Friday, December 13, 2019

The 2010s: A decade to remember

Tbilisi, December 12, 2019

A mere 19 midnights separate me from the first day of 2020, the third decade of the 21st century.  (Yes, I know; the century should really start in 2001, but who really thinks that way emotionally?)  It is hard to believe that I have been blogging on this site intermittently for just over a decade now.  A few days ago I did my year-in-review post; now it's time for a decade in review.

One of the more terrifying aspects of getting older is that not just months and years pass by, but decades, without me being really aware of how long I've been alive.  This year was full of thirty-year anniversaries:  the Tien An Men massacre and the fall of the Berlin Wall were both pivotal moments in my conception of the world, with the gloom and menace of the Cold War suddenly replaced by an exuberant, giddy freedom in Eastern Europe, while the Chinese Communist party stamped on humanity's face with a jackboot.  I was barely 21 when those things happened; now I'm 51 and the optimism of December, 1989 has morphed into the dystopian ethnonationalism of Hungary, Poland and the United States, while the Chinese state's relentless authoritarianism has plumbed new depths in the repression in Xinjiang.

So I think that the spinning of the decades counter on our calendar is a good time to take stock of what I have been up to for the past ten years, mostly from the point of view of travel.  I don't have much time to write this, so it will necessarily be a cursory summary of a lot of travelling!

2010--The post-Silk Road Travels

I welcomed in the 2010s in Malta, That same morning I hopped over to Italy and rented a car to explore Sicily, a fabulous corner of the world, before making my way up Italy with a stopover of a few days in Naples, once one of the richest cities in Europe and now a poster child for urban decay, although blessed with Pompeii, Herculaneum and smaller amazing Roman ruins.  I then headed into Venice on my bicycle for the symbolic final ride into the city that Marco Polo returned to in 1295.  

After a brief skiing and job-hunting trip to Switzerland, where my sister Audie was living (and still lives), I hopped a flight to Ethiopia in early February for a cycle tour.  I spent two and a half months exploring Ethiopia's mountainous landscape and ancient culture, and dodging incessant rockthrowing by a substantial fraction of the youth of the country.  I also crossed (by public transport) into Somaliland and Djibouti before looping back to Ethiopia after my hopes of getting a Yemeni visa were shot down.

In late April I flew with my bicycle back to Canada to find a job offer from a school in Switzerland waiting for me.  My mother had taught at Leysin American School from 2001 to 2003, and now I was about to follow in her professional footsteps for the second time (after my miserable first international high school teaching experience in Egypt in 2004.)  After a few months of relaxation in Canada, including a car trip out to Newfoundland for my mother's 70th birthday, I flew off to Switzerland in early August.

2010-2015--The Leysin Years

I ended up spending five years teaching in Leysin.  It wasn't a fabulous school (despite the eye-watering tuition fees) but it was a wonderful place for an outdoors enthusiast like myself to be based.  I lived in a century-old building that was once a tuberculosis sanatorium for the wealthy of Europe (Stravinsky and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia both visited in the glory days), with an unbeatable view out across the Rhone valley to the Dents de Midi and (on clear days) a tiny sliver of the peak of Mont Blanc.  The skiing in Leysin was decidedly sub-par most weeks of most years, but there were always places to explore via ski touring.  The cross-country skiing was excellent, and in the fall and spring the road riding on a racing bicycle was incredible.  There were tennis and squash courts, and great hiking to be had.  It was a busy schedule, with teachers worked absolutely to the bone, but I generally always had energy for adventures whenever I could fit them in.  I ran the pub quiz in our village pub for almost the entire 5 years, which was great fun and an intellectual break from trying to hammer physics and mathematics into my students.

That first fall I mostly explored around Switzerland, by bicycle and on foot.  I stayed in Switzerland for the Christmas break and tried to ski (although it was the beginning of an epic months-long snow drought).  I also ran into a sporty New Zealand woman named Terri who turned out to be a wonderful partner in exploring the mountains and the world, and who is still with me nine and a half years later here in Tbilisi

2010 new countries:  Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somaliland (or Somalia, if you don't regard Somaliland as de facto independent).  

2010 year-end country count:  93

I prowled around Switzerland all winter in a fruitless search for decent snow.  Eventually my supplications to Ullr the snow god were answered and enough snow fell for two weeks of excellent ski touring cabin-to-cabin in the mountains with some of my similarly skiing-obsessed colleagues.  

That summer I spent the entire break cycling from Tbilisi, Georgia (where I am typing this now) to Tallinn, Estonia, via as many of the ex-Soviet and Eastern European countries that I could.  I rode through magical Svaneti tragic occupied Abkhazia to Sochi in Russia, where Terri flew out to join me for a couple of weeks of hard cycling along the Black Sea coast, through Crimea (then part of Ukraine), Trans-Dniestria and Moldova.  Terri had to return to work, but I kept cycling across Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine again, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and finally Estonia.  I covered 5500 mostly flat kilometres and really fell in love with the countries I was crossing.
In the fall Terri and I got away hiking most weekends, all the way into early December since it didn't snow at all in the autumn.  When it started snowing, though, it didn't stop and we had a memorable ski season.  

At Christmas, I zipped off to the Persian Gulf to explore (very briefly and superficially) the UAE, Qatar and a tiny corner of Oman, before returning to Leysin for New Year's.

2011 new countries:  Denmark, Abkhazia, Russia, Ukraine, Trans-Dniestria, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, UAE, Oman, Qatar.

2011 year-end country count:  108

The winter of 2011-12 was epic for skiing and ski touring, probably the best of my five winters in Leysin.  Spring break was spent doing more ski touring before finally retiring the skis and taking out the bicycle.

The summer vacation was spent in the highest mountain ranges of the world.  Terri and I flew to India and trekked through the magical mountains and plateaux of Ladakh for a memorable month.  Again Terri had an earlier work deadline than I did, so I flew off to Kyrgyzstan to indulge my Reinhold Messner-inspired fantasies of mountain climbing.  I had had my eye on Peak Lenin and Muztagh Ata for years, so it seemed like a good time to try my luck.  My luck wasn't in on either peak, with terrible weather, heavy snowfall and poor conditions.  I decided that really high mountains weren't really my thing and flew back to Leysin to start my third academic year.

That fall I finally made it to Slovenia, the one Balkan country that I had not yet properly visited.  At Christmas I decided that I needed a bicycle tour, so I flew down to Lome and spent three weeks cycling around Togo and Benin.  It was a good  bike trip, but I didn't really warm to the two countries as much as I would have liked.  It was my first taste of West Africa after several trips to the north and east of the continent, and I resolved to come back one day to explore in much greater depth.

2012 new countries:  Slovenia, Togo, Benin

2012 year-end country count:  111

The 2012-13 winter was also fabulous for snowfall in the Leysin region, and I had a great winter of skiing, ski touring and cross-country skate skiing.  Terri and I had a March break that overlapped for once (we worked at different schools with very different schedules) and we had hoped to do a week of ski touring.  Instead it suddenly stopped snowing at the end of February, and after waiting with crossed fingers for a while, we eventually booked a last-minute trip to the Maldives instead.  It was slightly self-indulgent, but it was also a reintroduction to diving for Terri, which proved to be a great thing for our future travels together.

That summer we set off together for Iceland with our touring bicycles.  We had a wonderful time exploring this tiny gem of a country, even if Terri did find the steep hills on dirt roads a bit challenging and annoying.  Then Terri returned to work and I flew to Canada for the first time in three years, visiting my mother in Ottawa, my father in Thunder Bay, my sister in Jasper and my friend Greg over the border in Montana.  The summer vacation was not yet over (I loved my epic summer holidays in Leysin!) and I returned to Europe to try my hand at a new (for me) form of bike touring:  riding a racing bike, travelling ultra-light and sleeping indoors.  I cycled from Avignon back to Leysin over as many Tour de France cols as possible (Galibier, Izoard, Agnel, Iseran, etc), then returned to southern France with Terri for another week of cycling.

That fall, the start of my fourth year in Leysin, did not go well.  I was teaching five different fairly challenging IB science and math courses, and I burned out spectacularly from overwork.  Not long after a long weekend in Dublin with Terri, I ended up having a minor nervous breakdown in early November and being sent off on medical leave for a few months, during which I went exploring Gran Canaria by bicycle and Laos by motor scooter.  It was a sobering reminder of my own mortality and of how unsustainably hard I was working at LAS.

2013 new countries:  Maldives, Iceland, Ireland

2013 country count:  114

I returned to work after Christmas on a reduced teaching load and had a reasonable time of it, although it was a miserable ski season.  A few skiing friends and I spent spring break skiing in the Dolomites in Italy which was an incredible time, although I couldn't ski the last few days because of an incredibly sore back.

That summer Terri and I decided to take it physically a bit easier than usual since we weren't sure how recovered I was from my breakdown.  I flew to Bali via a brief visit to sad, ruined East Timor, and then Terri and I spent a month diving our way around Indonesia, with visits to Bali, the Togean Islands and the amazing Derawan Archipelago and its manta rays.  Terri had bought a small house in northeast Bali a few years earlier, and it made for a perfect base for our expeditions. After Terri's inevitable return to work, I stayed on, exploring the Solomon Islands and expensive, dangerous and deeply unpleasant Papua New Guinea before crossing back into Indonesian New Guinea for a few weeks of birdwatching and diving. 

That fall was the start of my last year at LAS.  I had already decided that I was going to leave, but LAS' deeply autocratic First Family had decided that I needed to be forced out, which didn't make the final year much fun at work.  Luckily it was a charmed autumn with perfect weather almost every weekend and a never-ending series of hiking and biking weekends that lasted almost into December that left me with a permanent grin and indelible memories of the fall colours blanketing the Alps.

I flew off that Christmas with three colleagues to show them the Japanese powder that I had been pining for during the many snow droughts of my Leysin years.   

2014 new countries:  East Timor, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea

2014 year-end country count:  117

After some epic skiing in Hokkaido, I returned to Leysin for my final ski season there.  The snow was miserable for most of the winter, and when it did snow, I nearly got myself killed in an avalanche that took away quite a bit of my skiing mojo.  During spring break Terri and I flew to Georgia for a few days of skiing which reminded me of how much I liked this small, historic country in the Caucasus.

2015-18:  Three Itinerant Years

Mid-June saw me say farewell with affection and great memories to my colleagues and friends in Leysin and to the outdoor playground of the Alps.  Terri and I headed off for a month of cycling down the Danube, followed (for me) by sailing and cycling in Finland and Norway while Terri finished up her 15th and final year at Kumon Leysin Academy.  When she was free, we abandoned the bicycles and set off on foot to trek in the Pyrenees and then the mythical GR20 hiking route in Corsica.  Terri flew back to Switzerland for her Swiss citizenship ceremony, and then we were off, both finally free of work and commitments for the foreseeable future.

We visited our families and then rendezvoused in Ushuaia, Argentina for the extravagant splurge of a lifetime, a trip to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula on the MV Ushuaia.  Despite a fire on board on the first night, and having to dodge between South Atlantic hurricanes on the return journey, it was an incredible, life-altering trip that always seemed to have a David Attenborough voice-over playing in our heads.

After that, we started cycling north through Patagonia, stopping to hike in places like Torres del Paine and El Chalten.  We said good-bye to 2015 in a little town along the Carretera Austral, the little-used dirt road linking the remote communities of southern Chile.

2015 new countries:  Finland, Sweden

2015 year-end country count:  119

We kept cycling north in early 2016, finishing on the island of Chiloe.  After a few days visiting friends in Santiago from my year of working there in 1999, we took an interminable bus trip to Paraguay with our bicycle and spent a few weeks cycling there before ending our South American sojourn in the genteel urban settings of Buenos Aires and Montevideo.

From here we switched continents.  We had talked for years about driving a 4-wheel-drive through Africa, and now it was time to put the dream into action.  We flew to Zambia where we spent several weeks working at Olive Tree Learning Centre, Terri's school that she helped establish in an impoverished shantytown in 2006 and which she has been supporting and growing ever since.  A group of Japanese students from Terri's former school flew down from Switzerland to meet us and do a service trip for which they had raised a large amount of much-needed funds, followed by a wildlife safari to incompable Chobe National Park across the Zambezi River in northern Botswana.

Afterwards we flew to Cape Town and started searching for vehicles, preferably already fitted out for overland exploration and camping.  Just as we were starting to despair, we got tipped off about a vehicle for sale in Johannesburg, and flew up to inspect it.  It was love at first sight, and so Stanley (as in Henry Morton Stanley) entered our lives.  

Most of the rest of 2016 was spent driving Stanley around southern Africa.  We explored Kruger National Park, then cruised through southern Mozambique before being turned around by civil conflict further north.  We drove back to South Africa, survived a potentially deadly car crash and then (after repairs) drove north into tragic but beautiful Zimbabwe for a month.  We popped out into Zambia and then turned east into Malawi before returning to Zambia, where we explored the north before heading down to Livingstone and spending more time at OTLC.  Finally we headed south across the wildlife paradise of Botswana before popping back into South Africa.

We took two-month break from Stanley from late October to mid-December, doing some tour guiding in Greece and some road-tripping through the Balkans before flying to Madagascar and its enchanting, endangered lemurs.

It wasn't until nearly Christmas that we were back in South Africa, picking up Stanley after some expert improvements had been made at Blinkgat, the camper manufacturer who had first put Stanley together a couple of years earlier.  We spun down through Swaziland and into KwaZulu-Natal, where we welcomed in 2017 in a wonderful wildlife refuge, Bushbaby Lodge.

2016 new countries:  Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Madagascar, Swaziland.

2016 year-end country count:  130

The year started with some of our favourite bits of Africa.  We drove south through KwaZulu-Natal and the Orange Free State and drove across the breathtaking mountainous country of Lesotho before getting tired of the rainy season and bolting north towards Namibia.  Namibia was incredible, and we had many unforgettable nights camped out in the depths of the Namib desert or the semi-desert just inland of it.  All good things must come to an end, though, and what ended this idyllic period was a summons home to Thunder Bay, where my father was trying to recover from aggressive thyroid cancer.  We drove across the Caprivi Strip for one last visit to OTLC in Livingstone, then bolted back to Windhoek to store Stanley until we could return.

The next few months for me were a blur, as my father's recovery stalled and then a terminal decline set in.  He died at the end of June, and most of July was spent cleaning out the house where he had lived for 46 years (and where I had grown up and returned to for three decades after leaving home).  At the end of July my mother and I drove to Ottawa with a U-Haul of family heirlooms, and I flew off to Bali to rejoin Terri.

We spent the rest of the year in Indonesia, doing a lot of scuba diving and (in my case) learning how to take underwater photographs of the strange and wonderful creatures that live on tropical reefs.  I was also hard at work finishing the manuscript of my Silk Road cycling book.  In mid-November I crossed to the next island to the east, Lombok, and spent three weeks training to become a scuba instructor.  It was an intense course, but I passed the exam and set off immediately with Terri for jobs in Raja Ampat, the legendary diving area off the western tip of Indonesian New Guinea.  The job wasn't all it was cracked up to be, but it taught both of us a lot, and we got to dive almost every day with manta rays, which is a priceless experience.  We said farewell to the year on tiny Arborek Island in Raja Ampat, after a whirlwind 365 days.

2017 new countries:  Lesotho, Namibia

2017 year-end country count:  132

Terri and I said goodbye to Arborek early in January, glad for the experience but keen to move on.  We stopped off in Ambon for some memorable muck diving, then returned to Bali for a month of heavy rain and occasional diving.  I was still hard at work writing, and in early February I finished the first draft of my manuscript, just in time to fly to New Zealand for 2 months of exploring with Terri.  We covered much of the North Island of the country, more than a quarter century after my first visit there in 1992.  We hiked, biked, paddled and drove around many of the incredible natural sights of the country, and were amazed afterwards at how much we had seen.

A very brief sojourn back in Bali, and then we were off again, flying to Namibia to pick up Stanley.  We had had some serious problems with Namibian Customs about Stanley not having the right paperwork (we thought he did!!) and so we had to move him to storage in South Africa.  We decided that we should explore Namibia in greater detail while we did, and we ended up spending six memorable weeks in the Namibian desert, camped out under the stars, looking for elephants and zebras and giraffes.  Eventually we drove down to rainy Cape Town and put Stanley into storage there.

While we had been in New Zealand, I had accepted a job offer to teach in Tbilisi, so when we returned to Bali, I packed up my possessions and flew to Canada to visit my mother and then, at the end of July, on to Tbilisi.

2018-2019:  The Tbilisi Years

I had always enjoyed Georgia during my three previous trips to the country (2009, 2011 and 2015), so I was looking forward to living there full-time.  Terri and I spent the late summer and autumn exploring the beautiful mountainous regions of Tusheti, Khevsureti and Mtiuleti, with fall break in the enchanting western region of Svaneti, then loaded up our expedition van (Douglas the Delica) as the Christmas break began and headed off on a three-week skiing roadtrip.  We welcomed in the New Year in a small homestay in the frosty mountains of the Goderdzi Pass area.

2018 new countries:  none (first time since 2005!)

2018 year-end country count:  132

I've just written a long blog post looking back on this year, so I will be brief about this year's travels.  There were a number of (generally disappointing) ski weekends north of Tbilisi, a week in France skiing with my sister Saakje and her partner Henkka in March, some fun camping weekends in the spring and then a summer of mountain exploration in Kyrgyzstan and back here in Georgia.  This fall we drove around Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh (now renamed Artsakh) and today (in a few hours) we are flying to Panama for a Christmas get-together with my mother, Saakje and Henkka.

2019 new countries:  Panama

2019 year-end country count:  133

I hope that the 2020s will be just as active, if not more so, in terms of exploring new corners of the globe.  With a new and much longer-range installment of Stanley's Travels coming up starting in September, 2020, I hope to add a lot of the countries that are still missing from my collection.  I still have roughly 90 countries left to visit; I would love to have that total down closer to 30 when I'm writing the next installment of the decade-in-review.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

2019 in Review

Up at frozen Ala Kol lake near Karakol, Kyrgyzstan
Dear Readers:

Some wind-driven cardboard snow in Goderdzi

Once again our Earth has travelled another 921 million kilometres around the Sun, while our Sun with its whirling attendant planets has rotated another 7.25 billion kilometres around the distant centre of our Galaxy.  Another 365 days have passed by, and it's time to reflect on 2019 and what it brought.

Welcoming in 2019 in a homestay near Goderdzi
The year began with Terri and I driving around Georgia on a ski trip.  We welcomed in the New Year in a tiny village near the Goderdzi Pass, in a tiny guesthouse in which the family welcomed us warmly into their New Years festivities.  The skiing was decidedly disappointing, however and Terri was chilled to the bone by the lack of heat in the house, so we pulled the plug after two days and returned to Tbilisi via some birdwatching in Poti, on the Black Sea coast and some sightseeing around Georgia's second city, Kutaisi.  Our previous skiing, the week before in Svaneti, had been much better, and indeed proved to be the best skiing of our winter in Georgia.

Terri in Gudauri
The winter passed by in a blur of work and increasingly desperate attempts to find snow in the mountains north of Tbilisi.  It barely snowed in the Kazbegi area for most of January and February, and conditions were dire:  bare ground showing, with patches of hard-packed icy "snow" here and there.  Even ski touring was disappointing.
A view of the entire Georgian Caucasus from Bakuriani
Admiring our tracks at Gudauri

A rare snowy day of backcountry ski touring to Lomisa Monastery
Eventually my sister Saakje and her partner Henkka, who had planned to come visit me for some skiing in the Caucasus, cancelled their trip and I took off during our March break from classes to visit them in France instead. They had had a snow drought, but some excellent snow-hunting by Saakje saw us have an amazing week of powder descents in the high Alps, followed by bicycle riding and tennis in the sunny afternoon warmth in the valleys.  It was a relief to the soul after a distinctly poor winter.

Lovely backcountry snow near Guillestre, France in March

Cherry blossoms from our very own backyard trees.

Camping with Douglas the Delica

Terri had disappeared in February to visit her family in New Zealand, her OTLC school project in Zambia, and the beach in Bali, and finally returned in early May.  Spring was beautiful, with cherry blossoms galore on our backyard trees, and we got out a few weekends for some camping and hiking.  

Cherries from our very own tree!
Soon enough it was mid-June and school was over. We managed to harvest our cherries and completely filled our freezer with them. 

Upper Boz Uchuk Lake
We then packed our backpacks and flew to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for an unforgettable summer of hiking and mountains.  We based ourselves at first in Karakol for a series of hikes on our own in the spectacular Terskey Ala Tau range of the Tien Shan, up to shimmering glacial tarns and wildflower-carpeted meadows full of horses and sheep and Kyrgyz cowboys.  It was good to get out on our own two feet, carrying our tent and stove, and explore this spectacular corner of the world.

Not a bad place to pitch a tent!

Relieved to have made it to Komsomolskiy Camp after a rough day
The second part of the summer's adventures involved hiking up the massive Inylchek Glacier through the heart of the Central Tien Shan to the foot of its two most iconic 7000-metre peaks:  hulking Pik Pobedy and elegant, perfectly sculpted Khan Tengri.  We walked from camp to camp, using the services of Ak Sai Travel, who run mountain climbing basecamps at the end of the Inylchek as well as a series of trekking camps for people like us.  It was challenging hiking, particularly in terms of  route-finding, and had its scary moments, but the sweeping views of the immense wild beauty of the mountains made it worthwhile (although Terri might still have some lingering doubts.....)
In my happy place

Dikiy Camp by night
Terri with the mighty peaks of the Central Tien Shan

Atop a 3900-metre pass with our trusty steeds
We finished our Central Asian swing with a crazy 5-day horse trek to remote Kel Suu lake deep in the wilds of Naryn Region, right up against the Chinese border in the little-known but stunning Kokshal Mountains.  It was tiring and tough on the body, but an unforgettable experience.
Tired but happy after a long day in the saddle

A steep downhill in the Kokshal Range
Terri and our horse team at Kel Suu Lake

The view down from Udziro
When we returned to Georgia at the beginning of August, there were still two and a half weeks left before the start of school, so we loaded up Douglas the Delica and drove to Racha, the one area of the Georgian Caucasus that we had not yet explored.  After a tough, frozen hike up to Udziro Lake, we drove on further to the rugged back road into Svaneti.  Terri took the wheel and drove us up over the challenging Zagar Pass to Ushguli, where we had been the previous autumn.  We then did another week of hiking the length of upper Svaneti, staying every night in guesthouses along the way, marvelling at how popular this trek has become with foreign tourists.  
A frosty August morning at Udziro Lake

Douglas conquering the Zagar Pass
Atop a pass looking across at the Adishi Glacier, Svaneti

Terri in the wildflowers
Mezuri chapel with Mt. Ushba behind

On the hike up to Abuli fortress
Finally, however, the school year started and we returned to Tbilisi.  It was a busy fall, with me teaching AP Calculus and AP Physics for the first time, and coaching cross-country running.  We wanted to escape the city every weekend for camping and hiking, but we were repeatedly foiled by rainy, cold weekends.  We did manage to make it to the barren high plateaus and mountains of southwestern Georgia's Javakheti region and its amazing ancient megalithic monuments. 

Admiring the megalithic fortifications of Abuli

Terri and the millennia-old fortress of Abuli
Lovely cliffs below Shushi, Nagorno-Karabakh
It was a relief when fall break arrived and we were able to load our camping gear into Douglas and head south into Armenia.  It was an intense road trip, covering lots of kilometres through stunning terrain.  I particularly enjoyed a return visit to Nagorno-Karabakh, a beautiful place with a tragic recent history of civil war and ethnic cleansing.  We got in some quality hiking and visited ancient petroglyphs high in the barren mountains of the south.  Both Terri and I agreed that Armenia will deserve a return visit next summer, this time for much more hiking along a section of the newly-built Trans Caucasian Trail.
Zontik Waterfall in Nagorno-Karabakh
Lovely Tatev Monastery
Terri amidst the ancient standing stones of Karahunj

A petroglyph of a man hunting an elephant, Ughtasar
Ughtasar petroglyphs
Morning light on Mt. Ararat from Khor Virap monastery
Since our return to Tbilisi, the weather has turned cold and we have huddled indoors.  I have been trying to play our piano on a regular basis, trying to emulate Glenn Gould by mastering Bach's Goldberg Variations, and both Terri and I have been taking cross-fit classes.  I have been doing some weightlifting for the first time in my life and while I can't say that I love it as a sport, it's not a bad idea as I get inexorably older to do some weight training.  The unstoppable rush of time is starting to show in grey hairs on my head and a definite downward trend in physical and mental energy, although I'm hoping that this will abate once I get back to travelling and away from the grind of teaching.

Speaking of travelling, there is only a week left of classes before Christmas holidays start on Dec. 13th.  This winter we are heading to the warmth of Panama, our first time to visit Central America.  We will meet up with my mother, Saakje and Henkka on the beaches of Bastimentos Island before my mom flies back to Canada and we head off into the highlands for some hiking and wildlife spotting.

Next year will see the end of our two years in Tbilisi.  School ends in June and after a few weeks of roadtripping through Armenia, Turkey and Iran, we will fly to Canada to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday in the Muskokas and then continue on to South Africa to pick up our beloved Stanley (currently in storage outside Cape Town) and resume Stanley's Travels.  We can't wait!  Another round of "pretirement" travels is just around the corner.

We can't wait to get back to this sort of life again in Africa!

I continue the dispiriting process of trying to get my book on the Silk Road published.  I am hoping to have some good news on that front before we head off again into the great unknown, but there's nothing happening yet.  Any leads/tips/introductions to publishers and literary agents would be gratefully accepted!

I hope that this holiday season finds you enjoying life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness wherever you may be in the world.  I hope that 2019 was a good year for you, and that 2020 will be even better.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you all!


Majestic Khan Tengri