Saturday, December 8, 2007

Mediterranean Backpacking Trip - Prologue

I've been looking forward to finally returning home from university for a long time. I graduated from Cornell University, with a double major in Computer Science and Engineering Physics, magna cum laude, and with honours. It has been a tough four years, and coming home for good from school was a great relief. At the same time, I feel saddened that I've grown up and have to start facing the real world soon. But before that, I have one more big adventure ahead of me. You see, I had gone on a three week backpacking trip across Northern Europe and Scandinavia in the winter, and was very much changed by that experience. Wanting to relive my days of wandering around, meeting interesting people and learning to see the world in different ways, I decided to take a long, two and a half month trip to some more exotic destinations. So although I was ecstatic to be finally coming home, I only had a few short days to savour my success at home, as I needed to prepare for my long journey ahead.

June 3, 2007. Once again, I had my parents drive me to the airport. Although we had done this once in the winter, there was still an air of excitement, anticipation, and sadness that I will be leaving for so long. My parents and I knew that we would see each other for a long time. My parents were especially worried since they knew that I would be in a foreign country, with no way to locate me if our lines of communications were cut. This is why they "decided" that I should carry a GSM phone so that I would be able to contact my parents from time to time. After a few photos, I walked through the door to enter US customs on my way to Madrid through Philadelphia.

Months of planning had gone into this trip. It had taken months for me to finally decide on where I wanted to go for my big post-graduation adventure. I had applied for English teaching jobs in Mongolia and Myanmar, a volunteering program in Cambodia, a English Wilderness camp instructor position in Siberia, and had considered wandering around South Asia. But since I am moving to the San Fransisco Bay Area after summer, I decided to leave Asia for the future, and take advantage of being close to Europe while still on the East Coast.

After coming up with the idea of a Mediterranean trip, I had been spending my time researching places to go and planning a route. That was the easy part. The hard part was that a few of my friends, with some encouragement from me, had also decided to join me for parts of my trip. It took a lot of negotiations to decide on mutually agreed upon routes and dates. The cumulation of the negotiations resulted in a slightly changed route than what I had originally planned. Instead of visiting Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Sicily, Malta, Tunisia, and Algeria, I was going to visit (re-visit) Italy, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania.

Side story: After agreeing to go to Greece, I had been looking for cheap tickets from Eastern Europe to Lisbon, where I had an inexpensive flight home. I found a ticket for $12, including taxes, from Bucharest, but after all of the negotiations with my friends were done, it had jumped to $200! Just shows that you have to book a ticket well in advance! Anyway, because of this, I'll have an excuse to visit Romania, a country I have been curious about but never had a good reason to visit.

More amazingly, the negotiations resulted in having me arrive in Madrid, spending the first day by myself, then meeting up with a friend of mine. Throughout the trip, I will be meeting up and parting ways with 4 of my friends. I would have a guaranteed travel buddy all of way up to Sofia, Bulgaria, from where I would be on my own to explore Romania and Portugal. After many changes in the timing and route, my friends and I finally agreed upon the following way points:

June 3: Fly out of Toronto, Canada to Madrid, Spain. Start Trip!
June 5: Meet up with Felix in Madrid, Spain.
June 7: Flight from Madrid to Ouarzazate, Morocco.
June 11: Meet up with Lori in Marrakesh, Morocco.
June 23: See Lori off on her flight home from Barcelona, Spain.
June 27: Meet up with Andre in Nice, France.
Depart with Felix around Nice so that he can visit Florence before returning to Munich.
July 12: Meet up with David in Athens, Greece.
Visit the Greek islands during this time.
July 21: Send off Andre on his flight home from Athens, Greece
July 29: Send off David from Sofia, Bulgaria.
Aug. 7: Fly out from Bucharest, Romania to Lisbon, Portugal.
Aug. 10: Fly out from Lisbon, Portugal to Toronto, Canada. End Trip!

While I was excited for the upcoming trip, at the same time, I wished my departure day would never come. I loved the anticipation, as I knew that this would be a once in a lifetime experience, my last real adventure before entering "the real world." Once my departure date comes, I will never experience the anticipation of waiting for the start of my very first long-term backpacking trip, with no responsibilities and nothing to worry about except for me, my friends, and my well being for the sake of my family.

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