My Christmas Letter: My Life is a Roller Coaster Ride

This is the third annual open Christmas Card (Read card 1 and card 2).  I started writing these things three years ago after emailing the card to friends and family before realizing that I wanted to share with my readers as well.  Brendan’s Adventures started out as more of an exhibit of my travel writing and had very little blog element.  The card was my way of letting my readers into my life a little more.  Obviously, that has changed quite a bit over the years and Brendan’s Adventures definitely carries more of a travelogue feel to it these days.  Anyways, I still feel compelled to carry on the tradition.

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Dearest Family, Friends, Lovers, Confused google searchers,

Me in Rome

Hanging out in Rome

2012 is coming to a close.  I’m sending this out today rather than on Christmas because apparently the world is ending this week.

In many regards, 2012 it was a typical year.  Toronto sports teams continue to lose, needless wars continue to rage, and I continue to travel.  But at the same time, this year has been unique in so many ways.  It just seems like there was so much packed into such a short time.  When people talk about time flying, I disagree.  I just look back at where I was a year ago and shake my head.  It’s like looking back at a dream.  I can’t believe how far I’ve come in 365 Days.

The Past

The year started for me in Phoenix at my parent’s sweet new pad.  They bought a house right on a golf course with a hot tub.  Believe me, it was hard to leave.  I spent a couple weeks there putting the final touches on the first issue of my travel magazine “Vagabundo Magazine” which is growing like crazy.  I did absolutely everything from finding writers to designing and editing for the first issue.  It’s crazy to think we are a team of 11 people now.

Me in New York City

Shooting the skyline by the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC

From Phoenix, I road tripped up to Las Vegas then all the way across the US to Miami.  It was a crazy trip but I really loved the south of the States despite most of the stereotypes being true.  From Miami, I flew to the island of Espanola where my sister was married in the Dominican resort of Punta Cana.  We drank, we danced, we drank, we sunbathed, we drank, we donned togas, oh and we also drank.  The wedding was small, but it was beautiful.  I got to photograph the ceremony which was terrifying.  But I think I did a decent job (see the photos here).  It was great to have the family all in one place before I set off on a serious bit of travel again.

While the rest of the family jumped on planes home, I crossed what was easily the most insane border I’ve ever passed into Haiti.  While in Haiti I did some photojournalism work as well as a slice of volunteering.  It really was a beautiful and sobering experience.

Flight numbers 6, 7 and 8 of the year took me across to Europe via NYC.  I spent about 3 months in Europe, and while I really did love it – and while it did have some fantastic photo ops – it didn’t really inspire me.  I have become accustomed to being challenged and it was all too easy.  I felt like an athlete who had retired – used to the battle and unable to shake the need for competition.  I needed Africa.  And I got it.

Kid in Haiti

A kid at an orphanage in Port-au-Prince

Through Morocco and 10 other countries, with a 6 week trip to Canada in between, I finally arrived in Mali a little over a month ago.  The road through West Africa has been rough.  I have fought malaria, poor infrastructure and sheer loneliness as there had been absolutely no other travellers between Dakar and Bamako.  But at the same time it has been rewarding. The people have been so warm and caring.  The sights have been interesting. The cultures have been extraordinary to experience as well.  You just can’t have moments like the one below – stilt dancing in Cote d’Ivoire – without travelling to the far reaches of the planet.  As is always the case in life, overcoming challenges nearly always leads to beautiful reward.

The Present

photographing kids in Guinea

Taking pictures of kids in Guinea

As I mentioned, I’m now in Mali.  The country is divided at the moment.  The north of the country is engulfed in a conflict between a number of factions including separatists and groups of Islamists including the North African wing of Al-Qaeda.  The south is relatively safe right now though.  And despite the kidnapping of a French-Portuguese man in the south a couple weeks ago, the conflict has been quite concentrated to the north.  Still, many here in the south are beginning to push for an invasion into the north.  In fact, the prime minister was just removed from office the other day for supporting foreign intervention and the potential of waiting until next year to attempt to re-capture the north.  The president’s party headquarters were also shot up, apparently as a warning by the military that as recently as March executed a coup.

But yeah, as scary as all that stuff might sound, I’m fine. And I feel really good in Bamako.  The city has been good to me.  I’ve met some great people and it’s allowed me to recover a bit and recharge for the next leg of my African journey.

As for the family back home, they are all doing really well from what I gather.

My Family

The family all together in Punta Cana

The parents are doing great.  Dad retired this year, which I’m sure was a massive change.  Last I heard he was doing some Christmas baking so I’m guessing he’s becoming pretty domestic.  Mom continues to bring home the bacon working way too many hours working for an oil company back in Canada.  I think they are both looking forward to spending more time in Phoenix where it’s warmer.

My little brother is still counting the hell out of stuff.  He’s honestly put us all to shame this year with his hard work. The dude has been studying and working so much it’s inspiring.  He’s proved that hard work gets you where you want to be and nothing else.  He’s recently become an official chartered accountant and we’re all really proud of him.

The big news in the family is the addition of two members.  My sister Jen had a couple twins recently.  I’m insanely proud to be the uncle of Jack and Sloane.  It has now become my hobby to watch youtube videos and look at Jen’s instagram photos of the little boy and girl.  They are very cute.  I didn’t think I’d be as emotional as I was when they came into the world, but I was beyond it.  It did, however, make me realize too that I’m far too far away.

The Future

Waterfall in Guinea

Hanging out at a remote waterfall in the interior of Guinea

There are a couple surprises in store this year I think, but one of the things that definitely won’t be a surprise is the fact that there will be a whole lot of travel involved.

Surprise 1 is that I’ve bought a scooter, which I promptly named Anne Murray, and I’m going to attempt to ride her all the way from here in Bamako to Cape Town, South Africa.  I’m assuming it will be about 14,000km, through 13 counties and perhaps take me as long as 7 months.  I’m sure you can all imagine the hilarity of watching a white man cruise by on a bright red scooter with everything he owns on the back.  I’m all about humour value.

Surprise 2 is perhaps more than a surprise, but an uncertainty.  Over the past couple months I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching.  I’m starting to think that if I really want my magazine to be a success I have to create a more stable home for it.  I’m thinking that after arriving in Cape Town I may return to Canada for a bit before heading to Europe and establishing somewhat of a base of operations for the magazine.  I really have arrived at a point where I could let the magazine maintain, or really put all my effort in it.  I think that by the time I reach South Africa I will be ready for that.

Anyways, I’m setting off on another year of great adventure, and I hope you join along with me for the trip.

My friends, I really do want to hear back from you.  I would really appreciate and email or even a comment below telling me how you are doing.  Hell, I’d even love to read a Christmas card of your own.

Here’s to 2013!

With Love,

Brendan


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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20 Comments

  1. Brendan that’s quite the year behind you and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the magazine. Looking forward to more of your tales and videos in 2013.

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    • Thanks Maria, all the best in 2013!

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  2. Awesome mate, so stoked to have been able to jump on the band wagon this year and really looking forward to 2013 with the VBM team- on that note, I hear Berlin is pretty good for a Euro set up 😉

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    • Thanks mate… glad to have you along for the ride. Berlin sounds great, but the truth is man it’s just too cold for me. I was thinking somewhere like the coast of Croatia, Portugal or even Greece.

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  3. What a great letter Brendan. So happy to hear the amazing year you have had. Good luck with the growth of the magazine in 2013 you deserve it!

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    • Thanks Caz, I hope all is well with you all down in Oz… hope someday we cross paths in person!

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  4. As always Brendan, thanks for your honesty and humour!

    May 2013 be filled with good Health
    Great Love & Joy…..

    Oh … And of course making the Deadlines!!!

    Best wishes
    Anthea

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    • Thanks Anthea, all the best to you in the new year as well!

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  5. Brendan, you’re a genuine traveller. There’s not too many out there these days! I really enjoy reading your updates, keep it up in 2013. All the best, Nate.

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    • Thanks Nate, all the best to you in 2013! 😀

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  6. Maybe I should buy an Ian Tyson and ride with you down to South Africa, my soul wants to so bad!! However 2 more courses and I will be done. Brendan thanks for the Christmas letter, it’s always good to hear about your travels, experiences and thoughts. We are going to miss you this holiday season, that’s for sure. God’s blessing always, love Lori

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  7. It is always somewhat surprising to look back on everything you’ve experienced in the past year. Everyone really should take 5 minutes to think about it at the very least. Your African adventures sound really interesting. Looking forward to reading about it in 2013.

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  8. Wonderful to read your tweets and these blogs. West Africa (as East African born) was a pleasant surprise and loved Burkina Faso an Mali! Going back to Morocco for the 3rd time. Your Ivory Coast blogs were really uniek in the travelling world, so can imagine you were lonely at times. Should you ever get to Malawi on Anne Murray, do go to the south to the tea estates and beatiful Mulanje Mountain. You will also love this part of Africa. All the best and happy travels in 2013! Happy Christmas! Greetz Mireille

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    • Thanks Mireille. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading! 😀 Happy New holidays to you!

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  9. Loving your journey through Africa – 14,000 km – WOW! That continent is bigger than I imagined!

    Best wishes for 2013!

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    • Cheers James. Yeah, I think if I went as straight as possible it would be about 10,000km. North American maps squew the size of Africa to have a more accurate map of home. It’s the challenge of turning a round world into a square flat map… it’s a massive continent. Burkina Faso, which looks tiny on the map, is about half the size of France.

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    • Thanks dude! You too!

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  10. Happy new year, Brendan! What a year you’ve had. Thank you for posting that video of the jankanu dances in Cote d’Ivoire – I grew up there!! Wonderful memories. All the best to you this year!! And may we all travel some more…:)

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    • Thanks for reading Lily!

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