Tag Archives: Canada

Leaving Canada For Good


This time 5 years ago I was sitting in my unit in Melbourne packing my entire life into boxes. I would never have anticipated any of the things that happened to me over those 5 years to come and yet somehow here we are, not even sad in many ways to be leaving somewhere that was my second home for 5 years and teetering on another massive change. Like a relationship gone sour and that has gone on for too long, it is time to walk away.

But like with any relationship that ends, it doesn’t mean that you don’t look back on it from time to time with fond memories. And of course there are always the hard lessons that you learn and take with you.

So I wanted to take this chance to look at the years that passed, the highlights and some of the lessons learned.

2010

I arrived into Toronto for the first time on the 12th October, 2010. My friend from high school that lived there picked me up from the airport, which helped make such a daunting move a little easier. I moved into the HI backpackers hostel on Church St and was soon met with Tash, one of my closest friends from home. She came on a visa to meet with me. I came on a visa to meet with a boyfriend that had fallen to pieces months before I even boarded the plane but not before I had booked my ticket.

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Tash and I spending our first Halloween together carving pumpkins a month after arriving in Toronto.

We shared a room and ridiculous room mates in a place that still to this day holds some amazing memories for me. My first ever proper Halloween in the snow, my first hockey match, my introduction to the infamous Tim Hortons and so it goes on.

I got three jobs. My first being at Fossil selling watches and handbags, then at Aveda as a Christmas cashier and also at the Children’s Place folding kids clothing. I busted my arse 80 hours a week and it was only here that I started to learn the real value of money, doing it hard and having the arse out of your pants. After my first ever white Christmas, the work stopped and so we saw in 2011 (dancing down the street chanting like a pack of losers to the most anticlimactic fireworks you’d ever seen).

2011

The year started hard. As I lost two of my jobs, with Aveda being the only one left I learned the importance of good friendships in times of utter boredom. The girls at Aveda kept me going with their amazingness, jokes and incredible support. These are the best work colleagues I have ever had and even though we are now spread all over the world I love them dearly. It is because of one of these “gurls” that one night my broke arse wound up in the drag bar Crews and Tango competing in Candice’s Star Search for the prize money to keep me fed that week. This started me getting jobs supporting other drag Queens in their shows and I became a semi regular about the place. It was incredible fun and taught me how to be a better performer.  I will never forget the experiences I had in this place and the accepting nature with which I was taken in.

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Singing in the drag bar, Crews and Tango on Church St

Upon entering into March I was starting to get shitty. No hours. No money. I didn’t move halfway across the world to work for 10 dollars an hour to have all of my savings drained on keeping my head afloat during winter. So I quit my job, packed my bag and went on a 3 month camping trip around the United States.

After my whirlwind trip around the US I came back revitalized and broke. The plan was to go west, then go home and make some money. But as fate was to have it, I met a boy and stayed another 3 months in Toronto. It was in this time I started working promo work, handing out chocolate bar samples or restaurant cards in guerilla type activations. It had good pay. I also went back to doing some more work in the drag bars and getting involved in showcases. It allowed me to live more comfortably. The thing was, I had booked my ticket home, and so I went. It was the hardest time of it I had leaving Canada. And yet I was to be back.

2012

After a stint of teaching and harvesting poppies at home I went back to Canada in March. I spent my days living in the backpackers hostel in Kensington with some of the biggest weirdos you will ever meet. One woman was convinced that her husband had paid off all Tim Horton’s employees to try and poison her…. but in among those crazies were also some great people. I walked flyers and posters around the neighborhoods for 11 dollars an hour for 5 to 7 hours a day every day. I was in essence scraping the bottom of my Canadian finances to survive. One night I was walking to Chinatown after paying rent with ten dollars to my name to feed me for 5 days when I saw a sign for a dishwasher for the night and took it. Luck me in that 8 hours later I left with 80 dollars, a three course meal and three grocery bags of leftover food. I made it work until my then boyfriend got out of the military and in July we set off driving from Toronto over to Newfoundland for 3 months.

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Hanging about on the coast of Nova Scotia on the eastern road trip.

We camped, we explored, I got a better understanding of Canadian history. I saw and ate my first ever moose. I picked wild berries from the bushes and ate them. Some of my fondest memories I have of Canada were spent in the days I lived and worked on Eastport Organics Farm.  We sat on the beach with the dogs and ate pizzas and played guitar and sang. We went to kitchen parties with the locals. We had bonfires. It was a simple life and life at its best. I was happy there. But time was getting away from us and we headed back to Toronto to pack and leave for Central America.  My first 2 year visa was almost up and it was time for a new adventure.

2013

After 8 months of travelling through Central America I decided it was time to go back and get my junk and make a move relocating west. I spent about a month in Toronto doing the odd promo until I found out I had a car lined up to drive across Canada from Montreal to Vancouver.

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The famous Wawa goose in Ontario on my east to west road trip.

I arrived in Vancouver as usual, disorganized, with nowhere to stay, everywhere is booked out due to Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z in concert and I am having a freak out. I eventually found a backpackers hostel to stay in and spent some time chilling out and catching the sights before heading off to Vancouver Island for a week. Same went for Vancouver Island… didn’t book accommodation, had nowhere to sleep on Saturday night, pitched a one man British Army tent in the bush on an island that I thought was well hid and got caught by hippies. Many interesting times had by all.

I eventually double backed and relocated myself to Calgary. I started making beds and then doing the morning cleaning shift in the hostel I was living in and doing promo work. I worked so hard I barely had a day off. In the four months that I was there however I managed to see Drumheller, Dinosaur Provincial Park, Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, hike through Kananaskis, drive up through Jasper National Park, add a few trips to Banff and I’d seen a lot. Come December I had reached my tether with working so much and on a random whim booked a flight to go and see my friend in London for Christmas on my way home for the brothers wedding.

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A fossilized dinosaur skeleton from Drumheller.

2014

This was a Canada free year. I spent it at home mostly. Then in December I started travelling Asia again.

2015

I decided to renew my visa for the last time and go back to Canada as an option. My friend who I went to Nepal with and I had big plans for hiking and camping and all other manner of things.  And then the pneumonia happened and my body became incapable of most of the things we had planned. I went back anyway because my body needed to rest.

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At the top of Mount Yamnuska. First hike back after Everest Basecamp.

I took the odd promo work which was substantially less abundant than two years previous. I took a job at the hostel again, and it too wasn’t the same. With all that I had been through I had come to a few realizations.  Firstly that I am over doing menial jobs for shit pay when I don’t have to. In many ways the jobs I took were nothing to ever take seriously because I always had a better out. Many I took because they were amusing to me. But after years of it, I am bored. My brain feels like it is dying from the lack of stimulation I receive on a day to day basis.

So it’s time to be more and work for a greater purpose. The second thing I realised was that I need to stop travelling and being around travellers for a while. My frustration at the lack of variety in conversations and different people I was meeting was killing me and my want to be social. It is time to find a new group of people and work on ‘staying’ for a while. And so begins the new challenge…. so I packed my bag and move to London. 

 

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Woman vs Wild meets Murphy’s 1st Law – Dano vs Algonquin Provincial Park

Murphy’s 1st Law: “What can go wrong, will go wrong”.

Well I have to say that it appears that lately all good ideas start in Walmart…. sadly they also seem to end in Walmart. The original idea was to go there for cheap cereal and a $15 brie cheese wheel (850 grams, hell yeah, what a bargain!) Somehow, this wound up in the sporting isle staring up at a box on the top shelf containing the ‘Seahawk 2’, an ingenious vessel that was not only on sale for cheaper than you can hire a canoe for the weekend, but was destined to take us into the far reaches of the Algonquin Provincial Parks canoe routes for ‘the best and most adventurous weekend ever’. Or so we think……

Day one it starts hammering down with rain in the afternoon. So much for getting there early to set up, you can barely see the road in front of you trying to drive there and as such, we were delayed getting there until at least 8pm, just in time to set up right before dark.

So far, Nature 1, Woman 0.

Given that we were so late getting there, we did encounter some pretty spectacular things on the side of the road on the way. One of which was a turtle who had hiked his way up the side of the river bed and was starting to dig a hole in the sand in which to lay eggs. In the grand scheme of all things turtle/tortoise, he was named ‘Curtis the Turtoise’ (despite being a ‘she’ – as far as I am concerned, they are all named Curtis…. Jamie Lee Curtis is a girl…. anyway) and Curtis was just adorable.

“Curtis the Turtise 1, burying eggs in the sand”

We almost ran over another Curtis in the middle of the road. We literally scared the piss out of this little guy. He urinated the entire way off the road as we chased him away from the ‘squash zone’ and down the hill into friendlier territory.

Scared pissless – Curtis 2 crossing the road

After the Curtis hunt, we arrived at the park gate and tried to pick a campsites for the two nights we would be there. First night, easy. Second night on the paddling trip, we were like “yeah, we’re fit, we can row a blow up boat 10km down the stream to the Opulescent site out of the Barron Canyon! No problem!” It was the next day that this again proved to be a little optimistic, and the real ‘fun’ began.

Day Two of Dano vs Wild. We get up, pack the tent and all of the equipment we need into the blow up boat. It is at this point that things start to look dubious. To be honest, I don’t know how the hell we even decided that two people and a whole stack of food and camping gear for a night would fit comfortably in a blow up boat. Nonetheless, this is the outcome.

Covered under piles of gear in the boat. Cannot steer….

And after rowing no more than 2km down the way before realizing that not only is trying to row 10km in a Walmart blow up nearly impossible, but it is downright impossible when you have to portage through a stream of jagged rocks. In a kayak this would be possible. In a blow up Walmart boat, it is most certainly not. One may say this left me some what deflated…..

Reflecting on poor life choices….

Nature 2, Woman 0.

And so it was decided that the night would be spent at the last spot along the river before the rapids started and we dragged the boat up and set up home. The campsite was really awesome, very pretty and everything was set up fine and dandy. Then the dusk sets in and this is where woman vs nature really begins.

Let me firstly address the insects. Not only did I have Australian grade 40% DEET bug spray on me, but this seemed to no avail for some of these bitches. Whether it is the deer fly, the spiders or whatever supernatural mosquitoes, I managed to wind up with two golf ball sized swollen bites behind my ear and on the back of my neck, and one tennis ball sized swollen lump with two red fang marks in the side of my body.

Super venom kicking my arse… serious welting

Nature 3, Woman 0. 

And so then it starts getting on the dark side of life which then poses the question, what to do with the food and the scraps. It is bear country and I don’t particularly want to become bear food. So we took the tow line off the boat and tied a rock to one end in the hope of putting it over a tree to tie the food up. Then this happened……

The tow line of the boat stuck in a tree with a rock on the end of it….

Nature 4, Woman 0. 

I am pretty sure that by this stage Murphy is out there somewhere laughing his arse off. I sure was. For those of you whose eyes aren’t good enough to see, that is our rope stuck in the tree with the rock on the end of it. Which now poses the problem of what it is we are actually going to do with the food so that the animals and the bears don’t get it. So I come up with this amazingly inventive idea of burying the food and rubbish under a pile of very heavy rocks, which we finished building right as it got dark.

Can’t see our food? Awesome… totally hidden from bears and other animals…

The hope here was that there would be breakfast for tomorrow morning. But just in case a bear came, not that it would really have done anything much at all, we were equipped with bear fighting tools, ie. 1 big stick to poke him with, one biggish rock with which to throw at him, and one giant set of lungs with which to scream and yell and then run for your goddamn life.

Bear fighting tools

The sticks came courtesy of a beaver dam that had washed its way down the shore and this had landed just down the way from where we were camping. It made excellent firewood and so we burned this to stay warm despite the at times torrential downpour that we thought would hinder the process of making a fire whatsoever.


Nature 4, Woman 1.

And so it was time for bed. In the morning when waking up it was kinda like Christmas. Time to go and unwrap your rock wrapped presents to see if you can have breakfast this morning and much to my happiness, I found that despite the minor bite marks of the chippies through the rock crevasses, that food and garbage was all still intact and I got to eat my beef stew ration, chocolate milkshake and chocolate pudding desert for breakfast.

Yes! Still have food! Despite the tiny hole from the chippies

 

Nature 4, Woman 2. 

By this stage, despite Nature still having the upper hand in the situation, I felt like I was winning. How can you not be winning when you have food? So after a quick pack up it was back in the blow up boat and see you later to our home of a night as we let the current pretty much drift us half of the way back to the Achray lake entrance. It was a nice, workless float 🙂

Home on the hill

Nature 4, Woman 3.

So we made it back finally in our blow up boat, vowing never, ever again to attempt such a stupid thing in a blow up Walmart boat but to be non-stingy and invest in hiring a canoe next time. I also vouch to bring ten million cans of permethrin to kill any living insect (I am a nature lover, can’t you tell), and to also wear sunscreen on the way home in the boat. Nature had the last laugh you see by giving me sunburned thighs in retribution for my lack of paddling efforts on the way home. Not only that, but when I got home and took an antihistamine to make all my swollen bites go down, and all this achieved was in sending me into a drug-induced coma in which all I could mutter was ‘huh, whaaa, waaateerrr’. So in the end I think the final count was Nature 6, Woman 3. And despite Nature and Murphy having the last laugh, I was still also laughing because if you don’t laugh you cry right? That and the whole thing was just outright funny. I can say for sure though, I most likely haven’t learned my lesson, and that at some point in time, most probably in the near future, I will again embark on yet another bout of ‘YEAH!! That sounds like an AWESOME idea!” And if the past is anything to go by, it will be yet another hilarious disaster.

Til then x

 

Being A Human Guinea Pig

As promised from the previous article “Five Different Ways To Challenge Yourself Daily”, my experiences with the medical testing world.

So when work keeps telling you consistently ‘sorry there are just no hours this week’ (which to be honest is a crock of shit, but we are trying to keep this light and the topic of workplace rights and legislation in Canada makes me very angry), we resort to the only thing we know for more work…. Craigslist.

There is a marvel of things you can find in the ‘ETC.’ section of the Toronto Craigslist and so this is how my run as a human guinea pig began. ‘Oh you will pay me a couple of hundred dollars to do a PET scan and and MRI? No problem! You want to pay me to stick electrodes to my head and play me pulses to see how my brain responds? No problem! And so it goes on.

To clarify, there are specific types of testing that I am not willing to do. For one, I am not happy about being a guinea pig for drug trials. I don’t particularly feel that my ovaries or the rest of my body would be appreciative of me pumping it full something in it that is going to render my parts dysfunctional for a measly couple of hundred bucks. But if you want to look at how my body functions normally by doing a series of tests, then be my guest. As a scientist, I am more than happy to do my part for science.

So, here we go….

The other day I went to the geriatrics hospital. They do a lot of research for Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain disorders and I have done multiple experiments for them. Of the most basic is the EEG, which is where you go in, they strap electrodes to your brain, put some earplugs in and they make you listen to semitone sounds on ‘ooh’ or ‘ahh’ and make you hit buttons to tell you if it is an ‘ooh’ or an ‘aah’. The best part about this is the second part where they make you listen to random sounds for an hour while you watch a kids movie on silent. For me it was a crazy movie about a raccoon that steals and destroys a bears stash of food for the winter and then sets about manipulating other animals into reacquiring what it is that he lost by stealing from the humans. Awesomely funny, even if it is on mute with subtitles. I did this twice before I started getting called in for different tests.

Other EEG tasks I have done have been musical tests where I listen to two sounds and decide if they are the same or different and then replicate the sounds singing later. I have also done tests where they give you 35 sets of 2 completely unrelated words and you have to try and develop a correlation between them in five seconds so that later when they flash you the first word, you have to remember the second word. Hugely frustrating as this is most difficult of the tasks I had ever been given. One time I also had to sit with an eye movement tracker on while I watched a series of video clips and pictures to see where I was looking at on the screen.

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Smashing out some memory games with the electrode cap on

Two days ago they did a test on my memory and how the brain stores information. They sat me at a computer and they would flash a word at me like ‘giraffe’. I would then as quickly as possible determine whether it is living or non living using the buttons strapped to my fingers. From there I had to do this really quick mathematical addition in my head with numbers flashing up on the screen at me and then decide whether the number they showed me at the end was the correct answer to the addition. From there, you then have to recall the word. They do all of this while you are strapped into an MRI machine measuring the different activities of your brain in doing the sums and the recall. The hypothesis that they are testing is whether or not the long term memory is more effective when you focus more on the word that you have to remember or when you are busy with a distractor task, ie. the maths sums. Strangely enough, they have been finding that the words that you do the distractor task with are more likely to be remembered long term as the way that these words are processed in the brain is different. Really interesting study. Probably why I did so well at university studying with the TV on, the radio on, talking on the phone and trying to read at the same time! Me being as competitive as I am too, I had to try and beat my own scores and the scores of others with the decision making and the maths. I was killing it to a point. 85-90% 🙂 Not bad when the average is around 60-70% for the maths! Looks like all of the learning books and the brain training games are paying off!

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MRI scan of my brain. I told people I have one, they didn’t believe me

Of the most lucrative and probably most uncomfortable of the medical tests that I have done was the PET scan. After doing a two hour screening of different IQ type tests with shapes and logic and a psychological evaluation, they sent me off to do the scan. They put me in a hospital gown, laid me onto the table and then started to put in the arterial line in my left wrist. Luckily they hit it the first time so it wasn’t too bad in the healing process. They put the radiotracer into my right arm and then I pretty much laid in the machine for 2 hours while they scanned my brain to see where the radiotracer was collecting and if it was more concentrated in specific areas of the brain or not for a specific enzyme that they are attributing to swelling in the brain that is related to depression.

They took different blood samples from my wrist throughout the experiment to look at the concentration of the radiotracer in my blood and I have to say it wasn’t the most comfortable of situations. What I didn’t realize was that they actually put a plaster cast thing over your face to lock it into place for the scan so that your head doesn’t move. So here I am, head locked in in a plaster cast, needles sticking out of my arms, the most ADHD I have ever been and all I wanted to do was go for a dance or move around or do something! The two hours were finally up, I had my arterial line out, went for a 20 minute MRI and took my cash for the day. More money than I would have earned in the space of a week and a half working for minimum wage in Toronto on half a day of being a guinea pig for the advancement of science. I will most certainly take that.

I do find all of these things quite interesting so in the grand scheme of travelling, it is something new and different to add to the resume and it pays quite well. And hey, it is just another thing to tell the grandkids right? Provided that my memory holds out in the long run. Hopefully my participation in research will help them find ways to overcome memory degeneration with age so that I can continue to achieve my million and one goals. And so I won’t have to be a drunk nana in a nursing home rocking chair on the porch enjoying the blissful ignorance of my existence.