Thursday, September 30, 2010

For your patience, I have rewarded(?) you with 8200 words of pure drivel. I know what you’re thinking – God! 8200 words! Jesus must be spinning in his grave! But don’t you fret, I have indicated logical breaks to take so that you can go on living your life. And, as always, thank you for reading. You are the wind beneath my wings.

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"I hope that when I die, people say about me, 'Boy, that guy sure owed me a lot of money” – Jack Handey

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From Etosha we headed northeast in the direction of the Caprivi Strip, the skinny arm of Namibia that juts into Zambia and Botswana. We finally passed through civilization in the form of the town of Tsumeb where we learned from dozens of prominently displayed signs that we had unfortunately missed the local copper-fest by a mere eight months.

At this point in the trip, the brakes weren’t really “working”, per se. However, Mama Fin will be happy to hear that when gliding to a halt failed, I developed a full-proof method of stopping – I would simply take my foot off the gas, gear down, and then throwing the corpse/car into Park to its considerable objections. Turning usually involved negotiating corners at high speeds and skidding into the wrong lane, which wasn’t really a big problem because our ten days in Namibia to that point had featured approximately four other cars, seven people and zero policemen. So colour me surprised when a particularly skiddy turn into very much the wrong lane was witnessed and frowned upon by the entire Namibian police force of four officers, two squad cars and an animal that was either a dog or a cat or a curious mix of the two.

The officers and I experienced a roller coaster of emotions together: Elation! Confusion! Irritation! Sneezing! More confusion! Terror! At first, everyone was excited because the driver who had been given a ticket just 10 minutes before me was none other than my pal The Big Nasty. With two Canadian offenders, this was proving to be the most exciting day of Officer Lazarus’s life. I know this because he told me so. Sadly, the excitement ceased when Lazarus realized that I was attempting to give him my University of Cape Town student card as identification rather than my driver’s licence, which, uh, no longer existed. Officer Lazarus was very disappointed in me, especially since his first Canadian, The Big Nasty, had been overjoyed to receive his ticket, had enthusiastically shook the officers’ hands and had been only too happy to promise to return for his trial in November (he was, of course, fleeing to the border at that very moment).

I am stricken with 4 true fears in life. Three are admittedly irrational: Having a salesman in a store see me accidentally perusing a ladies’ shelf while I’m zoned out; of missing out (FOMO, of course); and, Shredder

The fourth, being placed in an African jail, is far too rational. So, given that I had to provide my passport as identification, and because a little part of me feared somehow returning to Namibia in ten years and being sent directly to an African EffyouintheA prison, rather than to my preferred white collar resort prison, I offered to forego my “trial”, plead guilty and pay the maximum fine for my “serious criminal act”. This amounted to the astronomical sum of approximately 30 dollars.

The girls and I drove to the police station in town, where I filled out a form, paid my debt to society and headed back outside. I was almost at the car when a police officer came racing after me, screaming “STOP! STOP MR. CANADA, STOP RIGHT NOW!!!” Not being able to deduce why I was being chased by the police and really not wanting to stop and find out the reason and really, really not wanting to go to African jail and really, really, really wanting my brown star to remain unpierced, I believe I calmly and collectedly uttered a guttural “HolyFuckStartTheCarGoGoGo” and dove into the car in an attempt to make my triumphant escape. “MR. CANADA! MR. CANADA! YOU HAVE MY PEN!!!” [15 seconds of silence] “I don’t want to tell you how to do your job sir, but I don’t think your response to the misplaced pen was entirely proportionate.” [10 seconds of checking pockets for pen] “And sir, I don’t even have your pen.” “Are you sure Mr. Canada? Are you very, really sure?” “I’m afraid so sir, have a nice day” [Drive down the road 30 minutes] “Oh shit, I have his pen.”

(In my opinion, a movie or story becomes exponentially better if it ends with a coda at the end – think ‘Band of Brothers’ or ‘The Sandlot’ - Squints grew up and he married Wendy Peffercorn and they had nine kids together. They bought Vincent’s Drug Store (I especially love it when they do this) and they still own it to this day. Hamilton Porter became a professional wrestler, you know him as The Great Hambino. Let’s try one here: Officer Lazarus eagerly awaits his reunion with The Big Nasty at his trial in November; The dogcat was really a goat – he was delicious; The Big Nasty escaped to Botswana, where he was accepted by the Bushmen of the Kalahari. He can never return to Namibia; The officer who lost his pen moved to America and has since become famous

The author still feels bad about inadvertently stealing the officer’s pen. He now resides in Vancouver and looks forward to another 70-80 years of immaturity.)

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As we drove north and east we left the dry landscapes behind and entered into a world more reminiscent of the Africa of my mind’s eye: open-air markets set up beside the road, complete with bright fabrics, cooking fires and women with a few pieces of fruit for sale spread out on blankets; hordes and hordes of children, with six-year-olds holding babies and four-year-olds leading two-year-olds by the hand, all while an eight-year-old provides the supervision; smoke from unseen bushfires rises from the jungle. Road signs warn us to slow down so that we don’t hit an elephant.

This is awesome.

Our destination was the widely renowned (the term ‘widely’ being loosely used here to refer to approximately thirteen people) Ngepi, an idyllic campsite far off the beaten path (as our corpse/car begrudgingly found out) on the banks of the Okavango River. Upon arriving, I immediately decided I never wanted to leave. If you have traveled, you know that there are places you stay where you immediately feel comfortable and happy, and there are places you stay where you are fairly certain you’re about to be raped, robbed and murdered. Ngepi was certainly the former – I can’t recommend it enough if you ever happen to be passing through on a long weekend trip to northeastern Namibia.

The campsites were carved into the dense woods just steps away from the river. At all times we were engulfed by the deafening drone of the jungle, a sound pierced only by the occasional honking cry of a (very) nearby hippo. Signs and hippies warned us of the very real dangers presented by stone-still crocodiles at the water’s edge, poisonous snakes, exiting your tent at night and happening upon a hippo (an animal that isn’t all fun and games, despite what you may have learned from the Hungry, Hungry version - were you aware that the wild animal that kills the most humans in Africa is the hippopotamus? Since they come out of the water to graze on land at night, unsuspecting people out for a midnight stroll or a bathroom jaunt often walk right into them or spook them, which leads to death-by-trampling. Were you also aware that hippos fart out of their mouths? Or that the unrelated but similar word “hippopotomonstrosequipedaiophobia” is an affliction from which one fears long words? I’m not even making that up) and never leaving.

We spent the day relaxing by the water,

listening to Otis Redding, ‘80s power ballads and Public Enemy, and considering the BIG questions in life (If you could delete one ____ off the face of the earth for the betterment of the human race, who/what would you choose? For example, I would delete: Actor - Nicolas Cage; Band - Nickelback; Word you hate to type - ‘inappropriate’; Food item - Cilantro; Writer - Rick Reilly. Why do we park in driveways and drive on parkways? Is the statistic from a national Harris poll that 24 percent of Republicans actually believe that Barack Obama is the antichrist a soft or hard number? Is pronouncing the word “retard” “ri-TARD”, like in The Hangover, less offensive? What is the best Will Ferrell SNL skit? Robert Goulet or Get Off the Shed? Gus Chiggins or More Cowbell? Neil Diamond in VH1 Storytellers– it has to be - How many times should you yell “What?” at someone before you smile and nod because you can’t hear them? What was your favourite Canadian heritage moment on TV? ‘I smell burnt toast!’ or the James Naismith one with the peach baskets with holes in them (‘But I need those’). Would you rather spend the rest of your life having to add “in my pants” to the end of every sentence you say or having to sing everything you say in an operatic voice?)

The good people at Ngepi built a cage/dock thingy in the river that allowed one to avoid being eaten by a crocodile while swimming, which was a bonus.

We blissfully lay on the cage/dock in the sun all day, interrupted only by an invitation to go on a boat ride with some of the staff.

As it turned out, the reason the staff members were going on a boat ride was to transport a puff adder they had caught to the other side of the river. This wasn’t really mentioned when the invitation to come on the boat was extended, but it became real quickly enough when I noticed that a dude (Snake Dude) was holding a freaking snake in his hands. He wildly and mindlessly gestured with the snake

as he told us about puff adders: they are vipers, common in Africa, very common at Ngepi. They are large, very willing to bite and have extremely potent venom. All of those things combine to make it the deadliest snake in Africa. When those fun facts had been relayed, Snake Dude started telling us about the time a Spitting Cobra had made its way into his pillowcase, so they similarly took it across the river on the boat. He unapologetically explained how he really didn’t want to lose his pillow case – so, when it came time to set the snake free, rather than throwing the whole pillow case onto the bank, he tried to throw the snake out while holding onto the pillow case. The long and short of this brilliant decision was that they now had an ill-tempered cobra loose in their vessel. He chose not to bore us with the details of their miraculous escape, although he did take time to mention that he did get to keep the pillowcase, which, presumably, was diamond-encrusted. Perhaps it was the wet spot that was forming in my crotch-type region, but this time he took no chances and successfully set the little scamp free, and we evaded death yet again.

Snake Dude wasn’t the only character camping in the Namibian bush with us. We also met two different groups that had driven to Namibia from London, by way of Turkey and the Middle East. I was, of course, insanely jealous, peppered them with questions and have many new and stupid ideas (somewhere Mama Fin just involuntarily shuddered). One of the groups was lead by a former member of the U.S. Women’s National team that won the World Cup in ’99 - she now runs an NGO called Kickabout. They had driven an incredible 25,000 kilometres to that point, were very sick of each other and seemed to be fairly close to snapping and lighting themselves on fire. We also met a couple driving a truck that was 600 000km young; they had financed their two-year trip by bussing tables and dealing drugs. Most importantly though, we reconnected with our senior citizen alcoholic friend Archie, last seen trapped on the roof of his truck in Etosha by a vicious hangover and advanced age. Archie, who may or may not have been sporting this tattoo of Centaur Patrick Swayze wearing a Chippendale’s shirt in front of a stormy sky and a rainbow

brought over a box of wine and we cooked dinner over an open fire while he told us stories. Most notably, he recounted his days as the manager of a pulp mill in Kumba, Cameroon, which was once the site of, and I quote, “a very, very, very heavy party. And then I went to jail.” Archie also gave us some travel tips – I’m not sure what about Archie suggested to us that it was a good idea to follow his advice, but follow it we did. Was it his impressive feat of scaling and sleeping on top of a truck despite the fact he was pushing seventy and the fact he had absolutely crushed two boxes of wine? Or the sense of awe that comes from meeting someone who has survived an African jail? We didn’t even balk when we found out his resort of choice was the evocatively named Swamp Stop Resort. Oh, well then.

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Buoyed by the knowledge that, worst comes to worst, with bad decisions come good stories, and with bad judgment comes experience comes good judgment, we departed the next morning bound for Botswana and the northwest corner of the famed Okavango Delta. I’ve dreamed about going to the Okavango Delta for a really, really long time. Thanks to the transcendent narration of the impossibly eloquent David Attenborough in BBC’s Planet Earth, you probably have too.

The Okavango Delta absolutely teems with life. The world’s largest inland delta is a refuge for animals – they flock there in infinite numbers (literally!) for easy access to the life-giving water so rare in much of the rest of the continent. This year, there was actually too much water; the roads were so washed out that we parked the corpse/car on the side of the road and were picked up by a tractor for the final portion of the drive to Swamp Stop.

The fine folks at Swamp Stop weren’t kiddin’ around when they named their spot; it really was a swamp. One of those wet swamps. One of those wet swamps that has recently suffered some flooding. The small on-site buildings had clearly spent some time underwater and the pool was actually full of river water and fish. The only high and dry ground to set up a tent on was in the middle of a road. T.I.A.

Fortunately, the attraction of Swamp Stop was not its reputation for being not underwater – if it was, I daresay I’d currently be writing a strongly-worded letter to whatever assisted-care facility has recaptured our deranged, transient friend – rather, from Swamp Stop one could organize overnight trips deep into the Delta. The next morning we met our guide, the irrepressible Lems, a local guy who looked like a cross-ethnic, cross-sex Shaved-Head-Britney Spears and who wore a pair of jean shorts meant for a smaller-than-average teenage girl.

The first leg of our journey was a three-hour motorboat ride; we weaved through channels 5 to 10 metres wide, flanked on all sides by tall stalks of papyrus, a reed-like plant.

Every few minutes we would lurch to a stop as Lems would spot a very camouflaged animal much to our amazement. The ability of wildlife guides in Africa – and this extends to land safari guides – to spot animals that are either completely hidden or miles away, while driving a jeep or boat at great speeds, is truly amazing. It would take us minutes to see the (ginormous) crocodiles or hippos or eagles that Lems could spot in a split second. Lems’ achievements were all the more amazing considering he was really, really high. Really.

At one point, Lems procured us some fish to attract one of the large fish eagles that presided over the Delta.

He stuck a stick through the fish, handed it to a very bewildered me, and then had me wave it at the eagle and throw it in the water right next to our boat. Worked like a charm, what a beauty:

We arrived on a small island and met a couple of bros awesomely named Gems and Water. We unloaded our possessions in small sleeping cabins, noting the non-small piles of elephant dung that loomed over them. A grammatically poor sign warned us not to stand within three metres of the water’s edge, lest we be eaten by crocodiles. Gems, Lems and Water then whisked us away to three mekoros, Botswanan boats that are glorified dugout canoes, carved out of tree trunks and used to travel to hard-to-reach places in the Delta. We sat on the bottom, noting that we were basically eye-level with the water, while the three wise men stood at the sterns of the respective boats propelling us forward with large poles

Mekoro-ing is simultaneously relaxing and dangerous, boring yet exciting. Just when you’re lulled into a false sense of security by the soft sounds of the boat brushing aside thick growth, you realize that you are using hippo channels, and that running into one could be wery, wery bad (see above for notes on hippo-induced death). But soon you forget about the probability of death, you lie back, begin to relax; it is then when Water (the person, not the necessity for life) starts to tap-tap-tap his pole on the side of the mekoro. Soon thereafter, a dull roar starts to build. We are perched at the edge of a small pond, 50 metres across from a small channel. The sound builds and builds, and none of us have any idea what it is. The Big Nasty is visibly nervous. The Swift wonders if anyone else can smell burning. The Salzberg hasn’t exercised in over 40 minutes and starts to do pushups in the mekoro. Caity loudly proclaims that she wishes Thursday D was with us. 30 more seconds pass and a mini-tsunami appears in the channel – suddenly, six sets of eyes are staring at us.

I have no idea why, but the tapping drew the attention of six hippos, who were anything but the fun Hungry, Hungry version. I tried to ask Water what he had done, but he just kept saying “it is hip-pot-a-pot-a-musses”. We sat there for 20 minutes, apprehensively eyeing each other down. I can, however, report that when I challenged them to a staring contest, they won, they always do.

Elated by our hippo staredown, we returned to the island to read, relax and play cards, and so Lems could smoke more drugs. At some point, he emerged from the bushes (he had somehow lost his shirt, so he was rocking the Matt Smith no shirt, jean shorts look) and decided that he would treat us to a walking safari. We followed him for about 20 metres before he decided he would climb a tree, ostensibly to see animals in the distance that we could intelligently chase. Instead, he saw no animals, got stuck, and didn’t get down until it was dark.

You haven’t seen a happy man until you’ve seen a stoned Botswanan escape from a tree – Lems started swinging his arms and chanting “I THINK! THAT! I! AM! THE! MAN! I THINK! THAT! I! AM! THE! MAN!” to the tune of the “Rocky! Loves! E-Mi-Lee” chant from the seminal classic, ‘The Three Ninjas’, incidentally a movie Mama Fin still refers to as “the worst 90 minutes of my life. Watching that movie was worse than giving birth to you”.

That night we sat around a fire drinking an ancient, dusty bottle of whiskey we found in the deserted kitchen while having the sort of broken conversations people have when they come from places as different as the Okavango Delta and Canada. Things escalated to the point that Lems, The Big Nasty and I closed out the evening with arms around each other belting out a rousing rendition of ‘New York, New York’ complete with Fabulously Rich leg kicks (ha!). Water was particularly impressed with the performance; upon saying goodbye the next morning he proudly told me he loved our singing and our dancing and our big leg kicking.

We had an uneventful but beautiful boat ride back to Swamp Stop and then headed back in the direction we came from to Namibia. Our next destination was the town of Katima Mulilo, found at the end of the Caprivi Strip on the border with Zambia.

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One of the great things about traveling around Southern Africa is the accommodation. For as long as pasty, unattractive Brits have been coming to Africa for hunting trophies and concubines, there have been incredibly opulent resorts catering to the rich and haughty. Despite the fact the upper crust of society pays hundreds of dollars per night to stay at these places, management still deems it appropriate to allow people like me to pitch a tent on their lawn for eight bucks per night and to use all of their hilariously nice facilities. Thanks to me, the Protea Hotels Zambezi River Lodge soon came to regret this business strategy.

After a quiet night in Katima Mulilo, we woke up excited to cross into Zambia to see the world-renowned Victoria Falls. The Big Nasty and Caity planned to take a different route, so we arranged to meet them later that day. Little did we know, we would never see them again…

…until a few weeks later. They didn’t die or anything.

We made stops for gas and money and were ready to head to the border when the corpse/car refused to start, setting in motion the course of events that almost lead to my death.

Because of rampant theft and car-jackings, even crappy South African cars, like ours, have intense security systems. More specifically, our overripe automobile had an immobilizer to hinder anyone trying to hot-wire the car. The designers of the immobilizer had ingeniously (sarcasm font needed) made it so that you simply had to press the electronic doodad-thingy on the key ring to turn it off and start the car. Anyone trying to hot-wire the car would be foiled because the immobilizer would prevent it from starting (this, of course, ignores the fact that a large percentage of car thefts in Africa are done violently, in the light of day, whenst the driver is physically removed from his already-turned-on car, but what the hell). Much like the designers of the Titanic with the iceberg thing, or like a transient crackwhore with ten dollars, the designers of this fail-prone system weren’t much for forward-thinking. For example immobilizer-designer-guys, what happens if the electronic doodad-thingy stops de-immobilizing the car in a town on the Namibia-Zambia border? Oh, I’m effed? Well then.

We located a mechanic and spent the next 6 miserable hours watching him dismantle the car in search of the immobilizer box under the hood. It is possible to remove this fun little security system, but because of what it is, it is typically cleverly hidden. On the plus side, I did learn how to hotwire a car, no biggie.

To combat boredom and the onset of severe frustration, I went to the small grocery store nearby and treated myself to yogurt and bread and cheese. I had now entered, The Danger Zone

The sickest I have ever been in my life, up until this fateful day in Katima Mulilo, was courtesy of a cheese omelet in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I spent approximately 24 hours on a bathroom floor fairly certain I was going to die, and then crawled into my room to discover that the roof of the hostel had collapsed onto my bed. I think the worst part of it was that the hostel then charged me to wash my clothes. They had roof debris embedded into them. Who would’ve thought poorly refrigerated Third World dairy products could cause so much damage?

Our corpse/car still grounded, we left her with the mechanic and went back to the aforementioned Protea Hotels Zambezi River Lodge to sulk for the evening. Sure, it was a nice place, but we were supposed to be drenched in waterfall spray by now. We had retreated to the restaurant/bar to drown our sorrows when I got that old feeling that I hadn’t felt since removing Cambodian roof from my ‘Same, Same But Different’ shirt. I tried to drink more whiskey to poison whatever was poisoning me, but surprisingly that didn’t work. So I thought maybe if I went and watched Arrested Development (I blue myself!) on my iPod and fell asleep, that perhaps it would all pass. This was a naïve plan.

The Swift and The Salzberg were soon fast asleep in their tent, dreaming of a better day, when they were woken up by what sounded to be a rabid hyena eating what sounded to be a dying unicorn just outside their tent. They clutched each other out of fear, completely terrified of the ungodly creature making the ungodliest of noises just feet away from them. Soon, however, they heard a whimper, something that sounded like ‘For the love of God heeeeeelllllppppp,’ and then the noise stopped and they fell back asleep. Of course, the noise was me scream-puking African dairy onto the well-manicured lawns of the Zambezi River Lodge, and the reason it stopped was because I went to spend the rest of my evening on the floor of the shower, which was fortunately for them, fairly far away. Unfortunately for the rich folks in the luxurious rooms overlooking the river, the bathroom was not that far away from them. They spent $400 to have themselves a sleepless night comprised of shockingly loud Velociraptor sounds.

Between shivering and vomiting and such, I had a lot of time for delirious thought while lying prone on the bottom of that shower stall. For awhile I decided upon things I would accomplish in my life: Get a midnight sunburn in northern Canada; put my coat over a puddle for a damsel in distress (instead of recommending that she walk a half-block to avoid the puddle altogether) and then saying something suave as hell; beat Graham Smith in a pushup contest; Say “Well I have to say that this seems arbitrary and capricious!” to a judge; go to at least one of the ‘stans (there are seven, by the by - education!); win a beerdie tournament; have Tim Bottomer admit I’m right in an argument, just once; never again eat African dairy – those sorts of things. At around 3AM I started playing that crappy game from Grade 9 French (this may explain why I can’t speak French) where you pick a word for each letter of your name to describe yourself or aspects of your personality. According to, this game is known as ‘ABCs of Me’’. Here are the ABCs of Me one finds funny or interesting when on their death-bed/death-shower-floor

D – Stands for Dude, as in Uncle Dude. I have three nieces, Amelia:

Smiling Kaiser Soze:

and Claire

One time, Amelia accidentally, sort of called me something resembling “Dude”. I’ve been pushing it ever since. It’s impossibly adorable.

U – Stands for Understood, as opposed to those who would label themselves M for Misunderstood. My likes and dislikes, personality, and proclivities are pretty well known, I think. I like travel, hot-sauce and 4-Square. I like songs with clapping and snapping, and, under the right circumstances (Otis Redding), whistling. I like (love) hockey. I like (love) beerdie. I like wit, chortling and run-on sentences. I like the Ho Train/HotRain, resplendent in the sun, the apple of every pretty lady’s eye. I like Planet Earth, Band of Brothers and the West Wing. Broody Bob Dylan stories, leg-kick-inducing Sinatra ditties, and Gordon Lightfoot ballads, especially when he accidentally sings about gay porn: I like British wit, Dutch looks and French accents. Tree-lined streets, Gordon Korman novels and interesting but unprovable theories. Terry Fox, Trevor Linden, Emil Zatopek, Madiba, Steve Nash and Richard Finley. When Linda tells Charlie that she loves Pantera in Mighty Ducks 3. If I was a rockstar, every song at a concert would involve the crowd clapping in unison or singing as one, and it flabbergasts me that these things don’t occur more often. I fully support choreographed dances by black dance troupes in Chicago during spontaneous performances of ‘Twist and Shout’ by a teenager wearing a leopard print vest: - (that could probably never happen now. Thanks a lot, bin Laden). Montages. Adventurous Babes. Executive Summaries. I really like making lists. See? Understood.

N – Stands for Ninety-Seven, as in my 97 Litre backpack. In one of my more misguided attempts to follow the Richmond family motto of “Go Big or Go Home” (incidentally, a family motto that trails only “O’Doyle Rules” and “Serenity Now” in terms of the destruction it has caused), in 2006 for no identifiable reason I purchased a 97L backpack prior to leaving for Africa. Referred to with a mix of awe and fear as “The Ninety Seven” by terrified bystanders who have had the bad luck of coming into (sometimes life-altering) contact with it, The Ninety Seven can fit three medium-sized Asians in it (Fact). The Ninety Seven’s travels through the London subway system are particularly noteworthy. At one point, I was in a very crowded subway/tube car with my pal Leigh. She asked me a question, and I turned to answer her, forgetting that The Ninety Seven was on my back/looming over the cowering onlookers. The Ninety Seven evaporated one small woman and cartoonishly flattened another into the wall of the subway car. I made a massive awkward face and then decided to flee the scene, leading a confused Leigh away from the scene of the crime. Our getaway was triumphant until I became hopelessly stuck in a turnstile due to The Ninety Seven’s considerable girth. I struggled for several seconds before a British voice of God boomed out from the loudspeakers to the delight of the thousands of people in the station: “Would the young man with the largest bag I’ve ever seen please free himself from the turnstile and proceed around to the left side?”

C – Stands for Canadian. People the world over love Canadians. Not only are we goddamn attractive, we’re so polite. We’re so earnest. We’re so well-meaning. Like the slow younger brother of the handsome, brash, cocky superstar athlete in the family, people love us because of what we aren’t. American. I’ve only really met one person who was anti-Canadian. My friend Boner Dave and I were in Singapore at the famous Raffles Hotel having a drink when we were assaulted by a depraved credit card company businesswoman and plied with 16 dollar Singapore Slings all evening (I say depraved because nobody would have purchased us drinks in the state we were in. Boner had a month-old neckbeard and was wearing a T-shirt that said ‘I’m Big in Europe’. I spent half the night trying to speak in rhyming couplets and the other half playing an imaginary saxophone along with the live band. I think it was the malaria pills). After begging us to dance for several hours, she finally gave up and posted up at the bar. When asked why she was upset, she told the person that she was mad we wouldn’t dance with her. “Gay?” she was asked. “No. Fucking Canadian.”

(I started to respond to her anger with a rhyming couplet, but thought better of it)

My buddy Touch once suggested that people’s personalities are shaped both by their personal characteristics and by their home cultures. I think this makes a lot of sense – a person may be a real horse’s ass to people they know, but usually if they’re Canadian, at the very least they’ll be really polite and nice to those they don’t know. And after traveling, having met people from all over the world, I can honestly say that we are probably the best goddamn people in the world. We’re so great that we even make the Americans pretending to be Canadian while traveling better people; they are forced to use the metric system, to declare their love for hockey and to apologize constantly. Nary a proclamation of American supremacy is heard. You’re welcome, world.

A – Arrogant enough to believe that anyone cares what nonsense passes through my head while I irritatingly travel a lot. Thanks for pointing that out, Laura Reid’s Boyfriend.

N – Stands for Ninja Turtle. My once and future career choice was to join the boys in the sewers of NYC. Ferg and I would spend hours plotting the inevitable increase of the crew to six and spending the rest of our lives eating pizza and fighting crime (a.k.a. the good life). Here we can be seen, scheming

In a survey of Kindergarten students at Irwin Park Elementary school, we both declared our future profession as crime-fighting ninja turtles. Interestingly, amid all the grand, absurd claims of future careers as space cowboys, professional athletes or, for one future highschool dropout, a terminator, only one student was precociously realistic when it came to his likely career. I am of course referring to your local insurance agent, Michael Richmond, who proudly declared that he would one day be an “assurance agent” (close enough).

F. – Stands for FOMO, as in Fear of Missing Out. I suffer from this affliction far, far worse than anyone else I know. I once chose to fly across the country for a party rather than purchase a couch for my apartment. In my opinion, spending 365 days sitting on the floor is totally, totally worth it if it means not spending one day imagining how much fun your friends are having without you. As my pal, you should consider this affliction a result of your awesomeness. Pat yourself on the back.


I exited the shower sometime around sunrise and promptly passed out on the grass beside my tent, which is a fairly ineffective anti-malaria strategy. That was an incredibly, incredibly painful 24 hours, but it wasn’t all for naught. I can’t help but smile a little when I think of rich European tourists, wearing monocles, cravats and corsets in my mind’s eye, out for an early morning stroll when they find the scantily clad, groaning Canadian culprit of their scream-puking-induced sleepless night sprawled on the grounds of their beautiful resort. It’s the little things.

Elsewhere, the mechanics finally located and removed the immobilizer box and the girls returned to collect my lifeless corpse around 3PM. (Aside: the removal of the immobilizer box had the side effect of rendering our car unlockable - not at all a problem in the lawful continent of Africa). I hadn’t had time to make a new hole in my gluttony pants to reflect my frail state

(I had gone from Boar to Sow to Piglet, skipped ‘Emaciated Crackhead’ and was now down at the ‘Gandhi on a Hunger Strike’ size), so I hoisted myself into the car in the clothes I found myself in. This was how I found my ghostly-white self bound for (I would like to emphasize the following) the Zambian border wearing no shirt, a puffy vest and boxer shorts.

After accidentally missing everything and making an unknowing getaway into Zambia, we were escorted back to the border post by the police (this was the first of many, many interactions with Zambia’s Finest). Once at the border post, we discovered two things: first, not only was I not the most naked person that had ever attempted to cross into Zambia, I wasn’t even the most naked person that hour. Second, we didn’t have enough money to pay for our visas or for all the absurd taxes levied by the Zambian government upon entry. So, on the condition that they could hold my corpse hostage, the border officials let the girls enter the country to find an ATM where they could take out hundreds of thousands of Zambian kwacha. I lay down in the corner of the concrete room and promptly started groaning in abject pain. The border officials asked me what I did for a living and I groaned something about law; they clearly didn’t believe me because I looked like a hobo and started mockingly calling me “The Professor”. They did not respect me.

After we had paid for our visas, we were guided to a series of offices, wooden huts and trailers to pay the myriad corrupt taxes required by the Zambian government. We were actually forced to pay Zambian car insurance, in addition to a Zambian parking tax and something called the ‘Zambian People’s Tax’. Two of the six taxes had to be paid in American dollars, for some reason, which really fired me up. As a result, we had to trade money with drug dealers outside the border crossing, but not before I debated the logic of requiring the taxes of a landlocked African nation to be paid in the currency of a country that sits halfway around the world with a semi-literate, suit-wearing Zambian while wearing boxers and a puffy vest. You will be happy to hear, however, that Zambia is serious about protecting the environment– we were also charged a “carbon emissions tax”. Somewhere, David Suzuki just burst into tears of joy. Literally!

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The corridor connecting the Namibia-Botswana border and Victoria Falls is patrolled like it’s the Gaza freaking Strip. We were stopped at police checkpoint after police checkpoint, some of which were even supposed to be there. Others, manned by the likes of the very enterprising “Policeman Frank”, are clearly there to earn some supplemental income. All of our money spent on carbon emissions taxes, we informed Policeman Frank that we couldn’t pay the required “City Council tax” (“Policeman Frank, there are no cities within 100 kilometres of here” ”… Pay money now”). Eventually, he accepted 5 Euros, 5 Canadian dollars and 500 Zambian Kwacha (about 15 cents) and we were on our way. At another checkpoint, the officers checked our Zambian documentation and noted with jolly smiles that where we had written our corpse/car’s Registration Number where it said “Registration Number”, we were supposed to have written our licence plate number. The boisterously announced penalty would be the confiscation of our passports until we rectified this egregious error. Only my biting sarcasm (and perhaps The Swift’s reasoned level-headedness) saved us from passport-less purgatory in Zambia, and we were let go.

There are many, many reasons I love to travel, but one of the things I enjoy the most about it are the feelings that come from throwing myself into places that are completely foreign to me. To walk different streets, to see different people, to learn new things, to look for similarities, to simply get a sense of a place halfway around the world. And then, to return, and see how time has changed it. Actually, one of the big reasons I’ve traveled to the places I have is because of change; Africa and Southeast Asia and South America, for better or worse, are changing rapidly. Europe and Australia are not.

For years, travelers went to Zimbabwe to see Victoria Falls, which straddles the two countries. However, as Robert Mugabe scaled newer and higher peaks of insanity, more people chose to use Livingstone, Zambia as their home base. As a result, in the four years since I was last in Livingstone, grocery stores, upmarket hotels and restaurant chains have transformed it beyond recognition. And the main road is paved now!

After a much needed, uninterrupted, non-shower-floor-y sleep, I was almost back to normal as we drove out to see the Falls the following morning. Then we saw another police checkpoint, and that good feeling quickly disappeared.

The police weren’t happy with my “terrible, terrible breakings of the law” nor my excuses, namely driving without a licence (I got mugged in Capetown and my driver’s licence was stolen!, which was a lie), driving without a back licence plate (it fell off in Namibia because… it’s windy in Namibia? I’m Ron Burgundy?) and driving without proper Zambian documentation (well, we filled out our registration number where it said ‘registration number’, eff you guys). So, one of the officers escorted me to the nearby station to assess me with three fines. At this point, I was really fired up and started to rant uncontrollably: “Sir! These fines are arbitrary and capricious! I am just a simple Canadian who wants to see your beautiful waterfalls (I had already seen them)! But your food has made me ill (this was a little white lie) and it’s my birthday today (this was a lie) and today after paying these fines I won’t have enough money to see your beautiful waterfall (this was close to being true, but it was a lie) and my friends in the car are both suffering from subdural hematomas (this was not only a lie, but if it were true I think they’d be dead) and these pretzels are making me thirsty (I didn’t say that one but I wish I did)! Sir, I am just not enjoying my stay in your country (this was true)!” The officer looked at me with a blank expression for several seconds, probably considered having me killed, and then picked up his phone. He rattled off a few sentences I didn’t really catch and then said, “he will not enjoy his stay in Zambia.” He nodded several times, grunted, and then put down the phone. “Pay one of the fines?” “Deal!”

The mist from the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls can be seen from kilometres away. For this reason, its name was Mosi-Oa-Tunya, beautifully meaning “The Smoke That Thunders”, until a white man named David Livingstone showed up and very justifiably informed the indigenous peoples that it was now called Victoria Falls after a pasty white woman who lived thousands of miles away and who would never see the Falls nor care that they existed. Progress!

The amazing part of seeing Victoria Falls from the Zambian side is the proximity to the water. In November, the time of year I came to see the Falls in 2006, this doesn’t matter because it’s low-water season. In June, it really, really matters - you get absolutely, totally drenched. To illustrate just how different the experiences were, here are two pictures taken at the exact same location:

I especially enjoyed two things about this visit to the Falls. First, a raving mad African guy ran back and forth in front of the Falls with his arms extended, screaming “MOOOSSSSIIIIII OAAAAA TUNYAAAAAAA”. This entertained me to the point that I took a picture of him while in the equivalent of a shower, risking the immediate death of my camera

Second, it’s possible to walk around the Falls and to relax just metres away from the edge; so we sat quietly and happily watched the sunset light up the spray.

And my buddy Rinny happened to be standing nearby

Victoria Falls is also known as the adrenaline capital of Africa, with huge numbers of crazy things to do. Four years ago I went whitewater rafting down Batoka Gorge, below the Falls, which was one of the most fun, most insane things I’ve ever done. We also went gorge-swinging (youtube it, it's madness), which I still have nightmares about.

This time, I had many more activities in mind. Unfortunately, swimming in the Devil’s Pool

was impossible because at this time of year it would lead to swimming at the bottom of the Falls. So I settled for bungee jumping, walking with lions, flying in a lawnmower over the Falls, and taking a year off my mother’s life.

Victoria Falls is one of the most stunning places in the world to bungee jump. The jumps take place from an arch bridge that is close enough to the Falls to feel the spray on your face.

The bridge, which connects Zambia and Zimbabwe, was built in… 1905? What the eff?

I learned this little detail after I had already paid, and seriously considered pulling the plug so I wouldn’t appear on the Darwin Awards. However, two factors swayed me back. First, I was informed confidently that the finest engineers and builders of their day had built the Victoria Falls Bridge (Reassurance!) Second, I noticed that the bungee jump brochure featured a picture of a smiling, post-jump Frodo Baggins

and my decision was made for me. A guy can’t look at himself in the mirror if he’s been out-toughed by Frodo.

As the jovial bungee dudes strapped me in, I tried to distract myself with thoughts of hilarious stories and Caesar Salad and Levin dressed as a street sign for Halloween

All of a sudden, I found myself standing with my toes at the edge of the platform and what sounded like a countdown. Before I had time to realize just how stupid this was, I spread my arms wide and hurled myself off a centenarian African bridge.

For approximately four seconds, I hurtled 111 metres through a gorgeous rainbow of mist toward the Zambezi River, fairly certain that my eyes were going to burst out of my head. I rebounded and found myself suspended in air, close enough to the underside of the bridge to note that its existence was as tenuous as my control over my bladder, and then down and up, down and up. Soon thereafter I found myself face to face with a teenaged Zambian who repeatedly yelled “I LOVE MY JOB!!!” from two inches away while he clipped me in to be hoisted back up to the bridge. Actually more terrifying than the jump itself was the aftermath, as I was left alone to walk along the rickety catwalk under the bridge. But wow, what an incredible (very likely one-time) experience.

That afternoon, with my adventure quota not yet fulfilled for the day, The Swift and I went walking in the wild with lions. I had heard of this possibility and was intrigued, but was also confused as to why you could pay to walk with lions in the wild. I was concerned that I would be paying to participate in a glorified petting zoo with miserable (and possibly hungry) animals. As it turns out, the lion population in Africa has decreased by 70 to 90 percent in recent decades, predominantly due to poaching and habitat loss. So, this and other organizations take in orphaned lion cubs and prepare them for life in the wild, where presumably they will thrive like Christian the Lion

The lions are raised to believe that humans are the mother lions so they won’t maul people like me. If they do start to attack or, more likely, jump up and try to play with you and accidentally rip your arm off, you are supposed to point a tiny stick at them and yell “No!!!” Surprisingly, this actually works. In another surprise, I learned that when lions go hunting, they roll around in the feces of other animals to mask their scents. I don’t care that they are another species, that’s weird.

We were with two lion cubs, and one of them picked up some feces and shoved it in the other’s face. When I started to laugh, one of them snarled at me, and I apologized.

On our final morning in Zambia, I finally got to ride in a flying lawnmower (and/or a microlight, if we’re being technical about it). It was in-freaking-credible.


For 15 soaring minutes, I flew thousands of feet above Victoria Falls. Far below us, we could make out elephants and hippos bathing on the banks of the Zambezi.

My pilot was a poetic German national named Klaus. We could speak to each other through microphones in our helmets (I really love that we had to wear helmets while suspended thousands of feet in the air by a lawnmower engine, because those babies would really be helpful in the case of lawnmower engine failure - safety first in Africa), but mostly I just sat in awed silence. After ten minutes though, as we made a precarious banking turn, Klaus felt it important to say something:

“Mr. Duncan”

“What’s crackin, Klaus?!?”

“Mr. Duncan, are you aware that Dr. Livingstone was the first European to see these Falls?”

“Yes I am, Klaus”

“And are you aware of what Dr. Livingstone said when he first glimpsed them?!?”

“Remind me Klaus!”

“He said that this is a sight SO lovely, it must have been gazed upon by angels in their flights!”

“Yer not kiddin’ Klaus!”


“You are not kidding around, are ya Klaus?”

“I assure you that I am not making any jokes Mr. Duncan!”

This is D$$$, signing off with your thought of the day - "With $10,000 we would be millionaires! We could buy all kinds of useful things, like... love!"