In three weeks of solo travelling, my trip to Honolulu yielded my only true misadventure. I was in Hobart on the 8th, Melbourne on the 9th and Honolulu on the 9th because I crossed back over the dateline. I was a mess by the time I arrived in Honolulu at six in the morning. I was so provoked by the ten hour flight, I would have strangled someone if I wasn’t so dehydrated – water was an in flight extra. I left the airport with no knowledge of Honolulu, no sense of direction and no American money.
In spite of all that, everything was fine when I arrived at my hostel. I ate a lovely, inexpensive breakfast next to rain-washed Waikiki Beach. I had all the makings of a good day until I went to every coffee shop in the area and couldn’t find one that would accept my Canadian debit card. I despaired until two people from my room offered me a lift to Safeway. I don’t often get in cars with strangers but they told me Safeway offered cash back so I peeled my sorry ass off my bunk bed and prepared to meet my money.
Forty minutes later, I sat in the parking lot washing down macadamia nuts with half a litre of cold brew while I formulated a plan. I was determined to make it to Pearl Harbor – the only attraction I knew on Oahu – for the lowest possible cost. Instead of arranging for a tour bus, I opted to take an hour and a half’s trip on the city bus.
The bus did not take the scenic route. It travelled through the worst parts of Oahu and picked up passengers that looked tougher and meaner the further we travelled. Twenty minutes into the trip, I knew my bladder wouldn’t hold until Pearl Harbor. After a half hour of looking out the window for a stopping point that didn’t look dodgy, I jumped off and headed to an innocuous looking Burger King. Burger King denied me the washroom so I ran across to a battered strip mall. I ended up inside Chinatown Market Place, which looked as battered as the building exterior. As I sat charging my phone next to a butcher’s stall, and I got a bubble tea from an astounded young man who couldn’t comprehend how a Canadian had ended up in a strip mall in Kalihi-Palama.
Back on the bus with my bubble tea stowed in my bag, the area I passed through looked increasingly grim. I asked myself, Are we driving by a prison or a building that just looks like a prison? What I saw was the airport’s infrastructure; the prison was two minutes up the road.
I was about ready to wet myself by the time I reached Pearl Harbor. (Bubble tea does not an effective transit snack make.) I arrived just in time from the closure of everything at the USS Arizona Memorial, included the much-needed washrooms. The trip had taken me two and a half hours and culminated with a view of a barricade and a sign marked ‘Closed.’
I went to the nearest pub for a washroom and phone charge. I drank a beer on the balcony overlooking ’Aiea Bay and told myself about twelve times that this was nice and I wasn’t lost at all. I caught an Uber from the middle of the darkened parking lot where my Pearl Harbor journey had begun. The Uber back to my hostel cost as much as a Pearl Harbor tour bus would have.
I flew out of Honolulu at six the next morning. I returned to Honolulu exactly two months after on a layover from midnight until my flight’s nine o’clock take off. All I saw on that trip was the Don Quijote 24 hour store and the inside of the airport. Maybe next time I’m in Honolulu I’ll see something other than a grocery store.
Song of the Day: Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales by Car Seat Headrest
A portrait of an unimpressed woman at the top of Mount Wellington
I hadn’t intended to get drunk and hike a mountain when I set out that morning in Hobart, Tasmania. My plans for the day were completely innocuous: a coffee in the morning followed by a walk by the rivulet. I walked along in nature, conversing with wallabies, eating a scone that tasted like grass and feeling very wholesome overall. That is until I realized I was inadvertently en route to the nearest brewery. Never one to overlook an opportunity, I decided to visit Cascade Brewery.
In many ways, I should have been commended for arriving just ten minutes past noon; it was indicative of my morning productivity. I caught a few side eyes as I sat down in the sun with my tasting flight but I was unperturbed. I was living my best life. To be fair, I didn’t get drunk while I was there. I drank less than two pints total but they were two pints that made me feel.
When I took off afterward on an unknown path, I realized I was en route to Mount Wellington. In a rare moment of hubris, I decided that I was well capable of making a quick jaunt up the mountain. As I started along the path I fancied myself an expert solo hiker, recounting to myself the details of all my past hiking successes. Not once did I think about the time I ended up stuck on a cliff edge after ambling through a pathless forest. I was an adventurer whose journeys had yielded nothing but successes.
I ate all my trail mix within the first fifteen minutes. I drank all my water within the first forty-five. I was resilient, albeit a little peckish. An hour into my hike I realized I was nowhere close to a washroom. An hour and fifteen minutes in, I didn’t care. I was having the time of my life, though I was getting a little tired of inclines instead of grassy meadows. As the inclines grew steeper, I realized with horror that I was only halfway up the mountain. In fact, as a consequence of taking the path from the brewery, I was hiking up the mountain by the longest route possible.
By the time I neared the summit I was sobered up, dehydrated and in an altogether terrible mood. I thought close to an hour of navigating across rock piles would lead to a more appreciable result but I still had another path to follow before I reached the summit. This path, too, was devoid of facilities. I was so thirsty I thought about trying to hitch a ride with one of the passing cars.
When I finally reached the apex of Mount Wellington, I was rewarded with a full view of Hobart and its surroundings, alongside hundreds of tourists in flip flops and summer dresses. I climbed three and a half hours up the mountain only to realize everyone else had gotten there by bus. I was too angry to even celebrate the completion of the hike. I stuck a middle finger at some tour buses and started back down the mountain with all the water the bathroom tap would allow.
Not long into my descent, I passed a sweaty German couple who asked if the view at the summit as worth the hike. I told them it was worth it so long as they were willing to look past the people up there in sandals. The woman said, “Are you fucking kidding me?” I was not. There were far easier methods for reaching the top of Mount Wellington.
Eventually I caught a city bus back to the Hobart CBD and I sat by my sweaty self in the Shamrock Pub with a veggie burger and a cider. The moral of this story is twofold: always preplan your hiking route and never start at a brewery before you climb a mountain.
Song of the Day: The Nosebleed Section by Hilltop Hoods
I left a nearly empty bar and walked out into a hot Sydney night. I stood by the curb weighing my options. I walked up to two girls who left the bar a few minutes before I did. Hoarse from a weird cold I’d picked up in Brisbane, I asked if they knew of a better bar in the area. Rather than direct me to a bar, they invited me to a rave they were heading to. They could have sold me on a trip to Macca’s at that point, I was so relieved to have a destination and female companions. The only patrons I’d encountered in Side Bar were males with body odour.
The three of us crossed the street in the wrong direction, crossed back and moved on a changed course. The girls introduced themselves as we made our way north on Pitt Street: Bethanne, two years my junior and Cody, five years. They conversed freely with me and with nearly every male who passed. Actually, it was only with me that they conversed. They catcalled every male under the age of forty. To men moving in packs they called, “The boys, the boys!” To men in cars they called, “The boys, the boys!” To the poor solitary dude who had the misfortune of crossing our path they called, after some consultation between them, “The boy, the boy!” All of this was in reference to a video they showed me, the existence of which I have since been unable to verify.
After twenty minutes of walking the only place we had reached was a 7/11, where a couple of bogans in straw hats stuck Band-Aids on Cody’s scraped knee and Bethanne bought cigarettes. I began to wonder what the hell I was doing there and whether I should buy another Cherry Ripe. I didn’t. We exited and again changed course. We had walked in the wrong direction.
When we finally arrived at the Agincourt Hotel, we went up a few flights of stairs to find another empty bar. We were told to go to the basement so we went back down, past the pokies and horse racing broadcasts to a dimly lit bar called Valve.
Valve was disproportionately populated by white people with dreadlocks for an event called GlitchSys Bass Rave. The DJ, another white man with dreadlocks, played heavy dupstep while the crowd danced itself to frenzy to his repetitious beat. A man with crazy eyes passed out Spider-Man stickers to people dancing around the stage. I smiled like a grimacing emoji at the man and the shiny Spider-Man on my arm. I found Bethanne and Cody on the dance floor, themselves covered in shiny stickers. They asked if I wanted them to tell me before they left but I said I was able to make my own way back.
After a few hours of dancing I consulted a posted setlist and realized that I had, in fact, been there for about twenty minutes. A guy in goggles approached me twice to ask if I’d like him to buy me a drink, perhaps not realizing that I wasn’t two similarly dressed people but was instead one disinterested person. I waited around for the next set to start while the people around me continued to two-step to whatever was playing on the house speakers. I sighed and admitted to myself that I simply wasn’t on their level. I peeled the Spider-Man sticker from my arm and walked back out into the hot Sydney night.
A bargain price is never without its catch; inexpensive flights are no exception. When I read over the details of the bargain flight I found for a round trip from Vancouver to Melbourne, I realized the catch was a sixteen hour layover in Guangzhou, China.
Guangzhou is a city two hours northwest of Hong Kong. It is currently China’s third largest city behind Beijing and Shanghai, and it is generally considered an important node in the global economic system. This I learned from a Wikipedia search. The specifics of international geography are not my strong suit. I decided that a layover in Guangzhou agreed with me and all other details I could work out later.
The flight landed at six at night, two in the morning PST. What I thought was cloud cover as the plane made its descent turned out to be smog. I had no trouble getting a visa for a half day’s stay in China; I had a great deal of trouble locating my hotel even though it was practically attached to the airport. When I finally made it to the hotel my Raptors jersey and duffle bag were met with some side eyes but I had no issues checking in. Within an hour, I was back on the street and determined to take the subway to the Haizhu District. Two hundred metres out of the hotel lobby, I realized I couldn’t tell driveway from roadway.
I took an hour long taxi ride through the residential districts of Guangzhou. We drove past hundreds of apartment buildings, some clean white, many with stained facades. Windows glowed pale with fluorescent lights, casting eerie shadows in stairwells and against the clothes hung from lines across hundreds of small grated balconies. As we came closer to the Haizhu District more buildings were topped with gigantic neon signs, flashing coloured light onto the adjacent buildings. I wondered what it would be like to hang your shirts in the glow of red neon.
The taxi let me off along the Pearl River, near Canton Tower. The river walk was packed with pedestrians taking photos of the tower, of the river, of themselves, and of the coloured lights that seemed to beam from every bridge and building. I realized after the fact that I was in the district on a Friday during the opening night of the Guangzhou International Light Festival.
The lights and the crowd thrilled me at first but as I walked around, I began to feel lonely. I obliged the first pair of women who asked for a photo – surely they realized I was an average looking white person and not a Gigi Hadid in their midst – but declined anyone who asked after. The gaze of by passers made me feel alien. Never before had I been a visible minority. Huacheng Square was closed to pedestrians by the time I reached it, leaving me at a dead end a few kilometres from where I started on the riverbank opposite from where I intended to be. For the first time I was stuck by the realization that I could become lost in Guangzhou and if that happened, I wouldn’t be able to ask for help. In the middle of a crowd of thousands I was completely alone.
I hailed a return taxi at close to eleven. I showed the driver my hotel name in Cantonese on my phone. He raised his hand and made an engine sound. Yes, I was staying at the airport hotel. As he drove the winding highway past the neon lights and stained facades I struggled to stay awake, drifting and waking fitfully in the glare of five storey flashing signs.
In front of the hotel lobby I paid the driver in yuan, grateful to have enough small bills to pay the fare exactly. When I opened the door to exit the taxi, he began to protest loudly. He waved the money at me. I looked from the metre to the money, certain I had given him the right fare. I moved for the door again but he started to yell. I got out anyway. He motioned for the bellhop, with whom he conversed. The bellhop told me I owed an additional five yuan. “That’s not what the metre showed.” They spoke again. “Yes, five yuan.” I was prepared to argue it but the language barrier stacked the odds against me. I paid the five yuan. The equivalent of $1.05 Canadian wasn’t worth arguing about. I made my way back to my room, washed the city from my hair, and closed the curtains on the moonless sky.
This time last year, I went to Jinotega, Nicaragua for an Alternative Spring Break trip. It is no exaggeration to say that the trip was life changing. I travelled with an amazing group, and I met some great people while we were there. We went to Jinotega to teach English with an organization called Outreach360. Outreach360 teaches English and Spanish skills to local students, to supplement their learning in school, in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic, as well as in Jinotega. As volunteers, we taught a class in the morning and a class in the afternoon, and helped to move the students through their curriculum course pack. After we finished teaching, we were able to experience the local culture by visiting markets and cafes, going on hikes and exploring the neighbourhood. Since I hadn’t started my blog by the time I went to Nicaragua last year, and my Reading Week is necessarily less exciting this year (I’m halfway through a fifty page undergraduate thesis), I decided to write about the experience now. It should come as no surprise that I kept a detailed journal while I was there, writing a total of fifty pages of reflection. Rather than attempt to write about the experience a year later, I’m going to share some excerpts from my journal.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
German Pomares is up on a hill and is much poorer than the area where our house is located. The houses in the area are not of colourful stucco and wrought iron, but rather, of wood and tin. The colour changes here. In this area, it is clear that Nicaragua is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, after Haiti. We spoke about this in reflection. Many said they were shocked by the poverty. While it is not what I was accustom to, in a sense I expected it. It resembled the poorest communities I’ve seen worldwide. What shocked me was how much I loved it. This sounds like something only a self-righteous tourist would say, but it felt so real. It wasn’t a community established as a tourist destination, like several communities I’ve seen in Mexico. It was filled with people surrounded by their reality, not thinking about how an outsider would perceive them. I felt so much love in that area. The children smiled, and adolescents petted scrawny dogs. Clothes hung on lines blowing towards mud streets. Garbage gathered in forgotten corners, but still people seemed proud of what they had.
I wondered what the people of Jinotega would think of our cities. They may see them as places that are flawed. Toronto, my favourite city, lacks the colour and camaraderie of German Pomares. I’ve never felt some much joy in a community. In Toronto, there’s a feeling of anxiety.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
I loved today, I felt so much love for the team and for the kids around me. Today was what I hoped to experience. Even if I don’t have another experience like this, I’ll remember and appreciate this moment.
Working with Rony was the greatest. I worked with him one on one, and I felt like I was able to push him to his full potential. Several times he wrote rather than copied. I felt like we made a real connection and communicated love (one of the Outreach360 Goals and Principles.) When he smiled, I felt all warm and fuzzy inside! I really like the final group of boys I work with, along with Cara, Falana and Pritika. The boys are rambunctious, but respond really well to individual attention. I hope they know how smart we think they are. I really saw their potential for greatness, and I hope I communicated that.
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Today was the final day at the learning centre. I was sad to see the kids go because I know I will not have the chance to watch them progress. I know it is illogical, but I feel like if I stayed with them, I could protect them. It will break my heart if they don’t achieve their full potential. Nicaragua has so many cultural norms that are negative. Today, I sat with a girl who read a book with the line, “If I soil my dress, my mother will beat me.” The girl didn’t even react to it. I hope that these smart, beautiful girls will not be victims of their male dominated society. I also fear that these amazing boys will become the kind of men who suppress women.
I thought of all the people I see on the streets standing in groups, and I realized we don’t see groups like that at home because loitering is prohibited in cities. Jinotega’s culture seems to be a culture of loitering, just hanging around without purpose or direction. I feel like if I leave, I won’t be able to keep this from happening.
We made a few final preparations and took off for a hike to Peña de la Cruz. I took off with my Johnny Bauer baseball hat and my arsenal of cameras. It was unbelievable to finally climb the mountain that had been a constant background from the day of our arrival. I felt the mountains call to me. We started through town, and then through the cemetery.
It was a difficult hike, first up stairs and then over tangled paths. At each stop, we marvelled at the view and at the smallness of the buildings below us. I made a turn and was astounded to have made it to the top. The valleys were beautiful on both sides. We could see the entire city, and mountains beyond mountains.
The sun was perfect, my favourite time of day. We saw a bird glide on the wind, and I felt I could do the same. We climbed up to the cross in small groups, even those of us who were afraid of heights. (I have never been afraid of heights.) To see everyone’s excitement was amazing. It felt like the most beautiful place in the world. I was so thankful to see what so few will see.
The cross is an icon of Jinotega, though it is not internationally known, both regrettably and thankfully. While I wish everyone could see it and feel inspired, it makes it such a rare privilege to see what most don’t even know they’re missing. I felt at one with the mountains, and as though I communicated with the sun. I embraced it all.
Friday, February 22, 2013
We went on a beautiful walk through what is called the Cloud Forest. While we walked, I thought about the trip and the people I will go back home to.This trip has really taught me how to love everyone. During reflection, I thought of Rick Majerus (Saint Louis University basketball coach, who died in December 2012) and his favourite saying, “I don’t like, I love.” When I first read it, I thought it would come to mean something to me eventually, though at the time it didn’t. I understand it now. I feel it. Though I don’t necessarily like everyone, I love them. I think I’ve learned how to communicate love. The challenge is to practice this. I reflected on this on the bus ride home when I sat next to Sara, with The Band in my ears and the sun in my eyes.
Many people have said that they don’t want to go home, that they want to stay here forever, or at least delay their return to their hectic lives. I’m ready to go home because I feel like I’ve learned so much, and now I’m ready to apply what I’ve learned to my daily life. Outreach360 allows all who comes through their doors to “release the hero within.” I could live with positivity and enthusiasm if I stayed with Outreach360, but Jinotega is not my community or my reality. I must apply these values to my daily life. If I can continue to love myself as I do now, I’ll be able to communicate with love. I’m ready for the next challenge, to maintain these values in a society that does not know and in some cases, does not care for these values. Maybe now I’ll be able to live the way I resolved to, until such a time that I’m not so much living according to a set of values, I’m living as I’m meant to.
The experience starts tomorrow when I walk out the door.
All photos were taken with my Diana+ film camera, except where specified.
The title for this post comes from the song we sang with the kids at recess called ‘Once There Was a Wizard.’ The line it comes from is “Once there was a wizard who went to Jinotega. Gotta feel the magic!” We all felt the magic.