Unhaggle | The World’s Most Spectacular Roads

Ghostwritten by Elliot Chan for Unhaggle.com | March 25, 2014 |

The world is full of spectacular roads that wind and stretch, extending from our boring highways and traffic-congested cities to majestic mountains, sea coasts and the far reaches of exotic lands. These roads remind us of the joys of owning a vehicle that go beyond the grind of paying off your Impala or getting that 4Runner checked up again. Sometimes you just want a vessel and the freedom to explore, which is what these roads are all about.

Icefields Parkway: Alberta, Canada

Scenic Mountain Views

Cutting through the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Icefields Parkway is a perfect road for northern travellers seeking untouched wildness. Connecting between two of Alberta’s tourist hotspots and national parks, Icefields Parkway offers those passing by a permanent memory of the vast landscape of mountains, lakes and glaciers, as well as occasional encounters with moose, elks, caribous and bears. There aren’t many roads in Canada that offer such a variety of photo opportunities and breathtaking views, which truly capture the essence of being Canadian.

Lombard Street: California, USA

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Eight hairpin turns lead you from the top of Hyde Street down to Leavensworth Street in hilly San Fran. World famous for forcing travellers to slow down and enjoy its narrow complexity, Lombard Street reminds drivers to indulge in the novelty of the mundane. Cars venturing down this one way street become participants of this obstacle course of a road as spectators watch on with fascination. And upon completion, drivers will be sure to breathe a sigh of relief, having achieved the thrill of that suburban challenge.

West Coast of the South Island: New Zealand

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This six and a half hour road trip along the scenic coast of the Middle Earth replica allows drivers to appreciate the majesty of land and ocean and the convergence of the two. Slipping through small towns and farmlands, and up into the great heights of New Zealand, one could only image the exhilaration of being a trail blazer, setting eyes on the pristine world for the first time.

Trollstigen (Troll’s Path): Norway

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Road tourist will need to take a trip to Norway and experience the serpentine road eerily named the Troll’s Path. The steep mountain side road will test the driver’s tact as he or she pilots the vehicle towards a plateau overlooking a waterfall and the navel of Scandinavia. During the height of tourist season, Trollstigen receives over 2,500 daily visitors, but the roads are subjected to close during unruly weather conditions and during the winter months.

Guoliang Tunnel Road: China

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Considered to be the most dangerous road in the world, Guoliang Tunnel Road in China is a free-for-all path that hangs off of a mountain ridge. Twisting and turning through the tunnel as pockets of light seep in from stone windows and blend with the sudden darkness of the burrow, drivers narrowly dodge each other as they make their way through the prehistoric road of the Taihang Mountains.

Los Caracoles Pass: Chile to Argentina

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Choosing the Los Caracoles Pass to cross the vast Andes Mountains of South America takes you through a topographically diverse landscape, from the vine yards of Argentina up to the rocky and icy desolation and down to the green valleys of Chile. Truly such a trip makes even the largest vehicle seem insignificant in comparison.

Orchard Road: Singapore/Las Vegas Strip: Nevada, USA

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Not every great road needs to be carved into a mountainside or branched off into the ocean. Orchard Road in Singapore and the Las Vegas Strip incorporates all the urban wonders that make night time driving so exhilarating. Neon and marquee lights dance down the avenue as you pull into a snazzy place for a meal or just a little spot to rest up and prepare for the next leg of your trip.

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Cauldron

By Elliot Chan

Formerly published in MeetVanCity.com

courtesy of BBC

courtesy of BBC

In 2010, all eyes were on Vancouver as it hosted the 21st Winter Olympic Games. Fans, athletes and everyone else crowded the downtown core celebrating and enjoying the event. In preparation for the grand occasion, Vancouver went through upgrades, introducing new sport complexes and public spaces and a safer highway to Whistler. Most of what was created for the Olympics is still in use today, such as the Convention Centre and Richmond’s Olympic Oval. While those locations became a regular part of the city’s landmark, the Olympic cauldron is still able to spark memories of the crowded streets and national pride.

Since the day it was unveiled, the cauldron has been a famous icon in Vancouver. So much that organizers were unprepared for its popularity during the two weeks event in 2010. A fence had to be constructed to keep spectators back, until a viewing spot can be built on higher ground. Today, the best spot to see it would be on the upper level of the Convention Centre.

Built to resemble five pillars of ice leaning against each other, the Olympic cauldron is now accessible for anyone eager to get a closer look. During the night, the transparent pillars will illuminate blue and green. Set in the centre of a fountain, against the Coal Harbour backdrop, the cauldron is a photogenic image of the city.

On special occasions, the cauldron would be re-lit. But the initial lighting is what most people remember. During the opening ceremony in BC Place, there were two Olympic cauldrons, the one we know now outdoors and another one in the stadium for the show. At the end of the ceremony, four famous Canadian athletes were supposed to light the pillars of the BC Place cauldron and have the flames travel up to the top of the bowl, but due to mechanical issues, one of the pillars did not rise. It was embarrassing for the organizers and awkward for the audience. Having two cauldrons meant that there would be two lightings. So a pick-up truck transported hockey legend, Wayne Gretzky with the Olympic flame from the stadium to the site of the outdoor cauldron. There, he fulfilled one of the greatest athletic honours in all of sports — lighting the Olympic Cauldron.

Gassy Jack statue in Gastown

March 7, 2013

By Elliot Chan

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Formerly published in MeetVanCity.com.

A small settlement established in the mid-19th century sat at the lip of downtown Vancouver. It was there that the city sprouted into the urban metropolis it is today. Gastown, the six-blocks long district that influenced so much of the city — But to understand the area, we must first understand the man the town was named after, Captain John “Gassy Jack” Deighton.

The word “gas” was an old Victorian slang. If someone was to be gassy, that meant they were very talkative. And Captain Deighton had a reputation for storytelling. The name Gassy Jack stuck and Gastown followed suit.

He was born in Hull, England where he became a sailor for a British fleet, but made a transition to American ships because they were of better quality and had greater provisions. Gassy Jack later became a well-respected steamboat captain on the Fraser River before he settled down and opened his saloon. Back before the cobble streets, Starbucks and high-rises, Gastown was an industrial area set in the wilderness. Gassy Jack took a gamble and developed a community to serve the mill workers. Inadvertently, he became the father of a new town. Expanding from his saloon out, Gastown and Vancouver grew from there.

His establishments were relocated multiple times, during the course of the town’s expansion. But the most memorable spot was on the intersection now known as Water and Carrall Street. It was an early construction, a 12-feet by 24-feet beaten shack that stood amidst the maple trees. The spot received the name, Maple Tree Square. The early days in Vancouver were not pleasant, as Gassy Jack describes, ”A lonesome place when I came here first, surrounded by Indians. I care not to look outdoors after dark. There was a friend of mine about a mile distant found with his head cut in two. The Indian was caught and hanged.”

Times have changed; but in the spot where Gassy Jack shaped the core of downtown Vancouver is a statue resurrected in his honour. For the man that set the city in motion, Gassy Jack will remain a prime figure in Vancouver history.

From City to Ciudad

By Elliot Chan
photo by Elliot Chan

The La Mariscal district is notoriously dangerous for travelers on Sunday mornings. While everybody in Quito is in church or sleeping off a hangover, troubled locals prey on the ignorant and arrogant. Perhaps more the latter than the former, we found ourselves heading down a deserted street toward the bus terminal out of the city.

The previous night seemed endless. Only seven hours ago, the streets were packed with tourists and locals, bonding over a Grande Pilsner and a fooseball game. Memories of making cookies and soup, and smoking hookah were still fresh on our minds. We were embraced by Ecuador; we were accepted, loved and appreciated. But barely knowing enough Spanish to order off a menu, we were disillusioned.

Wearing flashy sunglasses and walking with a North American swagger, we clashed with the dilapidated buildings, the battered streets and the poorly chiseled skylines. We might just get away with it, we thought. And that was the only way to think while traveling.

Then in the distance we saw a boy walking towards us. He was wearing a dirty blue athletic tank top. But he was far from athletic. It wasn’t that he was scrawny or malnourish, he was just incredibly average. The boy approached us with no threatening notion and began speaking in his native tongue.

No hablo,” said Cody, assuming he was a merchant trying to sell us something.

But he was persistent and soon we realized he wasn’t conversing pleasantries. “Si,” I said, furrowing my brow, shaking my head and shrugging my shoulder, a universal sign for misunderstanding. “Si.

photo by Elliot Chan

 

Frustrated, the boy gnashed his teeth, “Moneys…” he looked down at his fist. Between his fingers was the neck of a broken bottle. “Moneys!” His accent was difficult to understand, but the intent was clear when he subtly directed the weapon at us. I glanced up at Cody and he looked back at me. We understood each other without a single word spoken.

We were down the block when we glanced back at the boy. He was dismissively walking away. Like a salesman accustomed to losing costumers, he displayed no visible disappointment. We cross the street to the bus station, paid the 25 cents fare and waited in the shelter at the middle of the road. We stayed silent for a moment, recollecting what had just been avoided. The rehearsal was over, the warning was heeded and what was once a vacation was now survival.

Soon the bus arrived and we squeezed in. Unfriendly eyes watched as we maneuvered our heavy bags. At the rear of the bus on the opposite side of the door was a three feet by two feet area dedicated for standees. As passengers rotated in and out, we eventually worked our way to that little spot out of the stream of departing and incoming human traffic.

photo by Elliot Chan

 

We smiled at each other for a moment of ease. At first it felt like a fortunate turn of events, but then the bus pulled into another station and a large swam of Ecuadorians making their daily commute entered. We crammed against the window, stretched onto our tippy toes and hung on for dear life.

Toddlers accustomed to the commuting fashion thought nothing of it. Between and around our legs they were playing a game of tag. Cody looked up and gave their guardian a dirty look. But the kids continued squirming around beneath our view, laughing and thinking nothing of us foreigners.

“I’m falling over,” said Cody, his fingertips clinging to a horizontal bar above. “I would rather be in your position.”

“I doubt it,” I said, my face pressed against the window. But as terrible as it sounded, for a moment I felt a breeze and breathed fresh air. After a blissful exhale, an idling truck beside the bus spewed out a black cloud that slowly dissipated. A helmetless biker rode through the smog and coughed so wildly that he almost lost balance and careered into a pedestrian.

photo by Elliot Chan

 

I looked over and saw agony in Cody’s face. It was comical, but if he saw humour in the situation, he did not show it. The bus lurched and came to a halt. The doors opened and more passengers boarded. “You fucking kidding me?” Cody had a temper and it often got the best of him. As his only companion, the job of consoling him fell upon me.

“Relax,” I said, remembering that there was nothing more embarrassing than being a frustrated tourist. “We are almost there… I think.”

It took us 40 minutes to travel over five kilometers. The bus pulled into the terminal and the people poured out like water from a broken faucet. We were the last drops. After taking in a moment to recuperate and gather in the new environment, we were due for a siesta, but all we could afford on our budget was a bottle of water. I splurged and purchased yellow imitation Gatorade. I was alive. I deserved it.

photo by Elliot Chan

 

We purchased our ticket to Cuenca, a colonial city eight hours south of Quito. It cost us 10 dollars and a good night sleep—but it was worth it. It was always worth it. When people back home interrogate me, questioning my ability and reason for traveling, I summed up my answer with beaches, culture and cuisine, but mundane routines was what really get me going. Back home, walking down streets and taking buses are not great survival feats worth bragging about. Elsewhere, every day is a guaranteed adventure. After all, some travel to escape, but I travel to discover and discovery is a great inconvenience.

Lost Vegas

by Elliot Chan

I was somewhere on Las Vegas Boulevard heading south from my hotel, which seemed like a mirage in the distance. I was 18 years old, too young to enjoy any standard entertainment and too old to tag along with my family.

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Vegas was a sad place for a family vacation. My father and I would hop about from one slot machine to the next, fearful to commit, but too curious to worry. My mother would attempt to wrangle us all together for quality time. At night we would see shows and eat buffets, but the days were long and there weren’t much for an adolescent boy to do.

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We weren’t staying long, just four nights. And in that short amount of time, I managed a lot of walking—but I refer to it as an urban hike. On my own I wandered the promenades searching for something spectacular. There weren’t many streets like it in the world. There were landmarks on every corner and swarms of tourist crisscrossing, traveling from one hotel to the next with no intention of staying.

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The day was hot and I was already too far-gone. I would enter a hotel for rest, savoring the theme of each casino as if it was some novel location. I enjoyed the idea of a place in the world where nobody really lived in, where everyone was just visiting. A part of me feels like this is how every city should be, how all citizens should be—Nomadic, just aimlessly wandering, winning and losing.

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Outside I could only locate myself by the signs and building structures. Bellagio, MGM Grand and Treasure Island, everything seemed so close at a glance, but that was Vegas’ greatest illusion. The city is deceptively big, and my attempt to visit every hotel on the block was a failure.

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I took a wrong exit out of MGM and ended up on a highway. I went back in, wandered around for a bit, looking the proper exit and for the prize lion they have locked up behind glass, but the cage was being cleaned and all that was there were two maintenance men. I eventually found another exit that didn’t look familiar. It was too late though; I was already on the move.

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I left the strip and was struck with a moment of fright when I crossed through a construction site. A new hotel perhaps, should be ready for accommodations the next time I visit. Until then, I needed to find my way back to my current hotel, miles away.

The gulls it takes to call a place “paradise”. A man hands me a couple prostitute trading cards. How delightful. I tuck it into my pocket and continue on my way. I arrive at a courtyard at Caesars Palace. I snap some pictures of statues and monuments and realized what I was doing. I was fooling myself into believe I was some place special. I was in Rome, New York, Paris, and Egypt. Vegas is a travelers’ lie. Too frightened to travel? Don’t want to deal with language barrier or snooty locals? Well Vegas.

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For vacationers, Vegas can be a terrific all-inclusive experience, but for travelers, Vegas is a warm up, an appetizer or even just a menu. Nobody really gets lost there, they just get returned.

 

SOS Canada

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Should the Canadian consulate rescue troubled citizens abroad?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan. 28, 2014

Travellers know the danger of visiting a foreign country; it’s the little extra spice in travelling. They hear stories on the television about political unrest, radical rebels, and petty criminals. Still, their desire to see the world is not dampened by the risks. Travellers know if something happens to them abroad, their citizenship is enough for them to get noticed. Someone back home will care about and miss them. Their government will do whatever it takes to get them back. But what if the travellers were the troublemakers? Should they be brought back home and punished as Canadians?

We all get that anxious feeling when we cross the security checkpoint at airports. Sure, we know that we haven’t committed any crimes and that we aren’t packing any contraband, yet we still worry because the alternative of being guilty is so scary. Put yourself in the shoes of a smuggler; put yourself in the shoes of a smuggler being detained; then put yourself in the shoes of a smuggler sentenced to death. So, I ask again, should Canada save you?

Currently, the Canadian consular office provides detainees the ability to communicate with their home country, presents proper nutrition, and connects them with a legal representative, but it does not get them out of jail or post their bail or make travel accommodations for their family. Although some countries have transfer of offender arrangements—including Brazil, United Kingdom, and Thailand—many other countries don’t. The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development has a lot of limitations when it comes to another country’s judicial system.

Travellers are not just Canadian citizens; they must also be citizens of the world. To say that they don’t know the law in another country isn’t a good excuse. That is just ignorance and deserves to be punished. The same way you wouldn’t jump into an ocean if you don’t know how to swim or what lies beneath, you shouldn’t dive into a foreign country if you don’t know what will pose harm for you, the locals, and your country’s image.

Remember that when you’re abroad you’re a representative of your homeland, regardless of where you’re from and what your background is. As much as you want to have an awesome time and make wonderful memories, it’s also important to respect other people’s home and country. Remember that you’re a guest and that you’re not entitled to anything. Be respectful and treat Cambodia, Cameroon, and Colombia the way you would treat Canada. If you follow ethical behaviour wherever you go—you know, the kind of stuff your mother taught you—you likely stay out of trouble.

The Report Card: Vacations

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By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan. 7, 2014

Welcome back from your little holiday break. I hope you got a chance to rest and spend some valuable time with your friends and family—or I hope you got an opportunity to get out of the city, away from the hustle and bustle of the holidaze, and do a bit of travelling. When it comes to travelling, there isn’t an incorrect way of seeing the world, but with limited chances, it’s important to do it right.

Pass: Backpacking

Contrary to popular belief, backpacking across a city, country, or continent is no more dangerous than any other form of travelling. Just because you aren’t staying at a five-star hotel doesn’t mean you won’t have a good time. There is a freedom to backpacking that other forms of travelling can’t replicate. You move at your own pace and decide where and what you want to eat, sleep, and do. You push yourself to get to rural destinations and see the breathtaking National Geographic sights.

Moreover, backpacking allows you to constantly meet new and interesting people, the kind you won’t meet at a resort. It also enables you to be fully engulfed in the cultural experience—especially if you don’t have a translator. Suddenly body language and patience become so important. All the skills and ethics your parents tried to instil in you from a young age are applied while backpacking. It’s a very human feeling of completeness, not in the way buying a new car or a computer makes you feel complete.

Not many North Americans are born nomads, but there is a beauty in trying new things. Limited to a backpack full of essentials, backpackers can just pick up and go. In a way, backpackers are really the only type of legitimate travellers—others are just passengers.

Fail: Tours

Is there anything worse than being told what to do? In normal life, you are always obeying your teachers, bosses, or parents—why should you be so obedient on your vacation as well? Tours are traps for travellers; it’s a way for big companies to make money. Often, tours will usher you to a popular destination and allow locals to leech off of you, selling you knick-knacks and other novelty foreign garbage that you can bring home and show to all your domesticated friends.

Of course, tours are sometimes the only method of seeing certain attractions. But more often than not, the most attractive places are ruined by the sensation that comes with being on a tour. In 2012, I was fortunate enough to visit the Galápagos Islands. As a fan of science and Charles Darwin, the archipelago off of Ecuador was a place I longed to see; sadly the only safe and legal way of exploring the island was to go on a tour with a naturalist. Let’s just say that it’s hard to have an adventure when a law-abiding environmentalist is practically holding your hand the whole way. Sure, the trip was worth it and I got to see all I wanted to see, but the experience was tarnished by the fact that it was a tour.

Perhaps at a certain age, tours will be an acceptable means of seeing the world, but not in your 20‘s. Take this opportunity to see the world without a leash holding you back.

Terminally Chill

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Surviving airport purgatory

Formerly published in The Other Press. May 8 2013

By Elliot Chan, Staff Writer

No matter how well you prepare for traveling, delays and cancellations are bound to happen. You can huff and puff all you want, but it won’t get that plane in the air any faster. I have suffered through many days and nights at airports far from home, sometimes due to finicky air traffic control, other times caused by my own stupidity. I know exactly how Tom Hanks’ character felt in The Terminal, wandering around an empty airport, with nobody but custodians and airport security eyeing you. They know how harmless you are, but their pitiful reproaches are pinpricks to the ego.

When faced with a long airport stay, you have two options: you can choose to leave the airport, get a hotel room, and pass the time in the world outside. But if you’re like me and didn’t budget for inconvenience, you might rather just hunker down at the airport and wait for the tides to turn. If that’s the case, I’ve supplied some tips that will help you not only pass the time, but make the best of it.

Move around: Don’t be bound to the little comfy corner you found for yourself. An airport is a big place; there are many places to roam around. By staying active, you can avoid the monotony of airport cabin fever. And if you do have a corner you like, odds are few people are going to compete for that little secluded spot. Most people are coming and going; few linger like we do.

Be productive: Music, books, movies, and even companions can all be rendered useless at an airport. There is only so much you can do before boredom kicks in and you lose the will to focus on meaningless enjoyments. Stay productive instead. Start researching activities you want to do when you reach your destination or catch up on work. Grab a piece of paper and make a list of the chores you would like to accomplish when you get home. Turn the dreary hours of waiting into constructive and creative time well spent. Don’t resist getting work done just because you are on a trip. There is a satisfying feeling when you accomplish something out of the blue.

Eat, rest, and get better: After you get over the initial disappointment and frustration, it is time to regroup. Grab some food and rest. People-watching is a great way to forget about your own troubles. See them hustle down the concourse toward baggage claim, know that for the moment you can just chill. People will generally be friendly when you try to strike up a conversation—for most people, travel is an exciting thing. Simply ask where they are from and where they are going, and you can tell by their tone whether or not they are eager to continue with the conversation. If not, move on. They probably aren’t going anywhere interesting anyways.

Whether you missed a connecting flight or other unforeseen circumstances kept you from flying, know that waiting is not the worst thing that can happen abroad. No matter how restless you get, remember that traveling is a privilege. So what if you lose an hour, a day, even a week of traveling; safety is the most important thing. Keep track of your belongings and take care of yourself. The airport might never be heaven, but it definitely doesn’t have to be hell.