A digital archive of the map collection from my travels
A digital archive of the map collection from my travels
An ongoing quest to document the world around me.
Excerpts from my journal, thoughts and observations from the road
The term Terra Incognita comes from Latin meaning unknown land. It is used in cartography for regions that have not yet been mapped and possibly never explored.
I’ve never been much for the classic souvenir the trinkety key chain, the name magnet….I could do without. But a truck stop map and hand written directions I’ll immortalize that in my travel drawer forever.
And I have a whole stack of maps just like this. Some free, some paid for, given, printed, drawn on, but all used or at least thoroughly enjoyed.
They sit in my top drawer. They remind me of a time of adventure, excitement, and taunting me to head out again.
Every so often when I have a lazy evening at home I’ll pull them out and trace the lines of the road I followed with my fingers.
That is where this project comes from; most posts are made in retrospect, some short, and some long an extended caption to the silent magic of my personal maps.
“Everyone is looking to Canada’s north except Canadians.”
This is the title of the article I read from the window seat of the Air North flight from Whitehorse to Yellowknife – 400 km south of the arctic circle. I feel Yellowknife, though pointed out on a map to me in grade school geography, isn’t a city that has come up too much in conversation, and to give the headline some truth I know only one Canadian here.
Jess picks me up from the airport, and drives me through the maze of subdivisions on our way to her house. It is – 7 today and the sun is out, the wind has died, and extremely white people are walking around without coats on squinting into the sun like they have never seen it before. The streets are full and Jess is laughing because everyone looks like a dazed zombie – surprised to find themselves alive after the dead of winter.
Jess and I are friend’s from childhood and she has been living just outside of town, in a double wide trailer for two years. Most people here live in trailers if they don’t live in “Old Town.” – the permafrost makes building foundations almost impossible and the transport cost of supplies this far north is exorbitant. Actually, everything seems priced exorbitant to me. Her utilities are more expensive than my rent in Vancouver, and a beer is $10.25. The trailers seem out of place with expensive cars and obviously heated seats parked out front, but that is the way it is here.
We drive past the Snowking’s ice castle, which we end up returning to the next night for the Dead North’s horror movie festival. Local filmmakers of all ages make short films to contribute, and they gave a little glimpse into the darkness that eats away at most people when it is dark all day. Hunting and guns, repeatedly made appearances in the films all evening, and though I shouldn’t be so shocked to see teenagers nonchalantly going out with rifle into the winter, I am. That night I learned that watching movies in an ice cave at -16degrees for two hours is finger numbing. It was amazing to see the community here come out and support all the films, but I am not cut out for the cold.
At home Jess and I binge drink tea to warm up, and for a week I feel like a local. I can see the northern lights from my bedroom window at night, and during the day I watch the frozen cattails dance on the ice. We snowmobiled and helicoptered over the landscape and fought off the cold with an outdoor fire. I heard about the Arctic Games and ice roads, and places like Hay River and Nahanni National Park which have never been on my radar before.
Canadians who aren’t looking north are missing out. Yellowknife is quirky and dark, and has a dress code of Canada Goose jackets and muck luck boots. It is remote and isolated and in that embodies the idea of “northernness” as a part of our Canadian identity in the most honest way that I have experienced.
Cerro Castillo (Castle Hill), Chile
Lulu said it first – “I feel a little Coup de coeur” a French saying that really only incorrectly translates to “crush” in English.
In English though you can’t have a crush on a place.
Maria our new Swiss friend says it translates to heart knocking in German, and either one pretty much sums up exactly how I feel about this little hill, in this little village in the mountains.
A big heart knocking crush.
My send off was unceremonious my friends on the island had all but stopped texting, and I could barely keep up with myself come September. I flew across Canada three times, across Europe, to the Caribbean and back twice all in the span of four months. It was an insane schedule and took a toll on all of my relationships. I felt guilty for not being there, I felt even more guilty that I decided to move again. I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone.
My car was full of both my junk and my most prized possessions, my books and my photo gear, my business and all my memories from the last two years. I drove myself squished to the steering wheel to the ferries. I’ve timed my ferry rides with sunset since the moment I arrived in Victoria two years before and this was no exception. It turned from day to night over the hour and a half ride.
It only took a few trips down our skinny ally way, and up the stairs at the back of the house to bring my world indoors. It was a move to the city I’ve talked about, but surprised even myself when I decided to actually do it.
If you told me I would be living here a year ago I wouldn’t have believed you. I was in love with the island but after a week of debating and just a few hours of packing Jacqueline and I (my new roommate and friend from childhood) were sitting together on the scuffed hardwood, wine in hand, pizza on the way. No furniture to speak of but happy to be home. It was July since we had last seen each other, and both of us had been around the world since then. We spoke fast and laughed, catching each other up until my eyelids were heavy with jet lag and my muscles ached from the heavy lifting.
Welcome to the city, surprise, you live here now, and good night.
A slow feeling of gathering sadness as each familiar place flashes by the window and disappears and becomes part of the past. Time is made visible, and it moves as the landscape moves.”
― Paul Theroux
I felt this sentiment driving away from Wales in the back seat. A climb to the top of Mt. Snowdon, a wedding of a good friend, and then a jump around a cave with a trampoline inside. This map holds all of the memories of that week, and to make it even a little better was made by hand by a dear friend.
I had a to-go cup of coffee in my hand outside the Schlesisches Tor subway station in Berlin. It was almost four o’clock and I wondered to myself how much of our everyday behaviour is influenced by the society we live in because as people came and went through the doors not one of them had a warm drink to go. I was self conscious of what has become a caffeinated accessory to our daily wardrobes in North America and had never came into style in Europe.
A friend of a wonderful friend was on the way to show me her Berlin. I was waiting, sipping, and with the luxury of a broken cell phone, in a place where I had no service anyways I was attentive, and people watching. There were one hundred bikes locked up out front the station and one homeless man wander aimlessly enough through them to know his aim was to spot the one bike with a faulty lock. The wind blew the spill over garbage from the bin onto the street and people of all backgrounds and futures hurried in and out. I tried to memorize the scene for later.
Jessy showed up from behind the station with the look of a stranger scanning the crowd for a foreign face, and awkwardly we introduced ourselves to each other. She apologized for her English in advance like most the Germans I’ve met, and I reassured her it was fine. Based on the few emails we had sent one another her I knew her vocabulary was better than many native speakers and the comment itself it was not so much about her English speaking ability, but the confidence it takes to meet a stranger and speak to them in their language.
It wasn’t long into our walk Jessy had turned into a regular tour guide and translated facts and historical antidotes while we wandered the east gallery of Berlin Wall. We checked out the Gestalten store, a German book publisher I worked with last year and saw my photos in person print, and then sat outside, with our coats done up tight in the fall air for a little Korean Kimchi.
Over a beer we talked about our lives across an ocean from each other, and I asked her about the refugee crisis that Europe, and the world dealing with. Germany in the last month had taken in thousands and the numbers weren’t slowly. Syrians were in the train stations and on the streets and Germany was truly leading the world in relief and resettlement efforts.
The Berlin bell jar skies as Jessy aptly described them turned from grey to pink that evening as we spoke, and when we finished our meal the conversation moved naturally from world affairs to tipping. It is a recurrent topic of conversation for travellers because how much money to leave, and when is appropriate varies so much from place to place. Jessy worked in cafe as a server as well, and as we paid the bill that night she told me that herself and all of her co-workers were donating all of their tips indefinitely to refugees new to Germany.
I was silent, not because it was shocking, but because it was an immediately tangible connection to a problem that even though I was in Germany still felt a world away. It was the selfless level of generosity that made me proud to have crossed passed with her, and simultaneously guilty for not helping in my own way.
Travel as a luxury, and travel out of necessity will always involve depending on the kindness of strangers; it connects one place to another. It turns unfamiliar faces into friends and leaves everyone involved with a better understanding of each other. Leaving that restaurant in Berlin I was inspired to help, and thought to myself how lucky I was to be there, that for me travel is a luxury. And in the process of making a new friend I truly witnessed a small yet by no means insignificant contribution the kind of world I want to live in.
I had to send you this postcard specifically because of the map on the front of it to add to your collection! I’m here at dive camp nearly at the end of my placement amongst the volunteers and I’ve really enjoyed my time here, the research and interviews have been going well but man, do I have other stories for you that are not fit for a postcard.
My Spanish has come back in full strength since I’ve been living with a family and the mother speaks no english! The diving itself has been lovely as well and I’ve been really lucky with mega fauna sightings (nurse sharks, rays and lobster!). I wish I had your mad photography skills to properly document my adventures.
PS/ one of the volunteers here went to high school with your sister – what a small world it is! Can’t wait to see you soon.
Love you mucho my dear!
I hung up the pay phone and waited in the empty bus station. It was 2012 but felt like twenty years before then, as I moved what felt like a snails pace for days across Canada. The greyhound chairs were the same old metal as I’m sure they were in the 70s, the blinds hung crooked above the windows, and the clock on the wall was dirty with years of dust. My Aunt Mary who hadn’t answered her house phone must have been on her way to pick me up driving the streets of Medicine Hat Alberta.
I was worried the bus station would be so busy we wouldn’t find each other in the crowd, but I forgot I was in small town Canada and I sat alone with my backpack and the attendant drinking cold coffee behind the desk. Mary is my grandmother’s oldest sister and as she walked into the station, my worries about recognizing her evaporated. There was no question that we were family. Her smile was identical to my grandma’s, the one I’d known my whole life back in Ontario, and there on the other side of the country I felt closer than I had in months to home.
Lighthouse Park, Vancouver BC
“Of course, a writer’s journal must not be judged by the standards of a diary. The notebooks of a writer have a very special function: in them he builds up, piece by piece, the identity of a writer to himself. Typically, writers’ notebooks are crammed with statements about the will: the will to write, the will to love, the will to renounce love, the will to go on living. The journal is where a writer is heroic to himself. In it he exists solely as a perceiving, suffering, struggling being.” – Susan Sontag
I shipped my first journal home after I finished it, too much to carry and too much angst to fit in a backpack in Asia. As I arrived in Vancouver in 2012 I was on my third book of scribbles and thoughts. It overflowed with train stubs and maps, and was tied together with a leather cover that was no longer bound to the pages themselves. I found this map folded there; a remnant from a time I was still a tourist on the coast, between stories I’ll never let anyone read, and where of course I am my own hero.
Whistler, BC, Canada
A Marmot is a particularly stunning rodent, a species of squirrel that has spurred a plethora of outdoor adventure branding from Marmot Clothing to Marmot Mountain in Alberta to the more obscure Whistler Mountain Resort named not for the wind that whistles between the high altitude peaks as some would suspect but for the high pitched, excited squeal of the Marmot.
The Himalayan Marmot claimed his fame in the ethnologies of history as a bit of a gold digger. Minaro tribes would frequent their burrows often and excavate the gold dust they would hoard inside. I don’t know for sure, but if the brains behind the resort town’s construction in Whistler all those years ago named the Mountain in a proverbial nod to the mammal’s tendencies to occupy a space where money would stick to walls as the tourists filed through, they were right on the money.
Whistler and the Marmot are truly beautiful cash hogs (groundhogs that is).
Seoul Airport, Korea
I thought Seoul’s airport was quiet compared to New York’s where I was twelve hours before. The plane flew a decrescendo over the ocean and in Korea a fancy little quartet played lulling waiting passengers to sleep on benches. There was no startling ominous messages over the loud speaker. No one here seems to be worried about leaving their baggage unattended, or warning each other into a constant fear of the person sitting next to them. I know the history, and I know why it is the way it is, but the stark contrast traveling from one side of the pacific to the other was all I could think about as I paced the long moving walkways killing what felt like all the time in the world.