Category Archives: Switzerland

6th Annual Annual Update

Dear [insert relation],

A good friend of mine occasionally publishes a film review, which is invariably… concise. And so, in the spirit of learning from friends, I present to you my 6th Annual Annual Update:

Today, I will be reviewing 2013. I thought 2013 was interesting.



For my [insert relation, plural form] who would like me to elaborate further, hereunder can be found a selection of 80 photos from the year 2013. But first, a pie chart!

PhotoDiarist countries visited in 2013

On the first day of 2013, I woke up on Mars. Pretty cool place.

Martian landscape

After Mars, I returned to Earth and visited Petra, Jordan. I’ve been to a lot of interesting places, but I’ve not found any suitably strong superlatives with which to describe Petra.

Ornate Nabatean family tomb in Petra, Jordan

In that first week of January I visited a bunch of other places in Jordan and jumped really high for this selfie, which shows how happy I was during most of my Jordan adventures:

Jumping in Jordan

Then it was back to work in Iraq, where I saw the White House in passing several times (it’s the headquarters of the KUP, a major Kurdish political party) while driving to and from Kirkuk.

PUK headquarters outside Erbil, Iraq

In late February, I flew back to Sweden for the first time since 2009, for a United Nations Logistics Induction Course. Instead of arriving directly to the training just outside Lund, I flew instead to Gothenberg to see some old friends. I spent the first couple of nights staying with Vania and Dave at their home in the forest overlooking a frozen lake while horses grazed on tall blades of grass jutting out of the snow. How’s that for a contrast from Iraq?

Dave and Vania in Sweeeden

Next, I spent some time with my old friend Namiko, including a raucous raclette night with a bunch of Swedes.

Namiko!

And then, it was time for the training course, which involved a lot of sitting, listening, and talking. It was interesting, though!

UN Logistics Induction Training at MSB Revinge, Sweden

At the end of the training, we were driven across the bridge from Malmö, Sweden to Copenhagen, Denmark,

Copenhagen canal scene

and in the outskirts of Copenhagen we visited the massive, relatively new, and mostly automated (read: cool robots running the show!) Unicef warehouse.

Unicef warehouse in Copenhagen, Denmark

As the other participants headed to the airport to fly to their home countries, I took a train back across the bridge to Malmö, where I met and stayed with a particularly inspiring young couchsurfer and her inspiring housemate, sharing hours of conversation, then flew the next day back to Iraq.

Back in Iraq, we had to spend a few weeks out of the project location for security reasons, so instead of sitting around bored in Erbil, I went back up to Duhok (where I’d spent three months in late 2012) to lend a hand to the logistics team in Domiz Refugee Camp. And, lucky me, the day I arrived was a special day to celebrate traditional Kurdish dress, so my friends were all dressed up!

Salih, Ziyad, and Dilovan in traditional Kurdish dress

I had left Domiz Refugee Camp at the end of November 2012, at which point only the foundation was finished on the new health centre I had designed for the camp with the help of the Directorate of Health engineer. I was happy to find the centre had opened about five weeks before my return, though it was already starting to prove too small for the constantly growing camp population.

Domiz Refugee Camp Health Centre

I stayed in Duhok for two weeks, during which time a windstorm followed by a sandstorm did some serious damage to the huge tents MSF was using as extra clinic space:

Nahla rues the health centre tents destroyed by a storm

Many of my midday meals in March came from this kebab shop in the camp:

Kebab shop in Domiz Refugee Camp, Iraq

It was springtime, the best time of year to visit Duhok, if you ever have an opportunity.

Duhok, Iraq

After a lovely stay and a lot of hard work, I headed back down to work in Kirkuk and Hawijah in the last week of March.

On April 1st, my friends and colleagues in Kirkuk, Iraq bought me a cake because they thought it was my birthday, despite the fact that I never told anyone it was my birthday (it was not),

April Fools birthday cake in Kirkuk

and did a lot of springtime hiking in the mesmerising mountains of northern Iraq, in the Kurdish Autonomous Region:

Hiking in the mountains of Kurdistan, Iraq

Hiking in the mountains of Kurdistan, Iraq

Hiking in the mountains of Kurdistan, Iraq

Hiking in the mountains of Kurdistan, Iraq

In May, still in Iraq, I deliberately smashed my car into other people as hard as I could!

Bumper cars in Iraq

Bumper cars in Iraq

I also oversaw the start of construction on our new house,

The start of construction in Hawijah

The start of construction in Hawijah

ate huuuge meals in the temporary house I’d designed and had a contractor build,

Typical meal made by families of our staff in Hawijah

did more hiking in Kurdistan, luckily surviving each trip,

Trying not to fall off the edge of the world in Iraq

and played ping pong in my plaid pyjamas.

Ping pong in the basement

The first day of June was my last day in Iraq, so I caught a taxi to Duhok to visit my old friends, who then took me to see one of Saddam’s old palaces,

One of Saddam's former palaces in Kurdistan, Iraq

and we nearly got the little car stuck while offroading!

Getting Ziyad's car unstuck

During the next week, I spent time with Turkish protestors in Taksim Square, Istanbul,

Hanging out with protestors in Taksim Square, Istanbul, Turkey

had a sunny sidewalk lunch with Julia in Geneva, Switzerland,

Julia in Geneva

celebrated Aidan’s birthday in Aylesbury, England,

Aidan in Aylesbury

had tasty Thai food in London with Malin,

Malin in London

crashed at Dave’s place and talked over beers, finally visited Tate Modern after more than ten years of frequent visits to London,

Tate Modern colourful lights exhibit

ate lunch with Miriam, then took an out-of-focus selfie in the bus station,

Miriam in London

caught up with Sam over coffee, then took an out-of-focus selfie at the British Red Cross office,

Sam in London

stared as hundreds of people cycled past in the World Naked Bike Ride (which, incidentally, originated in Vancouver),

World Naked Bike Ride, London 2013

laughed with Will and Natalie,

Will and Natalie in London

talked about Amnesty International and things less serious with Estelle,

Estelle in London

then flew back to Canada.

In July I managed to catch the last Ruffled Feathers show before their lineup changed,

The Ruffled Feathers at the Biltmore, Vancouver

and that same night I saw Laura Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk and bought their album, to which I listened many times over the following months.

Laura Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk at the Biltmore, Vancouver

I also found this beautiful Golden Buprestid beetle on Bowen Island,

Colourful bug on Bowen Island

repaired a small bridge with my brother,

Dan testing our rebuilt log bridge by jumping up and down

spent time with AJ at Queen Elizabeth Park where we spent a few moments appreciating a monkey puzzle tree,

AJ mesmerised by the monkey puzzle tree

began restoration work on our family’s old rowboat,

Restoring a fifty-year-old rowboat

witnessed my friends catch a hipster crab,

Hipster crab drinks PBR

witnessed my sister’s friend get served coffee at a Main Street cafe out of the exact same Christmas mug we’ve had in our family’s home for years,

Mug match

witnessed a beautiful fireworks show from the West End balcony of a friend of a friend,

Vancouver fireworks in English Bay

cycled around the seawall and under the Lion’s Gate Bridge,

Lion's Gate Bridge

took a shameless bathroom selfie with Shawn and Denise,

Shameless selfie with Shawn and Denise

admired Mark’s colourful carrots at one of many delightful documentary nights,

Colourful carrots with Mark

got help from two siblings to pack my things again, and left Canada once more.

Lisa helping me pack for Afghanistan

In August I enjoyed an evening in Amsterdam with my friend Martin and a day of meetings and walks along canals,

Amsterdam canal scene

then arrived in Afghanistan for the first time and flew to Helmand,

Flying with ICRC in Afghanistan

saw these fantastic locally-made, heat-activated coffee mugs,

Neat heat-activated mugs

and figured out how to service and repair industrial laundry washing machines.

Repairing a hospital laundry washing machine

In September I continued to eat a LOT of good food,

Big spread of Afghan food

found a scorpion on my bedroom floor, just a few centimetres from my bare foot,

Scorpion in my bedroom

laughed daily at something new,

We did not shortlist him for an interview

figured out how to take apart an x-ray machine, and luckily also how to reassemble it after repairing it,

Trying not to forget how to put the x-ray machine back together

spent a weekend in Kabul, with a short but scenic visit to the top of TV Mountain,

South side of Kabul as seen from TV Mountain

and learned how to use a compactor as I began work on a water backup system for the hospital.

Learning to use a compactor in Helmand

In October I worked too much, slept too little.

In transit to Nepal in November, I spent a night in Dubai hanging out with couchsurfers I met there in 2012.

Dubai cityscape

In Nepal I made a new friend – a singer, climbing instructor, and trekking guide,

Lama singing in Kathmandu

saw some colourful things,like Boudhanath,

Boudhanath, Kathmandu

learned the correct way to eat rice with my hands,

Learning to eat rice correctly

went hiking in the Himalayas and lost my glasses,

played basketball for the first time in years, at over 2800m altitude, and lost,

Basketball in the Himalayas

played Carrom for the first time in my life, at over 2600m altitude, and lost,

Carrom board in the Himalayas

ran as fast as I could off the side of a mountain for the first time ever, and won (my paragliding instructor bet another instructor that we could reach the highest altitude first, and we did).

Paragliding over Pokhara, Nepal

In November I also saw massive sets of reinforcement bars being assembled in Dubai during my return trip to Afghanistan,

Massive reinforcements in Dubai

and watched the Helmand River rise dramatically after just a few hours of rain.

Helmand River rising

In December I saw a tanker truck transported on top of a bus in Lashkar Gah,

Tanker on a bus, Lashkar Gah

marvelled at this small pickup making its way through town,

Overloaded pickup, Lashkar Gah

caught a mouse and ate it to show my staff how tough I am,

Eating a mouse

learned how to use a massive new incinerator (which might double as a superspeed pizza oven if I get my way),

Loading the big new incinerator

catnapped a kitten from the hospital, taught her some manners, and named her Lion,

Lion

flew from Lashkar Gah to Kabul for a weekend off,

Bost Airport

got MRI exams for both my knees and looked through the resulting images as if I had a clue,

MRI results for my knee

woke up on December 30th to find the first snowfall of the season had settled on the streets as I slept,

First snowfall of the year in Kabul

watched the biggest snowplow I’ve ever seen, clearing the runways at Kabul Airport,

Snowplow clearing the runways of Kabul International Airport

flew back to Helmand over spectacularly beautiful Afghan winter landscapes,

Snowy Afghan landscape

woke up to my midnight alarm blaring as 2013 came to a close, and sent a text message to spark one of my grand adventures of 2014, which was just then beginning to take shape.


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 (this year, it took me 11 months to reply to some people, but I did reply!).

Annual update v5: Now with twice the pictures!

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

Pie charts are tasty

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.

Buying donuts in Faradje, DRC

Faradje, DRC

Flying co-pilot from Faradje to Dungu

Dungu, DRC

MSF measles vaccination in Dungu, DRC

Cessna 208 Caravan I

MSF measles vaccination near Ndedu, DRC

MSF measles vaccination in Kpekpere, DRC

Children in Duru, DRC

I also caught a few peanuts:

Chris Anderson, Peanut Catcher Extraordinaire from Chris Anderson on Vimeo.

After finishing in DRC in early March, I spent an excellent long weekend with my Aunty Jo in Kampala

Me and Aunty Jo in Kampala, Uganda

…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.

2012 Koenigsegg Agera

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:

4 days post-op ACL right knee

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:

1. Family

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!

Lisa with the house cat

Family birthdays with tasty cakes baked by Dad:

Josephine's birthday

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:

Childhood home in Vancouver torn down

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:

Family home

My brother salvaged a large part of the garage to make a neat shed, with some help from my dad and Matt D, the evening before the cat came to play.

Dan and Dad salvaging part of the garage

The next day…

Destroying the garage

Destroying the garage

Destroying the garage

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?

Jos and Britt in the Global TV cafeteria

The staff kindly invited me to sit in the wings and watch:

Sticking Place Film on Global TV

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!

Leah Callahan thumb-wrestles contestant at Sticking Place Film launch

Check out the Sticking Place interactive film by clicking the picture below:

Sticking Place Film - Leah Callahan

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.

Visiting family in Nova Scotia

Visiting family in Nova Scotia

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!

Stained glass lampshade handcrafted by my Dad

2. Bicycles

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).

BumbleBike

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:

Relaxing near the Roundhouse Community Centre

Apparently our 2nd place victory high-five was quite painful for her…

2nd place high-five

I also got to watch a couple of cycle races in Vancouver. This one was on West 10th Avenue, from Trimble up to Sasamat:

Adults on toddler bicycles on West 10th Avenue, Vancouver

Two weeks later, with my friends Mike and Lauren, I sped downtown on my BumbleBike to watch the end of the Gastown Grand Prix:

2012 Gastown Grand Prix bicycle race, Vancouver

3. Parties

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:

DJ Goremay spins at UBC Blank Canvass 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:

UBC Blank Canvass party

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).

Maria in the Shower performing for Lisa's birthday

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!

Paulie and Jana painting Oscar the Grouch for my birthday

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.

Scantily Clad Clowns performing at eatART party

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:

Mark and me at Moon Rock Disco - Woodstock in Space

Moon Rock Disco 2, a final farewell to the Basement Sound Lounge, was also a big hit with the laser lovers (which is everyone).

Preparing for Moon Rock Disco 2

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.

Danielle's Hello Kitty birthday

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.

Glowsticks on ceiling fan - great idea

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.

Pagoda stage at Shambhala 2012

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:

Conrad preparing for a June bike dance party

Bike Dance Party in June:

EL wire and flashy lights at bike dance party

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.

Vancouver Bike Rave 2012

While the Bike Rave was winding down, some people played around with LED hula hoops:

Post-Vancouver Bike Rave

(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!

July 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.

Removing fuel tank from 1979 Honda CM400T motorcycle

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:

Manfred the Jeep is a terrible driver

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).

Dad's car totalled by Manfred the Jeep

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:

Steph's Honda motorcycle is 33 years younger than mine

6. Music

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.

Chor Leoni Rebirth concert 2012

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!

DJ Oker spinning for the Bomb-itty of Errors Vancouver

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.

Jasper Sloan Yip and Hannah Epperson

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.

The Ruffled Feathers Oracles CD release party

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.

Corpus Christi College Chamber Choir 2012

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.

Post-Jenga street dancing

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!

Art vs Science

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:

Chor Leoni Reeldiculous 2012

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.

Rolly playing at the beach

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.

Tom Cohoon in East Ship Harbour

Charlie DeWolfe in East Ship Harbour

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.

Boulevard path and floral island

Aquilegia flower

Poppy

Free roses

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!

Dan racking beer from the secondary fermenter

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:

Blueberry inside raspberry equals flavour explosion

Other culinary curiosities…

Pasta salad and garlic bread

Cheese melted with basil on tomatoes

Four huge brownies with walnuts

I baked my first apple pie…

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.

Preparing my first cherry pie

And just to be extra healthy, I stuffed a bunch of pickled jalapenos full of cream cheese, then wrapped them in bacon:

Bacon-wrapped jalapeno peppers

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!

cranderson enterprises accELeration speedcrutches

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:
cranderson enterprises incrLEDible power vest

Cranderson Enterprises IncrLEDible Power Vest from Chris Anderson on Vimeo.

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.

Using a drill press

Testing the Bubble Dome

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:

UBC Beer Tasting class, Spring 2012

Sushi at UBC with Helaine, Renée, and AJ:

Sushi at UBC with Helaine, Renée, and AJ

Science World with Helaine, because the HeliJet flight to Victoria was fully booked:

Science World with Helaine

Kits Beach with Dave:

Kits Beach with Dave

Enigma brunch with Conrad, Mike, and Geneviève after the last Basement Sound Lounge party:

Enigma brunch with Conrad, Mike, and Geneviève

My St Pat’s high school ten-year reunion downtown, part of a perfect weekend:

10 year high school reunion

10. Admiring Vancouver

No explanations required:

Cherry blossoms under storm clouds on 22nd Avenue

Science World

Burrard Street Bridge from a False Creek Ferry

BC Place Stadium at sunset

Irving K Barber (Main) library at UBC

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:

Bowen Island, BC

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:

Guitar strumming in Kelowna, BC

We also visited Urban Distilleries again…

Urban Distilleries, Kelowna

…and visited Summerhill Pyramid Winery again…

Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Kelowna

…and visited a bunch of other wineries in the region, including Quail’s Gate

Quail's Gate Estate Winery, Kelowna

..and Mission Hill Winery:

Airplane at Mission Hill Winery, Kelowna

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.

Dead Frog Brewery, Aldergrove, BC

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.

Unofficial camping trip outside Squamish

Lichen

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:

Two harbour seals with Dan in Deep Bay, Bowen Island

Jaro is more than 20 years older than me. It’s my favourite boat in the world:

Me rowing Jaro in Deep Bay, Bowen Island

Dinner at Sandy Beach, Bowen Island:

Sandy Beach, Bowen Island

A few days later, on the August long weekend, a few carloads of us drove out to Ashnola Campground for the 6th annual Legendary Annual Summer Camping Trip. I spent the entire weekend as a gecko.

Legendary Annual Summer Camping Trip - Gecko and the Danger Flag

Gecko woodsplitting at Legendary Annual Summer Camping Trip v6

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.

Aerial view of the Rockies

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:

Sandcastle cathedral, Clam Harbour, Nova Scotia

Others focused on the bigger picture, like this gargantuan lobster:

Giant sand lobster, Clam Harbour, Nova Scotia

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).

East Ship Harbour

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!

Eastern Kings Memorial Community Health Centre (formerly hospital)

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:

Mosque minaret in Amman, Jordan

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:

Citadel, Erbil, Iraq

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.

Coffee, Iraq

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:

Angelina Jolie in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq

Walking in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq:

Walking in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq

Dusty day in Domiz Refugee Camp:

Dusty day in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq

The city of Duhok is supplied with water from a big reservoir held back by Duhok Dam. What a beautiful place:

Duhok Reservoir, Iraq

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.

Kurdish farmer picking plums in his orchard

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.

Fisherman at sunset on Lake Victoria, Uganda

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:

Lightning near Entebbe, Uganda

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.

MSF training - setting up HF quadraloop antenna

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:

Burj Khalifa at dusk, Dubai

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:

Garbage truck stuck in mud in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq

Me with some refugee children:

With refugee children in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq

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:

Foundation for the new health centre in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq

A preschool almost ready to open, with roses planted in the inner courtyard and a Kurdistan flag flying:

Preschool in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq with Kurdistan flag

Looking eastward near the entrance to the camp one evening, I again wished I knew how to paint:

Late afternoon near the entrance to Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq

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:

Looking west from Amêdî, Iraqi Kurdistan

The following week, three of us drove to Zakho, where we visited the famed Delal Bridge, built many centuries ago:

Delal Bridge, Zakho, Iraq

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:

Modern Iraq flag

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!

Christmas goodies in Erbil, Iraq

At 5am on Boxing Day, I flew to Amman, Jordan to search for Santa Claus. Success:

Santa Bus outside Amman, Jordan

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.

Jerash, Jordan

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.

Looking out from a sandstone cave in Mukawir, Jordan

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:

Dead Sea view from Mukawir, Jordan

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.

Cars, Cars, Cars: The 82nd Salon international de l’automobile Genève

[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:

Flying into Geneva, over Lac Léman

The view from my hotel room in Geneva:

View from my hotel 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.

A beer with colleagues in Geneva

My friend Julia lives in Geneva now, so we got to hang out too!

Me and Julia

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:

Flags of all the Swiss cantons on a bridge in Geneva

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:

Partial view of the floor of the 82nd Geneva International Motor Show

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…

This is the EDAG Light Car concept, which the company hopes to sell for use as a shared car (think along the lines of Car2Go, but the Light Car is a six seater instead of two)

EDAG Light Car

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:

Rinspeed Dock+Go electric vehicle range extender, front side view

Rinspeed Dock+Go electric vehicle range extender, rear view

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:

Opel RAK e electric concept car, front side view

Opel RAK e electric concept car, rear side view

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.

Tesla Roadster Sport

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.

Infiniti Emerg-E electric supercar concept

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”.

Fisker Karma solar glass roof

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.

BMW i8 hybrid concept sportscar, front view

BMW i8 hybrid concept sportscar, side view

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:

Giugiaro Brivido hybrid coupe concept car, passenger side view

Giugiaro Brivido hybrid coupe concept car, driver side view

Among the many “conventional”, fuelled vehicles at the Geneva Motor Show, these ones caught my eye:

Lotus brought three race cars to the show, including this LMP2 race car made by Lola for long races like the 12 Hours of Sebring or the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Lotus-funded Lola LMP2 race car

…and the Lotus Formula 1 race car:

Lotus F1 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.

Pagani Huayra, side view

Pagani Huayra, rear view

The Huayra bonnet, when opened, looks like a bat:

Pagani Huayra Carbon Edition, front view with bonnet open

Amazing custom leather work inside, among other cool things about this fascinating car:

Pagani Huayra Carbon Edition, open interior passenger side view

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.

Bertone Nuccio Concept, side view

Bertone Nuccio Concept, rear view

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:

Maserati GranTurismo Sport

The Lotus Evora GTE road car concept was also being shown off:

Lotus Evora GTE road car concept

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.

Alfa Romeo Disco Volante, side view

Alfa Romeo Disco Volante, rear view

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.

Wiesmann Roadster MF3 Final Edition

Morgan, a British car company, had several retro style vehicles on display, including the Morgan Aero Coupe with signature triple windscreen wipers:

Morgan Aero Coupe

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!

Two Morgan 3 Wheelers

Morgan 3 Wheeler V-Twin close-up

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.

Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse

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.

Ferrari F12 Berlinetta

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.

2013 Koenigsegg Agera R, side view

2013 Koenigsegg Agera R, rear view

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.

Lamborghini Aventador J, front driver side view

“Look ma, no windscreen!”

Lamborghini Aventador J, front view

Lamborghini Aventador J, rear view

Check out the space-age rear-view mirror:

Lamborghini Aventador J, front passenger side view

Lamborghini Aventador J, passenger side close-up

I think I’m starting to see why some people get so interested in cars…

Vancouver to Frankfurt to Geneva to Brussels to Kigali to Kampala to Bunia to Faradje in 5 days

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.

Sunset over the clouds en route to Frankfurt, Germany

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!

Darren and me in Frankfurt

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.

Frankfurt old town centre, with massive Christmas tree

Frankfurt old town centre

Neat tower in Frankfurt, Germany

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.

Pedestrian bridge with love locks in Frankfurt, Germany

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.

Taking off from Geneva, Switzerland

Flying out of Switzerland

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.

Preparing to board a Cessna 206 at Kajjansi Airfield, Uganda

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.

Cessna 206 interior design

At Entebbe Airport, pictured below, we went through customs and bought food from the duty free store, then continued on to Bunia, DR Congo.

Entebbe International Airport, Uganda

Heading out of Entebbe, and over Lake Victoria:

Fishing boats line the shore of Lake Victoria

Winding road just outside Bunia, Province Orientale, Democratic Republic of Congo:

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.

Loading cargo on a Cessna 208 Caravan I at Bunia Murongo Airport

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:

Faradje from above

Having landed in Faradje, we went straight to work organising a measles vaccination campaign for the town. More on that in the next post.