Goodbye, Montreal

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I’m leaving Montreal today. After four years in this city, I have mixed feelings. I have wanted to leave Montreal for while. I feel the need for a change. Plus, my plans for the near future are very exciting…

But goodbyes are always terribly emotional moments. Despite all the joys of leaving, I am also filled with nostalgia and sadness. The fact that the goodbyes were particularly dramatic did not help. A snowstorm has been striking Montreal for the last three days, yielding the typical and imposing winter landscape I had been used to. Meanwhile, night after night, I hung out with different groups of friends, for the last time. Repeating adieus everyday for several days is not easy.

But there’s more. Out of chance, my last day in my lab was the Christmas cocktail day. I got to see many of the people that had meant so much to me for four years. They all left, one after the other, as they said goodbye and wished me all the best for the sequel. My supervisor and my best friend were the last ones to do so. And then, there I was, seating at my future old office, as I had been for years. Alone.

Today is the end of my Montreal days. I leave with plenty of good souvenirs. The bars, the cards, the hikes. And the friends. Especially the friends. Roommates, sports mates, lab mates. I’ll miss you all.

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Peru and Bolivia.

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I have just had an epic 5-week trip throughout South Peru, Bolivia and a bit of Chile (Atacama). Equipped with my Google Nexus 5 (and the extremely useful Triposo app), I took countless breathtaking pictures and surreal frame lapses. I’ve finally edited them all. Here’s the result.

Similarly to what I’ve done for my Indonesian trip, here’s a list of 20 peculiar things that happened to me:
– Nearly crying when devouring ceviches.
– Running out of water, alone in the desert.
– Beating a South American team at soccer on my birthday.
– Staying overnight in a town without electricity.
– Getting up to the Machu Picchu first. Napping there. Being out last.
– Undergoing a 23-hour bus ride that was supposed to last 18. Why? Congestions, flat tires and… police arrestations!
– Getting bit by a piranha while swimming with dolphins.
– Playing with a 4-meter-long black caiman.
– Biking from freezing 4,700-meter summit down to muggy 1,200m jungle.
– Getting to 6,000 meters above sea level, while yet not making it to 6,088m summit.
– Getting mountain sickness with symptoms like severe headache, nausea and fever.
– Stepping on a gigantic salt flat, alone with a lovely stray dog.
– Witnessing a moon rise, right after the sunset.
– Having clandestine passengers on the top of our four-wheeled car.
– Bathing all alone in a very salty lake, in the middle of the desert.
– Biking, hiking and exploring a desert and finding the salt crystals I was searching for!
– Being awaked by barking dog at 4am (yes, like in Indonesia).
– Explaining my PhD research topic to two dozens of persons.
– Learning Spanish almost from scratch, to the point of talking Spanish to Japanese dudes.
– Meeting so many awesome people from all over the world. This includes people from Germany, France, UK, Sweden, US, Canada, Brazil, Columbia, Argentina, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Ecuador, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Israel, Ivory Coast, New Zealand, China, Russia, Norway, Mexico, and, of course, Chile, Peru and Bolivia.

Huacachina, Peru

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I’ve just got back from an epic 5-week trip in Peru and Bolivia (and San Pedro de Atacama). Unfortunately, all good things coming to an end, I had to leave South America (to defend my PhD thesis tomorrow!). Before writing about the more amazing days of the trip, let me update my blog with this short entry on one of the uncountable unforgettable visits I got to do: Huacachina.

While on a tour with Peru Hop (which I recommend unless you are in a hurry as I often am!), we had a day mostly off in a paradisiac hostel in Huacachina. But I personally can’t lie by the pool for more than an hour. So I decided to hike the sand desert Huacachina is in. All by myself. What a hike that turned out to be!

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I climbed dunes after dunes until I got to the highest of them all, in the middle of them all. What a view! And what a feeling that was to be all alone, with probably no one dozens of kilometres all around, except for sands, sands and more sands… (Click on the following picture to watch it as a 360° Photosphere!)

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After some 6 hours of exhausting hard walk on the burning sand, at last, I got back to Huacachina. But not the easy way. I first had to get up the high dune with a great viewpoint on the oasis.

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Okay, that’s it for this post. I need to practise for tomorrow’s PhD defence.

Paris is… Wow! – Inedit Pics from Magie des Maths de Prépa

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I’ve spent my summer shooting a 2-hour video on (French) undergrad maths, which are a very big deal in France. Indeed, more than any other maths, French undergrad maths are regarded as the necessary path to progress and (social) success. And, due to the overwhelming concentration of prestigious academical institutions, Paris is often connected to the glory of French undergrad maths and education. For students and parents, Paris symbolizes esteem, pride and triumph. This is why I had to shoot the movie all around Paris.

Arc de Triomphe

So, while I’ve grown up around Paris all along, I acted like any other tourist all summer (except that my limited budget never allowed me to actually enter costly touristic attractions). I’ve hiked days after days through the nicest bridges, corners and places Paris has to offer. And… wow! Paris is just breathtaking! It’s so much better than any other city I’ve visited (and I’ve visited quite a lot of cities!).

So, as a primer of the actual video, here are some pics in which the action takes place!

Concorde

Sacré Coeur

Tour Eiffel

Invalides

Éléments d'Euclide

Fitz Roy y la Laguna de los Tres

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After a short breakfast, Sylvain and I are back on our feet to explore the surroundings of Argentina’s capital for trekking, El Chalten. It doesn’t take long for us to get at a first viewpoint on a classical U-shape valley.

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But this is really just the beginning of an amazing one-day hike. After an hour or so, we pass a saddle point to get closer to the big shot of today’s walk: The Fitz Roy.

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It is the end of March, the Fall. The beautiful reddish colors of the trees seem to highlight even more the grandeur of the Fitz Roy. From far away, it already looks impressive. But after another hour in the plane, and another hour on steep soil, here we arrive very close, at the edge of the Laguna de los Tres. Here started another hour of speechless amazement.

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On the left, we find another lake, called the dirty lake. The whole area is just out of this world. Simply breathtaking! Meanwhile, I’m so discovering the amazing panorama option of my latest smartphone (and its HDR). The following image merges 13 pictures!

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This one-day trek would have definitely made it in my top 10 touristic visits! But I don’t want to disturb the ranking with just one entry… For now.

 

What’s the best number (of people to travel with)?

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copland architect hut lunch break

8: No, eight is not a right number. At least in general. It’s way too many. It’s typically what happens when I travel with my family. Surely enough, it’s still fun, especially at nights, but it’s also usually so hard to get people doing something awesome. And yet, one of the best trip I ever did was a 2-week tour with Active New Zealand. Granted. the conditions were perfect. We were 2 New Zealand guides, 3 American, 1 Canadian, 1 Australian and me. 4 boys, 4 girls, had a common passion for hiking, and were in one of the world’s most awesome playing field: New Zealand South Island (with, for instance, the spectacular Milford Sound.

goat island snorkeling team

4-5: For road trips, 4 or 5 are the right digits for best cost splitting… and a fun car atmosphere as well! Many of my week-end trips around Québec and New Zealand North Island involve a 4-5 player team, and it always was enjoyable. More memorably, I had great weeks riding around Iceland, and in Tunisia. The great dynamics of such digits also lead to awesome urban adventures, as was my case when I visited cities like Boston, Frankfurt and San Francisco.

nous trois à sequoia park

3: But, for me, 4-5 are still too large numbers. 3-people trips give a whole other dynamics. Quicker decision making, more idea sharing and greater flexibility lead to more awesome adventures! 3-Person road trips have taken me through amazing places, through Europe, New Zealand (including a particularly two awesome hikes on Tongariro). In fact, my first major trip was 3-person one, all across California. It was what triggered my passion for traveling.

1: Traveling alone is scary. Last summer, I did worry when I flew to Indonesia alone for 3 weeks. But the trip I was about to do turned out to be more awesome than any 3-person trip I ever did. Surely enough, sometimes, when you’re alone… you do get lonely, especially in the evenings. Yet, the awesomeness of what I got to do, because I was alone, easily surpass the difficulties I encountered. From being invited to lunch by locals to getting a ride on a truck, this trip will definitely remain a cornerstone of my traveling experience. As the only person to satisfy, I got to do what I wanted whenever I wanted to. No concession. This got me through amazing stories, in which I met numerous like-minded awesome travelers! Some highlights include my hikes of Gunung Semeru and the Rinjani.

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2: But, by far, the best number of people in a trip is 2. Many of the best trips I ever did was with another fellow adventurer. From British Columbia to Mexico, and the Great Lakes. What makes these trips particularly awesome is how much they feel like an adventure that two heroes undertake. In this spirit, my greatest trek ever was a trek through the best landscapes of Iceland, including above the lava of the recently exploding Eyjafjallajökull, which I undertook with Rémi. From the people we met (like What-a-day English man), to the troubles we got through (like not having enough to eat nor drink!), through the breathtaking landscapes we stumbled upon together, this trek represents the 3 most awesome traveling days I ever had!

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When you’re traveling with another backpacker, the cool thing is that you can easily convince him to do the things you really want to do. But, as well, he can easily convince you to do the things he really wants to do. And this can lead to mind-blowing unexpected adventures, as was the case of my most legendary trip ever: My 50-day trip in South-East Asia. From long hikes through Huangshan to quiet kayaking in the Halong bay, all the way through exploring Angkor and scuba diving in Thai islands, and including deep philosophical thoughts building upon cultural and Historical discoveries, this trip quickly became an incredible succession of ongoing unexpected mind-blowing experiences! So awesome!

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Check also my top 10 touristic visits for more narratives of my best traveling experiences.

Now, what about you? What’s your favorite traveling number?

My 1989 Honda Prelude

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taranaki car through glass

Let me tell you about the most stressful day of my life. It was in April 2010. I was 22.

I had been in New Zealand for merely a week when, on an early Sunday morning, I headed to Ellerslie racecourse for its renowned car fair. After a long bus ride, I arrived at a huge open parking where cars were displayed for sale by their owners. And I must say… I don’t know much about cars.

I stumbled upon a 1989 Honda Prelude. After a short ride, I purchased it for 1300 NZD. And I was worryingly hoping it wasn’t a lemon…

That’s when things got seriously stressful.

Honda Prelude

I had driven quite a lot before, in various cars in France and the US. But in these countries, people drive on the right, and cars have their steering wheels on the left. But not in New Zealand!

Even worse, three minutes after I bought the car with manual transmission, I found myself driving on the highway. A mix of fatigue and stress was overwhelming me as I was on the verge of panicking whenever I looked at rear mirrors and couldn’t make sense of what they were displaying. Plus, obviously, I got lost in the city, and couldn’t find a parking place. And whenever I meant to activate my blinkers, I got the wipers starting… which was always followed by more panic and stallings! What a nightmare!

Fortunately, eventually, I did manage to get home, where I immediately went to sleep to recover from this exhausting morning.

taupo honda at dawn

My troubles weren’t over though. On the following friday evening, I was about to leave the city when I realized that my left lightbulb was not working! But I had already left Auckland and couldn’t find where to buy a new one before it got too dark to drive. Far in the Auckland suburbs, I slept in the car, in my sleeping bag… The first of many such nights! The next morning I bought a new left lightbulb.

Two months later, my wheeling steer was deviating towards the left on its own. I was then told that this was due to having a front left tyre bigger than the 3 others. Weirdly enough, this was not noticeable for the 2 months! Not by me, nor by any of friends who drove it too.

Eventually, three months after I purchased it, I sold the car for 1100 NZD. I got it from 192,000 km to 199,000km. I’m a bit sad I couldn’t get it to the 200k… Nevertheless, this car got me to unbelievable places throughout the North Island, and I will always keep it close to my heart!

waiotapu en short de bain

There are many more stories related to this car. But I’ll get to that in other posts!