Doing The Things 2017: Goin’ Places

It’s no secret that – if I have the time and funds – I enjoy travelling.

Last March, I visited Cuba (just after about-to-be-former President Obama, but around the time of the big Rolling Stones concert in Havana), touring the central part of the island with a small group.

Despite the crappy trip manager in charge of our group, it was a fun experience, and I appreciated both Havana and the smaller towns I had the privilege imag0897.jpgof visiting.

My next trip wasn’t until November, when I spent a weekend in Montreal – with a huge group of people I knew – for a friend’s birthday.

I’d been a couple of times before, but this time was different. It was my first time visiting Montreal in the fall. And we arrived the day after folks learned that Leonard Cohen died, so you could just sense the mood in the crisp November air.

It had been 13 years since my last visit,  but this felt like the first time that I actually walked around and took in my surroundings.

Which brings me to right now.

For the last couple of years or so, I always want my ideal travel intentions to be trips that take me out of the city, out of the province, and out of the country (not necessarily on the same trip).

So, I’m getting off to a running start in 2017.

On Friday, while events unfold south of the border, a group of friends and I are hot-footing it to Montreal.

Yes, I was just there. But months before my friend’s birthday plans – at my last birthday – I had already decided I’d be celebrating my 40th birthday differently.

Admittedly, I’ve found the whole planning/reserving process for accommodations and restaurants stressful. I’m used to organizing travel plans for myself. But I hope from here on in, it’ll be fun and easy.

Then about three weeks after that, I’ll be headed to Asia for a two-week tour. And by “Asia”, I only mean one country, which I’ll reveal later. But it’s somewhere that’s been on my travel list for at least 15 years. Let’s see how I handle finally being there.

As for my out-of-town adventure? We’ll see what the year brings. I’d love to check out an area like Prince Edward County, but where I’ll end up is anyone’s guess.

What are your travel plans for 2017? Will you be staying local? Are you knocking any destinations off your “to-go” list? Planning any road trips? I’d love to hear what you’ve got in the works!

**Photos posted above are mine. Please don’t use without permission.

 

 

 

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D’s 2016 Travel Shortlist

As the new year unfolds and I sock a little money away in my bank account, my mind swims with thoughts of travel.

I want to be a little more ambitious with this year’s destinations. But given the direction the Canadian dollar seems to be sliding, I’m not sure how successful I’ll be.

(Eh. I’ve always had lousy timing.)

Maybe a series of fortunate events will lead me to a one-time gift from one of those Powerball winners? Ehhhh?  **shrugs**

Anyway … here are some places I’ve thought about visiting this year:

Sri Lanka. Very high on my list. I’ve never been to Asia, but a conversation with a friend who went there 7 or 8 years ago left me interested in finding out more. And why not? It would be a good place to start. I’d be aiming to go in the fall.

Cuba. I was last there in 2005. A friend and I stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Veradero in mid-July. (Never do that. Unless you really don’t mind feeling like rotisserie chicken.) It was nice getting away for a week. But when we booked a day-trip to Havana through our resort, the results were, well … mediocre. I felt a bit short-changed. I like to move around a country if I’m going to visit. Winter’s finally arrived, but it’d be nice to take a break in, say, March — maybe book a tour and go for 8 or 9 days — and see the sites before big changes sweep the island.*

Colombia. There’s been an uptick in travel here in the past few years. And I have this secret attraction to Fernando Botero‘s artwork and sculptures. Plus, I have a friend who lived there for a good year and a half. I always told myself I wouldn’t go to South America without properly learning some Spanish beforehand. But I’m willing to make an exception.

Washington, D.C. It’s not that far. I’ve never seen the White House in person (but know where its limestone came from), and the number of museums in one place is a nerd’s dream come true.

New Orleans. Other than visiting family in Florida, I’ve never really been to the South. Of the people I know who’ve been to NOLA, I can’t recall anyone saying they left disappointed. And it just seems like a really interesting place to visit, historically and culturally.

Louisville, Kentucky. Okay, this one’s a bit random. I first read about it a few years ago on a list of “underrated places to visit”. A couple of my friends took a road trip down to Louisville and they had a good time. Also: bourbon.

New York. Like Cuba, I’ve been here before. I never seem to get enough of it. There’s no such thing as “not enough to do” here, so it always seems like there’s unfinished business. If I went this year, it would be for these reasons: Hamilton (c’mon, wealthy Powerball benefactor) or Eclipsed, and a meal at Red Rooster Harlem. I’M NOT PLAYING.

Montreal. The last time I set foot in this city, I was 26, my friend Dave lived and worked there, and the Jazz Festival was in full swing. Montreal in the summer is magic. But honestly, I don’t need it to be summer for me to visit, and see some of the sites I missed last time. Added incentive: If you recall my family research  (no? start here), my mysterious, elusive great-aunt lived and worked here. It’d be neat to physically see some of the streets (and maybe some of the houses), perhaps do a day or two of sleuthing, in the flesh.

Vancouver. Straight up, I’ve never been to the West Coast or seen the Rockies. This would tick off both boxes.

Manitoulin Island or Pelee Island. One requires you to take a ferry called the Chi-Cheemaun to get to it. The other boasts the southernmost point in Canada. Both are beautiful, and are right here in Ontario. Visiting either location would be lovely.

There’s NO WAY I intend to knock all of these off my list. But if I manage to do at least two, even with a low loonie, I’ll be pleased.

*A recent check of some tour companies tell me this is probably not possible.

**Reminder: I’m part of a one-month writing challenge, as are my friends Renée and Kath – just click on their names to check out their excellent work!**

Let’s Go(al) #3: Get Outta Here.

If you know me personally – or have visited my blog – you’ll know that I enjoy travelling. Especially if it’s off the North American continent.

Last year, I did a couple of short trips state-side and to Jamaica (respectively) — primarily to visit members of my extended family that I hadn’t seen in months or years.

It was nice. It was great to take a week or two off, and just get away from things.

But as much as I liked and appreciated seeing my family, there was something missing …

The sense of discovery. The act of going by myself to a place where I don’t know a soul. The feeling of being a bit uncomfortable or unsure of what to expect. The exercise of figuring out where I am, and where I’m going, without getting lost. Or even the ability of letting myself get lost and finding my way out of it.

It’s been more than two years since I’ve flown more than a few hours to get somewhere … and the itch is intense.

Add to that the fact that I’m part of an online group of black travellers, whose jet-setting ways put me to utter shame and leave me speechless.

If I what I have is simply a travel bug, then they have a full-blown travel syndrome.

They’re expert packers! They jump on glitch fares like cats on mice!  I’m simultaneously envious and in awe when I read their anecdotes and look at photos of their travels.

So, it’s time.

My goal this year is to:

Go on one big trip. Right now, it’s a toss-up between Sri Lanka, Ethiopia or Colombia, later in the year.

Go on at least one short-hop trip. Maybe I’ll go back to New York. Or perhaps I’ll stop in Montreal or another Canadian city that I’ve never been to. Or maybe I’ll finally get down to Washington. Or New Orleans! The possibilities are endless. (What’s not endless, however, is my bank account.)

Leave room for a surprise trip. I’m mulling one over as I type this. It all depends on the timing and the bank balance in my savings account. And that’s all I’m saying for now.

Your turn.

Have any travel plans? Is there a destination you’re considering this year? Are you looking to knock a city or country off your bucket list? Or are you just going with the flow and playing it by ear? Maybe we can inspire each other. Leave me a comment below!

 

Milda Speaks.

I don’t see Milda at first, because the adult care nurse is trying to wake her up.

As K and I file into the room, we see this tiny woman, startled out of her morning nap, slowly sit up, blinking and and trying to get her bearings.

So this is the infamous Aunt Milda, I think, my mind shuffling through all the things – for better or for worse – that I’ve heard about this lady.

Aside from her wee, skinny frame, she’s dressed in a patterned housedress and a beige head-tie. She puts her hand on her forehead and pulls it upward, as if the gesture helps her to see more clearly.

We tell her our names, and who we are, by way of our mothers’ pet names.  It takes about several tries back and forth, but we think she eventually gets it. (As she tells us a bit later, she’s hard of hearing — but that tends to happen when you’re her age.)

I give her a scarf that my mom sent for her as a gift. She can’t use it in this heat, but hopefully she’ll make good use of it when the evenings get cooler.

I suddenly kind of lose my nerve and my brain briefly goes blank. What on earth do I ask her? Where do I start?

K kind of prompts me to start — we haven’t got all day — so I sort of stammer out my first question about her siblings …

The conversation’s not completely linear, but when Milda says something I recognize, I start jotting things down.

I ask (awkwardly) about Ellen and where she lived in Canada, and Milda mentions Montreal – she doesn’t mention any other place in our conversation – and that she died years ago. (This isn’t news to me.)

My cousin listening to my great-aunt.
My cousin listening to my great-aunt.

She mentions there were four sisters — which I presume includes Ellen and herself — and gives me the names of the others, who she says died in 1934 and 1936. (Close enough.)

She says Ellen returned to Jamaica in 1938, and that she actually had tried to send for Milda to come to Canada, but things didn’t pan out.* Her big sister suggested instead that she try going to live with her Uncle Jon in the United States. Sadly, that path never materialized either, as he died, and his widow returned to Jamaica.

Milda then mentions the names of her aunt — the sister of my great-grandmother, Jane Ann Clarke, who I’d found in records last November —  and another uncle, whose names I’d discovered around the same time, but couldn’t be too sure of … until now.  That’s one great-great-aunt and two great-great-uncles**!

She also reveals something else. In a low, almost mischievous tone, she proudly proclaims her age, and that she hasn’t told anyone – she’s not even sure her own children know how old she is! She says her 100th birthday will be next March.

After that, the conversation turns away from talk of family that’s passed, and she chatters about life in the home — how independent she is (and how she hopes to stay that way), perhaps even complaining about things, but she seems so happy as she speaks, it’s hard to tell.

She talks about the food and snacks she gets – I’m assuming they’re not exactly up to snuff – and K asks her what she would like Milda to bring her the next time she visits.

Without so much as batting an eyelash, she says, “I would really like some Kentucky Fried Chicken — it’s nice.” (I think it takes everything for either of us not to completely crack up.)

Before either of us forget, I snap a few photos on my smartphone. I can’t come all this way and not get a picture of the woman I’ve waited months to see!

When we ask, she pauses and — putting her hand to her forehead — says no … not until she can put on her wig. We smooth talk her into taking a photo just as she is, and voila.

2015-07-22 14.11.28I’m not sure how much time we spend there, but Milda chats for a very long time. K silently asks me whether we should go, and I say yes (a little reluctantly).

I leave with my cousin with a lot of unanswered questions.

I still don’t know why Ellen left, what kinds of things she might have seen living in Canada, or when she died (other than “many years ago”).

But I hope (selfishly) that if Milda’s lived for this long, that she gets to live another year – I’d like to see her reach 100, and I’d like to see her again.

Now that we know where she is (for the time being), I hope that my relatives drop in from time to time to check up on her.

(Photos are mine. Please do not use without permission.)


*THIS is new information.

**I’ve actually found three great-great uncles through records. Even though Milda didn’t mention the third – and oldest – by name, confirming the others lets me safely assume that he’s also from the Clarke branch of the family.

Searching For “The Lady”

2015-07-22 10.34.06

Wednesday, July 22nd.

I’m so tired from the day before, I sleep in until 9. I get up and apologize to K for oversleeping. She dismisses my apology, saying she understands.

Breakfast is a big plate of ackee, saltfish, roasted breadfruit, dumplings and banana (which didn’t have that taste I dislike) — filling and absolutely delicious!

Then, it’s out of the house and on the road. Today’s objective: finding our great-aunt Milda.

We know she’s in a nursing home (or “adult care” home, as they’re called down here) in the community of Mount Salem, which is just outside Montego Bay proper. We don’t know the name – just that there are a couple of homes, and she’s in one of them.

After stopping several times to ask for directions, we finally pull up in front of one. Looking beyond the front gate, we see a few people sitting out on the long “porch”.  To be honest, the place doesn’t look very home-y.

The gate’s a bit hard to open, and it doesn’t open very wide, but we manage to squeeze through. We approach a guy sitting at a desk just inside the building, give Milda’s name and ask if she’s there. He says no – apparently she had been there last year, but had been moved. They don’t know where she’s gone.

I’m not immediately discouraged. But I can literally see K’s shoulders slump. She’s already frustrated.

The prospect of searching for a nonagenarian in this sweltering heat isn’t appealing in the least. But we have to find her.

And, as we’re about to find out, there are more than two adult care homes in Mount Salem.

We’re directed to another one farther down on the same street. As soon as we pull up in front of it, I take one look at what lies behind the gates and know there’s no way Milda is here.

There are a couple of residents in sitting in wheelchairs. One of them looks like he’s barely awake. A young woman is sprawled out, stomach down, on a run-down couch.

Having heard about my great-aunt’s reputation for complaining, I know she wouldn’t put up with a place like this.  But still, we try.

We approach a worker standing in a nearby doorway and ask for our aunt. She says she doesn’t know and suggests we check with the front “office”, which was a closed door just behind us.

After knocking several times, the door opens a sliver. K asks the woman behind the door if our aunt is there. She says there are no Campbells there, and closes the door.

We’re walking back towards the front gate, when the worker gestures for us to come back. She says there are two other nursing homes a couple of streets over that we could try.

Back in the car, K calls our uncle to see if he knows the name of the adult care home where Milda’s living. He calls back several minutes later with the answer.

We pull up in front of the gate at home number 3. My t-shirt is starting to cling to my back, so I’m truly hoping this is the place.

The nurse in charge confirms that Milda is there, brings us inside and finds us places to sit while we wait. We’re under the impression that perhaps they’ll bring Milda out.

But 10 minutes pass. Then 15. Then 20 …

I look around. One resident keeps trying to wander into the kitchen. Another sits slack-jawed in a chair on the other side of the room. A little boy — around two years old — runs in and out of the house.

There’s a woman sitting adjacent to me. I presume she’s visiting her relative, who’s barely awake and sitting in the couch across from me.

She tells him she has to get to the bank and needs him to sign something. He’s practically comatose. She puts a pen into his immobile hand, wraps hers around it and literally guides it along the bank form.

I turn to K, and she suggests that perhaps Milda’s sleeping and that we should return later.

I’m reluctantly agree. What can we do? She’s sleeping, and we can’t sit here all day.

When the nurse re-appears, we tell her this.

“Oh!” she says. “I’m so sorry – I thought you were here to visit with her,” referring to the lady who basically just forged her relative’s signature. We shake our heads.

“This has been a complete misunderstanding. Please let me offer my apologies. I’ll take you to her,” she says.

But isn’t she’s SLEEPING? I’m thinking …

But we’re up on our feet. The nurse walks over to a room just off the main sitting area and opens the door …

(Photo taken above is mine. Please do not use without permission.)

Island Bound

My vacation starts today!

And on Tuesday morning, I’ll be boarding a plane and flying down to Jamaica for a week.

The last time I set foot in the country, I was 16 and my grandfather was on his deathbed.

Admittedly, I’m a bit anxious. For starters, this will be the first time I’m going to Jamaica without any immediate family members.

As well, things have changed.  A lot of the relatives I knew have grown up, or have left and are in other countries. Not to mention that I’m very self-conscious of the fact of my Canadian-ness — that I carry myself differently, and don’t speak patois — so I feel uneasy about sticking out like a sore thumb.

And then, there’s Aunt Milda.

I’m trying to tell myself to keep my expectations low and to prepare myself for the possibility that she won’t want to tell me anything. But I really, REALLY want to be pleasantly surprised. I want my expectations to be exceeded. I want to come away with some keys that will unlock those doors that have stayed shut for all this time. But I know real life doesn’t necessarily work that way.

On top of everything else, this is my vacation. It won’t be all about family research. I just really want to kick my feet up and take everything in.

But, enough talk! I’ve got a LOT of running around and packing to do. Wish me luck.

Checking In …

Hey!

I realize I’ve been silent for quite a few weeks, so here’s a brief update:

I took several days back in June to fly down to Connecticut to visit some family members on my late dad’s side of the family. One of my male cousins and his wife were organizing this enormous 21st birthday party for their (step)daughter.

Truth be told, there really wasn’t any sightseeing on this trip – it was mainly trips to the stores for food, party supplies, and last-minute party clothing shopping. But I wasn’t too fussed about that. I decided to make myself useful in helping with party preps. And believe you me, this party needed as many hands on deck as it could get.

And — if the number of people who came to the party throughout the evening was an indication – the event turned out pretty well. (The cleanup the day after? Well … it was a dirty job, but someone had to do it.)

I also got to meet some cousins I’d never met before. I’m hoping to make another state-side visit to see of them in the fall. Fingers crossed! That would be a lovely long weekend, I think.

But surely that can’t be all? Well, I haven’t done anything fun travel-wise since then. But maybe I can rectify that next year.

If you’re wondering about my genealogical searching, I’ll explain that in the next post. Stay tuned.