Thursday, May 28, 2015

O Canada

from my stash from Cuba because I knew I’d be getting more soon. Turns out, Canada has an entire separate terminal for US bound flights and the duty I had my first ever business trip for an international TESOL conference in Toronto Canada where I presented along with three of my colleagues on how to resuscitate your listening and speaking classes.  And by ‘business trip’ I mean it was nearly entirely paid for- flight, hotel and most food. I had to buy my own drinks, which I happily did, especially since I could order Havana Club in most bars! I’ve never had anyone pay for my travel and just couldn’t get over how great this idea was- someone else paying for me to see the world.
I’ve been to Canada and Toronto several times. My family used to live in upstate New York, and I remember the days when we would cross the border without a passport. So Canada, sadly, was not a new country for me, but I was ok with that because it was a paid trip and aside from time, I was not wasting other resources visiting a country that would not get me closer to my 196 country goal.
Our presentation went super well with a packed house of over 80 attendees and lots of questions. I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed presenting, being in front of an audience and feeling like a professional with something to share.  It got me super motivated and excited for my next proposal and conference for which I am already searching locations that are new to me and much warmer than Canada in March.
Though it was a business trip and we were meant to attend the various presentations at the conference, we managed to fit in quite a bit of sightseeing. I’d gotten a few guide books for Toronto from the library and did some reading on the plane ride. I read about Kensington Market which is famous for its fun little neighborhoods and vintage clothing stores.  It was top of my list to see.
I was blown away by the amount of vintage shops and have four new to me dresses to prove it. It was fun wandering the streets and shops in the quaint little neighborhood. We stopped in a bar and met a Colombian Canadian who was very friendly and chatted us up for a bit. Indeed, most everyone we met in Canada was super friendly and made our time there ever better.
We also made it to Lawrence Market a huge food market with fresh meat and fish and cheese. From there we walked to the water front. Most of the lake was frozen, yet there was a beach with sand and Adirondack chairs and signs everywhere warning us not to swim.
We also tried to explore the Toronto underground, but were surprised to learn that the shops were not open on Saturday. This seemed quite strange. We did do some walking around down below, mostly to stay out of the bitter cold. Apparently you can walk much of downtown Toronto underground.  I’ve heard it’s so intricate that even locals get lost below ground.
Our evenings were filled with catching up with old colleagues and enjoying the bar scene in Canada with a few locals we met on the street.  And of course, I enjoyed all the Havana Club I could handle while it was free flowing from the rail.

Traveling Tips for Toronto

  1. A very friendly local did us a favor and told us bathrooms downtown are always downstairs. This proved to be true everywhere we went.
  2. I had been very excited to find out what exactly Canadians call Canadian bacon. I had visions of ordering a burger and asking for…. Bacon?  This exact scenario actually happened to some friends and I many years back in Vancouver. We never got the answer then. I am pleased to tell you- Canadians call Canadian bacon, peameal bacon. I know not the reason.

  1. If you are planning to buy cigarettes and liquor at the duty free shops in Canada to
save you money like I’ve advised before, DON’T.  I was shocked to find that as well as not having any of the cigarettes I smoke, they were also $72-$86 per carton! I was very happy that I bought a carton from the states to Canada for $42US. 

As for liquor, I had my whole plan figured out for my precious Havana Club rum. I even let a whole bottle be drunk free shop there DOES NOT sell Havana Club due to the embargo.  If you are flying to anywhere other than the US you can get your cigars and rum no problem.  Sadly I will now have to ration my one remaining bottle until I go to Europe in a couple of months.
* photos at

Thursday, May 21, 2015

traveler's remorse

Travelers’ Remorse
It happens, usually about two beers in, where I feel myself forgetting the things I think I should do and become content with just doing what I am doing. I guess it is a ‘be here now moment’. So much of traveling, especially mine where I am rather certain I will not return to the place I am, is filled with things you think you are supposed to do rather than the things you actually want to do. I feel it is an ongoing battle and am surprised, with my years of traveling, that I still experience this. I suppose it really is the fact that I don’t think I will return that I feel the need to do and see everything, even if it is not what I actually want to do.
I still remember the moment, on a beach in Las Peñitas, Nicaragua in 2007 when I finally decided that I do not care about museums or churches or whatever else the guide book tells me I must see. I was meant to be leaving said beach and very clearly in my body and soul did not want to. But if I did not, I would not get to do and see whatever it is I thought (at the time) I was supposed to see. I was toes deep in sand when I very clearly decided I did not care.
 I was traveling alone, I was on a two month time schedule to get to Panama and back to Honduras for my flight out and the only thing telling me to go and see was a guide book. Who was I trying to impress?  If it were anyone back home, or whoever I might end up telling my traveling stories to, I could very easily lie…’yes, I saw such and such museum, church, ruin, monastery. Oh it was amazing,” how would they know the difference anyway.
So that is not what I cared about.  Rather I think it was something innate within me telling me, ‘you must do this and that, or else you are missing out.’ It was very hard to convince myself to stay on that beach in Nicaragua for a few more days enjoying the sun and my writing, but at the same time there was something very releasing about it. I allowed myself to decide what exactly and WHY exactly I travel.
That was all before I set my goal to travel to every country and therefore before I knew I would not be back to the places I visited, so perhaps that made it easier. I do not know. What I do know is that I very much enjoyed that journey, doing exactly what I wanted to do. Not stepping foot inside a church, entering very few museums and instead laying on beaches, meeting locals, lingering over long dinners in outdoor cafés, read entire novels in a day, writing away.
So how am I here, 10 years later and still having this sort of traveler’s regret before I’ve even left the place? Again, I have to think, that now that I have determined my goal and set my rules of not returning till I have visited every country, takes with it that sort of ‘do everything you can while you can’ attitude. I get that. I do. But that doesn’t negate the fact that there are certain things I enjoy and certain things I do not. What kind of fun would I have if all I did were the things in the ‘sights’ category of my travel guide, even though I thoroughly do not enjoy them. There comes a time where we have to be honest with ourselves and decide that traveling or vacation is indeed for us. Us unique individuals who travel for myriad different reasons and each journey will indeed be unique in this way.
I am ok with that. Truly I am. And that’s why I like this state, two beers in, sitting in a riot bar (not even mentioned in my guide, but highly suggested by a friend) and thoroughly enjoying two of my favorite things, drinking and writing, in a unique bar  I am quite certain I will never come upon the likes of again.  This is what I enjoy. This is what traveling is for me. Yet sadly it takes me two beers to come to the realization, or rather the acceptance that that is ok.
One beer in I was lamenting not having gone into the numerous free museums my Budapest discount card allowed me, feeling guilty for taking time to write (and drink) fully knowing that today is my last day in Budapest and tomorrow I would be off to another part of Hungary. Even though I very consciously decided to go to said bar.  Clearly my intuition is a few steps ahead of me, thank goodness. After a rather tiresome day of doing the things I thought I should do and battling Saturday crowds and not entirely not enjoying myself, I retired to my hostel to write. Mind you, something I very much anticipated doing a lot of, only to find myself feeling guilty that I was not out and about ‘enjoying’ my last day in Budapest. At which point I decided, or rather my heart did, to go to a riot bar. The most famous in Budapest.
Here I have written on my novel and surpassed 50,00 words, a milestone I have been working towards for more than three years, drunk incredible beer, met an Irish couple and three dock men from Denmark, all while people watching and admiring the crazy riot bar that is Szimpla (surprisingly translated to ‘single’ rather than ‘simple’ as I had assumed. Perhaps more fitting for me, the solo traveler.) Should I regret that?

Of course not. So perhaps the solution is to drink at least two beers daily and as early as possible to avoid this traveler’s regret. Or perhaps a simpler solution would be to come to terms with the very thing I did ten years ago and simply decide that what I want to do is exactly what I should do. And if, I ever make it to my goal, perhaps Budapest, or Puerto Rico, or Saigon, or Buenos Aries will be the very next place I shall go.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z is for Zumba

We have finally come to the end of the A-Z challenge. I am so happy to have completed my second challenge. It feels good. However, I think it will feel even better to get back to my novel, This Story Takes Place in a Bar. I spent the past weekend in Colorado Springs at The Pikes Peak Writing conference which I left inspired and motivated and ready to finish my novel. After this final blog post, I can!
Most of my bucket list items have been in some way travel related. This makes sense of course since my passions are traveling and writing.  But aside from writing about wanting to visit Zimbabwe, which of course I do, I could not think of another travel related Z, so I choose to write about Zumba.
I’ve been doing Zumba now for at least four or five years.  I go three to six times a week depending on my schedule. A great week is when I can go six times.  I’ve even been known to go twice in one day, once in the morning and once in the evening. I simply cannot get enough of it.
I’ve entertained the idea of actually becoming a Zumba instructor.  It makes sense, I go all the time, know the dances and love it, might as well get paid to have fun, right? It’d be great to make some extra money while getting fit and having a blast.
I’ve looked into trainings. There are whole day trainings that cost about $300, after which you are certified to instruct. $300 seems like a lot. And while I like the idea of being done in a day, I am not sure how confident or comfortable I would feel teaching after just one day of training.  Of course, I suppose my years of attending classes do count for something. 

This is a bit what it is like in my head when I simultaneously try to talk myself into and out of becoming an instructor of Zumba.  For now, I will keep attending classes, cue moves in my head while I dance and work up the courage to one day be in front of the crowd shaking my thing. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X is for Xanadu defines Xanadu as ‘a place of great beauty, luxury and contentment.’ Whose bucket list isn’t that on? I think we all just might call it something different.
I’ve already discovered several of my Xanadu’s. The nearly empty beach on Vieques, Puerto Rico where I can sit for hours in the sun listening to the waves kiss the shore or any concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre where I can dance surrounded by natural beauty everywhere, or camping on the Poudre River sitting around a camp fire with good friends late into the night.

But that doesn’t stop me from searching for my next Xanadu. One can never have enough Xanadu.

Monday, April 27, 2015

W is for Whale Shark

I think it’s every diver’s dream to dive with a whale shark.  It’s most certainly mine. As the largest extant fish species, its average length is 46 feet. 46 feet! It can weight up to 15 tons.  It is rather docile, and it is quite common, once finding one, to swim along with it. Talk about realizing just how small you are while swimming about with an almost 50 foot giant in the ocean.

In Honduras, where I learned to dive, whale sharks are quite commonly spotted during the spring months.  And while I dived a lot during that time, I was never lucky enough to find one.  So, I’ll keep diving and perhaps on that live aboard, or perhaps somewhere else on my adventures around the world, one day I’ll swim with this gentle giant in the sea.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

V is for Vendimia

While living in Chile I became great friends with twin brothers, Esteban and Luis. We have kept in close touch since I left over 10 years ago now.  I visited Esteban in Canada when he went there to study, returned once to Chile and traveled around with him a bit and showed Luis around when he trained around the United States and spent a week in Colorado with me.

The brothers and their family have a farm in Cauquenes, Chile. In the ten years I have know them, I have listened in awe to the stories they tell of Vendimia.  On their farm, they grow grapes. Once a year, around this time, family and friends from all over, meet on the farm and harvest the grapes. 

During the days, they hoist baskets up and down the rows of grapes collecting the delicate fruit from the vines.  In the afternoon, they put the grapes in giant barrels and stomp them. Just like in I Love Lucy. Really! In the evenings, they have huge asados with all the Chilean foods I miss. And at night, they sit around a huge campfire drinking wine and pisco enjoying the company of each other. When it is time to go to bed, everyone retires to the various tents set up around the farm.

The boys invite me every year, and it has been a dream of mine since I first heard about it, to go. I really cannot imagine anything more amazing than being back in Chile with my old friends and their family, picking grapes and stomping them, sleeping under the southern sky, soaking it all in.

The way my terms work at my teaching job, and in order to keep my health insurance, I’ve never really been able to go when it takes place.  But we are soon moving to semesters which may allow me to take a semester off while teaching shorter four week terms upon my return. Thus making it very possible.

I have set a time limit for this one contingent upon the length of my visa for Chile which expires in 2018. I will take a term off. I will return to Chile, the only country I will allow myself to return to. I will spend a couple of weeks there, one on the farm fulfilling a dream, the other around Chile visiting old friends. I will then visit Paraguay and Bolivia for two weeks or so and finally see all of southern South America.

My eyes tear up as I write this, thinking of how long I have been dreaming of doing this, returning to Chile, seeing my friends, doing something I’ve only ever seen in pictures.  So Esteban and Luis, watch out. I’m heading your way. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

U is for Unicorn

I’m pretty sure there aren’t any actually unicorns to be found anymore, except on that one Noah’s Arc game I used to play at Godfather’s pizzeria when I didn’t like pizza, and in The movie The Last Unicorn which I watched in the theaters and first realized that a unicorn was not, in fact, a Thanksgiving decoration.  And so I’m not talking about finding a real live unicorn (though I reserve the right to still look every now and again), I’m talking about that which we think cannot be attained.

Isn’t that what a bucket list is, anyway? And just like that game I used to play, every now and again, you get the Unicorn, and bring it back to Noah’s Arc just in time, and it’s possible to imagine a whole new world, one that contains unicorns. And I like that world. Don’t you?