What’s a picture worth?
Making an effort to get out to more Trance events was one of my goals when I came home from travelling. It’s turned out to be a fantastic decision. A few years ago I would never have considered going out to a club alone. My first weekend in London showed me it was nothing to worry about. No one I’d met at my hostel was interested in heading to Ministry Of Sound for Guy J and Cid Inc, and it was a show I didn’t want to miss. I met some great local people in the line, and spent the entire night dancing with new friends. Why couldn’t that happen in Vancouver?
Everyone in the VTF has been welcoming. When you look across the dance floor and see someone recognizing the same tracks you do, singing along with every vocal, and enjoying the music as much as you are, it’s a lot easier to form new bonds. After so many parties since coming home, it’s fantastic that some of these great people are becoming friends away from club. It’s one of those little pieces of my ‘travel self’ that I refuse to let go of.
Besides, I got this great photo of me with Bryan Kearney! Yes!
It’s Christmas Eve. Everything is wrapped. Messages are written. It’s almost time for bed. All that’s left is to watch ‘The Snowman’…
I remember sitting in Old Town Hostel in Kotor, Montenegro. I’d been in the town for a day already, and had seen most of it. I did the hike up to the old fortress. I checked out the churches, and the market. I’d come to Kotor on the flimsiest recommendation. Another traveller in a hostel in Bosnia mentioned that they’d heard Kotor was “supposed to be pretty nice”. Once I got there, I didn’t have a single thought on what would be next. It was an impasse. I could never have guessed that Kotor would turn out to be one of the most significant places I’ve ever been. Not just on my trip. In my life.
Nic, Matt, Fredd, Jack, and Simone livened up the hostel as soon as they walked in. A group of five tends to do that, especially if the place is small. Nic and Matt were lifelong friends from Sydney travelling the world together. Fredd was a young guy from Sweden exploring the other parts of Europe for the first time. Jack and Simone had met each other along their own travels and were enjoying the bliss of backpacker love. They’d all met each other relatively recently, in the Balkans. I spent the next few days with them exploring Kotor. No one knew where to go next and the hostel manager, who was the best I’ve ever met, kept offering us 2-for-1 extra nights. We were introduced to the joys and pain of Rakia, discovered the world’s best triple chocolate lava cake, opened Matt and Nic’s eyes to the wonders of snow, danced to some awful Montenegran ‘Folk Pop’ music, and stuffed ourselves to bursting with delicious roasted meat at the local butcher shop. After nearly a week, the five guys took a momentous photo.
Immediately posted to Facebook, it didn’t take long for the comments to roll in.
“Did you join a band?”
“You guys look like you’re posed for an album cover.”
“What’s the name of your new band?”
We wanted an epic shot. We ended up with a lot more. The questions on Facebook deserved answers. After much discussion, it had been settled. We were ‘The Balkan Boyz‘. Yes, with a ‘z’. Feeling that Kotor had given us more than we could have hoped for, it was time to move on. The rest of the guys asked where I was going next. I didn’t know. They were considering Skopje, in Macedonia. There was an twelve hour overnight bus twice a week, and the next one was in two days. “Just come with us.” Done. I wanted to get to Italy eventually, and so did they. It all seemed to fit.
The rest of the Balkans were brief, but eventful. Skopje delivered one of the best club nights I’ve ever had, but the city wasn’t amazing to us, and Macedonia was starting to get cold. We passed through Albania in a day after encountering some questionable food supply chain practices, and before we knew it our ferry was leaving Durres, bound for Bari. Hostel life brings a regular source of companions, but it felt amazing to travel with people who I thought could become real friends.
Our time around Sorrento and Napoli was fantastic, and the Balkan Boyz theme was becoming more and more pronounced in our group identity. One particularly chatty American man noticed us taking another photo in Pompeii, and declared from a distance: “You guys look like a band!”
Matt didn’t miss a beat. “We are a band.”
The man was thrilled, and Matt was all too happy to describe our recent tour through the Balkans, and how we were taking some time away from rehearsal to see the sights. The guy asked for a photo with us, and wanted to know where he could find us on the internet. He was going to tell his young daughter all about it. I felt bad that his search would turn up nothing, so I thought out loud: “We could make a Facebook page.” With every town, hostel, photo, check-in, and page like, the Balkan Boyz legend continued to grow. Everyone who heard the story thought it was ridiculous, and everyone who heard the story loved it.
Matt and Nic had their flights booked for Southeast Asia. Jack was moving to Berlin. Fredd planned to make his way North and eventually…home. After Italy, I was going to Greece for Christmas and some time with relatives there. We had one more week as a group, in Rome. It was my Sister who commented on the Balkan Boyz’ Facebook page: “You should know that, at this point, I’m expecting some actual music.” Little did she know that we already had a group song. It was time for a sneak peek ‘backstage’ at a Balkan Boyz rehearsal…
Our time in Rome was fantastic. It was certainly one of the favourite stops of my year. There are so many great memories, and of course, great photos to go with them. Fredd was the first to leave, then Nic and Matt. It had only been four weeks, but they were dense, important weeks. The goodbyes were tough. I think we all knew it was a special group, and I think we were all sad to let it go.
Before long I was in Firenze, then on my way to Athens. It was great to spend time with family, especially around the holidays. After leaving the city I headed to Rodos, then the West coast of Turkey. It was a lonely bunch of days before I arrived in Istanbul, and even then, it wasn’t the same without the Boyz. I had a flight booked to Israel, but beyond…I wasn’t sure. I was talking to Nic and Matt a lot on Facebook. I had originally planned to visit some of Southeast Asia, so if the timing worked out, why not do it with them? What a silly thought! What timing? We could make it work out. Almost two months after parting ways in Rome, I flew from Tel Aviv, through Tashkent and Bangkok, to Vientiane, Laos. I walked into the arrivals hall to see Nic, Matt, and their good friend Alex standing together singing ‘Take Me Back’. These were indeed real friends.
I didn’t love Southeast Asia, but I loved travelling with my friends. Those might have been the most eventful three months of my trip. Temples, hikes, bus rides, waterfalls, Tuk Tuks, and many, many parties. We were packing it in. It was a meetup in Chiang Mai with a pair of Swiss Balkan Boyz fans that brought about one of the last band developments. You never know what can come up during a simple breakfast conversation.
Matt was talking about getting a tattoo in Asia to go along with his European ones. I’d never been opposed to the idea of them, but didn’t think I would ever find something meaningful enough to want to stamp it on my skin forever. Sitting there with Matt and the girls, suddenly I wished we could represent the Balkan Boyz somehow. That might be enough to get me under an artist’s gun.
“What if there was a Balkan Boyz logo?”
Matt looked at me as soon as I said it, wide eyed. We knew immediately that we were going to design one, and this tattoo was going to happen. We spent the rest of the morning at a coffee shop with the girls, brainstorming on a piece of paper. We came up with an idea, and I refined it over the next week or so. Matt and I knew that convincing Nic to join us on this wouldn’t be easy. He’s not exactly the tattoo type, and coming from me, that’s saying a lot. Still, Nic has a weakness for symbolism, and the logo was designed with heaps of it.
The double ‘b’ shape is obvious enough, and the b’s are in fact musical symbols. Two flats. We’re not great singers, after all. It’s almost the symbol for B-Flat Major, except that would have the right portion higher than the left. We kept it reversed so that it’s deliberately wrong. After all, we’re not a real band. Matt and I presented this to Nic, and behind the wall of stubbornness, I could tell he loved it. It wasn’t long before we were in a small tattoo shop in Kuala Lumpur.
Why were we even in KL, anyway? Oh yeah…’A State Of Trance 650′!
These guys weren’t just real friends, or great friends. They’d become my best friends. We went back to Thailand for five more weeks. It was amazing. We picked up an honourary sixth band member, and for a while the Balkan Boyz feat. Ry Ry were at the top of the charts on Koh Phangan.
Suddenly it was the last week of Nic and Matt’s year long trip. We spent most of it in Singapore. Even knowing that it wouldn’t be too long before I’d visit them in Sydney, it was tough to say another goodbye after three solid months together. For the guys, it was tough knowing that they were headed home to reality. I was going to Melbourne, and had a handful of friends there. Still, I knew I’d be back to solo travel very soon, and it was no longer an exciting thought. I’d done the solo thing. It was great. Being with friends was better.
After seeing central Australia and a lot of New Zealand, I was headed to Sydney for one more stint with the Boyz. I would be home in just over a month, and after being away for nearly a year, sightseeing wasn’t my priority. The guys were back to work and back to life, but we still found plenty of time to hang out. It was great to meet Matt’s family, see their friend and flatmate Alex again, and their friend Laura who was with us in Laos. I couldn’t have asked for a better three weeks.
Nothing about my trip turned out the way I expected. In most ways, it was better. The Balkan Boyz were a huge part of that. It was one year ago today that I met them in Kotor. They’re some of the best guys I’ve ever known. In just under six months, Matt and Nic became the best friends I’ve ever had. They’re family. In honour of that bond, I couldn’t let this anniversary pass unmarked. I created a little something, and mailed a copy to Nic, Matt, Jack, and Fredd. A small memento. Each of us now has a poster commemorating the Balkan Boyz 2013 European tour. Memories that, for the rest of my life, will be some of the best times I could ask for.
November 22, 2013. The day I met my Brothers.
Happy first anniversary, Boyz!
As I was making breakfast this morning, I decided to flip on the TV. The Space Channel has been showing Star Trek: The Next Generation lately, and today just happened to be the series’ final episode, “All Good Things…”
Today was also my first day at work in fifteen months. My hiatus from normal life is at an end. It’s hard to imagine more appropriate symbolism than my favourite TV series finishing a broadcast run one hour before I step back into the office at Atmosphere Visual Effects, leaving the last bits of my traveller’s lifestyle behind.
‘All good things” indeed.
Three hundred and sixty five days. When I realized I had a chance to hit that mark exactly, I thought it was too appropriate to pass up. I surprised my family and friends, and was back in time for Soundproof‘s Summer party, Trancemission 17. It was fantastic. That was almost two months ago. Things feel a bit different now. Instead of being glad to be home, to go back to work, to find a new place to live, it feels as if I’m sinking into reality. Like quicksand. Family and friends make for a welcoming return, but they also make me acutely aware of the people who aren’t in my life anymore. Vancouver is home, but now it’s missing the best friendships I’ve ever had. It’s not what it used to be.
It’s said that sometimes, you can never go home again. Things here will certainly never be the way they were, so I suppose it’s true. Vancouver is far from perfect, but it’s one of the only places I’ve ever been where I would want to live. Still, even the ‘best place on Earth’ is just a place. People are what count, and I can’t help but notice the gaping hole of missing friends. Hopefully it’s just a matter of time. What do they say about surviving quicksand? Don’t fight it. Lie back, relax, and try to float. Help will be along…
While backpacking, I’ve gotten pretty used to saying “goodbye” to fellow travellers and new friends. Most of the time “goodbye” seems appropriate. I don’t expect to see them again, and while good times were had and a short friendship was formed, it’s not expected to continue. There are many expressions to use when parting company, but “goodbye” is in many ways the harshest. It gives no hint of a future. No possibility of a reunion. “Goodbye” is final.
I suppose that’s the main reason I almost never use it. I’ve met travelling friends again and again too many times, and there are just too many better alternatives when I’m searching for something to say. It would be better to say that I’ve gotten used to saying “take care”, “see you later”, or “have a great trip”. Most of the time it’s really easy. Being back on the road alone is no big deal to me, but that doesn’t mean that every split is easy.
Spending three weeks in Melbourne wasn’t part of my plan, but with so many friends there, and some generous free accommodation, it turned out to be an ideal place to rest and relax. I got to spend some time with a few people I’d only met for a few days back in Europe, and it felt great to solidify those friendships. Plus, Melbourne reminds me a lot of Vancouver, and I’ve never felt more at home during this year away.
It’s back to the road, however. I got into Adelaide today, and while I covered most of the city centre on foot today, I’m hoping there’s a bit more to check out during the next couple of days. I’m really back to travelling alone now, but I’m looking forward to seeing what South Australia and the Northern Territory bring!
I also just checked the price for a bus from here to Alice Springs. $240. Shit…
Welcome to Oz.
It’s been happening for a few weeks. A creeping desire, driven by mental exhaustion, to stop moving around every week. To stop spending time researching sights, directions, transportation, and prices, and to start spending time on my own projects. I miss writing, working out, hockey, and especially DJing. Getting the chance to play a set during a warm up party on Koh Phangan really brought that home. Could a desire to return to work be around the corner? It would sure be nice.
I’ve spent the past month or so feeling guilty for not seeing nearby attractions. Since then I’ve moved past guilt into almost complete apathy. It’s just going to be another temple, or waterfall, or hill top view. Sunsets? They happen every day. Boring! It’s an awful attitude, but even the biggest sponge gets full of water. Having down time has become increasingly pleasurable, and I’m finding myself spending more and more time on my computer, doing the kind of organizational work and small creative projects I would do at home.
Australia is next. The first couple of weeks in and around Melbourne will tell me all I need to know about how much travel I have left in me. Is this full blown travel fatigue, or am I just tired of Asia? Hopefully it’s the latter. Either way, I’m certainly not thinking of changing any of my big picture plans for the trip. I’ll go back to being an excited traveller, or I’ll be desperately pushing myself along. The call to come home isn’t nearly strong enough to change that…yet.
My time in Oz will be slightly different than everywhere else. I’ll have more people to visit, and less I actually have a desire to see. Also, I’m going to be running a small experiment. For the first time in my life, I’ll be wearing glasses than aren’t just for protection from the Sun. I don’t need them, of course, but I’m curious to see if people respond differently to me while they’re on. I’m still getting used to seeing a different face in the mirror, but if that beard could become normal, anything is possible.