The International Writers Magazine: The Vacations of Tabytha Towe
Live for Adventure
In last said piece I proclaimed that I needed to go away again like a desperate itch that simply won't die and it's true. When I wake up and think about what I want to work for, the idea of travel is my motivation. But when I admit that I actually have gone away four times within eight months; well then, you may justifiably call me a brat. I complain for lack of worldly escape when I have adventure close by. I can cry a bitter storm when in all reality I have embraced the thunder now and again; only I moan that it isn't as frequent as I'd wish. Yup, brat, I do say so myself.
Very happy to have had those four, peace making trips, otherwise I would have ended up a little koo-koo without a getaway here and there. *Also to consider, they were all rather short lived pleasantries, so they were more "breaks", lasting only up to a week each. I prefer longer and further away trips, but if it must be short and sweet (and if that means more often,) you will appreciate that I can happily compromise.
||This Summer was pretty damned amazing to tell the truth, no camping included this year but I did return to Montreal, Quebec for the end of spring (fling) and brought some friends with me this time round. We drove down listening to Neil Young all along the way and were in awe of the fancy hotel we were put up at by my work company -thank you very much- for 2 nights.
We got dolled up and went wandering, bar hopping and dining lavishly. We walked a lot, feasted ourselves silly on artisan cheeses accompanied by red wine and shopped-a-holic of course. The restaurants, pubs and shops are exquisite, just tempting, good old fun!
When my colleagues left I checked in to a motel where eventually my new man came to meet me (*we were still hush hush at this point and didn't know yet if we were in a proper relationship, so I was excited to try it out being somewhere else alone.) Fortunately I made Montreal just in time for the Jazz Festival because back home in Vancouver I always used to volunteer my helping hand at shows and got to catch amazing international artists one usually would not get the chance to see perform; so needless to say it was satisfying that I wasn't missing out on this big, outdoor fest and it was quite perfect to be involved in. My then 'potential boyfriend' and I got cozier these few days alone with each other participating in the back drop of musical performances and walking the packed streets full of energy.
Got to reunite and stay with my cousin in her new home she and her partner were renovating together, where after catching up with a distant relative (finally) they took us to an outdoor trance party whilst heavily wine induced. No doubt that was an epic day. On our last day left in the courteous French city, my boy and I kept going back and forth to a convenient store to buy beer and sparkling wine, which turned out to be very convenient for us. We observed passers by and cheered each other along the waterfront. The hopeless romantic that he was in the moment, he gave me a full on, face down-back massage on a park bench for over an hour and fed me my cabernet through the wooden slots with a giant straw. What a gentleman eh! That is where he professed his love for me, in public with my top down, lying on a bench getting massaged and toasting bubbly in slurpee cups!
Still did not get to try the best poutine ever as I was determined to devour and brag about, but did have a huge, famous Montreal smoked meat sandwich as a picnic on the train back to Toronto. A nice "bon appetite/voyage" if you will! Look forward to my annual return next summer no less.
|Then in July I got to tag along on a bartenders affair to an annual cocktail convention in no better than New Orleans. I had never been so I was fucking hyped. Went through a few coat tails to manage to be able to get work off and afford the time there, but I'm ever so glad I made it in the end, even if it meant I had to be suspended from work! This was ultimately spectacular, a great time with a good crew, it was hot as hell, we drank too many and learned enough.
Most of our time spent was between beautiful, old hotels in swagger, on a schedule to listen to incredible guest speakers at seminars. I mean it was the whole point of the trip, but come nightfall, we were on the loose and the parties were extravaganza! Felt honored to participate with talented likes of brilliant proprietors of my favorite temptation, lady liquor. The city was tragic and soulful all at once. The streets alive with music thumping out of speakers or jive bands on sidewalks; the bright and busy Mardi Gras reminiscent in the air; dirty strip joints with 3 for 1 beer specials (where some place a girl looked as if she were about to actually spew on stage during her dance); souvenir voodoo dolls hanging from musty window displays; those dang, shiny beads showed everywhere. Bayou hot sauces with humorous slogans begging for you to take them off the shelf; an old man sitting outside his gorgeous house on a swing chair playing harmonica reflecting back on his years behind wise eyes and frail fingers; home of last years proud Superbowl winning team, ('Who Dat!') that's right, "The Saints"; the classic Sazerac perfectly procured at ye ol' Absinthe House; Baton Rouge with it's history and valour; and let's not forget the famous Po' boy sandwiches and plenty of oysters galore to consume for lunch and dinner.
In the foreground colorful people swaying from the bars down Bourbon Street in an exciting canvas, inevitably intoxicating just to be amidst in all that. However, in the background you indeed realize the ghosts of hurricane Katrina, how devastating it was for the southern city. Such a horrible reality of pain they suffered. Tourism has dropped for them as well and therefore the economy, but the vibe is still there and the locals have a lot of heart and enthusiasm. Not to mention while we were there it was also the 3rd week in of the BP oil spill off the Gulf. Another, devastating shame.
||We were also supposed to fly out during a category #4 hurricane ourselves, which luckily downgraded to a tropical storm in which we were safe to fly, though after airport delays. I was so blind drunk from our last party of the evening we left (one last hoo-ha before our departure) that by the time we actually made the flight (on time, phew) and were surprisingly let through the gates in our condition, I had forgotten I got a tattoo a few hours earlier!
More fitting is that it's an ode to Sailor Jerry with his old school style of an anchor, the one that presents its image on the 40oz bottle cap of rum, which I do so happen to enjoy. What grand celebrations the liquor representatives put on all week, so much fun!
|And the little tid bits from mixologists and bartenders/owners from around the globe that were eager to share their knowledge and passion with us. There is much more to a cocktail than just ingredients I'll have you know, it's a whole culture, it has style, a story, and deserves respect for the unique flavor each one presents. The only thing I regretted about NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) was not staying longer. Definitely going back to the next Tales of the cocktail, muchos affectionado. Cheers!
My third trip was at last going home again. I had been once in the last four years so it was over due. Except I went for an extremely quick visit for extremely significant matters. My grandmother’s funeral and my friends wedding, same date. A back to back bury and a marriage. I was grateful to be at the funeral and say a proper goodbye because of course I had not seen her or many of my relatives for years, so long in fact that one of my 6 uncles (from my fathers side) had thought I was my own brother's new girlfriend. He later recognized me. That was a hard time on the family but it also brought us all together. Seeing my dad cry made all of us kids cry hysterically, it was sad but also a good sense of moving on and becoming more aware of each other’s lives. RIP Nam and Gong Towe.
After the burial I had to pull myself together on that hot, strange day I had spent with family to then put on a happy face and see some old friends I used to spend a lot of time with for a wedding. It was an emotional day and overwhelming, but a welcoming one for me to be back home for important events for those I love and whom I hope my presence brought them a lot of support. As I said this was an impromptu trip to my hometown Vancouver, British Columbia and I always wish I could be there longer, although it was still nice to be there, if only for what seemed hours after four days. Congrats to a happy marriage forever more!
I borrowed a friend’s bike and rode around my old familiar yet now so gentrified areas post the 2010 Winter Olympics that it felt so surreal. It was completely changed but all the same. I visited a few friends and popped in to a few of my old work joints to say hello. For a much anticipated and re-lived journey myself and a girlfriend rode bikes all the way to my favorite nude beach that at last felt sooooo inviting and just like how it used to. That beach was always a fond memory from my late teenhood and early twenties, not only the serenity or fun you would have there, but the whole mission of getting there and back.
Every time I see them it's just as we were but so different, when I look at how grown up my little siblings are, what I had missed in my friends lives now with children growing up all too fast of their own now too. Though it was short lived this time, it was worth every second I could be there with sincerely missed, dear family and friends again. Big Love to you all incredibly much. That was back in the glorious rays of August when I made my appearance and it was both devastating and beautiful.
When I came home to Toronto, home away from home, I had a feeling it would not feel the same afterwards. Low and behold my dear partner had moved his things in to my flat while I was gone, to make yet another home....Ours.
In Autumn as it was already getting cold and my boyfriend and I already craved the sensation of sunshine once more (always!) we booked our 3rd trip together - my 4th since May- to no other than the Republica De Cuba. Another first for us both after NOLA. We flew in mid October so the weather there was supposed to be nice for a while yet. We have this tradition where every time we book a deal somewhere we have to go to the airport straight from work (in which we get off around 3am), try to catch a few zzzzs on the flight, then start our morning in a new place wasting no time. We checked in to our lovely hotel that was to be our palace for the week as we got an all in inclusive package -flight/accommodation/food/all you can drink @ 24 hour bars! 'Melia Las Antillas' was old but well kept, freaking huge holiday destination, with a large pool and gratefully, the beach was to die for a 7 minute walk away with no doubt three outdoor bars along the way.
||That was all that was intended, to lie on a beach, swim in clear, emerald water, read in the sand and just relax. I'm not so conventional I usually go for resorts, but this was pretty good. We made our second day a visit to Varadero just a 15 minute drive away which for me was brilliant, because Cuba has all the best cars.
Some still running from even as far back as the early 50's in decent condition. Many of the locals jobs are as mechanics for wanting to keep them in a prime enough state, I mean come on, our Taxis would be classic Cadillacs. My favorite kind. So here we were being dropped off in this fine Chevrolet at the end of tourist season in this town that seems so suddenly quiet, derelict and yet so beautiful. It was rather serene and the neighborhoods were almost nonchalant. Once in a while you'd see someone through their torn shutter window move around their small house, or a kid riding a bike carrying fish in his basket, or an eager owner always riding his horse chariot catering to foreigners and yelling out "hey, you want?"..... I mostly saw cats, dogs and roosters than human activity, though it broke my heart to witness how skinny and hungry they are. Nothing like Thailand where they are sick, diseased or wounded though, oh, heart clenching. I know it's wrong, but they were utterly starving and there was nothing else except a (if you can call it a) hamburger stand, so I bought one and fed it to these kittens that demolished it in less than a minute. We saw a cock rape too, no seriously, a chicken that crosses the road too slow, doesn't know when a rooster may run up behind you for a quick peck! Nature is not romantic in some sentiments it seems. My boyfriend and I absolutely loooooved this park we found, it was massive and had a lot of interesting things to do inside, such as a rodeo ride (random!) though it seemed near abandoned.
|So bizarre, like we caught something at the wrong time, everyone else knew when to be there but clearly not us, as we were 2 out of 13 people in the park, and those were employees! We enjoyed walking over the bridge and looking at the statues and trinkets old ladies try to sell on their tables, - he did buy a hat that is now his famous vacation attire mind you.
Then we met a pervy old man who made us laugh under this hidden, shaded tree bar and made us a "proper" Mojito, which was no less grand. He gave us also a "proper" cigar connoting that you have never had one unless you have tried this one. So together like misfits with this Cuban man whom you can tell has many stories behind his eyes, all just chilled together not knowing each others language rhetorically remained in harmonious silence sipping and puffing, but still maintaining the company of one another in nods and smiles (and understanding his boner jokes gestured towards me). It was insinuated on how a woman should smoke a cigar let's just say.
Buying cheap beer cans strolling by and by passing whilst watching people pass by, we finally found the Casa Del Ron. Not only were we escorted to the tasting lounge, we managed samples of many a fine rum we would not get anywhere else. It was easier to ask for another blend than to ask for a glass of water hence. Needless to say, they made a pretty penny on our new found purchases. Getting through customs back in to Canada was fun too, especially as I had been in terrible pain from an unknown indulgence I consumed.
* However I will tell you that at the airport upon leaving, I went to the "Doctor" and without asking for it, got an injection in the butt to apparently ease the pain, but all was lost in translation and to this day have no idea what was put inside my body?
Between Varadero, the beach and our resorts restaurants and nightly entertainment stage, we booked a tour to go to Havana (Cubans know it as Habanna, but we Westerners ruined it.) Though it was nice to relax and drink beer by the sea and walk through the white sand at sunset, it was nice to look forward to a bit of a more enthusiastic scene after 3 days of non-descript luxury and leisure. At 7am we were ready and eager to go on an adventure when our bus picked us up. Unfortunately we were the only 2 people who did not speak French (and we are Canadian damnit) so everything on the tour was repeated in 2 dialects; yeah, we felt kind of silly. During the drive that took about 8 hours or something ridiculous towards the bustling city, I had somewhere managed to get a bad tummy bug or virus, (of course it happened to me, and of course there were no rest stops along the way for "another hour".) As we were going through little sea towns where Ernest Hemingway wrote a book, by then I was doubled over with thrashing pain in my gut. Upon Matanzas after a drastic rainfall and half way to Habanna, I was in pure awe of the sodden shanty houses made slightly prettier by the glistening rain. A home really reveals a life through broken cement and sloped, wood-splintered windows (a photographers wet dream to shoot by the way,) and all the while I was most excited I was as well in the most torture. I kept searching for a Banos let's say. By this small fishing village where many people were going about their busy day, I learned that the population was an honest mistake. Years ago pharmacists realized that Agave had agents that they could use to procure into a contraceptive (too bad that doesn't work in Tequila!) and thus, with fields of this plant growing it became popular for doctors to sell the product. However, the people of Communist Cuba who get the Cuban allowance from the government only get enough for rent, coffee and daily bread, so could not afford the drug. Instead they rationalized stealing the Agaves plants themselves and eating them to prevent pregnancy, whereas 9 months later babies were born everywhere and now the village has more people than probably fish to go around.
There was a lot of information to learn about the lives of residences, which I find fascinating. Nevermind history through war, the Russian military hiding their bombs, Che Guevara Revolution...so much to take in, mean while I couldn't possibly listen to it all as I was concentrating on holding my poor belly together and breathing heavily.
At last we arrive in Havana after weather delays, it seems that my boyfriend and I must endure something drastic from the skies whenever we go away (i.e.: NOLA storm/potential hurricane). Our bus got stuck in a simple road puddle, except that it was almost up to the window deep! Water was gushing like a mad river around us, we saw cars floating down side streets. Very dramatic and very exciting. The wind pounded loudly and I was a little worried all for a minute, but then my stomach acted up again and I forgot about what was happening outside as my insides were having a storm itself. By the time we made it to our shitty hotel, (compared to 'Melia' it was) the lights were blacked out for a few hours. We were tired from sitting on our ass all day but at least my belly subdued enough for us to have dinner before we went to a Cabana dance show. Because of the rain the show was indoors which kind of sucked, because otherwise it would have been way better to be under the sky light and yes, smoke during the performances. We sat at our table and they gave us a bottle of rum, how nice, and then the big lady came out with a powerful voice and a banana shaped dress glistening and blinding, and then one after another pretty girls booty shaking to drums in glamorous costumes and colors. I was invigorated and wanted to get up and dance on the table, but the crowd had no vibe or enthusiasm sadly, probably because they were all seniors but anyhow, I thought the singers and dancers deserved to be appreciated more.
Needless to say the next day where the real tour of the city started, not only did it rain but also my illness brought the pain! It was the real deal now, not just little gurgles anymore but like tears in eyes kind of severity. My poor boyfriend had to be so patient with me as I kept having to run off to the toilet, most of which were non-existent or out of use. It was terrible, completely ruined my trip. You know it's bad when I can't even finish a mojito. I couldn't hold anything down. So the last two days in the big city where we thought would be sex, drugs and rock n' roll (well, not exactly that but you know, the 'bees knees') turned out the opposite. Got some good photos at least. On our ride back it finally became sunny, go figure, and I had lost 7 pounds already, which lets face it makes you feel better even when you don't feel better. We bought a piece of art from the market that is nearly Tim Burton-esque, a portrait of the army wall in the city. A great buy to take home with us. I did adore the brick roads and the old canons they use to block off cars by burying them in the streets so you can't get by, the wrinkles and features in the locals faces smoking their strong cigarettes hanging out against the fading walls, the music silently played in the distance. It was a lot more alive than Varadero, except still, not as crazy as I had anticipated. Tourist season really must have past, and I prefer that, and I suppose it's not like we could really hang out with locals anyhow if I was making weird faces every time my tummy growled.
So our last day back at the hotel we really wanted to make it a special night and have a nice dinner. As soon as the violinist wanted to come up to our table and our food arrived and my boy was hungry, I looked at him with life or death eyes and we had to leave. I spent a lot of time in the fetal position and in the bathroom. We did say bye to our giant fish under the bridge whom we fed scraps to, even fed a cockroach some bread one night, it was like a baby lobster, ewww! And after we bid our adieu to our new found home for a week, we had to go home and back to work.....hate that! That's when I realised yet again I did not get a stamp in my passport, however did gain a foreign remedy/substance injected in to my ass. Adios Cuba, wish I could have enjoyed you more, but thank you for the rest.
||Now lastly, and when I say lastly I mean so far, my 5th trip! (4th with the bf up to date). He had never been to New York City before, can you believe it? So I had to take the necessary reigns and get him there, we are so close from Toronto man, just saying. So over time he got the initiative into his brain and found us a pretty wicked flight and accommodation deal once more. I have not been in a few years nor ever in the winter, so I was eager to see the city in a different light, and boy, it is completely different from summer.
I'm used to walking around 8 hours a day there and getting around by foot or transit if need be, but when it's freeeeezing, covered in snow, you are all wet and miserable and have over 6 destinations a day you must taxi. Guess what, though the fare is cheaper in NYC it gets a bit expensive if you’re running around town. In no way possible could we have covered even 30% of what we wanted to see and do, despite the weather, however I'm quite impressed we did as much as we could considering. Our hotel 'Parc Central' was in Times Square (never do that again, tourist central!) but it was really nice and had cool elevator systems. There is only so much you can do in that area unless you want to go to a bad strip club (we left, or eh-hum, may have been escorted out anyhow) or if we had more time and could afford to, would have seen a Broadway show or two or caught David Letterman’s' Tonight Show, except he wasn't filming that week, so we pretty much got it covered in those first, few hours while waiting for check in, which is ridiculous in the big apple, 4pm!
I was starting to sober up by the time we landed, of course we did the stay-up-all-night-and-fly -out-early tradition again, though this time he worked late and I partied hard before hand, so he wanted a necessary "after work beer" and I was tired. We got there in the morning and alcohol is not served until noon, so needless to say, we were quite grumpy with each other. Felt better after a little breakfast and a walk through the Square, I shopped at a massive, 4 level store that was a fantasy and so became more awake and in spirit. Finally when we got to noon and had plenty a beer to better our moods at Heartland Brewery, we called it in back to our hotel to freshen up for the evening. Thankfully they let us in by 3'0 clock! We napped, showered then headed to an Irish Pub to watch no other than The New York Jets, my boys NFL team that had a big chance to win this game and go forward to Superbowl, it was kind of a big deal. Second half we went to a loud sports bar where we could chest bump other ravenous Jets fans.... and held each other when they lost. So to lift our heads from shame we went to a comedy night hoping to giggle our woes away, except of course because we were wearing the losing teams jerseys, got heckled quite a lot. They didn't realise we are quick and clever with response, so we battled between the comedians on stage and made them uncomfortable and everyone in the room all had big laughs. Jokes on you guys!
Grateful to have the one-day that was nice out. We had sunshine, but it was still terribly cold. Decided it was a nice day to show him the Empire State Building and check out the view. It was perfect and clear, smart decision to do it that day. I loved seeing the Statue of Liberty from afar, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Chrysler Tower, and let's not forget, exactly where all the cool stores were. So no doubt as soon as we came to ground we went on a murderous spree. It's a fashion capitol, so for us shopping district there is like a candy haven to a fat kid, we did purchase well. In our new attire went up Madison Avenue, which is, in all honesty, not that great. Wish we stuck to the Village for the afternoon as it is far more interesting, but we made our beds so.....
Ate at a cool diner on 5th Ave and were ready for the nights' prevail (ps. I love cheesy, flashy, old school, greasy spoons!) Already by early evening we had to tick off 4 bars, one of which we had a special reservation for at an "exclusive" cocktail bar. It was in the East Village mind you, so we didn't completely lose track. However, before a cocktail session one must prepare, so we decided to hit 3 other bars "on the way". Fortunately 2 of these were on top of our list as well, "Raines Law" and "Rye Bar" a block away from each other. By the time we made it to our reservation and at this point had at least eight free poured, 3 ounce plus drinks each, we were getting a little heavy lipped. A few more and it was time to stop; we broke up for an hour, it was awkward, and he is not allowed more than one Negroni ever again.
Our 3rd day was another big one. It was gloomy out, but we made up at least, we were embarrassingly hungover so re-hydrated at another funky diner then went on to the art scene which I am really ecstatic about. Took him to The Met (Metropolitan Museum) and killed a few glorious hours gazing at the Egyptian exhibit and of course the classics. Walked around the ice rink, which is a lake in Central Park, photographed The Guggenheim Museum, and then went to town to meet a long time friend of mine in the East Village. This night we hit 9 bars, but stuck to beer instead of strongly mixed cocktails, we learned through our recovery. My friend took us to a couple music venues and we all had a great time rocking out. Outside it was cold as fuck, but the next day.....
Roamed around Soho and had to tick off hitting a very important store, "Astor’s Wine and Spirits". We were looking for products you couldn't get in Canada, and boy was it ever a library of wonderment and endearment for us! They didn't have the bitters we were aiming for, but still took a few back with us, plus some nice bottles, which I probably should not announce (how many.) Ate at a cool tequila/Mexican restaurant, then went to a show. I had seen "Stomp" in '97 in New York as a young teen, so thought it would be cool to take my man to it all these years later. Still yet, it was highly entertaining and yes, made us want to stomp our feet and our hands were literally raw from clapping to the beat. As we got out of the performance all rejuvenated and with smiles on our faces, out stepped in to what we didn't know at the time was going to be a massive snowstorm. Told you, we always have weather on our side when we go away. Within 2 hours it got hit with 19 inches, wtf! It was our last night and the night was young yet and of course we had a million places we still wanted to get to. Sufficed to say, we made it to about 4 more bars on our list, showing up at each absolutely drenched, basically squeezing out our scarves and coats before we were let in from the snow dripping off of us. And yes, we went by foot everywhere cause guess what, even the cabs couldn't drive, or rather we'd have to help push them out of the curbsides when they got stuck. In our winter haze -drunken haze- managed by 3am to walk to 30 Rockefeller Place, don't know how we quite found it mind you. I wanted to yell "I love you Jack and Liz!" but then I slipped in a deep puddle so got over the moment and wanted to drink wine at our warm hotel....only after we found a raunchy pizza joint, d'uh!
||It was a good, exciting last night and we actually had a lot of fun in the snow instead of loathing it so. It was almost romantic to frolic in the snowflakes around the city running from bar to bar like hyperactive children. Was also excited thinking that we might get snowed in and would have to stay an extra day or two!
Too bad that never happened, stupid airports were on it the second the first flake fell it appeared, with all the piles already being melted in these ghastly big machines. Poop. Naturally, four nights is never enough, but leaves you craving more of that crazy, happening, and intoxicating, expensive, beautiful glory hole of a city, which would probably either kill me or love me if I lived there. Or both, but it would be a good way to go. See you next time New York, I love you, but only if it's dry. Cheers to another great visit!
And that's is all I have done in 8 months; so you see, I do need to get away again soon. Where will I go? Not only anywhere I can, but hopefully for at least over a month on another journey, not just piddly few days. Oh and it'll be fantastic if I'll get an actual stamp in my passport because I have too many pages to fill out before I'm 30, yikes! I currently have no stamps to show for these trips, but fond memories, many photos, much joy and wishing to return to these places again someday.
More Life styles
Till the next escapade, adios, bon soir, ciao, see you later!!!
© Tabytha Towe March 2011
tabythat at hotmail.com
Learning to Love Toronto
I have clearly gone well over my expected time limit of living in Toronto. By March 2011, it will mark my two-year residency here