A fresh perspective on Iran

The Toronto Star | Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

YAZD, IRAN — Mostafa passes me the hose of the water pipe and as I accept it, I give his hand the customary two taps with my finger — a sign of thanks. I take greedy drags and the water in the glass jar bubbles vigorously, the hot coals perched on top glow red. Cool, moist tobacco smoke infused with apple flavour fills my lungs. Before arriving in Iran, I was genuinely unsettled by the fact that I would be without wine for weeks (alcohol is illegal in Iran). However, it seems one vice has successfully been replaced with another. Read on…

Surrendering to the Sahara in Mauritania

The Toronto Star | Saturday, May 21st, 2011

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CHINGUETTI, MAURITANIA—The creaky acacia wood door is left open allowing fresh air and desert light into the dank, shadowy library. Dusty stacks of books crowd the shelves of the mud-plastered room. As the man unfurls the leather cover and holds up an Islamic-illuminated manuscript, the significance is not lost on me. Centuries ago a calligrapher had drawn those masterful strokes, the simple and beautiful embellishments on this now yellowed crumbling piece of parchment. I hold my breath as if an exhalation would turn it to dust or wake me from my Indiana Jones-esque fantasy come true. Read on…

Conquering a personal Everest

The Toronto Star | Saturday, March 5th, 2011

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KHUMBU, NEPAL—It could all be for nothing, I think darkly. You could reach the summit of Kala Patthar, it could still be cloudy and you won’t be able to see a thing.

I’ve been promised that the view of the Himalayas atop Kala Patthar, an oxygen starved 5,545-metre high, is worth the effort of waking at 4:30 a.m. and pushing myself, with every ounce of strength, to take one step after another up the side of the mountain. It is what I have had to do for the last nine days to get here, and at the final test my will to keep going is failing.

An hour ago I had been burrowed deep in my sleeping bag in a tea house in Gorak Shep, a trekker’s last outpost before Nepal’s Everest Base Camp. Now, hiking in this bleak greyness, all I can think of is how desperately I want to go back to sleep and finish my dream. I had been dreaming about chicken schnitzel and beer.

Seriously.

Read on…