It has been a while since I learned some shit that is entertaining for others to read. Don’t get me wrong, lots of learning has been happening, some of it life changing. But as I moved my way in and out of the glorious streets of Quito with a fabulous guide by the name of Stefani, I was certainly educated on some interesting things in the Ecuadorean cultural sense. Here is what I learned…..
The word in this region for guinea pig. Also considered a delicacy that I am yet to try. I just cannot seem to eat the face of my childhood pet, Muffy, that my sister and I used to shampoo and then blowdry in the sink much to the horror of my mother who thought we would kill it. That and a typical garnish is a tomato helmet. I just can’t even….. Anyway, here is what I learned about them.
The name ‘cuy’ comes from the sound that they make “coi, coi, coi, coi’.
They are sacred animals and used to live in the houses with the indigenous people.
They are not only considered sacred, but are used in ritual cleansing of the body. Not even kidding. Here’s how you do it.
Start feeling unwell and think ‘hmmm…. something is wrong with me. I know, the guinea pig will tell me what is wrong’
Grab the guinea pig like a body wash sponge that you would use in the shower and rub that squirming little animal all over your body. The animal will apparently extract the bad energy and give indications as to what is wrong with you in autopsy. (PS. I am sure from the shock of having to see and touch your naked body, this will cause the guinea pig a horrific and terrible death in which it will die of extreme shock).
Guinea pig autopsy. Cut the thing open and examine all of its organs. Whatever appears to be wrong with the guinea pig is what is said to be wrong with you. Our guide said that she had a parasite and after rubbing the guinea pig on her stomach that when they autopsied the dead pig that shit was wriggling around in its stomach. Ewww…..
Four. Eat the meat of the guinea pig I suppose unless there is some muscular problem and get on with your day, now well and purged of illness and bad energy.
Bones are considered to be a protective force in the culture of the Ecuadorean indigenous. They would use the vertebra of dead humans and sometimes cows hooves to decorate the entrances of the houses to ward off the evil spirits and for good luck. Oh and to ward off the evilness of people who don’t believe in Jesus….. yeah I know?? Hmmm…..To the point where people started digging up bodies in the cemeteries so that they could keep human bones in their houses. Sometimes they keep a single bone of a loved one that they have buried in the house as that is also thought to be a form of protection for the house and people who live in it.
Encebollado and bones
So the most famous soup of Ecuador is called Encebollado and it is literally everywhere. They tell me that it is a mix of all of the ingredients that would normally go into a ceviche but with a different type of fish. There was one dude in Quito who had what was considered the best encebollado in the entire country and people would come far and wide to sample it. People were scrambling for the recipe and to figure out what he did that made it so special.
What was the secret ingredient you ask? Well the man, superstitiously for the last seventy years had been stirring his fabulous broth with a femur. Not just any femur though, a human femur. An actual real fucking human femur. I say no more.
All of the roses used in the British Royal wedding were from Ecuador. They also used roses from Ecuador to film The Beauty and the Beast. When the last petal fell, it was from a cursed Ecuadorean rose.
Don’t fuck with Ecuadorean artists. One of them was commissioned to do the trimmings on a house in the old town but they refused to pay him the last instalment. As an ode to ‘fuck you’ to both the owners of the house and of course to the Catholic church, he endowed one of the lovely cherubs with the most giant penis you’ve ever seen on a cherub, waving its engorged salute to the church directly over the road.
Ecuador first started to export chocolate in the 1820’s and thank god for that. I am pretty sure that since arriving here I have become about 70% cacao.
Given the sheer amount of shit that I have learned here over quite a large amount of time, stay tuned for Shit I Learned In Ecuador – Part 2, coming to you next week!
A year ago today I got on a bus in London and left my life in England for good. At the time I had been through so many different emotions I didn’t know whether I would ever feel like a whole human being ever again. I was so hurt and so broken that I didn’t know if there was any coming back from that. I felt like there was nothing left to tether me to my own happiness.
I arrived in Paris where I started the first part of what would be three months in Europe and then who knew what. On that fifth day in Paris my friend passed and I couldn’t even find it in me to cry. I stood empty in the shower trying to process my emotions and not knowing how. All that happened was a blood nose from the stress and the heat and as I watched my own blood flow over my body and down the shower drain I knew that at least my body was alive, even if I felt like there was no other part of me that was.
Those first three months in Europe were rough. I isolated myself from others for fear that they would judge and dislike me because they would be able to see through me to my inner struggle and would judge me for it. That is not a burden that other travellers want to carry and so I avoided other people. I moved from place to place and saw all of the things that I was supposed to see. Ticking boxes. At times, I managed to find small pleasures, like eating every amazing food in Italy and not giving a shit about getting fat because I already was. Like finding myself completely isolated in the world and at peace with myself just for being alone. By the time I made it to Greece I had started to open myself to a select few and make some more friends. I had started to find more of a balance and felt like I could breath a little more freely as opposed to the feeling of drowning that I felt when I left. I was sleeping more and I felt like my body chemicals were going back to a normal level. I no longer lived in a hyped up state of excessive adrenaline and cortisol.
I made my way to Turkey and then Egypt where I travelled with some very wise people that I opened up to and they helped me to process further. The temples in Egypt started to excite me and slowly but surely, I started to remember who I used to be.
The biggest change happened when I arrived in Colombia. Going to school and learning to speak another language made me another person. I didn’t know how to be myself in Spanish and facets of shy and cheeky crept through. I started making a load of friends at my school and we would go out dancing on Fridays. The culture was so sensual and sexual with its dancing that I started to reconnect with my body and my own sexuality, something that I hadn’t done in such a long time as it got buried under a pile of work and stress. It got buried under my grief and hostility.
What followed was a six week stint in Costa Rica and Panama which set me back. Six weeks and four deaths. I went back into my own shell and stopped wanting to speak to people. I had a run of bad luck with illness and allergies that saw me miserable and in the hospital and wanting to throw in the towel. But I continued to ride it out because that is what I did. Because I am Dano. And people keep on telling me that I am ‘the strongest person that they know’ and so who am I to question.
I went back to Medellin, moved into the school and continued for another three months learning Spanish, teaching kids English and organising events. I started writing a book about my life as encouraged by the people closest to me. I made friends with people who gave me confidence to put myself back out into the world because they made me feel valued like I hadn’t felt in a long time. I opened up about my life and confided things about myself to others, mostly in another language. Slowly I started to feel less numb and less angry. By the time my stint in Medellin was over, I had contemplated a job and a career change to stay but in the end decided to take the six months and go home. But what I left behind in that place changed my life forever. I will always be indebted to the people that I met there because without them knowing it, they pulled me out of the hole.
I travelled Colombia for two months. And it again challenged me. After another hospital visit from a stomach so bad it wouldn’t stop, I was really well and truly done. I wanted to go home. A feeling I hadn’t felt in years but one that helped me accept the fact that it was something I was going to do. I again persisted through these feelings to quit. I kept going. And I met some more amazing people that pushed me on. I started remembering what it was like to be calm, happy and fun. I started to embrace the parts of myself that had been buried for so long that were slowly resurfacing. I started reading books that would help me to rediscover who it is that I am and what it is that I want from my life. I started writing more music, playing more music and being more in touch with the creative side of me that is a large part of who I am and often gets hidden.
I now sit in Ecuador. I am calm. I am at relative peace. In the last few months, I’ve been challenged with more loss, with horrific situations, with short-lived romances, some of which gave me faith and others which made me lose it again. But regardless of what has been thrown at me, the one thing I have found in this year that I didn’t have a year ago was equilibrium and the ability to process those emotions and let go. To accept is one of the hardest things that you can do in this life. And as I continue through South America, if all I take away from this experience is the learned ability to accept graciously then so be it. Every person who I have met that I have become close to, I have met for a reason. They have either been a test or they have been a guide. And I know that for the next three and a half months I have more of those tests and more of these guides coming my way. And I will have more once I move back home. But whatever challenge comes my way from here on in, I know I can survive it, and I know I can do it with grace and strength. Because I have already lived at the lowest point, and I clawed my way back out.
A year ago today I was a body going through the motions. Today I am a human again. My soul is at peace. My heart is ready to love and give to others. I am ready to accept whatever challenges come my way with grace. I am ready to be more. And I will be.
“It’s hard enough trying to write a book about my life where I don’t have to make shit up. Imagine being a fiction writer and having to actually make shit up. And then fact check it. Fuck that. Preps to those guys” – Dano, the other day while trying to reach her 2,000 words-a-day limit.
So many people have told me that I should ‘write a book’ about what I have done in my life because there are just so many stories that I have from travelling. As a singer-songwriter who has released albums, I have probably still had more people tell me to write a book than to write a music album.
But writing a book is frustrating. When I first sat down to start, my journalist friend told me that he read somewhere that Stephen King says you have to write at least 2,000 words a day to consider yourself a serious writer. “Oh yeah, righto,” I think to myself, I got this, that is like writing a university essay every single day that I don’t have to research. I used to do that shit all the time.” All I had to do was hit 80,000 words to have what is deemed to be an average and acceptable sized book and I could do that in forty days, or just over a month.
For my first time, I managed it easy. And the next day wasn’t so bad either. I managed ten days straight and then hit a wall. Because this is like running a marathon, and I fucking hate running. The first part, easy. The last part, I assume is easy mentally because you don’t have far to go, but that middle part? That is what will kill off the dreams of the best of people. I am trudging and trudging through ideas, can’t remember what the fuck I did that time in Guatemala in a drunkenly fuelled state, figure I probably need to omit that story because people don’t want to really know about that stuff or its just too personal and confronting for me to want to put it out there to the world. I write five hundred words here. Give up, find somewhere else to write five hundred words. Give up and then find somewhere else to write five hundred words.
What I have currently is a disjointed piece of rubbish that I have finished about three out of twenty chapters. Then there came that point where I found my journals from South East Asia. 44,000 words, it said. Half a book, I thought. I can just edit these. But the reality is, I can’t. The reality is, my journals are not entertaining, funny, or cohesive. I can work with them, but that would take time and be annoying and everything I have seemed to have written about is breakfast, lunch and dinner which isn’t overly entertaining because the general masses don’t care to know about all the different forms of curry I had for lunch in Thailand.
The other problem is structure. I don’t know what era of my life to discuss. I don’t know whether to start with the early days, which are a whole lot more boring than some of the other trips. A compilation of the best countries around the world that has no overall cohesion. Or is it better to pick another time in my life and start with that. Or should I just write until I have no more stories and make several different books worth of rubbish.
I don’t know. But what I do know is this. Writing a book is frustrating. And it is fucking hard. When people told me I should do this, I knew that it was going to be hard work. I knew that it was going to be a rough time. What I didn’t realise was how much of a mental battle this was going to be every single day I sit at a computer. I am used to fighting my way through pain and discomfort in a boxing ring or with other physical forms of torture and the mental game has always let me win. But this mental game goes for months. It is a whole other type of game. But eventually I will win. I will get 80,000 words together. And then I am going to have to confront the even more boring and even more arduous task of editing. But one thing at a time. I better go and get on it. 2,000 words of ridiculousness awaits.
Currently I am studying the grand language of Spanish in Colombia, and on many occasions, I have been known to say funny incorrect things or things that are just downright offensive because the translation in English has a totally other sensation. The other day in class I spilled my tea all over the floor and ruined my notebook and responded with “soy inutil” (I’m useless), which in Australia is not such an abnormal thing to say but I was informed that if you say that to someone here, be prepared to get yourself into a punch on.
And then of course you have the standard mistake of ‘estoy caliente’ which means “I’m hot”, but not hot as in, “geez the temperature is high” but hot as in “baby I’m hot just like an oven, I need some lovin’, Marvin Gaye style lovin'”. Water can be ‘caliente’. Food can be caliente. If I am feeling a bit warm, I am ‘calor’….. and perhaps maybe a bit caliente (horny) as well.
One also needs to be very careful with which version of ‘I am’ they use. Because ‘Soy buena’ apparently means “I am a good human being and do nice things for others”, whereas ‘Estoy buena’ means ‘I am a very “good” curvy person and will do ‘nice things’ for others….
Then of course there is chimba and chimbo. Both can be hugely offensive and of course, because of this, they are words I have become attracted to. “Que chimba” is often used to say “how cool”, however if you call someone “a” chimba, then you will be calling them a cunt…… again, not so offensive to a lot of people in Australia, but the rest of the world takes severe offense to such language. And then chimbo can also be a penis, or something of low grade value. What I take from this of course, is that vaginas are well fucking cool and penis’ are low value commodities…….. hmmm….. and of course if you say an arsehole joke it is called ‘chimbiando’. But in the grand scheme of things….. I should probably avoid all of these words, especially in front of police officers, church officials, and respectable people.
I remember a time in Guatemala when the police officer asked me whether ‘those men are “molestando” me….. ‘. Well didn’t I freak out and take off down the street running as fast as I could for fear of being molested, which of course would have looked a sight to the police officer. And didn’t I feel like a moron when later I discovered that the word ‘molestar’ in Spanish, does not mean ‘to molest’ as I thought it did, but it means ‘to bother or annoy’.
I never want to be “embarazada”…. and by that I mean pregnant, not embarrassed. A common misconception and also often is screwed up. Though my friend was encouraging me the other day to have an affair with a Colombian and get knocked up with triplets that I could then go home with and sit on my mothers couch on welfare. I said no because I don’t want to have to carry any extra weight with my bag for the next 7 or 8 months, but I said I would consider it when I arrive in Chile…..
And of course there is ‘travieso’. This word means naughty. And apparently children can be naughty and that is fine. But any ‘naughty’ adult is a sexually naughty adult. There isn’t really any other kind of adult naughty. I have also learned that beverages also cannot be ‘travieso’. The standard Australia ‘cheeky pint’ or ‘cheeky rum’, no existe. A ‘ron travieso’ basically implies that ‘you’ are going to wind up travieso much later on after said ron……
Maybe I should:
Just avoid saying any words that can be construed as sexual or offensive….. ie a whole lot of them.
Avoid speaking all together…….
Ignore my own advice and continue to laugh at the fact that I have clearly no idea what I am doing.
I think I will choose option 4 and go say some more travieso and inappropriate shit. Que chimba!
A common conversation I have with people about travel usually winds up going something like this:
Person: “Where are you going?”
Person: “Like, I just don’t understand why you would want to go there, it is like sooooo dangerous and people get shot at and stabbed by cartels and there is just such a huge drug problem that you will never survive there. It is just too dangerous. You’re crazy!!”
This ‘perceived’ idea of danger in other countries is in many cases ridiculous. Yes it is dangerous in some areas of the world. There are many places that I would not consider going as they are warzones or in severe civil conflict. But for the most part, provided that you are street smart and don’t make stupid decisions like walking down the street in the middle of the night instead of catching a cab, there is quite a low chance of these things happening. People see the one off cases on the news, the media makes a huge deal out of it and people think, well that place is clearly too dangerous to go to. Oddly enough, I have travelled to over sixty countries over nine years and the only place I have been attacked in the street and hospitalized for it was in my very hometown where I grew up in Australia.
I remember my very first trip to South East Asia. It was my first time out of western society and I was terrified. My mother had pleaded with me not to go for fear of my being raped/mugged/murdered/stabbed/shot at/put in jail for having drugs planted in my bags like Schappelle Corby/dead. To the point where I was terrified to be going. I got on the plane after ziplocking, padlocking and then cling filming all of my bags before I left in an excessive frenzy. I got off the plane in Bangkok and went over my bag with a fine tooth comb to ensure nothing had been tampered with or touched. I picked up my bag nervously, told them I had nothing to declare and I was out the door within 5 minutes flat thinking to myself…. ummmm…. is that is? Post this the worst thing I encountered in South East Asia was petty theft. People would have their bags and pockets picked. Again. Be aware this happens. Don’t carry things in your pocket, get a bag with a zip. The other trick is, don’t get so drunk that you aren’t aware of your belongings. Most people who get things stolen off of them are drunk. Me included. One morning I was drunk and sleeping on a beach in Nicaragua with my iPod in my hand and I awoke to find it gone. I was angry for all of a minute and then I started laughing because if an old iPod was all I lost in 4 years of travel, I am doing pretty well.
Some people I met through Central America had experienced muggings. Again, majority of the time, if you just give over all of what you have and let them go, you will not have any problems with your physical safety. It might shake you up a bit, but this for the most part is the worst of what will happen provided that you follow the major safety rules. Which are as follows:
1. Don’t walk around at night EVER, especially alone. Take a cab, or organize yourself so that you have everything that you need. Night, just like at home, is the biggest time of day for predators.
2. Keep money and credit cards in different places, including sewn into the insides of your pants. So they took the 20 bucks in your wallet and one of your ATM cards? You have another ATM card somewhere else and $20 in your bra.
3. On the topic of ATM cards, if you do by chance get held up and they want you to go to an ATM, don’t keep a large amount of money in your transaction account. Transfer the amount you need to take out online right before you take it out and leave the rest in an untouchable savings account.
4. Take photocopies of all of your important documents and cards including your passport and send them to yourself in an email. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you are robbed of everything, at least you will have everything you need when you get to your consulate on file online. Also send copies of this email to your Mum or someone you trust that can help you.
5. If you can avoid it, don’t travel at night and don’t travel when you get dropped off in the middle of nowhere at night or very early in the morning. These are the times of day where less people are around and you are less visible in the public eye.
6. Listen to advice about do’s and don’t’s from smart locals and from your hostel/hotel workers. Most of the time the locals will tell you what the dangers are in the prominent are, where to go and where not to go.
While this is not a comprehensive list, this is certainly helpful in avoiding any potential dangers and getting caught out with things. For the most part, following these rules, the amount of trouble you will find will be minimized. It is very much a shame that some people do not have common sense enough to look out for their own safety. It is also a shame that places that have incredibly friendly locals get a reputation through the media for a few events that occur with horrific outcome. For the hundreds of thousands of people everyday who travel, have a great time and come home safely, you will get a handful of stories that end in tragedy. But this also fares for the people who get in a car and drive everyday. There is always that risk. In life, everything that you do has risk. But you don’t constantly get lectures from people who don’t drive telling you about every car accident that happens and why you shouldn’t get into a car to go to work. It is always those that haven’t travelled and don’t understand that are dishing out these lectures based on what they see on television. But really, it is not as bad and horrific as it is made out to be. Travel broadens the eyes and the mind. I honestly believe if you haven’t travelled then you haven’t lived. You haven’t understood the amazing diversity of the human race and the things that make us different and yet the same. So take the leap. Take the risk. And you might just find that maybe it isn’t actually that ‘dangerous’ after all.
Egypt is an incredible country and one that both wowed and intrigued me, which is a pretty big thing for me these days given how much of a get around I am. I learned quite a large amount of shit while I was here, so here it is! Enjoy!
Arabic words and Phrases
(NB. all spelling is how I would pronounce it, not how it is actually spelt because I am too lazy to look it up.)
La – no. A word that again is quite frequently used and also quite frequently interpreted as ‘yes’. This is nothing new in the land of travel, especially with hawkers and shop owners.
Yalla yalla – let’s go, lets go! Said anytime you are going somewhere.
Heidi lan – come on bro. What we used to say to the bus driver when he was too busy drinking coffee to drive the bus
Fi el mesh mesh – when pigs fly. A great phrase to use when someone tries to sell you shit you don’t want for a ridiculous price or for when men hit on you.
Belesh – free? Also a great thing to ask when people try to sell you shit you don’t want.
Meshi meshi – OK, OK. Also used in my case as ‘yeah yeah, whatever, I’m coming’.
Psora Psora– Quickly, quickly. Note that for emphasis everything is repeated twice. As if saying quickly twice will make me move more quickly. This is usually followed up with ‘meshi meshi’.
Habibi – my love. This is what the bus driver would call me and what I started calling the bus driver. Well actually he called everyone ‘habibi’ and one day I threw a strop. “I thought I was the habibi?!?” He says ‘you are assistant driver (because I sat in the seat behind him) and habibi royale’. I will accept this.
I was also quite surprised to see that many Arabic words are the same or similar to their Spanish counterparts… like jabon in Spanish, is sabun in Arabic, meaning ‘soap’. And pantalones (pants) and camiseta (shirt) are also the same.
Then of course there are words in English that are derived from the Arabic…..
Candy – is from the Arabic word ‘Qand‘ meaning sugar.
Alcohol – from the Arabic ‘al kuhl’
Algebra – the famous branch of maths that kids loathe, is ‘al jabr’
Cotton – from ‘qutn‘
Cheque – from ‘sakk‘ a vow to pay for merchanise.
Orange – from the Persian ‘naranj‘ which also translates to the Spanish ‘naranja’
Sofa – from the Arabic ‘suffah‘ which was the rulers throne. No wonder they are so comfy.
Shit About The Pyramids
The Great Pyramids of Giza took 2.3 million blocks to make by over 100,000 workers in the space of 20 years. On average, this is one block cut every 3 minutes.
The outsides of the pyramids were covered in red granite. This no longer exists as the blocks were pilfered for other building ventures.
The pyramids are 100% aligned to face north and this was done using the stars and their positions in the sky.
The apex of the temples was covered in a metal alloy consisting of a mix of gold and silver called electrum, which was naturally occurring in this area and Anatolia.
Each of the temples have a slope of fifty two degrees. This makes the centre of each of the temples a point of high energy and electrons. Apparently an apple sitting in the centre of the pyramid will not decay for this reason. Energy seekers come here and pay ridiculous amounts of money to experience the energy found in the centre of the great pyramid.
Shit About Other Temples
The people who made the pyramids and the temples were not slaves, but skilled workers. These workers even went on strike in the Luxor Valley for two months when they stopped receiving their wages… possibly the first form of industrial action of the day. The working week was ten days long and 8 of those days were working (I wonder if the Beatles came here before they wrote 8 Days A Week? In which case, they were a bunch of little hussies cheating on their misses’ for the weekend because the 9th and 10th day of loving didn’t count…. ponderance…. hmmm….). The workers also had holidays and health insurance.
There is a type of snake that jumps up at people to strike them from the sand depicted on the walls of one of the temples. What a scary fucking thought. As if snakes aren’t dangerous enough without letting them have springs for ab muscles.
All tombs in Luxor and in most of Egypt lie on the west bank of the Nile river. This is because this is the side of the river that the sun sets, or ‘dies’.
Majority of the medical tools we use today in surgery can be seen in the hieroglyphs on temple walls. They also had birth giving chairs that look very similar to squat toilets…. just let gravity take care of that.
The guy who discovered King Tutankhamun’s tomb died several days later. This is because he shaved the day he went discovering and deadly bacteria from inside the tomb got into the cut, infected it and he turned septic. From here on in, all awesome tomb raiders were equipped with manly tomb raiding beards.
They mummified loads of crocodiles. Well fucking cool.
The Romans are really good at building shit but even better at fucking up proportions. If you look really hard on Roman made Egyptian temples, you can find hands with thumbs on the wrong side, arms that are too long, and all kinds of ridiculousness. Artists they indeed were not.
Ancient Egyptian women only appeared to have one boob. An evolutionary anomaly…. hmmm….
Other Random Shit I Learned In Egypt
The Cairo cemetery is a giant land of satellite dishes. Apparently 80,000 people live in the cemetery.
To sort out a dispute between two men back in the Bedouin days, the leader of the tribe would place a hot knife on the tongues of both men. The idea was that the liar would have the tongue stick to the knife as his mouth was dry and the guy with nothing to hide would be relaxed and salivating at the thought of hot knives….. thus not sticking.
Snake poison and milk were given to newborn babies as a form of vaccination.
Majority of French perfumes from popular brands we know of today that were made post 1967 come directly from the recipes of perfumes used in Ancient Egypt. The French dude who deciphered the Rosetta Stone passed these on, so we can thank the Egyptians for Chanel No.5 and Armani’s Code, among many others.
When the Nubian guys were all fighting over girls and wanting to marry them the girls would respond in a simple way. If she wanted to marry the guy his tea would come loaded up with sugar. If she didn’t, no sugar for you sonny Jim.
The king at Sakkara used to have to fight and kill two bulls and cut of their tails as proof of worthiness of being king. They didn’t enforce this on Ramses the second who died in his nineties but was a total pimp. He would have been the Hugh Heffner of the Ancient Egyptian days fathering 162 kids that we know about…
There was a princess mummy on the Titanic when it sank. Cool!
Anyway, there are a few tidbits. There were loads more stories of things that happened in Egypt, but I will save those for another time. Til then x
When I left, I never in a million years imagined that I would be back in this city. The love/hate relationship that I had with the city and its people when I lived there had me all kinds of conflicted and when I eventually left, I vowed that I wouldn’t return. And then the travel gods made it so that transiting through Toronto from Amman to Bogota was the cheapest way for me to go and so I returned. The massive influx of memories that I had during my two days here was huge. I remembered so many things that I had forgotten and look upon fondly. Majority of the memories were oddly from my first 6 months living there when I was young, bright eyed and had never lived overseas before. So for me, and for those that were with me during those times, here are some of the memories that surfaced as I strolled around the streets of Toronto.
The first thing I remembered as I walked out of the Toronto Pearson Airport customs area was my friend Dayna greeting me on that very first day I arrived with a Tim Horton’s hot chocolate and a box of Timbits. It was almost like a homecoming. Unlike that day, I made my way to the new UP Express train to the city and got on board.
As I exited Union Station onto the street, that crisp cold hit me. I walked along Front Street past the Hockey Museum I said I’d go to and never did with the statues out the front. I couldn’t see the top of CN Tower that my ex used to call the ‘seeing tower’ as it was too foggy, but the lights of the lower half let you know that it was there and waiting. I made my way to the hostel where I lived for my first six months with one of my best friends and checked in.
The hostel had been newly renovated. The blue and orange colours of old were now replaced with white and black. The reception had moved to the front instead of the side and I made my way to check in. Despite the place being completely renovated, the bones reminded me of the old place. There is a new kitchen now where I won a beer and toothpaste in the pool competition and Tash and I carved a pumpkin on the floor for our first ever Halloween.
The couches we used to jump on while singing the Shakira Africa song, and where we drew on sleeping people’s faces has now been replaced with dining tables and chairs. The downstairs area in the Cavern is now a bar and bistro with live music, instead of the living room and kitchen. I went down to visit. The memories of dancing on the cavern tables for New Year, reading erotic literature from the bookshelf to the masses, threatening people who kept stealing my chocolate milk with laxatives, hiding in the laundry room to gossip with Del and Cian and just general shit talking with the other long termers came back.
The rooms are pretty much the same. Too hot. I got up in the night to turn off the heater and another girl got up and turned it back on. Tash and our other roommate used to fight over this all the time. It made me smile. I remember her coming home frequently with shit that she had stolen from out on the street when coming home drunk. The room we shared was so full of massive real estate signs, traffic cones (Tash’s doing), dildo’s and sex toys (my doing – stolen or acquired from the drag bar but more on that later) that we had an interesting time on our last night there trying to sneak all the shit down several flights of stairs and out the back door so that the staff members didn’t find out. I had quite the fetish for chocolate coated peanuts in those days too. I disgustingly used to keep a bag of them beside my pillow and eat them when I woke up after nights out so that I didn’t have to get out of bed to eat. That then became a daily occurrence. For my birthday Tash bought me 20 dollars worth of them and they were gone in the 2 days I spent on the couch feeling sorry for myself with a cold I contracted from a guy I made out with after Dirty Bingo.
That first day I went to get Timmy’s for breakfast and made way to the Eaton Centre where I used to work. Fossil was the same but the Aveda had been renovated. I walked around inside and sampled some new product before checking out what else was different. The Sears is now a Nordstrom. For that first Halloween, Tash and I went shopping at the Sears for my costume, a pillowcase that I cut up to go as Wilma Flintstone. In the process we tried some granny panties on our heads and took dumb photos.
I still remembered how to navigate through the PATH so I explored my other old workplace noticing that all the places I used to eat lunch have now gone except the Yogenfruz. So I got a Yogenfruz to go. As I walked along Queen St W I noticed that quite a lot of things had changed. There is a Toronto sign now in Nathan Philips Square, the shops have all changed. Luckily for me my favourite underwear store was still there and I went in to get some more bras. In those days I was obsessed and literally bought the store out of sets. I walked past the large car park where they had the Much Music concert and I got to see Lady Gaga perform among many other acts.
Up into Chinatown I went. Chinatown became a haunt of mine in Toronto because I was poor. Unfortunately the five dollar barbecue pork I loved no longer exists, but the Mashion Chinese bakery where Anthony and I used to eat all the time still did and I went in for some egg tarts. Just as I remembered them. Chinatown has lost a bit of its charm these days as people have started making upmarket places in the middle of something that was fabulously grimy. It doesn’t have the same feel anymore.
Over in Kensington, nothing had changed. The College Backpackers where I lived for a while looked exactly the same from the outside as it did six years ago. This place was filled with utter nut jobs. I remember sharing a room with one woman who thought that all Tim Horton’s employees were in cahoots with her husband who was trying to poison her so she couldn’t eat there. She wore a mask at all times too just in case. There was also a woman with some kind of schizophrenia who used to pace the kitchen having conversations with herself. One minute she’d be a lawyer defending Prince Charles as the father of Prince Harry and the next she’d be having a conversation about gardening. I did however meet some lovely people while I was there. We bonded over not being crazy. And I still have the thermos cup that the lovely Irish guy, Peter, gave me for doing his Canadian taxes for him.
From here I walked along College St where I used to spend a large number of my days walking flyers for a living for eleven dollars an hour. Because I was pretty quick at my job, I used to take an hour for lunch at Hero Burger and stay on the clock for it. Unfortunately all the Hero Burger’s in Toronto have magically disappeared along with many of my other favourite things. But the building where I studied my TESOL course was there and I was fortunate enough to catch up with a friend I made on that course and learn some interesting gossip.
I walked down Yonge St, past the Zanzibar…. flashback to that one afternoon where Del, Cian and I decided to do Culture Wednesday and went to the museum and then somehow managed to wind up at 4pm in the Zanzibar stripclub laughing at the men wipe the poles between each woman that came out to dance. Past the Stag Shop where I spent some time shopping with a friend as she convinced me that the government liked to fuck people so we were getting vibrators courtesy of her government tax rebate. And past the place Zelda’s was, where Dirty Bingo once took place. After getting a free drink voucher from a guy who was leaving, we went in to watch the drag queens lead the bingo and wound up with one of the guys we were with getting hauled up for naked bingo. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. Then with the help of Del’s jacket, we stole a giant double ended dildo that we waved at people and slapped taxi’s with the whole way down the street home before I put the thing in Tash’s bed with her. I am trying not to laugh hysterically as she wakes up and something goes ‘thump’ on the floor and she puts her hand on it turns the light on her phone on and mutters ‘oh my god, my hand smells like giant dick’. She got her own back though, cause later that morning I was woken up by a giant dildo prodding me in the face.
And then of course there are the memories of the gay village and Crews and Tango. I went back on the Monday night which used to be Candice’s Star Search and watched Carlotta Carlisle perform. Once upon a time many years ago I was a support act for her. Just watching her made all the memories flood back. My friend DJ Quinces was there too and we had a chat about the good old days. I used to take part in some of her showcases at Buddies In Bad Times called Rendezvous to which some of the videos of my being a total hussy are still on the internet. I have so many fond memories of performing in that place. I remember doing an impromptu duet of Lady Marmalade with Amanda Roberts. Jumping up and down on the stage screaming out the Barbara Streisand song with Carlotta and Devine but saying our names instead of Barbara’s. I remember trying on the drag queens wigs and getting way more than I bargained for with bit tucking in the dressing rooms.
I remember my crew spreading nasty rumours about other contestants I was competing against in the star search to get votes. I remember supporting Jade Elektra and meeting some lovely people to collaborate with. I remember filling my friends handbag up with condoms and having her empty them on the table in the middle of the hostel in front of everyone saying ‘I believe these are yours’. I remember how much of a kick I used to get out of singing the difficult diva songs. I remember meeting my ex there and the boys giving him shit for having straight shoes. They did the birthday draw and because we nearly have the same birthday we were up together on stage and they heckled him to take his shirt off……. whoa. And of course, how it helped me to survive through a time where money was tight and work was infrequent. Some of the fondest memories that I have exist in that place and I was so grateful to be able to go back there.
Many people say that you shouldn’t go back to a place where you had the best time ever. And granted, those months were not exactly the easiest. There were a lot of bad memories and a lot of really tough times. But at the same time, I was really happy and thankful to be able to walk back and get reacquainted with a self that was wide eyed and so excited about getting out into the world. I am hoping that some of it encourages me now to take the same kinds of risks in my newest adventure. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed my memories! Until next time x