five of the six goals were scored in our end of the pitch too – luck comes in waves though but we were fortunate the World Cup started off so well.

After the game we walked back down to Barra to catch the final game of the night down the Fan Fest.

Today was a good day.

 

After a few weeks in Brazil spent exclusively in beach towns/cities Tim and I decided it was worth a quick trip to inland Bahia prior to the World Cup kick off. We left the rest of the lads in Recife for Salvador by plane, then caught a 7 hour bus to a town called Lençois. Once known around the world for its diamond mining the town now relies almost exclusively on tourism as its economy.

There were a lot of travellers who had been in Lençois for a while by the time we met them and when asked how long they’d been in town for most were unable to pinpoint anything definitive “we’ve been here for, um, about ten days… no maybe two weeks… actually I’m not sure…” But, after a day I could see why – there are so many single and multi-day hikes in the Chapada Diamantina coupled with a vibrant and tidy small town feel I could easily have planted myself there for and undetermined amount of time.

The two of us were on a bit of a time constraint with the World Cup starting the next week and we were amped to find a guide and get out into the park for a few days. Long story short we did just that, we found an awesome (and slightly crazy) guide named Marcelo (who sometimes goes by Mougli – after watching the video it’ll make sense why) who took us on a two night three day trek through the Pati Valley. We were also very fortunate to connect with the right people and had a wicked crew of six of us – two Canadians, two Americans, a Costa Rican and a German who made the hike even better.

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Pati Valley, Chapada Diamantina Brasil.

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Here’s a video of photos and clips from our hike. For anyone in Brazil, or thinking about coming here, put this on your list.

I left Auckland on the 11 May, and conveniently two days later my 2014 World Cup tickets arrived in New Zealand. Spending the first few days of my trip in Australia it was close enough to have them on hand before heading east for the Americas. A coworker of mine was kind enough to overnight them to Sydney before I left. It was a huge relief to finally have them (albeit, with minutes to spare before heading to Kingsford).

This relief was short-lived. I realised my tickets were still safely stowed in a bag of my extra gear headed back to Vancouver with friends visiting me in LA as I boarded a plane for Chicago. Perfect.

After arriving in Brazil I was somewhat fortunate to be in the same boat as John, who left Victoria in early May and was about to have his sent down to him. A quick courier from Vancouver to Victoria and mine were safely added to his important parcel to be sent.

On the eve of the World Cup it arrived – order restored.

In summary, the tickets were dispatched in Rome, flew to Auckland, were forwarded on to Sydney and carried to LA (via Beijing), brought back to Canada and finally sent down to Salvador – 52,081kms as the crow flies (for reference, Earth’s circumference is 42,075km).

I challenge anyone to put together a sillier set of numbers than this.

Many thanks to Rachel, Sam, and Roy/Min for sending these tickets on. I owe you all a drink the next time we’re face-to-face.

NZL to Brazil.

The trip started off with brief trip to Australia where I was fortunate to catch up with a few mates along with meet some very cool new people in Melbourne, Sydney & Newcastle. Every trip to Australia always seems to short, but to be honest this time I felt ready to keep moving on!

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A way better commute #Sydney #travel

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Partly because it was the cheapest option but mostly because I was in Beijing in 2008 for the Olympics and still regret not squeezing in a day trip to the Great Wall, my flight onwards to LA took a rather large detour to China for a 15 hour layover in the city. With the Great Wall tour knocked off fairly early in the day I also had time to get into town and revisit the Temple of Heaven and the famous Pearl Market for some real genuine deals. The Pearl Market definitely brought back some good memories of some time spent there with my Uncle Dave as well as the UBC crew in attendance back in 2008 – that place is unique to put it nicely.

I had an awesome three day layover in LA where some friends from UBC figured now was as good a time as any for a reunion of sorts. We rented a pretty sweet apartment in West Hollywood, accompanied by Chris’ perfectly suited convertible and had a blast – a perfect way to spend three days in North America and was even more awesome catching up with Chris, Ty and Sam.

After far too many flights in a little over a week I finally arrived to a small beach town named Praia to Pipa, meeting up with the crew for Victoria who had been in Brazil for three weeks by now. Pipa is a small surfer/holiday town about an hour out of Natal and is pretty much the most northeastern point of South America (and by far the most eastern point of the Americas). Being there for a week already the guys knew the lay of the land for food and drinks (including a bar selling two caipirinhas at R$5). I could have spent a month there but with more places to see and the need to make our way south for Salvador we did just that, spending a few days in both Joao Pessoa & Recife.

Here are a few photos from the trip so far.