Saturday, April 7, 2007

First Backpacking Trip - Start of Trip

At the time of the writing, I have been back from the backpacking trip for 4 months already, so some memories are already starting to fade. Luckily, I've made some notes on my travels to remind me of the times I have had there. I figure I should write about my trip as soon as possible so that I won't forget more of it in the future. Since my notes were made during the experience, most of it were written in the moment. I am going to stick with that spirit and just expand on my notes, writing as if I am actually there, so that I can re-experience the moment and remember everything freshly.

So here I am, arriving in the parking lot at the Toronto Pearson International Airport being sent off by my parents, ready to leave for my first backpacking trip. Although I have travelled internationally alone for short periods alone before and had lived alone in Seattle during the summer for an internship, I was still a little apprehensive about the adventures I would be about to have in Europe. After all, this was the first time I'd be carrying everything I needed to live a nomadic life in Europe for a few weeks on my back. I was glad that I only had three weeks to travel before I had to return to classes. I viewed this as an introduction to backpacking, a soft learning experience to prepare me for longer backpacking trips in the future to more difficult destinations.

As nervous as my parents and I were, the excitement of all of us overwhelmed all other emotions. My parents were extremely proud that their son was old enough to be able to take care of himself enough to go on a backpacking trip across Europe. I was proud that I have finally matured enough to attempt something like this without worrying too much about being homesick or the fact that I would not have my parents to rely on to bail me out of situations in other countries. I was also very, very excited for the adventure I was about to have. I would be transferring flights at Philadelphia, meeting up with Soutrik, a very good University friend of mine who just graduated this winter, and then meeting up with one of his high school friends, who had also just graduated, in Amsterdam.

I still very clearly remember the moment we stepped out of the car and pulled the backpack from out the the trunk. I equipped the pack for the first time for the purposes of travel. Just two weeks ago, I had no idea how to equip an expedition pack. I was standing in the MEC in downtown Toronto, having a very nice and helpful store clerk fit me with different packs and explaining to me how to equip it. This was also a moment I clearly remember, as it was the first time I had ever been equipped with a travel pack. Back in the dark but busy garage, I pulled all the straps in the correct sequence, and indicated my approval to my parents at how well the pack fit. The walk to the terminal was a memorable one. At the same time I wanted to speed up from my excitement, I also wanted to slow down because I wanted to spend more time in the comfortable presence of my parents. We ended up walking at a regular pace, and we were all acting clearly excited.

After taking a few pictures of my with my parents and my pack, I checked in. My parents walked me to the door, had a few final hugs, and watched me walk into the passenger only section with huge grins, but with a slight tinge of sadness because this also signalled I had matured enough to travel without them. I also had a huge, somewhat sad, and what must have been an almost silly looking grin for them as well.

After passing through security and arriving at my gate, I called my parents on their cell phone using a pay phone and had a long conversation before the boarding call. Walking up the stairs to the plane, it finally hits me what a significant step this was for me. Just three years ago, I had been extremely attached to my parents. I'd come close to crying every time I left then for even a day, and felt very uncomfortable if they were not around. I had also been very meek and scared of getting into uncomfortable situations, especially if my parents were not around. In fact, even in high school, I hated overnight class trips as it would mean leaving the comfort of my parents. It's difficult to describe the intense homesickness I used to feel, but I am sure most people have been homesick when they were young. I didn't even have many friends in school because I hated to be away from my parents. For me, I was not independent at all up to my first, even second year in University.

But going to university had made me mature quickly. I developed social skills, I was comfortable being away from my parents, and I enjoyed getting into situations and solving problems for myself (as long as the situations did not involve bodily harm or too much money loss). I reflected on all of this on my flight to Philadelphia.

I had taken a slightly early flight to Philadelphia, as I did not want to risk losing my connection to Amsterdam, knowing how horribly congested Philadelphia airport is. I walked around for a bit, and bought some fast food to eat as it was dinner time. My friend Soutrik was scheduled to arrive in Philadelphia from Detroit about an hour and a half before our flight to Amsterdam. About 15 minutes before he was scheduled to arrive, I walked over to his gate to wait for him. Then, in true Philadelphia style, the plane was delayed. I repeatedly asked the gate attendant on the status of the flight, and was repeatedly told that the flight was "waiting for it's turn to land." Finally, about half an hour before the flight to Amsterdam was to depart, I decided to go over to the gate. At this time, his plane had landed, but was talking a very long time to taxi to the gate.

I arrived at the gate just a few minutes before they started to board. I was starting to think that Soutrik would not make his flight after all. But just as they called for zone three, I saw Soutrik sprinting down the hallway toward the gate. After a quick man-hug and a washroom break for Soutrik, we changed our tickets so that we'd sit next to each other on the flight. We were one of the last ten people to board the plane.

The red-eye flight over was exciting. We looked over maps, his tour book, and talked for the entire night. Finally, just as we were about to go to sleep, the lights came on in the cabin, and it was announced that breakfast was being served. After breakfast, just prior to landing, we noticed two seats open by the window near the back of the plane, and decided to grab them. At this point, we were well into the descent. We chatted with a flight attendant who had lived for a few years in the Netherlands during the landing. Looking down, we can see a solid, billowy layer of clouds, glistening orange, and then blue in the morning sun.

As we descended through the clouds, everything suddenly turned grey, and we can see the green landscape below us in the rain. We had in fact expected this, as we've been told that Amsterdam was know for it's grey weather. We met up with Soutrik's friend Chenbarro (sorry about the spelling, I'm not sure how to spell his name. I'll refer to him as Barro from now on as Soutrik seems to do that) in the airport. After they exchanged some currency, we walked around to pass through customs. We ended getting lost in the airport, and ended up in a deserted section. After eating and disposing of our meat products (Soutrik had a bag of rice and lamb from his mother), we passed through customs.

Taking an IC train to Amsterdam Centraal, we started our three weeks (or their two months) in Europe!

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