From Southern California to Washington to New York to Georgia, 2016 quite unexpectedly become the year of the United States for me, literally from coast to coast, north to south. When I came home for Christmas last year after being abroad for so long, I thought it meant the end of my trip. I thought it was over, donezo, kaput, and that broke my heart a little bit (/a lot/more than I’m ready to admit!) Little did I know at that time, the wanderlust heart never truly settles down. It may subside for a bit and it may indulge in the comforts of home and family and community, but the underlying need for new experiences, new cultures, diverse foods and breath-taking landscapes does not stay dormant for long.
Now, many would immediately point out that the USA is not that different from Canada. In terms of culture, food and landscapes, Canada and the US can be considered much the same. That said, what has been so unexpectedly beautiful about my travels through America this year has been learning just how wrong that assumption is. My first trip into the US was to New York and Connecticut in January, to visit friends and do some writing while being inspired by the surrounding of being somewhere different. Being someone who travels abroad so often, I didn’t even consider trips into the United States as traveling. Going to the US was a road trip, a weekend thing, the same as I would think of going north to the cottage for a weekend. But as I branched out further and further into the United States, and saw first hand the different landscapes, the differences in the people, America made sure I’d eat my words (/thoughts?)
New York and Connecticut don’t seem to be that different from home, from the people, the views, the weather, and the big city and small town vibes. Aside from the Canadian stereotypes I’ve found to be true (saying hello to strangers, saying pardon instead of America’s ‘what?’ or ‘huh?’, apologizing profusely, even if the other person bumped into you, etc.) I really wouldn’t know I was in somewhere different if someone were to blind fold me and take me into those states.
In February, I made my way to California, to visit one of my best friends from Brantford who has since moved out there. It was the best combination of scratching the travel itch while having the comfort of home, spending so much time with one of my favourite people. I ended up spending two months out there, and thanks to Jess and her husband Jonathan and a few friends, I was able to have such diverse experiences all within one region; from the wine country of Temecula with it’s seemingly endless vineyards, to walking the beach from the Santa Monica Pier into Venice beach taking in its vibrancy and beach culture, to shopping for hours in the Orange County Market, to climbing waterfalls in the San Bernardino National Forest, to camping in jaw-droppingly beautiful dessert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park, to taking in the stunning views of the Palm Springs windmill farms. I was blown away by how much there was to do, all so drastically diverse, within a few hours drive.
From California, I flew to Seattle, Washington, to take in the sites for a few days before heading into Vancouver. Seattle was the most unexpectedly quaint little gem. A big city with a small town feel, it was the type of place that I can completely understand the allure of living there. If I were ever to have to move to the United States, with all the places I’ve been, Seattle would be the first place I’d look at.
From Seattle I spent more time in New York, a place that is quickly becoming my home away from home; a place I go to find new inspiration and motivation. And I don’t just mean Manhattan, there is so much more to explore outside of Manhattan. From Uncasville to Milford to Stamford, all in CT, down through New Rochelle to Queens to Brooklyn, in NY, there are so many places to discover. Every time I make my way down there, I see new things I would have never found if I had planned the trip. I literally hop in my car, drive down, and come up with a plan as I go. It’s the best way to discover a place. From spoken word nights at vegan Caribbean restaurants, to jaw dropping street art in the back streets of Queens, to coming super creepy statues in Stamford of children putting on lipstick, going without a plan can serve you well, so long as you get out there.
Next came Nashville, Tennessee, for CMAFest. It took absolutely zero arm twisting to recruit a few friends to drive down to Nashville with me for Country Music Week. Literally all I had to say was “Hey, would you want to go to Nashv” before I was interrupted with an immediate “I’m in!” First though, on the way to Nashville, we did a stop in Kentucky to attend Muhammad Ali’s funeral, both a somber but inspiring experience. Then we continued on our way to Nashville, which is one of those places like nowhere else I’ve ever been. There’s so much history and of course so much music, not just country, but rock and jazz as well. And every single place you go into, you wonder how the person or group performing isn’t already signed and famous. Literally. Every single place you go into has jaw dropping talent performing, looking for their break into the industry. To me, describing it as a musical Mecca would be an understatement. Nashville is a must-see for any music lover.
And last, but not least, was Georgia. This was a bit of a whim trip, as a high school friend needed someone to drive home from Georgia to Canada with, and which of her friends was crazy enough to fly down and make the drive with her? Ding ding ding, this girl! I fly down to Georgia, had just over a day to take in the sites of Savannah, before hitting the road home. While the most important part of the trip was spending quality time with a friend I hadn’t seen for years, I also got just a glimpse of what is known as southern hospitality. The Southern food (oh good heavens, the food!), the kind heartedness, the level of customer service which is so often lacking in the other states I’ve been to, everything. While the South is so often stereotyped, especially amongst Canadians, for their more right-winged lack of progression with the rest of the West, I got to see a bit of its appeal, the positive side. As with my travels to Egypt, I strongly believe it’s important to experience a culture before you can accurately speak about it, so for that, I’m so thankful to have been to the South.
From New York to Connecticut to California to Washington to Kentucky to Tennessee to Georgia, I may have only experienced a small portion of the USA, but a diverse part nonetheless. From bustling megacities to desert drylands to quaint small towns, the United States has so much to offer that people often go over seas for. So well played USA. Despite your crazy politics and the plethora of issues you need to work on, you have an inherent beauty which can not be taken away that gives you an unending appeal. Given that it’s only September, I can not wait to see more of you.
It’s hard to believe I have been traveling the world for a year. 13 months now, if you add in the month I spent in the United States before stepping on to that plane to Brazil. April 14, 2015 is a date that will be forever in my memory. It will be an anniversary I celebrate in silence every single year from now until I die. April 14 has become, to me, the day I proved myself fearless. Traveling around the world was something I dreamed of for a long time, never quite sure if that dream would come to fruition. Sure, there are dates where it became ‘real’ long before getting on that plane. The day I booked my special around-the-world ticket with Star Alliance. The day I quit my job. The day I first packed that measly 45litre backpack that would soon be attached to me at all times. All of those were moments that made my stomach drop, as if I were flying down a roller coaster, when in actuality I was simply sitting down allowing a moment to take me over. But stepping on to that plane? That was the real ‘holy shit, here I go’ moment.
I knew some of what would come: new friendships, beautiful sites, incredible experiences. And come they did. But the year also brought things I had never anticipated. It brought moments of awe with the realization of a greater purpose of the world. It gave me a love of nature greater than I ever could have anticipated having. It gave me an acceptance of myself that despite what some think, I will never be a city girl; I love the peace and quiet of the country far more. It brought me an understanding that you won’t love everything in this world, and that’s okay. It brought me closer to terrorism, waking up to the Islamic State’s bombing of an embassy. It brought my understanding of what real poverty is, with my heart breaking as I stepped over other human beings in Delhi as if they were garbage strewn about, as stepping over them it was the only way to get around the sheer magnitude of them. It brought police raids in China, forcing me out of my accommodations on a moments notice. I’ve long known the real beauty of travel is the unexpected moments you can’t plan, yet even that does not begin to adequately describe what the past year has meant to me.
Since returning home, numerous people have commented on how I don’t talk about my experiences much. I have to be prompted and probed to really talk about what happened. I think this is because I’m still digesting it all; still trying to find an understanding of it all myself. Much has been written about the culture shock of experiencing the world and then returning to a life where not much has changed since you left. That experience is not overstated by any means; it’s a very real emotional roller coaster that I am battling daily. Thankfully, the experiences I yearned for while gone will hold me here: the campfires, the laughs with friends, the Canadian summer nights that are equally as beautiful as much of what I saw. Since the day I started driving on my 16th birthday, whenever I need to think or to regroup, I would jump in my car at night and just drive aimlessly down roads I’ve never been down before. I find myself doing that more often that not lately, as I work my way through what it means for this past year to be over.
Trying to figure out what comes next is exciting yes, but scary nonetheless. People like to tell me things like “I’m sure you’ll be going somewhere soon enough” and while true, it just shows this is something that only people who’ve taken this kind of journey can understand. While I will travel again, they don’t understand that I actually do want to settle down now. And while I will travel again, it will likely never be anything to the same magnitude. So regardless of ‘what’s next’, there’s a sense of finality at the ending of what was a life long dream that I need to deal with. Perhaps I should talk about it more, maybe that would help. But I struggle in conveying the real feelings. While I can tell people about the Great Wall of China and how we did the ‘real’ part of the wall in its dilapidated state, not restored as the tourist area is, and how beautiful it was, I can’t describe how once I got to the top of a peak, turned around to fully take in the view, I was suddenly overcome with emotion and awe of where I was in that moment. I can tell you about how the Taj Mahal is even grander than it’s made out to be, but I can’t tell you how when you see it up close, it sucks the air out of you because you’re so speechless at how insignificant you feel standing below it. And in a way, I like that I can’t describe these feelings. It means they were mine, they were real, and they were special. So that’s what I’ll hold on to, near and dear, as I sort through the rest.
Sometimes, you wake up expecting the day to be like every other day, not knowing something wonderful is going to happen. That was yesterday for me. I woke up to a message from a friend that simply said “Laguna Beach or Santa Monica?” to which I replied “Santa Monica”, assuming I was picking where they were going. An hour later, I was on my way to Santa Monica!
The Santa Monica Pier was far larger than I had imaged. The colours, the water, all of it was just beautiful! When we got to the end of the pier, it couldn’t have been timed more perfectly… there were dolphins swimming in the water, jumping out every few seconds! From the pier it was to this gorgeous beach for a lil frisbee <3
And apparently, in California they don’t just have outdoor gyms like anywhere else I’ve been. No, California goes Texas style and does it all big! Apparently a lot of American Ninja Warriors train here, the original site of Muscle Beach. Check out this insane swing contraption… Not only do people do it from end to end (I would probably hang on the first one for maybe 6 seconds, think about swinging to the second one… and then fall), they go to the end, swing around and come right back, doing crazy tricks in between. Now when I meet buff guys at home, I usually write them off as meatheads (I know, I know, terrible!) but here I was actually in awe. These aren’t your ‘take a gym selfie of my arm muscle’ kind of guys (girls too, but I didn’t see any, so I’m going with guys here!). They are legitimately skilled and trained guys, buff bodies simply a side effect. I can respect that.
From here, we just kept walking down the beach which takes one right into Venice Beach! Now Venice Beach was pretty bad ass. I’m a complete sucker for street art, of which there was plenty, tons of cool shirt shops, lots of beach, a skate park (where Floyd Mayweather rolled up beside us! Wwwhhaattt!!??) and tons of cool little restaurants. I loved the Venice Beach vibe.
After lots of laughing, eating and people watching, we walked back to Santa Monica just in time to catch the sunset. All in all, the most wonderfully unexpected day!
I’m currently on day 4 of a 5 day detox, which means I absolutely positively can not stop thinking about food. And since I can’t stop thinking about it, I figured I may as well write about it!
While in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I had the opportunity to take an amazing cooking class and learn some of the classics. From different kinds of empanadas to lentil stew to alfajores, I can now whip up some serious Argentine gems. Norma herself was incredibly sweet, able to accommodate any allergies or vegetarians, all while making the cooking class itself very interactive and very fun! We learned so much from Norma, then at the end of the cooking class had the opportunity to sit down in her dining room to enjoy all the delicious food we had just made with a glass of wine. While I’m going to share Norma’s amazing lentil soup recipe, for anyone visiting Buenos Aires, I highly suggest you take her class, you will not regret it! She can be reached at:
“Because it’s 2015“. It was an impromptu response that defined a year for an entire country (hint: Canada). Reflecting on how it is currently Black History Month here, and reading about race from the perspective of people I know (check out Tales from the 2.9, for some solid reads), I wanted to add my voice to this. To be completely honest, this is intimidating as hell, writing about race as a white girl, but every voice counts, so I felt compelled to follow through with sharing my experiences.
I started with the 2015 quote because it’s so relevant to what I see. I’ve been fortunate to grow up in a country and a time where blatantly obvious systemic racism is phasing out. It wasn’t long ago where segregation dominated schools, sports, communities, and so much more in North America. We know this, we learn about this, we say “oh my god, I can’t believe that actually happened”. In my experience though, while most of us can acknowledge racism is still an issue, there’s a reality so many white Generation Y’ers do not see: we are still reaping the benefits of the white privilege our ancestors instilled in society. And I strongly believe it is our obligation to recognize it, speak out against it and ultimately change it.
How many times have you heard someone say “I’m not racist, I have black/brown/Asian/insert any other race friends”? What the hell is that person about to say, to prompt them to say something like that? Obviously something with racist undertones. And that is the predominant race issue I see in our society now. The subtle racist undertones and behaviours that happen so frequently we’re not even recognizing them as such. Growing up, this wasn’t something I thought about. But coming from a white liberal middle class family, why would I? (note: that was likely one of the most facetious statements you could read.)
As I grew up, I slowly became more aware of what racism meant. I learned about it. I witnessed it. I even experienced it, just once, when a girl on the First Nations Native Reserve refused to let me buy gas because ‘they don’t sell to white girls’. But I never lived it. Over time, as I’d see my friends of African, Indian, whatever descent, walk in to a room, immediately becoming hyper aware of that fact they were the only person of colour there, I began to only have a glimpse of what ‘living it’ means. They could point out the few people in the room who would look over at them, nervously or angrily, for no other reason then they were of a different race. At first, being someone who truly believes in seeing the best of people, I thought they were being paranoid. But as I started to pay more attention, I could see it. In a room full of people, there’d often be one or two who would in fact be doing this. Now imagine this happened to you on a daily basis, in a society that prides itself on its multiculturalism. I can’t even imagine the feeling, but I do feel it’s my responsibility to try to understand it as best I can.
While traveling around the world in 2015, I became even more aware of what white privilege means. No longer was it a subtle undertone of society, it was in-my-face blatant. More often than not, I would be the only white girl in a room. But you know what? I didn’t need to worry about what that meant. Because everywhere I went, it seemed to make me special. I didn’t get dirty looks, I wasn’t judged, and people didn’t suddenly worry about if they were safe (my blood just started boiling even typing that). Instead, I was treated better than those around me, I was offered better prices, I was offered better deals. I was even given free stuff more than a few times. Not long ago, a black man even said he’d offer me ‘the white person special’, which killed my heart. He said this as a joke in an attempt to make me laugh, which must means tons of white people do laugh when he says that. It was infuriating. While traveling with a Canadian friend of Indian descent, there were multiple times I noticed it even more. In India, no expectations were placed upon me, while she was judged for not speaking Hindi. In Egypt, I was not expected to be fully covered, while women glared at her for not adhering to their cultural norms. In multiple countries, women would often approach us because they wanted a picture of their children with the white woman, and they would ask my friend in their language if it was okay with me. As we both only speak English, it took us awhile to understand what was happening, yet we soon got used to it, because it happened so frequently. Time and time again, whether with others or alone, I was treated better than people around me. It just isn’t right.
Since returning home at the end of 2015, I am finding myself far more sensitive to it than before. With white privilege being thrown right in my face, what kind of person would I be if I chose to come home and ignore it? It’s easy to focus on the big issues; prison populations by race, young black men being shot by those who swear to protect them, Islamic fear mongering by politicians, proponents of building a wall between the USA and Mexico, etc. Rightfully so, these issues require an immediate outcry and must be addressed. But it seems most people feel these are issues to be addressed by the system, that they themselves are hands off from the solution. Yet if every single person were to educate themselves, become aware of the every day subtleties that create these under-the-radar systemic issues that create a system which allows these big issues to happen, maybe, just maybe, we would all actually contribute to the solution.