BY TREVOR NICHOLS
Kings County Advertiser/Register
July 28, the sun glares down on Kelvin Eisses as he rummages through a disorganized camper van. Wooden wind chimes knock and locusts sing from the field behind him.
He has stopped in Lakeville, at his parents’ house, only briefly. He has to leave by 6 p.m. in order to make it to Cape Breton, just one more stop on his eight-month journey to the Arctic. He started in Antarctica, cutting through the ice of the jagged wilderness on a tall ship heading to Ushuaia, Argentina.
The point of this trip, as Eisses describes it, is to experience different ways of travel, to “get beneath the first tourist layer,” and travel “a little closer to the ground.”
He has done this a number of ways: “wwoofing” in Argentina, “ecotourism” in Central America and “ridesharing” across Canada.
When he finished his degree five years ago, Eisses decided he no longer wanted to work on a permanent basis.
The accountant decided to push paper only four months a year, taking the rest of the time to work on “personal projects.
“You kind of have to do these things, you can't just wait for the perfect time,” he says.
He spent three years off and on in South America learning Spanish and, over that time, he worked out the idea for a trip up the globe.
Planes were no good, because “going from Antarctica to the Arctic is pretty easy if you can fly,” but everything else was in: boats, buses, trains and, eventually, his well-travelled camper van.
Aside from his video camera, Eisses took little except a day bag with a few changes of clothes and some camping gear (even the camping gear he got rid of before making it out of South America). One of his biggest challenges was packing all the clothes he needed for both the chill of the Arctic and the tropics of South and Central America.
He also took along some company. His brother, cousins and father all joined him at different times, as well as “a few self-propelled friends” and people they picked up along the way.
While Eisses' last eight months may sound like nothing more than a frivolous adventure, the Annapolis Valley native takes his trip very seriously.
“This is not a vacation, it's travelling,” he says in all seriousness.
He spent a long time finding unique ways to experience travel, and is documenting his entire trip on his blog. He has plans to eventually turn it into a documentary or television series to show people “the different types of travel that are out there” and promote a more connected travelling experience, where people can get a real sense of how others live day to day.
“This trip is not supposed to be about a bunch of gringos scurrying across the surface of a landscape,” he comments in his blog.
Often when we go on a vacation, we stay in all-inclusive resorts or cruise ships. While Eisses doesn't have a problem with this, he says “you don't really get to experience much” from this kind of travel.
“Being on vacation in a certain place doesn't give you a real idea of how people live,” he says.
Instead of staying at a hotel in Argentina, Eisses went wwoofing for two weeks. Through World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming, he volunteered on an organic farm, helping out for a few hours each day in exchange for hot food and a place to sleep.
Relying on other people as you travel forces you to be flexible and open to new experiences: you can't go into any situation with expectations, as things are usually out of your control.
“You've got to be open to whatever comes at you,” Eisses says.
He remembers waiting in a small border town for a ride across the Darién Gap from Columbia to Panama. The boat didn't show and, with no credit or debit accepted anywhere, Eisses was left with just the cash in his pocket.
“I was basically down to one meal a day for about a week,” adding, by the time he made it to Panama, he had nothing but some change left.
Overcoming the challenges that come up are part of what makes Eisses' unique trip so rewarding. In Bolivia, setting out in a rented car down a cobblestone road that stretched into the country, he found every bridge along the way was out. As they drove rally car-style through the bush, they were held up several times by animals loose on the road.
“Every kind of animal you could imagine.”
Pushing through herds of pigs and donkeys, they came upon some construction. They turned and took their four-wheel-drive through the bush, detouring for hours. When they eventually got back to the road, a downpour nearly stopped them; a landslide did.
Finally, they emerged onto a perfect road: an unblocked strip of pavement with lines, reflector strips and wide shoulders. They had been through everything the Bolivian countryside could throw at them, but had so much fun, they were “grinning ear to ear.”
It was crazy and difficult at the time, Eisses says, but, looking back, it was one of the best experiences of his whole trip.
“The worst thing that can happen is I have a story,” Eisses says.
The wanderer finished his journey August 4. Once he makes it to Auyuittuq National Park in Nunavut, he'll hop back to Iqaluit and his desk job for three months. Then, Columbia....
Read more about Eisses' journey on his web site.