Category Archives: Switzerland
Dear family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, random people I email in order to feel more popular, and people whose email addresses are easily confused with those of people I do actually know:
This long-winded email and blog post is my two-and-a-half-weeks-delayed annual attempt to let you all know how I’ve been wasting and/or taking advantage of an arbitrary selection of 366 days, which happens to be congruent with the Gregorian calendar year 2012, so that we can talk about more interesting things when we actually manage to hang out next. If we meet up for coffee, and you ask me, “So, Chris, it’s been n years since we saw each other last; what have you been up to?” I will grab the nearest napkin, clean or otherwise, and upon it I will write: “www.photodiarist.com/tag/annual-update/”. I will fold the napkin neatly, place it in your hand, then proceed to tell you an unrelated story, like the time a piece of paper fell off my desk and landed on the floor… on. its. EDGE. This annual update is longer than usual, because I’ve posted almost nothing in the past six months. It has exactly twice the number of pictures as last year’s annual update (do the math: 67 x 2 = ?).
For anyone with a normal (7 seconds or less) attention span, here are two Twitter-length summaries of my annual update:
1. Was in Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Uganda, DR Congo, Uganda, Switzerland, Canada, Switzerland, Jordan, Iraq, Uganda, UAE, Iraq, Jordan
2. Measles, knee surgery, parties & cycling, motorcycling, gardening, homebrewing, camping, Bubble Dome, Nova Scotia, Iraq, LOT Uganda, Jordan
And now for the longer version, suitable for anyone seeking a free alternative to soporifics:
I started off January 2012 in Vancouver, having just returned on December 23rd after seven months away. I thought I’d be in town for at least a month, but I got a call from MSF on January 5th, asking me to leave on January 7th for an emergency measles vaccination campaign in DR Congo. After a quick visit to Frankfurt and a couple of days in Geneva, I flew to Uganda and on to DRC. I spent the next two months adventuring around Province Orientale aboard tiny planes and beat up motorcycles, doing my part to help the medical team vaccinate tens of thousands of (often screaming) children, and winning $40 in the First Annual Faradje Olive Pit Spitting Competition.
I also caught a few peanuts:
After finishing in DRC in early March, I spent an excellent long weekend with my Aunty Jo in Kampala…
…before returning to Vancouver via Geneva, where I spent a couple of hours at the 2012 Salon International de l’Auto, my first ever visit to a car show.
In 2012, I spent a full SIX MONTHS in Canada — the longest since I left for Cameroon five and a half years ago. The reason for this unusual staycation? Another good old-fashioned knee surgery, but on the other leg! Back in December 2010, while on Christmas holiday from my job in South Sudan, a friend kindly helped me tear the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) off my femur in my right leg. In December 2011 I finally managed to see a surgeon, and by March 2012 I had scheduled the operation for April 10th. I went several times in March to see a physiotherapist at UBC to strengthen my knee in anticipation of post-operative muscle loss due to decreased use. On the 10th, Dr Patrick Chin repaired my knee at UBC Hospital and my dad kindly took care of all the practicalities (driving, drugs, many ice changes, and more). The rest of the family helped a lot, too!
This is what my knee looked like four days after my ACL reconstructive surgery:
Aside from my knee surgery, the various adventures over the six months I spent in Canada are best explained, categorically rather than chronologically, as follows:
Every weekend for a couple of months, I joined my three Vancouver-based siblings for Sibling Brunch. I’m not sure to whom the credit should be given for coming up with the concept, but what a great idea it was! Hosted at one of our homes each Sunday morning, we made food, drank coffee, talked about our week, the challenges we were facing and the successes we were achieving, plans to be made, and all sorts of random but interesting topics. And HEAPS of hugs!
Family birthdays with tasty cakes baked by Dad:
I don’t have any photos of the many long conversations I had with my parents, but it was really nice spending time with them at home.
One day, the home where I spent 14 years of my childhood was knocked down to build something bigger. I walked by a couple of nights later to have a look:
Not only did my childhood home get demolished while I was in Vancouver, but so too did my parents’ garage and driveway! Before the heavy machinery came in, I relocated hundreds of flower bulbs and other plants, including dozens and dozens of crocuses:
The next day…
One of the best things about family is the support we give to each other, so it’s always fun to have a chance to help out. My sister Josephine is an up-and-coming documentary filmmaker sure to impress anyone who sees the stuff that she and co-conspirator Brittany Baxter come up with. The duo, who formed Moosestash Films in 2011, were about to release their interactive online film project in June, so I was lucky enough to help them out, mostly as a volunteer chauffeur.
Among other sun-soaked destinations, I drove the ladies out to Global TV BC‘s studios for a live interview. Don’t they look excited to be in the Global TV cafeteria?
The staff kindly invited me to sit in the wings and watch:
The day after their TV appearance, I drove them to the airport to pick up Olympic wrestler Leah Callahan, the subject of the Sticking Place film. In the afternoon, at the launch party, one lucky guest got to thumb-wrestle Leah!
Check out the Sticking Place interactive film by clicking the picture below:
I also got to spend a couple of weeks with my dad in Nova Scotia at the end of the summer, hanging out with my grandma, my uncle, and a plethora of other relatives and family friends.
Check out this panel of a stained glass light shade my dad made for his parents before I was born – he even cut the glass himself!
Ten days after the operation, I returned to an intense physio programme with superstar physiotherapist Teri-Lynn Fraser at the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre at UBC. She did an excellent job helping me to regain strength and range of motion in my knee, work on my balance and proprioception, and retrain my muscles to react correctly to different situations like jumping, walking on uneven ground, sudden changes of direction, etc.
As part of my rehabilitation, I spent a lot of time on my bicycles and the stationary bike at physio. Once I gained enough confidence in my knee, I began riding my single speed BumbleBike more often than my geared touring bike. At first, there were some hills up which I had to walk, in order to avoid straining my knee. However, it turns out that cycling without gears leads very quickly to an increase in the size and capacity of the muscles around the knee (plus all the other leg muscles, of course!). Soon, I was gliding up hills on my BumbleBike without much difficulty or any risk of overtaxing my knee. There was another benefit to riding the BumbleBike around town – lots of compliments from strangers on the street, despite the unintentional similarity to a certain Stanley Cup champion hockey team from the East Coast (I painted this bike before the 2011 playoffs).
In the first week of June, I went on my very first bicycle scavenger hunt. My friend Jasmine was my teammate, though it was difficult trying to win while my partner was always taking breaks:
Apparently our 2nd place victory high-five was quite painful for her…
I also got to watch a couple of cycle races in Vancouver. This one was on West 10th Avenue, from Trimble up to Sasamat:
Two weeks later, with my friends Mike and Lauren, I sped downtown on my BumbleBike to watch the end of the Gastown Grand Prix:
Throughout my stay in Vancouver, people kept finding excuses to celebrate this, that, or the other thing. Rarely one to refuse an invitation, I enjoyed many nights of dancing (both before and after my knee surgery) to live music and DJs, such as my friend DJ Goremay at the UBC Blank Canvass paint party:
About to be blasted with paint, my friends and I show a mix of welcoming anticipation, fear, and, in the case of the mysterious bearded photobomber who appears at the top right: readiness for battle:
In April, Lisa threw the most impressive birthday party I’ve been to, including a DJ, burlesque troupe, and these fantastically musical fellows who call themselves Maria in the Shower (pictured here with Geneviève, as Maria was home making waterproof origami cranes that evening).
For my birthday, I was lucky enough to share the party with Leslie, who decided it would be a good idea to let people paint the walls! We bought a bunch of different colours and brushes and gave people the chance to paint freely. Paulie and Jana painted Oscar the Grouch for me, my favourite character from Sesame Street!
The next day I went with a couple of friends to an eatART party with a number of performers, the most impressive of which were the Scantily Clad Clowns. Each time one of them would drop headfirst toward the ground (the ceiling of this room is much higher than it appears in this photo), I found myself surprised not to see a crumpled body on the floor. All part of the act, they used the cloth masterfully in their aerial gymnastics.
I also helped organise a few parties, including Moon Rock Disco: Woodstock in Space! My accELeration speedcrutches helped me dance better and faster, and helped me make friends with people like this guy, who seemed to actually believe that he’s a robot:
Moon Rock Disco 2, a final farewell to the Basement Sound Lounge, was also a big hit with the laser lovers (which is everyone).
I even made it to a couple of daytime parties, like Danielle’s Hello Kitty themed birthday party, where I ate all the lumpia while people weren’t looking.
Word of advice (but not official advice, so you can’t sue me if you follow it), to those of you who like musical mashups but don’t have the skill to pull it off. Make a lightshow mashup instead, by taping glowsticks to a ceiling fan. Turns out it’s AWESOME.
The loudest party I went to was the huge and very bright music festival, a nice short 9 hour drive by car from Vancouver, known as Shambhala. If you like lasers, you should probably check out Shambhala. They have a lot of lasers.
4. Bicycle parties
As a humanitarian logistician, it’s part of my job every day to (attempt to) achieve objectives by the use of logical reasoning. Said logical reasoning ensured that during my stay in Vancouver I spent time not only on my bicycles or at parties with friends, but engaging in both activities simultaneously. The two are not mutually exclusive, but complementary! If one night you’re lucky enough to see a pack of bicycles dancing down the street, bright lights flashing and music flowing, join them if you can. You won’t regret it.
Conrad getting ready for a Bike Dance Party in June:
Bike Dance Party in June:
Vancouver has an annual Bike Rave, which was attended by several thousand people this year. It was MASSIVE. And fun, despite my friend losing her bag with both of her phones, camera, and glasses in it.
While the Bike Rave was winding down, some people played around with LED hula hoops:
(The day after the Bike Rave, we spent several hours using a lost iPhone app to track her bag down to the lost and found of a pub several kilometres from where she lost it, but with nothing missing)
In July, we had yet another Bike Dance Party!
5. Motorised transport:
As a good North American, I also had to do my part in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. To this end, before my knee surgery I rode around on my 1979 Honda CM400T motorcycle a bit, though not before first removing and cleaning the carburetors with some help from my dad.
Having your ACL replaced with a couple of doubled-up hamstrings is not particularly conducive to comfortable riding, so on the morning of my knee surgery I cancelled my motorcycle insurance. The gentleman processing my pro-rated refund asked me why I was cancelling. Surprised by my answer, he asked whether the surgery was a result of a motorcycle accident. “Nope, I’ve never been in an accident yet,” I told him. Seven weeks later, I had regained enough strength in my knee to brake safely while driving a car, so I borrowed my dad’s car to do some things around town.
Unfortunately, a German girl was also out on four wheels that day, and happened to cross paths with me. Literally.
Just a block away from my old high school, she ran a red light and plowed into me on my first day of post-surgery driving. Luckily I realised she was going to blow the light, so I stopped with loads of space for her to steer around me. Unluckily, despite my loud horn blasting to catch her attention, she only hit the brakes as she entered the intersection, and didn’t think to steer around me until the last minute. Even then, she didn’t release her brakes, so she still smashed into me. Luckily for me, I wasn’t hurt or shook up, as I could see it coming and was able to position myself comfortably for the impact.
This is her car, Manfred the Terrible, after the accident:
After we exchanged information, some firemen stopped by to check on us, and they tried and tried to get Manfred started again but he just wouldn’t start. I walked away smugly to my father’s destroyed 1994 Buick, which still started perfectly and drove quite acceptably all the way home (and, later, to the ICBC claims centre).
Suffice it to say, she got 100% of the blame for the accident, and ICBC wrote off my dad’s car as a total loss. I returned to BCAA a couple of days later and renewed my motorcycle insurance. Many days, I had no reason to ride anywhere, but took the motorbike out for a quick spin around town for fun. One day, my friend Stephanie bought a brand new 2012 Honda CBR 250 crotch rocket. Not long after, we met up at Central Park and went for a long ride around town, out to UBC and down to Spanish Banks, where we tried to look cool for this photo. Unfortunately, my helmet messed up my hair so I don’t look as cool as I’d hoped:
Music was flowing all over the place while I was in Vancouver. Among the many musical marvels that made my time in Canada so memorable, these ones really stick out:
In April, while doped up on painkillers, I went with my siblings and a couple of friends to see Chor Leoni, one of the premiere all-male choirs in the world, of which my friend Stash is a member. Their Rebirth spring concert was a nice distraction from the sharp pain and swelling in my knee only four days after my operation.
Only four days after Chor Leoni, myself and a group of my friends piled into the tiny performance theatre at Le Centre Culturel Francophone de Vancouver to watch the Bomb-itty of Errors: a hip-hop adraptation of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. I had low expectations, figuring it would be mechanical and forced, but I went because our friend DJ Oker was the DJ for the play and I wanted to support him. Turns out the Bomb-itty of Errors is a mindbogglingly marvellous mix of old school Shakespeare and old skool rap. It was easily the best stage performance I’ve ever seen. We were in stitches the whole time!
Two days after the Shakespearean adventure, I joined a couple of friends for the CD release party of “Oracles” by the Ruffled Feathers. The band that opened the show is called Jasper Sloan Yip, with Hannah Epperson joining on fiddle and some vocals. You should listen to their music, and then thank me for telling you what to do.
The Ruffled Feathers put on a great show – their new album is full of great tunes! Gina’s voice is something special, and the band beautifully blends trumpet, piano, ukulele, guitars, drums, vocal chords, and more.
To make sure you follow my advice on this one, I’ve made it easy for you to listen (and watch) the Ruffled Feathers: First, place a cushion on your desk to avoid breaking your jaw when it drops, then click the play button below and try to soak everything in. After that, check out their website, where you can get FREE MUSIC!
The day after my birthday, I hopped up the stairs to the choir loft of Oakridge United Church to enjoy a Corpus Christi College Chamber Choir concert. Many of the singers went to the same high school as I did, and I enjoyed spending a year and a half in this choir a decade ago.
One night in May, I met up with my friends Noor and Jasmine, among others. We played some Jenga in one establishment, and invited a couple of people at a nearby table to join us. When the joint closed, instead of going home, the guy runs to his car and pulls out a gorgeous guitar. Instant live music street corner dance party.
A month later, on a particularly rainy night, I found myself with Noor and Jasmine again, but this time in Fortune Sound Club in Chinatown, watching Art vs. Science put on a terrifically energetic show. Not only that, but within seconds of arriving, I recognised the back of one of the heads bobbing around in front of me — the lovely people I knew from weekly documentary night were dancing up a storm right in front of us!
Just fifteen hours later, I was sitting with my brother Dan in the Mainstage tent at Bard on the Beach in Vanier Park, for the Chor Leoni Reeldiculous concert. Sadly, the founder and leader for two decades, Diane Loomer, died in December. In addition to pieces from the Lion King, 8 Mile Road, and South Park, they did a well-choreographed rendition of a song from Kal Ho Naa Ho:
In June, after a dubstep show, a couple of friends and I went to Spanish Banks where we happened upon some friendly strangers who were happy to welcome us to their musical circle around a fire.
While I was in Nova Scotia in August with my dad, we had a couple of really nice “kitchen parties” in the living room. Tom and Geline stopped by one day, and Charlie came around the next! If you don’t know what a kitchen party is, head out to a rural part of Atlantic Canada sometime and ask. You’ll surely be invited to one in no time.
7. Making and tinkering:
It would be unfair if I were to spend six months enjoying everybody else’s musical efforts without doing anything creative myself. So, to keep things balanced, I gave my best shot at making stuff that could be shared with the people around me.
Knowing I would soon be incapable of any real outdoor exertion, I spent many early spring days out in the garden. My objective was to create a walkway using the paving stones my grandfather had carefully laid several decades ago to create a path to the driveway, which this year was due to be torn up. He died eight years before I was born, but I’ve always admired the things he designed and built. I dug up each stone (much harder than I expected – these things are like icebergs, with a lot hidden under the surface!), heaved it onto a trolley, wheeled it out to the boulevard, rotated it 90°, then put it down. This way, I kept as close as possible to my grandfather’s original arrangement. Lots of digging and jumping up and down on stones ensued. As I dug holes to make space for the stones, I put all the dirt nearby for removal later. By the time I finished the path, however, I had such a huge pile of dirt next to it that I decided to create a raised bed there instead. It took about a week in total to do the path and raised bed, but I was pretty happy with the result. I finished well after dark, the night before my knee operation.
My brother and some friends of ours joined me on a number of occasions to brew up some tasty barley juice, following instructions as best we could (i.e. we made a LOT of mistakes). I was surprised at how good the results were after our first couple of batches. Some of the bottles will have aged a year by the time I’m back in Canada to taste them, if they haven’t already been tasted to extinction!
Creativity is fuelled by calories so I spent a lot of time in Vancouver making food. Among the things I made, the simplest was this blueberry-stuffed raspberry:
Other culinary curiosities…
I baked my first apple pie…
…and my first cherry pie, which took a while, owing to the pesky pit I had to remove from each cherry.
And just to be extra healthy, I stuffed a bunch of pickled jalapenos full of cream cheese, then wrapped them in bacon:
I had lots of fun making my accELeration speedcrutches, and even more fun showing them off in public. When my physiotherapist told me I didn’t need to use them anymore, I was actually sad!
Feeling the need to make more things that light up, I created the cranderson enterprises IncrLEDible Power Vest, which I wore every evening at Shambhala:
And what would a summer in BC be, without a Bubble Dome? I wouldn’t know, because my summer in BC did have a Bubble Dome. And it was AWESOME.
9. Casual socialising
Somehow I didn’t find quite enough time to spend with all the people I should have, but I very much enjoyed the time we did spend together. Some of the highlights of the occasions I photographed:
UBC Beer Tasting class in the AMS Council Chambers, Spring 2012:
Sushi at UBC with Helaine, Renée, and AJ:
Science World with Helaine, because the HeliJet flight to Victoria was fully booked:
Kits Beach with Dave:
Enigma brunch with Conrad, Mike, and Geneviève after the last Basement Sound Lounge party:
My St Pat’s high school ten-year reunion downtown, part of a perfect weekend:
10. Admiring Vancouver
No explanations required:
11. Trips out of town
I was lucky enough to make a bunch of short trips during my stay in Canada. I went a few times out to Bowen Island to appreciate the calm beauty of the forest and ocean:
For a second year in a row, Mike C invited me on his friends’ 6th annual May long weekend trip to Kelowna. We ate and ate and ate, and lounged in the sun while people strummed guitars and ukuleles:
We also visited Urban Distilleries again…
…and visited Summerhill Pyramid Winery again…
…and visited a bunch of other wineries in the region, including Quail’s Gate…
..and Mission Hill Winery:
Back in the Lower Mainland, in June a carload of men ventured to the far corner of the Earth (Aldergrove) for a tour of Dead Frog Brewery. The tour, given by Founder and President Derrick Smith, was well-organised, informative, and tasty. Plus, during the drive there, Stash won a radio call-in contest for two movie premiere passes and convinced the host to give him enough for all of us! The movie, Safety Not Guaranteed, blew us all away.
For the Canada Day long weekend, Omid organised a trip to a campsite outside Squamish, where it rained. A lot. We still had fun, the site was beautiful, and Jason made lots of tasty food for me.
In late July, Lisa organised a trip for a group of friends to come out to Bowen Island and do some sea kayaking. I took our rowboat out, and tried my best to keep up. Dan made friends with a couple of seals in Deep Bay:
Jaro is more than 20 years older than me. It’s my favourite boat in the world:
Dinner at Sandy Beach, Bowen Island:
Right after Legendary camping, Conrad and I drove about nine hours to bring the Bubble Dome to Shambhala. Once it was all over and I arrived home, I got a couple nights’ sleep, packed my bags, and boarded a plane with my dad, headed over the mountains toward Nova Scotia.
One day, my uncle John and I went to see the annual sandcastle competition at Clam Harbour Beach, which was neat. Some of the creators, such as this cathedral builder, put a great deal of detail into their designs:
Others focused on the bigger picture, like this gargantuan lobster:
We spent most of the time down home with family in East Ship Harbour, a picturesque little place with beautiful views (when the flies aren’t too much of a distraction).
One day, we drove across the province to Wolfville, where I was born. I’d never visited Wolfville since we left Nova Scotia a quarter century ago, so it was nice to see the town, albeit very quickly. We even managed to find the hospital where I was born, which took some time because it had been downgraded to a community health centre a few years ago – no one we asked on the street knew of any hospital in Wolfville!
Dad and I landed in Vancouver on August 30th, I had a lovely shared going-away party with Chloe on the 31st at the Legion on Commercial Drive, and by the afternoon of September 1st I was back up in the air. Destination? Iraq, with a few days each in Geneva and Amman.
From the moment I arrived in Amman, Jordan – my first visit to the Middle East – I’ve enjoyed my experience tremendously. The mosque near our apartment in Amman has a particularly soothing call to prayer:
After a few short days in Amman, I flew to Erbil, in the autonomous Kurdish part of Iraq. The city, while developing incredibly quickly at the moment, lacks much character, with the exception of the Citadel in the centre of town:
For relatively obvious reasons, I won’t go into much detail about my work with MSF here, though I’d be happy to tell you privately by email or Facebook message. I’m saving up the stories and some photos for a few years down the road. However, here’s a cursory glance to give you some idea of what I’ve been up to in this wonderful country:
Drinking loads of coffee! Turkish coffee, Lebanese coffee, instant coffee, JJ Bean coffee (I brought 4 bags with me!) — there’s been little shortage of caffeine so far.
In September I went up to work in Domiz refugee camp for Syrians. In my first hour there, I saw Angelina Jolie just a few armlengths away:
Walking in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq:
Dusty day in Domiz Refugee Camp:
The city of Duhok is supplied with water from a big reservoir held back by Duhok Dam. What a beautiful place:
I was invited several times to join local friends driving out into the mountains where their families have fruit orchards and cottages. The mountains and valleys made me wish I knew how to paint. The Kurdish farmer below insisted we pick an enormous bag of plums from his trees to take home with us. This kind of generosity is something I experience every day here, from people of all backgrounds – regardless of whether they’re wealthy or not, Kurdish or Arab, Assyrian or Turkomen, whether holding Jordanian or Iraqi or Syrian passports. Iraq is an incredibly friendly country and I’ve been doing my best to let some of it rub off on me.
In October, I flew to Uganda for a two-week training course run by MSF called the Logistics Organisational Training. The site where we lived and did all of our training was right at the edge of Lake Victoria; the setting was as close to ideal as I could have imagined.
There were many lightning storms at night. One night I spent about half an hour perched on a plastic lawn chair of questionable structural integrity, holding onto a barbed wire fence for balance, taking long exposure photos until I got a couple that I liked. This was my favourite, with lots of horizontal lightning:
Of course, we also did some learning, such as installing a quad loop HF skywire antenna. I thought the training course was quite well done overall, and would highly recommend it to other MSF logisticians.
My return flight from Uganda to Iraq involved an overnight 9 hour stopover in Dubai. Not one to sit around an airport when there are adventures within reach, I found some friendly people through CouchSurfing.org to meet up and show me around Dubai by night. I arrived back at the airport in time for my next flight, only to discover that it had been cancelled! They put us on the next flight, 16 hours later, so I left my stuff at the Left Luggage and headed back into sunny Dubai to explore the shiny town by day. This is the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, at dusk:
Back in Iraq, the weather was becoming colder and much wetter. Heavy rains turned Domiz Camp into a very muddy place, but the refugees for the most part continued to put on a brave face and smile as they tried not to lose their shoes in the sticky mess. This garbage truck got stuck and had to be pulled out by a tractor later:
Me with some refugee children:
One of the interesting things I got to do in Domiz was help plan the layout of a new health centre, the construction of which began in mid-November:
A preschool almost ready to open, with roses planted in the inner courtyard and a Kurdistan flag flying:
Looking eastward near the entrance to the camp one evening, I again wished I knew how to paint:
One weekend, we made a trip through the mountains to visit Amêdî, an ancient town perched on a flat mountaintop. This is the view westward from the top:
In December I began working in another project, which is also fascinating. I also signed a three-month contract extension to stay until at least the end of May because this country is so interesting. Since I always take photos of flags, here’s one of the current Iraqi flag, in use since 2008:
In keeping with my accidental pattern of spending every fifth Christmas overseas (Uganda 2002, Denmark 2007), I spent Christmas 2012 in Erbil, celebrated with lovely MSF and ICRC people. Just look at all the homemade Christmas treats!
At 5am on Boxing Day, I flew to Amman, Jordan to search for Santa Claus. Success:
After a couple of days hanging out with friends in Amman, I caught a bus up to Jerash to see the impressive Roman ruins there. Although I went alone, I ended up having a lot of fun because I met a Japanese tourist with whom I explored the ruins properly – going into dark, non-signposted tunnels, jumping down into hidden underground rooms to see where they would lead us, and going far beyond the main sites to which the vast majority of tourists limit themselves.
The next day I rented a 2013 Nissan Sunny in order to make the most of my short stay in Jordan. On December 31st I drove through stunning gorges and valleys along the Dead Sea Highway, stopping to see the sights on the way to Petra. My favourite spot en route was Mukawir, where the ruins of Herod’s fortress are found. It wasn’t the ruins that were particularly impressive, but the snaking roads with breathtaking views on the way there, the mountains dotted with caves, the deep blue of the Dead Sea, and the cliffs of Palestine on the other side.
I slid down the side of the mountain on which Herod’s fortress was built, then jogged along the ridgeline of mountains heading for the Dead Sea, until the strong wind nearly picked me up and threw me off. After that, I walked more carefully for a kilometre, found a rock ledge behind which I could hide from the wind (not unlike the rocks behind which Alasdair Benson and I hid from the elements in the south of France back in April 2003), and spent almost an hour simply chilling and marvelling at how amazing the world is, looking at this:
By the time I arrived in Petra it had already been dark for some time. I found a place to sleep, and by 23:00 I was in bed. Precisely 10 years earlier (literally within minutes of being exactly 10 years apart) I fell asleep in Kampala, only to wake up at 9am and be surprised that my watch showed 1-1-2003 on it. This time it was no surprise to wake up the next year, but I was more than happy to get some shut-eye, for there were some intense adventures awaiting me in Petra and beyond. However, those all happened in 2013, so it may well be another twelve months before I find time to put those photos online… ;-)
Now, if you tell me that you actually read this entire blog post, the longest one with the most photos that I have ever posted, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll believe you. Still, to those of you who graced me with your presence in 2012, thanks for making it a good one. I intend to make 2013 even better (but don’t worry, I don’t plan on writing a blog post this long ever again), and I look forward to the adventures ahead.
As always, I’d love to get an update from you – whether we know each other well or not at all, whether it’s a quick hello or a rambling email telling me every little detail of your life. I promise to read it, no matter how long, and eventually even reply.
[Hint: there are loads of clickable red links in the text below if you're bored and looking for more info]
Last month, after finishing my work in the Democratic Republic of Congo and a weekend spent with my aunt in Uganda, I flew into Geneva for two days of debriefing at MSF Switzerland head office. It was cold but beautiful when we landed:
The view from my hotel room in Geneva:
Four of us had flown together from Uganda to Geneva. Three of us, plus our friend Jan who had left the DR Congo a week before us, managed to meet up for a couple quiet beers and lots of laughs in Geneva.
My friend Julia lives in Geneva now, so we got to hang out too!
In my spare time, aside from debriefing and socialising, I did two things in Geneva:
1. I walked around randomly, proof of which is found in this photo of a bridge decorated with the flags of all the Swiss cantons:
2. On March 8th I went to the first day of the 82e Salon international de l’automobile de Genève, aka the 82nd Geneva International Motor Show, perhaps the most important annual international auto show in the world. Now, I’m the first to admit that I’m not a car guy. I love driving, and I like to stare at pretty cars, but that’s about the limit for me. However, with nothing to do the day before flying out of Geneva, and seeing that the normal price of about $16 was cut in half after 16:00, I decided to catch the bus out to the Palexpo in the afternoon and have a look.
There was no way to fit even a quarter of the floor space into one photo, which gives an idea of just how big this show was:
The Salon de l’auto showcased everything from familiar family vehicles to eccentric electric cars to stupefying supercars to creative concept cars, some of which are fully drivable, others being only display concepts. Let’s start out by looking at a small selection of the electric and hybrid vehicles I saw…
Rinspeed, a design firm which makes some pretty cool stuff, this year premiered their Dock+Go electric vehicle range extender concept. Essentially, it’s like an extra battery that attaches to the rear of a modified Smart ForTwo car to give it a longer driving range. A number of custom non-battery designs have also been produced, to extend the Smart car’s functionality. This one, for instance, includes DJ decks and speakers:
This is the Opel RAK e electric concept car, which looks really cool, is well-suited to city driving, and hopefully will lead to a production model sometime soon:
The Tesla Roadster is a highway-capable all-electric car which uses a Lotus Elise glider as its foundation, with an electric powertrain. Two new Tesla models were premiered at this show, but I didn’t take photos of them.
Infiniti showed off the Emerg-E electric supercar concept for the first time ever in Geneva. It’s one very good-looking car, capable of 480km on one battery charge with its gasoline engine recharging system. It’s Infiniti’s first supercar, and it’s electric! Way to make a bold statement, which is apparently aimed at getting the company a foothold in the European car market by making a scene.
For some reason I didn’t take a photo of the entire Fisker Karma electric car, only the solar panel on the roof which is, according to the manufacturer, “the largest solar glass roof ever designed for a production vehicle”.
BMW also had their updated i8 hybrid concept sportscar on display. Normally I don’t care much for bimmers, but this is one very neat-looking (and most likely pricey, when it eventually makes it to production in 2014 or 2015) car. Random fact: the teaser videos for the i3 and i8 were both filmed in Vancouver.
This Giugiaro Brivido hybrid coupe concept is super sleek, with long gullwing doors that allow access to the front and rear seats at the same time:
Among the many “conventional”, fuelled vehicles at the Geneva Motor Show, these ones caught my eye:
…and the Lotus Formula 1 race car:
I spent a fair bit of time staring in awe at two Pagani cars on display. The artistry and technology that went into these vehicles is astounding (like many of the vehicles at the show, actually). What I didn’t know until I got home and did some internet research: the two Pagani cars of which I took photos are both Pagani Huayras. This Pagani Huayra White Edition had its doors, bonnet, and boot closed while the Carbon Fibre Edition, below, had all of them open. The only difference between the two is that, in the Carbon Fibre Edition, the exterior is a carbon fibre coating and a lot of interior elements are carbon fibre. The name Huayra refers to the god of wind worshipped by the Puruhá Quechuas and Aymaras in the Andes in Bolivia and Peru before their conversion to Christianity.
The Huayra bonnet, when opened, looks like a bat:
Amazing custom leather work inside, among other cool things about this fascinating car:
The Italian design firm, Bertone, premiered the Bertone Nuccio concept, which looks cooler in person and in road videos than in my photos. One interesting thing about this car is that it has no rear windscreen because the angles of the car body would make a rear windscreen useless for seeing anything. Instead, they mounted an LCD monitor inside the car, which displays the view from an exterior rear view camera (which you can see if you look carefully on the orange part). This way, a driver’s natural habit of looking in the rear-view mirror still provides an image of what’s behind.
I see Maseratis driving around Vancouver quite frequently, and this one didn’t strike me as particularly unique, but I took this photo because the blue paint job made this car look amazing despite no huge design breakthroughs from Maserati at this auto show. Turns out this was a world premiere for this model, the Maserati GranTurismo Sport, a slight upgrade from the long-running GranTurismo S:
The Lotus Evora GTE road car concept was also being shown off:
There were also a few retro-style, brand new cars at which I marvelled as I strolled around the huge halls of the Geneva Palexpo. For instance, this Alfa Romeo Disco Volante, which blends the past and future into something unbelievably cool-looking. Literally translating as “Flying Saucer”, the Disco Volante model was produced in 1952-1953. The 2012 concept, first shown to the world at this Geneva International Motor Show, is actually an Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione with a different aluminium body and some carbon fibre elements.
Wiesmann showed off a Roadster MF3 Final Edition, one of only 18 produced, each with a unique paint job. This particular one, named Scuba Mobile, will also give the buyer VIP access to a number of races, but only if the car itself is driven to the events – the car is the VIP ticket.
There was also a world premiere all-electric Morgan Plus E concept, seen in the background below. The foreground, however, shows two Morgan 3 Wheelers. These are powered by S&S V-twin engines mounted on the front – very cool. A number of Morgan 3-wheeled vehicles were produced from 1910 to 1953, and were apparently very popular at the time. Since last year, the company has been making this new version, which has been very well received. I wish I had one!
This Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse, another world premiere in Geneva, is currently the fastest serially produced convertible in history, capable of 410 km/h.
While not as fast as the Bugatti Veyron series of cars, the latest Ferrari is quite impressive as well. The F12 Berlinetta, also first shown to the world in Geneva this year, hits speeds up to 340 km/h and is therefore the fastest roadworthy Ferrari yet produced. Sleek design, too.
Yet ANOTHER world premiere at the 2012 Geneva International Auto Show was the gorgeous, and Sveeedish, 2013 edition of the Koenigsegg Agera R. For this new version, Koenigsegg has introduced a world first – hollow, one-piece, carbon fibre car wheels (Aircore technology, they call it). Imponerande och jättesnabb. If the Agera R’s theoretical top speed of approximately 440 km/h can be independently tested and verified, it would move Bugatti’s fastest car to second on the list.
Last, but the opposite of least, is perhaps the most talked-about world premiere of the 82e Salon international de l’automobile de Genève: the Lamborghini Aventador J, of which only one – this one – exists. Even I, a complete ignoramus when it comes to cars, could tell as I walked up to this display that I was seeing a new type of Lamborghini. In my opinion, it’s the coolest one (at least in appearance) yet. I took tonnes of photos and later found out online that this is a one-off creation specifically to make a scene at the Geneva motor show which took less than two months from the time the Lamborghini CEO asked the design team to produce something new and fantastic, to the day it was unveiled in Geneva. And yes, it’s got all the legal stuff taken care of – it’s fully roadworthy. It only cost about 3 million dollars after taxes for the anonymous, obviously middle class dude who bought it.
“Look ma, no windscreen!”
Check out the space-age rear-view mirror:
I think I’m starting to see why some people get so interested in cars…
Back on January 5th, I got a call from MSF Canada asking me to leave on the 7th for a short contract in DR Congo with the emergency team. I quickly finished typing up my annual update, then proceeded to cancel all the plans I’d made to meet up with friends. Having spent only two weeks in Vancouver after six months abroad, I first flew to Geneva, Switzerland for a briefing and to get my Congolese visa.
Of course, what would a flight to Geneva be without a stopover in Frankfurt, Germany? With about five hours to spare before the second leg of my flight, I was through customs and in the airport train station within minutes of landing. I’d never been to Frankfurt before, only the airport (the only time in my entire life that I missed a flight, in March 2008, due to a late connection, I spent many hours in the Frankfurt airport) and train station, so this was a great chance to have a quick look. As luck would have it, while I looked for the right train to take me into town, I got a phone call from a random German number. It turned out to be none other than my good friend Darren Peets, who was already in the airport waiting to surprise me!
This was a terrific surprise, and really made my day! Not only was it great to see an old friend in an unfamiliar place, but it also meant I had to put zero effort into figuring out the trains and various signs in German, as Darren handled all that with ease. Together, we visited an old church, strolled around the old town centre admiring neat old buildings, walked over and quite a ways along the river, ate German food outside while the restaurant staff looked at us as if we were a pair of crazy Canadians, and caught up on each others’ lives over the course of about three hours hanging out.
This bridge over the river is decorated with thousands of padlocks, each symbolic of a couple’s love. Every once in a while, they’re all removed by the city.
After Darren and I returned to the airport and said our goodbyes, I caught a quick flight to Geneva and headed to my hotel to sleep. I spent the next day at the MSF Switzerland office meeting a few people for briefings, getting my documents in order, and generally appearing out of place. Early the next morning, before the sun had shown his face to the snow-covered Swiss Alps, I caught a taxi to the airport with two colleagues. After downing a much-needed coffee, we were soon up in the air over Geneva.
That first flight took us only a short distance, to Brussels, Belgium where we rushed from one side of the airport to the other, with the typical Brussels Airport ridiculously long queue to get through security. We then flew to Kampala, Uganda with a one hour stopover in Kigali, Rwanda. After a night’s sleep in Kampala, we headed to Kajjansi Airfield and boarded a tiny little Cessna 206 to head to DR Congo.
From Kajjansi Airfield we first flew seven minutes to Entebbe International Airport to clear customs, during which time I was in the co-pilot seat for the first time in my life.
At Entebbe Airport, pictured below, we went through customs and bought food from the duty free store, then continued on to Bunia, DR Congo.
Heading out of Entebbe, and over Lake Victoria:
Winding road just outside Bunia, Province Orientale, Democratic Republic of Congo:
We landed happily in Bunia on January 10th and by the 12th were back at the airport, this time to board a slightly larger Cessna 208 Caravan I, which would take us from Bunia to Faradje, in the northeast corner of DR Congo, not far from South Sudan and Uganda.
For this final flight, I was seated the farthest back, just in front of the rear door. This turned out to be an excellent seat choice: as the plane began to pick up speed, there was a loud click, and a warning light on the pilot’s dashboard lit up red. The pilot looked back toward me, with the unhappy grimace of a father trying to manage some semblance of control over his difficult children on the drive to school in the morning. “OK, who left the door open?” he says. Of course, the answer was obviously his ground crew, but I figured out how to close and latch the door pretty quickly, the red light turned off, and within seconds we were climbing high into the sky.
The flight from Bunia to Faradje took exactly 60 minutes. The large Catholic church is visible near the top of this photo of Faradje from above, as we did a quick pass over the town before landing. Just below and to the left of the church is the parish centre where the priests live, and where we slept during our time in Faradje:
Having landed in Faradje, we went straight to work organising a measles vaccination campaign for the town. More on that in the next post.
While we were in Bern for a day trip, a few of us decided it would be a good idea to stay the night and go to Interlaken the following day rather than return to Geneva. By the end of much discussion, only three of us were really willing to do it, and so Devon, Drew, and myself booked ourselves into a hostel in Bern. It was a decision well-rewarded, as the next day would prove to be my favourite of all my entire trip to Switzerland, and one of the funnest days of travelling I’ve had in all my years of wandering.
The whole group came to the hostel before going back to Geneva and together we had a big, homemade delicious pasta meal with salad and bread, a group effort directed by Devon who is a trained chef. After the meal, everyone but us three boys headed back to Geneva, and we headed to bed.
In the morning us three boys literally sprinted to the train station and climbed on board our train to Interlaken as it was about to pull away.
Once we arrived at the Interlaken Ost train station, we bought another train ticket for a shorter ride to Lauterbrunnen, altitude 800m, then caught a cablecar up the side of the mountain to Grütschalp, where the walking trails begin (the red lines show two train rides and the cablecar, the green line is what we walked).
Completely unprepared and wearing the same clothes as the day before, we set out on a mission to conquer the Swiss Alps.
Devon ponders the grandeur of the Alps and the valley below from the cablecar
The snow-covered trail as we set out on our walk
Across the valley, the postcard-perfect stereotypical image of Switzerland
We stopped at a little town up on the side of the mountain called Mürren, ate our bagged lunch, and talked a lot.
There were some nifty little black birds flying around our sitting area
That’s a LOT of firewood
When we reached the point of our walk at which we had to turn around to make it back to our train on time, we decided we’d stretch our muscles then do some cliff-jumping. There are a series of small cliffs about 3 metres high which form sort of terraces or steps down part of the mountain, and by jumping off each one we found we got to the bottom a lot faster than our climb up the mountain. We captured some of the more glorious leaps on camera:
This guy knew how to get down the mountain even faster than us!
Someone lost a shoe on the mountain, but we never found a body so hopefully he/she managed to get home safely.
This is the train for the lazy people who don’t want to walk
We made it back to Bern just in time to jump on the train back to Geneva and off we went. That evening in Geneva our whole group of 12 people had one last communal meal at a nice restaurant and we had speeches and laughter and all that good, sappy stuff. Juan and I enjoyed our supper so much that we took photos of each course. This photo shows the amazing dessert, and my sunburnt face. Yep, it was rather bright in the Alps and we had no sunscreen. The next day the burn was gone though, because of quick aloe vera application thanks to Devon who had some in our Geneva hotel room.
The next morning we headed to the airport for our flight home. Juan and I caught a separate train as we had been waiting for a straggler.