Every so often in your travels, you come across one of those travelers that just knocks your socks off. They’ve been to the most obscure places in the world and have typically done it the hard way–by boat or overland. Their stories are jaw-dropping and inspirational and leave you thirsty for more. Steve is that traveler. We met Steve McGrath while preparing for our wedding in Sayulita and were fortunate to spend several weeks with him (and another traveler Cat, who will hopefully be featured here soon too.) Over some fresh fruit-smoothies in Steve’s “penthouse-by-the sea,” he humbly had us reeling for more when he said the following things: “I’ve traveled for 11 of the last 20 years” and “I went from Vancouver to Hong Kong starting with $900.” That’s $900 Canadian, folks…about $600 buck-a-roos at the time!
Without further ado, here’s more in his own words:
Earth Monkey- Chinese
Oh you mean what sex- boy
Single, did you have to rub it in.
Where are you now?
Around Alberta for work, but my next trip is brewing. I want to go somewhere with someone for a change.
That’s it, the rest is interchangeable.
Why do you do that type of work?
Because it is super fun, good income and every time I meet someone new it is like traveling. I know everyone is really different, but I never realized HOW different we are. Holy crap. When I traveled a lot I was always fascinated with people and culture. Now my work is in essence travel and culture within our brains.
How do you fund your travels?
Whenever you are home sick, sad, lost, frustrated or angry find somewhere clean and as comfy as possible outside and lay down and stare at the sky. No matter where you are the sky is the same, the earth is our home. Also remember to look during the good times so you have a point of reference for the tough times.
That’s not a fair question. Places I like though,
Nepal/Tibet – Although these countries are very different, they are neighbors and I have a difficult time not wanting to visit them both. The people are so nice, the geography is dramatic and incredible.
Iran – It’s just such a different place. If you go with an open mind, prepare to have your world rocked. Without doubt the most friendly nation I have ever been to. Over the top. Food, culture, a brilliant display of close families, no alcohol which has cultural implications I will let you discover. Lots to see, a lot of variety in geography.
France – The French just somehow know how to live really well, I can’t put my finger on it. Good food, wine, they pay attention to simple things and do them well.
The Ocean- although not a country, I think everyone should sail across an ocean. When you do, email me and share your experience. It’s so amazing and different for everyone.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met on the road and why?
Which hostel/hotel/pension/tent/etc. would you consider your best and why?
Not really, I usually meet people for a few weeks then meet someone else who is venturing somewhere new.
The most unusual thing you’ve eaten and where.
I don’t know that anything is unusual to eat. Although I wouldn’t order [italics mine] cockroach or raw yak meat cut off a hanging carcass, I have eaten it.
What is your favorite word or saying in another language?
Ke Garne- Nepalese means ” what to do”. Used in a situation where there is no solution, so don’t worry about it. Flat tire, no wrench? Ke Garne. Just split up with your spouse. Ke Garne. Dog just ran away with your shoe. Ke Garne.
Ali Ali Samachia cha – Nepalese Little little problem yes. I like saying it, it sounds fun.
Demid Garme in Arabic translates loosely to breath the warm air of life
Ali baba shwueet (sound not a word). Used when referring to a theft, ali baba being a thief, usually humorous but not always. Common expression everywhere I have been in the Middle East.
I also really like the words Moose and Canoe, I can entertain myself saying these words different ways.
I usually go to Lonely planet, but I often do this so I know where to avoid.
A favorite joke/quote?
A peasant has to wait a long time on a hill-side with his mouth wide open before a roast duck flies in.
There are no ordinary moments.
Travel with as many clean jokes as you can. Funny clean jokes always out class and out humor unclean jokes.
Note* answers are at the bottom (can’t give away the answers without trying)
How do you hide an elephant in a cherry tree?
Ever see an elephant in a cherry tree?
What has traveling taught you?
As I approached the Iranian border I had one of the best days as a traveller ever. Many rich experiences. I will share one. The red brick building on the edge of the photo was the work site for 3 Kurdish men. If you don’t know about eastern Turkey there is considerable controversy and conflict in regards to the Kurds.
The building has a ladder going to the top where I could get a great photo of Mt. Arat, the final resting place of Noah’s Arc. My Turkish is limited so I gesture for permission to go up the ladder to the top. The three curious workers nod. They watch as I climb up, set up and take my photo. I come back down and the three approach. There is one really big guy a big guy and a younger guy who actually speaks some english. I get the standard 10 questions everyone is taught in school. Smiles all around. You see they are taught the questions, but they don’t understand the answers. I try my Turkish, which always is a reason to laugh. After a few moments the big one utters something I do not understand, he has a serious stern face. The little guy translated “ What do you think of the Kurds?” In any language there are a few phrases I like to know, hello thank you , no problem big problem… I respond I have no problem with Kurds.” The big guy looks at me a stern face, the other two watching him intently. He is looking deep into my skull and I stand there with a big friendly smile miles from another foreigner. Slowly he reaches out offer his hand to shake and says something. The little guy says you are a courageous man to come here. The sternness disappears and a smile comes across the really big guys face. He invites me to his home to meet his son. They are not finished work yet so they resume for a while. I jump in and help. They all laugh and we go to work.
The next day I am leaving my new friends. We all shake hands. The really big man again repeats “ you are a courageous man ” as translated. I look at them and ask why? I don’t get it. The little guy says “ He thinks you are a brave man to come here and say that Kurds are a big problem ”. I am stunned. I say “ no no no I meant I have no problems with Kurds ”. It takes them a few seconds to register my initial error. The young guy explains to the other two. Once everyone understands big laughs and smiles all around. People are good at heart. I have no doubts about that.
I was on a bus from Bulgaria to Istanbul, Turkey. A long bus ride, the distance eludes me. I had met a girl from the USA. I think her name was Amy. We were the only english speakers on the bus and as it is traveling we became fated travel companions. Neither of us spoke Turkish. I would learn once I arrived in Turkey.
It is a night bus and the views of Bulgaria are few. We watched the sun go down, a dramatic fiery red ball accentuated by the haze of industrial pollution. The night had been peaceful. I tried to sleep but the excitement of Istanbul raced through my brain. Constantinople – capital of the East Roman empire, the Crusades, Stories of travellers like Richard Burton visiting. I had just travelled through eastern Europe. The battlegrounds between east and west, Europe and Asia, Christians, Muslims, Byzantium. I am travelling through history. Places that held empires, powerful kings wealth and civilizations that rose and fell Millenia before Canada was even discovered.
The driver makes an announcement in Turkish, the conductor a little eastern european man with short greasy hair brushed with a single swipe of his hand, cigarette permanently fixed to his lip, “passport”, “Toourkesh bourder”. I start rummaging for my passport. The bus stops. The driver steps off with a passenger list I had signed my name to earlier. Some time passes. The driver returns, some directions are made in turkish and everyone gets off. He is waiting for Amy and myself as we step off the bus. “Over here” he says. I always have some apprehension in my belly when going through borders. But it is a warm starry night. You can even see stars with the lights from the border checkpost. He leads us to a separate checkpost. The guard in here has a big grimace on his face, a requirement for anyone anywhere that ever wants to be a border official. He is a big man in khaki official type uniform. Tanned olive skin, dark eyes and a well shaved face that would host a thick beard if he let it. He gestures for Amy to go first. US passport. He checks the picture, punches some numbers into the computer. Kawump, goes a stamp $60 please. “Steep for a visa, but to be expected”, she mutters.
I am not of the same thinking. $60 is steep for me, that’s almost a hundred Canadian! Yikes, I put my passport down. I am not sure if the visa price for a Canadian is the same as an American or not. The big man with the grimace looks at the passport, looks up at me. He says “Canada?” I answer. “Yes” smiling pleasantly. He looks at me, looks at the picture. He picks up the phone makes a call with an air of uncertainty. He puts down the phone and says “wait just a moment” There is no one else in this line, just us North Americans. We wait. I look over at the fray of people around the line up for Eastern Europeans. Nuts. 15 or 20 minutes go by and no call back. The guard dials up the phone again. No greeting he quickly says some words and hangs up giving the recipient no time to reply. He looks at me. This time he has this real genuine look of goodwill on his face. Looks at the passport, Kawump, there goes the stamp. He slides my passport over to me. I am looking at him intently for the price. I ask “how much”, his hand raises over the passport on the table like a card player refusing another card. He shakes his head. “Nothing” I say. He looks up at me with an expression I will never forget. Yet I have a hard time describing. Sort of an appreciative giving look, flavours of happiness but with an uncomfortable streak in it, a streak I didn’t understand. He says to me straight and strong , confident like a soldier in control. “Canadian peace keepers saved my life in Cypress, you go free.” Then his eyes lowered as if to bow as best he could from his position of authority. He holds his eyes low respectfully. “Thank you” I answer. He looks up and nods and in that instant I understand the uncomfortable streak, it was fear. He pauses as I look at him upon the realisation. He looks at me again, I like to think he knows I understood his fear and replies. “Thank you Canadian man”. I smile he smiles and as I turn away I am completely choked up with emotion.
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