Wagah border crossing

And we're back!

Today we are at the Pakistan-India border to watch the closing ceremony. Until 1999 the Wagah border was the only crossing between the two countries [1]. I remember first seeing this in a documentary with Michael Palin many years ago and was thrilled to finally get the chance to see it for myself.

Starting from Lahore we are driven to the border. Driving in Pakistan is not for the meek and we are glad to have someone doing it for us. As we approach the border we join a steadily thickening stream of cars, tuktuks, bikes and people coming to watch the spectacle. Eventually we reach as far as our car is allowed and continue the last kilometer or so on foot. Security is heavy, there was a terrorist attack here last year and no one wants a repeat.

We are ushered to our seats, as foreigners we are accorded prime position near the centre and are not separated. The stands around us are divided into men and women, the latter being incredibly colourful, the former being incredibly loud.

As the anticipation grows, the crowd starts getting warmed up, it sounds similar to a football game with a Pakistani twist. During the brief lulls similar excitement can be heard just across the border in India. The soldiers convey purpose and surprising speed with their well orchestrated movement. The Pakistani officer throws his hands out with thumbs downturned while we looks at the Indian border, but it turns out he's just righting his hat or putting his hands behind his back each time. No insult intended of course. The Indian soldiers seem less obvious with their taunts but we get a good view of their faces as they face the Pakistani side and stare us all down.

The Wagah Border closing ceremony, between Pakistan and India, from the Pakistani side of the border.

The ceremony concludes when the flags have been lowered in unison and a brisk, awkward handshake so fast I missed it on camera! We hang back for photos with the guards who are thrilled to have their pictures taken with us and walk back to our car, back to the thick of the traffic of Lahore. A fantastic afternoon outing.


We are back in the land of vegemite, BBQs, beaches, kangaroos and meat pies.

After 9 months overseas it's both great to be back amongst the familiar accent, smells and food but our feelings are tempered as its the end of what has been a great adventure. We are looking forward to catching up with family and friends, many of whom we didn't contact as often as we should have while travelling but it's also a time to start a new chapter in our lives. A chapter that is exciting and full of potential but very different from waking up each morning, packing up all our possessions and hiking over a mountain pass surrounded by glaciers.

Sydney is home to an outpost of Duncans I haven't seen in many years. My cousins have pretty much doubled their age since I last saw them and it's great to be able to spend a few days with them to see what they've been up to and to introduce Shannan. I enjoy being able to go with them for a weekend morning stroll along the beach in the bright warm sunshine as we search for coffee.

Do you recognise this popular Australian landmark?

We arrived in time for the last night of Vivid Sydney. A surreal event that turned the Sydney Opera House into a video screen and had interesting art installations around Circular Quay and much of the CBD area. Also, giant glowing rabbits.

I also had the chance to meet up with a friend here and we enjoyed touring the harbour on the ferry and raiding the Messina ice-cream parlour, a must-visit if you are in Sydney.

Seattle, Washington

We are on our homeward journey now from Vancouver to Los Angeles to catch our flight back to Australia. Arriving by train we had a much more pleasant experience than flying or even driving (no queues at the border). Feeling refreshed we were ready to hit up the Pike Place Market, home of the first Starbucks and the famous fish market where workers make a spectacle of the orders by throwing fish up to 5m to be caught and packaged for shipping.

In a nearby side street is the Market Theatre Bubblegum Wall, a sickly-sweet smelling alleyway where the wall is covered in pre-chewed gum. In some places its 5 to 10 cm thick. I keep a wary eye out so I don't trip and end up a permanent part of the attraction.

The Market Theatre Gum Wall. Yummo!

The market is bustling and full of character. Downstairs we met the second hand book seller who passes the time singing grandiose operas in his, rather good, bellowing voice. Nearby, Shan passes her time, and a quarter, peering into the Giant Show Museum. At least that only cost a quarter. Before leaving we went past the giant piggy bank and deposited a bunch of our change. Shan made someones day by giving him the rest when he asked for some change.

Food at the market was amazing. Seafood bisque, Ukrainian pastries, not to mention the countless little samples and tid-bits we found during our meandering. We returned to our 'US' rationing of buying one meal to share before migrating to the next taste sensation. We noticed a relative lull outside the worlds first Starbucks and decided to follow the crowd and grab a photo of our own. I still prefer the ones with gigabit wifi.

There is a monorail that provides easy travel from the market area out to the space needle. We hopped on and had a look around. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has its central administration nearby and the ground floor had an exhibit area that goes into detail explaining the different projects the charity is involved in. It was very well done, interesting exhibits that explain the projects while keeping you engaged, utilising technology in a way that harks back to their Microsoft heritage. That said, I left somewhat disappointed. Nearing the end of our travels I am looking toward my future. How can I go back to normal being normal? Do I want that? What will I do with my life? I had hoped I might find an answer here, the foundation is doing great work around the world but I didn't walk out with plans to head to a far flung part of the world to solve its problems. I will continue to look for inspiration.


I should start out by acknowledging I do a grave injustice to Canada by pooling our experience here into a single post. Canada is a land full of friendly people and natural beauty however we were here primarily to visit my brother who is currently working in Alberta. For this reason I did not get out for as many photos or hikes as usual. Absolutely nothing to do with the hungry bears.

Our course took us north from Yellowstone past Glacier National Park (sorry we didn't visit you Glacier, we had to leave ourselves a reason to come back to the US!) across the US-Canadian border and on to Calgary, Alberta. Here we couch surfed and caught up with family. In nearby Edmonton we visited the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village where there was a folk dancing festival with both local and international traditional dancers. There is a large Ukrainian heritage population in the surrounding area who started emigrating in the late 19th Century. 

Could *you* ballista a pop-tart into a giant toaster? It was harder than it looked.

We were also in Calgary during the Lilac Festival, an interesting event that has nothing to do with lilacs but takes up an entire street in the CBD with an array of stores and entertainment. It's in late May, just as the winter freeze has thawed out and tries to encourage people back into the sunshine. I was put in charge of a ballista and tasked with launching pop tarts at a toaster over at the Beakerhead stall.

North of Calgary we visited the West Edmonton Mall. This is an absolutely huge shopping centre with a full size replica of the Santa Maria, a large water park with wave pool and several water slides, an amusement park with a couple rollercoasters and other show rides. All this on top of over 800 stores and 100 food court cafes and restaurants. I was cut loose while Shannan and Mum went off shopping, each to return to the rendezvous point clutching armfuls of bags and sporting a limp. I tripped and fell in the Apple store and walked out with a brand new iPad mini, outspending them both in about 30 minutes. For the record, the low sales tax in Alberta (5%) makes it a good place to shop if you are in Canada. The shopping centre itself seemed a bit tired in parts. Some of it was under renovation while we were there and I hope a number of other areas are scheduled in the near future.

'Snow problem

Next we visited the Banff and Jasper National Parks. They were still defrosting while we were there, with the lakes partially frozen. Shannan and I threw pebbles onto one of the lakes that was slushy with ice. It sounded like breaking glass as the stone tinkered along the ice before sinking.

The lookout for Morraine Lake was still snowed in but we could walk the final distance on foot. This seemed easy enough until we realised that we could break the crust and fall in up to our waists. After much effort we were eventually rewarded with an overview of the frozen lake, cracks starting to form on its surface. Shannan was rewarded with a sore foot from losing her boot to one too many sinkholes.

Continuing across the country we stopped a few days at Shuswap Lake for a barbie in our lakefront cabin, cashing in on my brothers strategically placed Canadian connections.

Arriving in Vancouver we stayed in an apartment on Granville Island, it really is about who you know. Granville Island is an exciting place with cafes, art shops and a market that sold such varied food Shan and I felt a strong pang of envy for the regular visitors. I saw Wasabi root in its natural form for the first time and Shan spotted a range of thai ingredients that we've never seen in Perth which lend to authentic thai tastes. With no time to get down to making a nice green chicken curry we had to let that opportunity go. We got to (re)visit our adopted Canadian family who we'd first met in Cuba and have a yummy dinner and camp out by the backyard fire.

And just like that it was time to say goodbye to Canada and family as we boarded a train to the US. We have a flight to catch, even if we don't want to leave.

Train from Vancouver to Seattle, a pleasant way to cross the border.