145 Years Ago

145 years ago today (Aug 1) my nine-year old great grandfather stepped off a paddle wheel ship onto the banks of the Red River in Southern Manitoba. He was among the first of 7,000 Mennonites to come to Manitoba from German-speaking colonies in South Russia, now Ukraine. His landing site was where I chose to begin my motorcycle adventure through the Americas. I crossed 19 countries and rode my bike 45,000 km to find the diaspora that has its roots in that same riverbank, and to discover the Mennonite in me. My book about that search for identity will be released by Biblioasis on March 21, 2020.

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Biblioasis to publish Menno Moto

I’ve received many messages from people who want to know when they can read the story of my motorcycle trip across the Americas to research the Mennonite diaspora. Those messages encouraged me to keep editing, rewriting and reimagining what has become a very personal project. I’m pleased to finally have some good news to share. I’ve sold the manuscript to Biblioasis, and Menno Moto is slated for publication in Spring 2020.

Biblioasis is an independent bookstore and publishing company based in Windsor, Ontario. It was founded by Dan Wells as a bookstore in 1998, and in the early years it focused on poetry and short story collections. Biblioasis went on to become one of Canada’s most prestigious small press publishing houses and in 2015 they had three books nominated for the Giller Prize. You can read articles about them here and here.

Dan is known for taking a risk on new writers and books that other publishers won’t touch. In that case, I’m proud to have written something the publishing industry considers risky.

Menno Moto documents a culture of fair-haired, blue-eyed people who have created isolated colonies across Latin America. There, they have kept their doors and minds closed for nearly a century, viewing the rest of the world as sinful. These are my people, and they are my story.

In Menno Moto, farmers, teachers, missionaries, drug-mules and rapists force me to reconsider my assumptions about my Mennonite culture, which I find to be more varied than I had dared to hope. I find some of my people in prison for the infamous Bolivian “ghost rapes”, while others are educating the poor in Belize or growing rich in Patagonia. In each of these communities I encounter hospitality and suspicion, backward and progressive attitudes, corruption and idealism. I find the freedom of the road, the hell of loneliness, and am almost killed by accidents and exhaustion as I ride my motorcycle across two continents. I learn that there is more Mennonite in me than I expected, and in some cases wanted, to find. I find reasons to both love and loathe the identity I am searching for.

I hope you’ll buy Menno Moto when it’s published in Spring 2020.

One word at a time

Yes, you’re right, I haven’t updated my blog in a very long time. Mostly because I don’t have a lot of news to share…

I’m back in Hong Kong, working hard to get my book written. It’s been a slow, deeply introspective and difficult process. I thought my second book would be much easier than my first, but I was very wrong. My research into the repetitive history of the Mennonite diaspora has led me far further back into the past than I had planned, and I’m now putting the finishing touches on an expansive opening few chapters that tell the story of my family’s immigration from Russia to Canada. Although I’ve always said this would not be a book about Mennonite history, the story of that journey dovetails too well into the rest of my story not to include it.

I’m also planning a new adventure, this time in China. I have found new partners to help me bring my Red Coast project back to life, and I hope to have some news on this front within the next few weeks.

And lastly, hello to Ray. You may be the only one still checking this blog on a regular basis…

Cameron

HK Film Screening & Lecture, June 3 & 4

The Royal Geographical Society in Hong Kong is hosting a lecture by me on Monday, June 3, and a screening of my documentary The New Northwest Passage on Tuesday, June 4.

Monday, June 3: Lecture on The New Northwest Passage

Drinks Reception and Book Signing 6.30 pm  Lecture 7.30 pm

HK$100 for members and HK$150 for non-members.

Location: Auditorium. 1/F Duke of Windsor Social Services Building, 15 Hennessy Road, Wanchai (please note that this building is 5 minutes from Admiralty MTR or Pacific Place, next to the HK Police HQ)

Tuesday, June 4 (7:30pm): Screening of the film The New Northwest Passage
Q&A with the director following the screening. Edwin Lee, film editor, will also be present.
Location: SCOPE Admiralty Learning Center, City University of HK, 8/F, United Centre, 95 Queensway, Admiralty
Contact the RGS for further details on both events.Tel:  (852) 2583 9700

In 2009 the 40-foot yacht Silent Sound set off to sail the infamous Northwest Passage. These waters are normally locked in ice, but due to climate change it is now possible to sail here for a few weeks each summer. However, it remains an epic yachting challenge, and fewer people have sailed this passage than have climbed Mt Everest.

The crew dropped anchor in Inuit villages where they joined hunters in stalking their game and experienced the last vestiges of an ancient nomadic culture. Each person they met destroyed another stereotype about the Inuit and their way of life.

This film shows how the crew came face-to-face with the realities of climate change and it’s impact on a remote and fragile culture. They helped scientists tag a southern fox caught on an Arctic island and learn about the Inuit way of life from an old woman skinning seals on the beach. They met elders who told them about the struggle to maintain Inuit culture. They experienced first hand how climate change is opening the Canadian Arctic to create The New Northwest Passage.

About The Royal Geographical Society in Hong Kong

The Royal Geographical Society in Hong Kong is a chapter of the highly esteemed UK society. It provides a forum where members can regularly meet and listen to leading local and international speakers from the world of geography and related sciences, exploration, travel, research, the environment and conservation.

Previous speakers include the Polar explorers Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Robert Swan, mountaineers Sir Chris Bonington and Doug Scott, primate expert Dame Jane Goodall, the botanist Professor David Bellamy, leading environmentalist Sir Crispin Tickell, former space shuttle pilot Dr James van Hoften, moon walker Commander Dave Scott, Hong Kong explorer Wong How Man, round-the-world yachtsmen Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, Sir Chay Blythe and yachtswoman Tracy Edwards and the authors Simon Winchester, William Dalrymple, Paul French, Jan Morris and Mark Tully.

 

Got an iPad? Buy my Arctic app!

The New Northwest Passage iPad is finally here! Relish Design of Winnipeg have been working on this for several months, and today it is finally available for sale on iTunes. Click here to buy it! The best news is that 10% of each sale goes to the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Arctic Program.

Written and created for sailing enthusiasts and environmentalists alike, you’ll be able to explore isolated Inuit communities, experience modern Arctic life and learn about climate change that’s affecting the North with rich video, photography and interactive maps. Experience life in the arctic on iPad and iPad mini.

Check it out here!

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Radio Beijing interviews

For your listening pleasure…a rambling and eclectic three-part interview conducted by Bruce Connolly of Radio Beijing. He was a wonderfully interesting person to chat with, and it’s a shame he edited out his own stories. I suspect he has a much more riveting, and certainly eccentric, story to tell than I do. He’s one of those guys that when you name a place on the globe, any place, he goes (in that lovely Scottish accent of his), “Ah yes, back when I was there in ’72 it was still under dictatorship and this guy I met…” and then you’re off and running on another yarn.

Click on the links below to listen to the MP3 files.

Interview 1

Interview 2

Interview 3

You can listen to more of his work for RBC right here.

 

Rhubarb Review

Rhubarb Magazine, which describes itself as an “outlet for the Mennonite voice”, did a review of my book The New Northwest Passage in its Winter 2012 edition. I think it’s one of the best reviews of the book written so far, but it’s fairly positive, so I guess as the author I would like it, wouldn’t I?

Frieda Esau Klippenstein, a Parks Canada historian and an expert in First Nations and fur trading history, writes that “There is a brilliant intensity in the descriptions of the changing scenery, of life on-board the ship, and especially of the people and communities at stops along the way.”

You can download the RHUBARB REVIEW right here.

 

 

Thank-you

I’m at the airport in Santiago, Chile, about to fly to Winnipeg. Bike is sold, gear either tossed, given away, or jammed into my bags. I’m done and heading home! I set off for home with a rather empty bank account (budget? Oh, that! It’s busted, in a ditch somewhere in Colombia!) but I feel like the richest man alive with all I’ve seen and learned. Once again, I’ve been changed by a challenge, a journey, a goal achieved. I am incredibly lucky to be living the life I dreamt of as a child, and even luckier that you want to read about it.

Thank you for reading this blog over the past seven months. It’s been a pretty special journey. Not only have I see a good chunk of the world (19 countries!), but I have learned so much about my heritage and who we are as Mennonites. Now to fit that into a book!

Thank you to all those I’ve met along the way. The long-lost cousins, the Mennonites in far flung corners of the Americas, the bikers, the new friends made on ferries, dusty roads, in dodgy hostels, in splendid campgrounds. You, more than anything, made this journey worth the effort.

Many people have sent me notes in the past months. Encouragement, contacts, questions, challenges and advice. I’m sorry if I have not responded, but they were all deeply appreciated. Thank you!

Next up, seeing my first film, The New Northwest Passage, up on the silver screen at the Winnipeg Real to Reel Film Festival. It plays on Feb 16 and 17, I hope to see some of you there. Then, it’s back home to Hong Kong, where the real work begins…

Keep checking in for updates on the book, film, and my next adventure.

Slow down for curves,
pullover to help those in need.
But never stop,
because there’s even greater things ahead.

Cameron

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Darien Gap Done

I’ve made it to South America…20,000km, 10 border crossings and three months after setting off from Manitoba.

My last update was from Panama City…I spent more than one week there, sorting out some bike repairs, visas, banking and a million other little things. I was also down with a nasty flu bug, which I think I’ve finally managed to shake after about a month of feeling off-key.

From Panama City I drove towards the Darien Gap, a several hundred kilometer jungle wilderness that separates Panama from Colombia. It was a great ride to the Caribbean, where I and my bike boarded Jacqueline, a 56-foot catamaran. I was joined by about eight backpackers from around the world…a full boat means a big party. We spent several days lolling around in the San Blas islands, snorkling, spear-fishing and just being lazy. Then we hoisted sail and since there was almost no wind we motor-sailed the 200 miles to Cartegena, Colombia. We arrived yesterday morning, and spent much of the day getting through immigration and clearing the bikes through customs. Cartegena is a very lovely colonial city. If only it wasn’t too blazing hot to actually walk the streets…but I’ve checked into a hostel with some new friends and we are doing a bit of exploring, hanging out on the old city walls, etc.

Tomorrow I set off on Stage 3 of Menno Moto. I’ll stop in Bogota for a Paraguayan visa, and maybe a new sprocket for the bike, and then through Ecuador, Peru and long stops in Bolivia and Paraguay to get to know the Mennonite colonies there. I’m running exactly 2 weeks behind my planned schedule…not too bad after three months on the road, considering that I’ve driven about 7,000km more than I had expected to cover by this point.

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