I recently returned from 6 months of travelling around the world to some unconventional countries and wanted to share my experiences
You can see photos from the trip here.
The Trip: Patagonia, Africa, the Balkans, Central Asia
Countries visited (in order): Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Ethiopia, South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Lesotho, Kenya, Israel, Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Serbia, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Egypt.
Purpose: To learn about the world, with a particular focus on globalization and trade, economic development, different cultures and ways of living; to hike and spend time in beautiful nature.
How: I left my job working as a lawyer at the beginning of 2019 and thought it would be valuable to experience an adventure like this before beginning the next chapter of my life.
Cost: Approximately $10,000 CAD with the caveat my flights were mostly free. By learning how to get the most value through Aeroplan (Canadian frequent flyer program), I was able to fly in business class for all of my long distance flights for a total of $200 in taxes; the cash value for these flights was over $30,000.
Below are some brief and fun reflections from my adventure. You can find more lengthy commentary in part 2 here.
Countries I enjoyed the most: Tajikistan, Chile, Turkey and Albania.
Countries I enjoyed the least: South Africa and Egypt.
- Hiking in Patagonia
- Tigray Churches (ancient churches carved into mountains that require an epic hike to access) in Ethiopia
- Danakil Depression (what happens when a volcano erupts over salt flats) in Ethiopia
- Safari in Kruger National Park, South Africa
- Travelling the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan and spending 4 days on the border with Afghanistan, including swimming in no mans land and waving to Afghanis across the river
- Exploring the historic Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Best food experience: Eating steak in Argentina at the 34th best restaurant in the world, Don Julio, including all you can eat/drink empanadas and champagne, for the low price of $31 CAD due the massive devaluation of the Argentine Peso.
Most annoying kids: Ethiopia. Nearly every kid I saw in Ethiopia would invariably come up to me and start yelling on repeat: pen, Birr, football, money or China (Ethiopians refer to foreigners either as Fo-ren-jees or China, and will often start yelling China, China China after spotting a white person). Once a “China” is spotted, the children will often begin throwing rocks at them. Not a pleasant experience.
Most surprising Jewish experience:
- Stumbling upon the local Jewish community in rural Ethiopia baking Matzah over a fire while preparing for Passover.
- Meeting a Tajik (muslim) farmer living alone in the mountains of Uzbekistan with 500 goats who spoke no English or Russian (the common language in the region) with a dog named Hitler… and after sharing a few alcoholic beverages with, started saying hebrew words and expressing how much he wanted to move to Tel Aviv.
- Attending a rambunctious party with Chilean park rangers when at 2 am, everyone started rocking out to Hava Nagila on accordions and then insisted to me it’s a classic Chilean folk song.
Best hike: (4 day) Huemul Circuit in El Chalten, Argentina. This is an intense but beautiful unmarked trail in the Patagonia Ice Fields that park rangers do not want you to go on. The hike features two river crossings that can only be traversed by bringing a harness, rope and carabiners and attaching yourself to a shoddily made zipline. The park does not build a safer crossing in an attempt to scare people off from attempting the hike. As the park refuses to allow anyone to begin the hike alone (see above), I was extremely fortunate to connect with 4 awesome hikers to traverse with. We lucked out with the weather and had the unique opportunity to go swimming in a glacial lake with massive icebergs beside us.
Weirdest place: Skopje, Macedonia and Astana, Kazakhstan. Both of these cities are examples of governments gone crazy. Skopje is filled with bizarre kitschy statues everywhere in an attempt to forge a national identity. Astana is filled with stunning but strange ostentatious buildings with odd names and purposes (like the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation) that consume almost all of the country’s money while most citizens remain impoverished.
Worst sickness: When two friends and I got parasites in rural Ethiopia. Four of us were couchsurfing (staying with a local family) in a small town in Ethiopia, sleeping in a room that physically could barely hold four people at a time, where the bathroom was a shack with a hole in the ground, there was no lights at night or running water, and the hospital/next city was a two day bus ride away. The three of us were bed ridden for one week (with near constant trips to the bathroom) and I had a dysfunctional stomach for almost one month after. To repay the family for hosting us, we bought the family a goat for Ethiopian Easter.
Lowest point: I was denied entry at the border crossing to Mozambique from Swaziland during a thunderstorm at 11PM at night, while sick, with no food or shelter and no prospect of leaving until the border reopened the next day. Thankfully I was eventually able to finagle a way into Mozambique.
Most beautiful region: Chilean Patagonia. Hiking and hitchhiking down the Carretera Austral in Chile provided the most spectacular views I have ever seen; absolutely breathtaking.
Weirdest car culture: Uzbekistan. 90% of all cars sold in the country are white Chevrolets. Instead of using gas, all cars use gaseous petroleum (which is apparently so unsafe, you are not allowed to be near cars when they are fueled). Also, all cars in Uzbekistan effectively double as taxis, so if you ever stick your hand up on the side of the road, cars will pull over and attempt to solicit you within seconds (one night while leaving a bar, eight (8!!!) cars pulled over and tried to fight for us to go in their “taxi”).
Weirdest sociocultural phenomenon: Cafe con piernas in Santiago, Chile. Cafe con piernas translates to “coffee with legs” and is literally just that. The conservative capital of Chile is filled with hundreds of cafes for businessmen to get their morning coffee served by attractive women flirting with them dressed in either mini-skirts or lingerie.
Longest time without a shower: 8 days while hiking the O Circuit in Torres Del Paine, Chile.
Longest time without a hot shower: 23 days in Ethiopia. The only thing remarkable about this is that I was promised hot water in almost every place I stayed and believed it every time 🙁
Best Toronto Raptors moment. Watching game 7 against Philadelphia with a group of drunk Macedonians (the game started at 2AM) who all fell asleep by halftime and celebrating Kawhi’s shot by myself in silence, and then catching a bus to Albania leaving 30 minutes after the game ended with a massive grin on my face.
Best Canadian moment. Arriving in Bratislava to learn that Canada was playing that evening in the gold medal game of the World Hockey Championship against Finland. While tickets were too expensive to attend ($300+), there was a viewing party outside the stadium and me and 20 or so other Canadians gathered to cheer on our country. Dressed in red and holding flags (and several beers later), we managed to be louder than the hundreds of Finnish fans there.
Most hardcore traveller: an unassuming man at my hostel who casually said he had been travelling since 1998. Pressed further, he detailed how he started walking to England from Southern Chile, walking through the Americas, then swimming/walking over the Bering Strait(!!!!!!!) and then walking through Siberia. This only slightly topped the women I met running through Tajikistan (approximately 50km per day) on unpaved roads, nearly all above 4000M in altitude while pushing a trolley with her gear.
Most surprising place: Pristina, Kosovo. Entering a muslim country during Ramadan, I never expected to find a vibrant city like Pristina with cafes bustling during the day, gourmet restaurants packed in the evening, and seemingly the entire city stuffed into a handful of discotheques until sunrise. Pristina is an incredibly affordable and trendy city, where locals had better english and more cultural fluency than most other European capitals I’ve visited.
You can read more of my reflections on travelling in part 2 here: https://danfrank.ca/2019-round-the-world-adventure-part-2/