The human experience is an interesting and difficult one and it’s not easy easily summarized. Two good friends of mine showed up on my doorstep the other day after much time on the road traveling. I found it amazing that their travels across the globe landed them with an extended stop in Chilliwack. These folks have chosen a very interesting life path, filled with all kinds of experiences that are not what we would call normative here in Canada, and yet somehow their lives are beautiful in their transience and simplicity.
The clothes that they wear and the bikes they ride reflect the path that they been on for some time now. They are a culmination of experiences from around the globe, of cultures from across each continent. They have masks strapped to handlebars and wood carved things lashed onto panniers made from their old backpacks from a decade or more ago. These people have travelled the world, seen 77 countries and spoke the local languages. They are Globetrotters.
My experiences with Peter and Shahla began in 2009 in a little town in Egypt called Dahab. This sandbox place is a refuge for travellers on their way through the Middle East, something of an oasis of a community and a beautiful mix between Egyptian culture and Western comforts. Cute little hostels dot the long white sand beaches along the Red Sea, accessing some of the best scuba diving in the world.
We met there on easy terms, as the Bohemian vibe of the place had managed to encapsulate both them and me in a similar headspace and our friendship instantly sparked. They had just made their way up from Africa, travelling for the last four years, through Western and Eastern Europe by foot and bicycle, and then down into Morocco where they connected with a travelling circus. Here they built homemade recline tricycles and travelled all throughout West and Central Africa, staying mostly south of the Sahara Dessert. They arrived in Egypt, where the food and water are clean and the going is easy and they seemed to simply flop onto the beach. Dahab would act as a resting place for them on their journey, something of a refuge in their travels and a refueling station before their voyage was to continue.
Over the next three months we got to know each other while we had evenings together cooking food over small propane fireplaces on mud brick floors, beers on the patio overlooking the water, and snorkeling for endless hours on the beautiful coral reefs. The common experience with Peter, Shahla, myself as well as many other travellers from around the world formed a community of sorts.
As the months went on Peter and Shahla began to run out of money, and they knew it was time to get back on the road, this time abandoning bicycles, and instead taking to public transit, buses, and trains to make their way through the Middle East to Pakistan. Shahla has family there and so they were hoping to find work for a while to replenish their rapidly depleting bank account.
I remained in Egypt for perhaps a month after Peter and Shahla left and then my finances too started to wane and so it was time for me to come back to Canada for a season of treeplanting in British Columbia’s northern forests to pay for my future travel plans and university in the fall.
We remained in touch here and there, and I would catch snippets from their newsletters or cruise through their website (culturequest.ca) to find out what country they were in and what music they were recording and what peoples they were experiencing along the road.
It had been six years since those easy days on the beach in Egypt, when an email popped into my inbox about a month ago saying that their journey had continued and they were now nearing their home of Edmonton and passing through British Columbia.
Over the past six years they had migrated their way east across the world. From Pakistan their bikes had carried them through Central Asia, down into Southeast Asia, over into Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, and through the South Pacific islands. A flight took them over to South America to Argentina and thus began the tree-year trip north cycling through the Americans. They mostly avoided the Pan-American highway and opted instead for the dirt and gravel roads that connected the small communities.
Last week this journey ended with them in Chilliwack at the front doorstep of Mt. Waddington’s Outdoors. We spent four lovely days together, reconnecting and hearing stories from their past 10 years on the road. Many friends came over for the evenings and we would do dinner and hear tails from these people who truly are seasoned by the many flavours of the globe and reflect this experience in the way that they speak in the way that they contemplate. They have an unparalleled ability to be absorbed with you in a moment, when you feel as though the conversation at hand is the only thing on their mind and that the present moment is the most important thing.
What do you show people who have been around the world? What could possibly compare to the landscapes that they have seen on the edges of the map? I chose to show them this town that I love. The rivers that act as arteries to the life of the backcountry of the upper Fraser Valley. I took them to my favorite waterfalls and swimming holes, to beautiful forests and alpine vistas. We walked through the farmland and enjoyed the summer feel of the downtown core. They loved this place and when they expressed their joy that this is in the country that they call home and such a spectacular place could perhaps even tempt them to relocate here after their trip is concluded in two months time, I must confess the pride for Chilliwack that flashed through me.
You might ask how they made their money and how they afforded this extravagant trip when most people can only dream of one or two week long vacations. Extended durations of travel are unique amongst the norm of life here in Canada.
Peter and Shahla don’t do normal. That is not what they strive for, and in fact they sometimes actively strive against it if only to prove that it is possible; if only to show people that another way is available and that a life of richness, fulfillment and of journey and adventure is there for the taking.
Their current bicycles show the wear of 30,000 km of globe-trotting and their panniers are far from waterproof and are strapped onto their bikes with ratchet straps and bungee cords and whatever else they could find on their road of life as they have been carried across the faces of this globe. These people’s lives are large but their needs are few.
They would stop and work sometimes for a week sometimes for a month or six months or nine months. They stopped in Norway for an extended period of time and worked in Pakistan for six months, in Australia for six months, in New Zealand for nine months, which will fund them until they arrive “home” in Edmonton in September.
Shahla has watched and learned from the women of the world creating bead necklaces and bracelets and beautiful art crafts and selling them at market squares. Peter is a talented musician and busks on the street with this homemade instrument that he calls the Mosquito, fashioned from ABS pipe it has strings and is played with a violin bow. The music he creates is beautiful and yet somewhat mystic, as it seems to be a fusion of vibes from around the world. During their stay Peter played for me his favorite song that is perhaps best described as an Indian Sitar fused with West Coast Canadian First Nations vocals. His music, like him, is unique and incredible.
The path from Chilliwack will now carry them through Southwest British Columbia on some of the old Kettle Valley Railway line in attempts to ride through on the southern fringes of our province into the Kooteneys, through in to the Rockies, into Alberta and up the Icefield Parkway back out into Edmonton.
I am glad that they stopped in to Chilliwack and that I had the chance to show them our beautiful piece of the world. Their trip inspires me, it is proof that something of this kind can be, and is being done and that life can be so rich! I wonder now how they will craft a life in this country again? How will they adjust to not being in a new place every few days? However I know that whatever life throws at them they will create a grand adventure out of it.
Peter and Shahla will be in Chilliwack this winter to take part in our Speaker Series so stay tuned at mtwaddingtons.com
Sam Waddington is the owner of Mt. Waddington’s Outdoors, “Equipping you for rock, water, snow, sand, wind and anything else the Outdoors can throw at you.”