Friday, December 26, 2008

Jump up and wave!

After my amazing experience at Notting Hill Carnival in London, England, I wanted to experience it's inspiration Carnival in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

Carnival in Trinidad is not a 2-day thing like in London- it's a 2 month-long of festivities and for some (if not most), it's a year-long thing!
All of the competitions and fetes (parties) starts immediately after Christmas.
There's the Capypso "tents", presenting Calypso concerts. (Trad calypso has an easy-paced, distinctive beat and strong lyrics laced with satire, jokes, elegies or indignation about current personalities and events.)
The Calypso Monarch and Young King competitions in San Fernando, Mas camps all over the city (Mas for Masquerade), Steelband competitions (with Panyards all over the city.)
The whole island is in a party (fete) frenzy for 1-2 months!

I arrived in POS airport a bit nervous as I was told by numerous people that it was a very dangerous and rough island. I was immediately surrounded by regular taxi drivers that wanted my business. There was competition amonst them at who was going to get "me". I had a phone # of a friend of a friend. I called him hoping desperately for help. He told me to look in the phone book to find a hotel and take a taxi! So, I went to the "tourist" office to find help. A shared taxi, a maxi taxi ( a van holding about 16 ppl) and another shared taxi later, I found myself in an affordable hotel. A couple of days later, I befriended a Karen, who found me a room with a local family. I was set the month.

The "proper" Carnival starts on the night before Carnival Monday, with J'ouvert- a contraction of "Jour Ouvert" or "daybreak" in English. Two Brits of Jamaican descent were staying with us for the Carnival time. On that night, we had a few shots of white rhum. I hate rhum and normaly don't drink but I wanted to do like them and experience the Carnival at it's "full". Silly me!
At first I was ok but on site (a POS street), waiting for the "right" band to follow, I started to feel the effects of the rhum. Unfortunately for me, I also mixed it with a bit of smoke and by the time, we were ready to follow the band (dancing behind a giant truck loaded with speakers), I was completely legless! I was sprayed with paints, beer, soda, nothing worked.
So after a while of having 2 men on each side, carrying me around, I was "dropped" at a house were I watched the procession from a stand. I vaguely remember being given water, "salts", coffee and some food. In the morning, I was picked up and we drove back "home". What a night!

After that night, I remained sober for the 2 Carnival days and had much fun in the madness of it all.

I remember the National Road March Song (winning song that gets played the most at the carnival) was "Signal to Lara" by Superblue. That was in 1995. "Lara" is Brian Lara - Trinidad's Cricket National Hero.

What I mostly remember is the friendiness and joyfullness of all the Trinis I met....and the delicious food!!!!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Charlotteville, T&T

On my first visit to Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), I wound up in this charming fishing village at the end of Tobago island .

It was a classic case of "love at first sight", and I hadn't even set a foot in the village yet.

I had a lovely rustic old house up on the hill over-looking the village. I was the lucky first "tourist" to stay in that former home turned into a rent house. How I got it? I insisted at the POS tourist board for a cheaper house to rent.
"My" house was surrounded with all kinds of fruit trees: mango, pawpaw, lime, almond, passion fruit, coconut, you name it, I had it! I was in heaven!
Before long I had made lots of friends. I heard: "Awright Helene?" all around.
So many fond memories of that first trip of many to this island. I loved going fishing on the high sea with my friend Pash and his boat. Was never successful though but it was a fun time.

Back then it was the "end of the line".
Unfortunately those peaceful years are long gone...
Over the years, I have returned many times, each time it was getting more touristy.

Last time I returned, my favorite spot to get my peanut punch (delicious punch made with peanut butter) had turned into a internet shop/fishing tours owned by a couple of Austrians. The tourists (mainly Germans and Austrians) had bought land and built hotels, coffee shops, bars, internet cafes......

"My" village wasn't a sleepy fishing village but a bustling tourist "ghetto" (like a friend says) like the rest of the island.
It's all good for the local economy but not for I'm on the look-out for another "sleeping" village I can make myself at home.
To see more photos of Tobago, please visit my Flickr stream.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hyde Park, London.

I was living in a backpackers in Bayswater, London, England in my early 20s. It was close to Hyde Park, so one morning, very early (6 am I think), I got up and went to the park in search of photos. I met this man and we had a very long conversation until another homeless man came with a bottle of vodka and some orange juice. I moved on when they both got too drunk and weren't fun anymore.

Another time, years later, this time living in Notting Hill, my friend and I were crossing the park twice a day to go to work. (At a very expensive and posh retail store called "Harrod's") We crossed it because it was about 30 minutes shorter than if we went around it. It was a bit scary on those foggy mornings when we could see nothing in front of us.
Scarier still was when we almost got caught by bobbies (cops)! It was closed after dark so we had to hop over the fence. Sometimes an English girl accompanied us. This time we got chased by Bobbies (cops) and we just managed to hop over the fence to freedom...well all 2 of us except the English lass!
The scariest was when I was crossing alone at night and a guard with a dog spotted me. I decided it was foolish to run so I waited. I put on a very thick French accent (not hard since I'm a French-speaking Canadian.) and pretended I could hardly understand what the man said. The English being so polite, the guard spoke r-e-a-l-l-y  s-l-o-w and showed me the quickest way out. Of course as soon as he had disappeared I continued on.
I was young and foolish.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


RITD was owned by Anton, a friend of mine, met years previously in a London backpackers and it was the coolest musie venue/pool bar/pizza joint in Capetown in the late 90s!

I worked for him some nights behind the bar in the downstairs music venue, where local bands played. (some great, others not-so great) It was THE place to hear the local talent and the beginning place of many bands.

Other nights I worked in the late-night pizza joint. It was rudimentary but I made the best pizzas, so I was told. Many people would come on my off night asking for a "Helen special"! LOL!
The Helen special was garlic, pineapple, hot peppers, mushrooms and onions, if I remember correctly.

As far as I knew it was the only place (in the late 90s.) where all people of different walks of life would mingle mostly in harmony.

This is a photo of the main cleaner, Nohoko, after a night of "spring cleaning"!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I was a pool shark for 1 game!

It happened in South Africa, in Ficksburg to be more precise, near the Maluti Mountains of Lesotho.
I had been travelling all day by mini-bus (local buses) from Durban via PieterMaritzburg, Ladysmith, Harrismith, Kwakwa to arrived in Ficksburg after sundown. I was a bit uneasy because it was in the "African" part of town and I had no idea where to go. I needed worry because as soon as I step out of the bus, several people wanted to help me.
Eventually, a Lesotho taxi driver took care of me. He brought me to a local 24h fast food joint-TV-with pool tables bar owned by a white man.
I ended up playing a few games of pool, whiling the time away. The first game I played against Louie, the owner, and I played like I was a shark-pool! I couldn't believe it! I won that game and after that all the men wanted to play against me but my shark-pool luck at run out and I was playing badly again.
Nonetheless it made me very proud to win 1 game and with such "wizardry", while many Lesotho men wrapped in their local blankets watched me on. A night I won't forget so soon.
This photo was taken at a music venue-pool bar in Capetown. Sadly I have no physical memories of that night in Ficksburg.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Peter Gabriel

This time I will derail from talking about my travel stories to talk about the artist that influenced my youth.

I think I was 13 or 14 years old when I first saw HIM in concert, on the insistence of my cousin. I did not know much of Peter Gabriel's music being an avid fan of "old" Genesis.

I remember during that first concert (his 2nd solo-meaning sin-Genesis.) during the song "Lay your hands on me", he dropped onto the crowd outstretched hands, and was carried above the crowd for about 15 minutes. The last song was "Biko", very emotional with its heavy drum beat. I was under the spell....still am to this day.

I have seen him in concert about 8 times, twice were in London, England.
When one experience one of his concert, it is not just for the ears but it's also very visual. It's like a play for every song. One never knows what to expect with him. ...and it doesn't mean he will start the concert from the stage, he might as well pass next to you, coming from the back!

I'm such a huge fan that I made it to his Real World studio in Box, a village near Bath, England, wanting to meet him but was told that he was out of the country at the time.

I could speak about him for hours but the best and only way to understand is to experience him live.

This photo was taken in the mid 80s, during the song "Biko", with Youssou Ndour and the Stars of Dakar accompanying him.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Amal Kabli

This is one of THE most incredible travel experiences of my short life!!! (ok not that short anymore!)

Sara & I were in the beginning of a 3 month stay in her uncle's "villa" in sunny Andalucia. We soon got bored with lounging around and decided to go to Portugal. Because we had no money, we decided to hitch-hike there.

After a cold February night in '90 sleeping on a beach (remember we had no money to spare for a room somewhere.) in Southern Spain, Sara and I started hitch-hiking again on the main road.

Soon two cars stopped. We hopped on the one with the two Spaniards; the other car had four Moroccans in it. What we didn't realized is that they were all together, on their way to a business meeting in Cadiz. One of them was Amal Kabli, a millionaire who owned a big fishing company. He invited us to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. After some hesitations and doubts, we went.

We had our own hotel room, 300 meters from the beach. After work, him and his bodyguard Zazi would pick us up at the hotel for dinner at a nice restaurant of our choice. Sometimes we'd finished the evening at the local disco or an outdoor cafe. Whatever we'd do we would always have a good laugh together.

Getting bored fast, we took 3-4 days to hitch-hike around the island. After three weeks, we being restless, he sadly put us on a two day cruise ship back to mainland Spain. Amal was a kind, generous, workaholic and laid back man. Zazi, his bodyguard was kind and humorous. In the end we never made it to Portugal but it was the most incredible three weeks we've had so far.

Because we returned to "our" villa (appartement in English) with more money than when we had started 3 weeks earlier, we decided to go to Morocco!

After 7 days of incredible adventures in Morocco, we returned to mainland Spain completely broke. We were planning to hitch our way back to England but still needed some money for food, so we called Amal to the rescue. He sent us some money for our return to London.
This is a drawing I made of Amal while lounging on the closest beach to our hotel room.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Fairstar.

"...the funship, so much fun on the one ship...."

It started when in Sydney, Australia. Sara and I were looking for a way to return to Fiji. We answered an ad and started working on the Fairstar on its next voyage.
The ship had 5 bars, a hairdressing shop, a shop, a pool, 2 dinning rooms, a discotheque and I'm forgetting what else. Sounds exotic and fun? Probably was for the passengers. Being a cocktail stewardess (fancy word for waitress) meant working days of 9 to 11 hours depending on weather you were on early or late shift, and that everyday the ship was at sea. A day off meant working 7 to 9 hours.
Working on the ship meant free lodging ( in a room with bunk beds) and free food and was a good way of seing some of the magnificient South Pacific islands. So the advantages were worth the slave labour. Although we worked hard , we (the cocktail waitresses) managed to have some fun. When it was all getting too much, a bunch of us would sneek in the disco at night. Or on rare overnights in a harbour, we'd hit the local "club" after work. And of course visiting those amazing islands often, meant that I could make some "local" friends.
Some of the islands we went to: Vanuatu, Fiji, New-Caledonia ( with the Isle of Pines being the most beautiful island I've ever seen!), Solomon islands and Papua/New Guinea.
This photo of me and some coworkers (I'm on the far right) was taken in the Lower Zodiac bar- the family bar with live entertainement.

Friday, September 5, 2008

My first castle ever!

It was on my first trip to Europe that I encountered my first castle: the Dover castle in England.

I arrived in England by boat. My first view was of the white cliffs of Dover. I remember a man (bloke) gave me a lift from the pier to the town and he had a good laugh when I wanted to get in the car on the wrong side. I had forgotten that in England, everything was on "the other side".

I was staying in a B&B and when I asked how far is the castle from here, I was told : "Not far, about 400 yards.". ???? 400 yards? To me of the metric system, it sounded very far but it took me only 15 minutes walk to get there.

To make the event even more special, I happened to go when it was reenactment day. There was all these men with swords in mocking fights and inside the castle, I encountered women in period dresses.

For a North American, it was a big deal.

Monday, September 1, 2008

More on Fiji, Yeah!

I just have to speak about it some more and tell you the story of our stay in Uluibau village on Moturiki island.
We spent 3 marvelous weeks, living with these people. We mostly did not much but also participated in daily life chores. Watching the women and kids fishing on low tide was magical. They run in circle with a net, when it's together, they proceed to run in all directions hitting the water with sticks and shouting. (This scares the fish into the nets, they just have to collect them!)

We also learned how is made that wonderful smelling oil that they rub their bodies in: grate coconuts, twist it in some fiber net to extract all the milk, boil it til the oil separates from the milk, bottle the oil and add some local flowers and voilà.).

We helped serve all the chiefs from the neighbouring villages, in the village for a conference. You see, the women serve the men, then the women eat together. Patriarchical you'll say , yes, but the women can also eat when they're cooking! Later we watched a "meke", the women dancing and singing. Beautiful.

The day before our departure, they (our new extended family.) made a huge breakfast, with toasts! (we hadn't seen bread for 3 weeks!). The dinner was very plentyfull, peppered with speaches and "our" was crying and it all ended with a huge yagona (kava: a brown-looking-nasty-tasting national potion) party where most of the village attended, filled with singing and plenty laughter.

This is where we lived while on Uluibau village. A very simple hut ( with 3 doors-a Fijian house has alwas 3 doors.)which had for only furniture a rickety small shelves. The kitchen was outside and the toilet was on the other side of the house.....but the house was by the beach! We were lulled to sleep with the sound of the waves.

This is just a few things that I saw and learned while I was there....and in only one village!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Fiji islands 1990-91.

South Pacific islands. Those words immediately conjure images of tropical paradise in everyone's mind. Well, it is. It's incredibly beautiful: coconut tree-filled islands with crystal-clear turquoise seas and white, endless sandy beaches.
What hit me as soon as I stepped off the airplane was the sweet smell in the air. I later discovered that the sweet smell is the coconut oil, infused with wild flowers, that every Fijian applies all over their skin. It was the hospitality and friendliness of the Fijians that impressed me the most. My friend and I were treated like royalty in each village we stayed in.

When I hear the word "Fiji", so memories comes to mind: the metal sound of yagona (kava) being pound, the policemen in a sarong in Suva, a nice day in Fiji is windy- those who have been there long enough know why it is so (and it's not because of the unbearable heat and humidity), the incredible smiles of everyone, the sweet mango juice running down my chin has I bite my mango, Garrick bar in Suva ( how the Fijians don't take alcohol very well!), finding Biko, an abandonned puppy, meeting Ruth-Ann, a good friend since, ...I could go on for hours.
Ao sega vulagi, ao kei Viti! (I'm not a foreigner, I'm Fijian!)- yes it made Fijians laugh.
"Come back someday my friend, to Leleuvia...", parting song sang at every tourists departure from Leleuvia island.
This photo was taken during a Nausori Highland trip on Viti Levu. No one wanted to drive the rented car across an overflowing bridge, so we asked so a local man did it for us. It was a main event and some kids came and swam in the river. Taken with my Agfa 1940-something camera.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sara E. Baxter

Before I go on with some of my most memorable travel experiences, I should tell you how it all started....well, not from the very beginning, that would take too long, but how I met my travel buddy during my second trip to Europe.

I had been living in London, England since April 1989 when I met Sara a few months later. We met when sharing a big 8-bed dorm, nicknamed "The Tree House", in the Pembridge Hotel, a Bayswater Backpackers. Those were THE most formative months in my life in more ways than one. Sara became my best friend and perfect travel buddy. Our 5 years of adventures took us hitch-hiking around Europe and the Canary islands, to Morocco, the USA, Oceania and Jamaica. In the 21st century, Sara became a mom, a gifted writer/poet/journalist. Although we have drifted apart for a while, we remain in touch to this day.

Here, you can see Sara trying to get us a lift (a "ride" means something entirely different in this part of the world.), somewhere on our way to the northest tip of Scotland.
Since the cars were few and far between, I started to sing while my thumb was out: “I can’t get no lift to Thurso....and I try and I try...” (Sang to the tune of “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones.)

This photo was taken with my 1940-something Agfa 120 camera.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The smoke that thunders!

Better known as Victoria Falls.

How I got there is another long story. While in Zimbabwe, I hooked up with Kiwi, Peter "Thinking-all-the-time" Johnson. He had transport (a bakkie), camping equipment, and needed someone to share the costs with. We spent a few turbulent days in Hwange National Park and drove to Vic Falls for a day.

What a breathtaking sight! This is the falls that Tarzan-of-my-younger-days jumped from. We came right after the wet season and the level of water was high. The mist drenched us. After visiting on the Zimbabwe side, we decided to be thorough and visit the Falls on the Zambian side. This is where this picture was taken. The mist was so, that kids were using it to slide along the bridge. I decided to try it out. Unfortunately for me, I "hit" a dry patch and fell .( on the bridge, not down the falls...) I wobbled for a few days after that. I like to say that I acquired an "african" toe nail!
This is one of my most popular photos and is for sale. Please ask me for details.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The sea....

The first time I saw the sea, I was 11 or 12 yo. It was actually the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. Although we went to Disneyland, I was totally mesmerized by the sea. It made such an impact on me that, upon my return, at school we had to write a poem on anything we liked. I choose to write mine about the sea. What can I say? It calms me, make me feel like I can do anything I want. It erases the limits I put on myself. Although I had the misfortune of not being born by a coast, I need it in my life. Without it, I shrivel up.

This picture was taken in my favorite Irish village, Doolin, in my favorite county, Clare on a cold January day of 2000.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

It was Mélodie's BD party 2day!

Mélodie is my 3 y.o. Godaugther. Her B'day is actually on the 15th but since it's the middle of the week and her parents r in the middle of moving house.....She had so many gifts that she kept asking if it was hers 4 every single one! Too cute! She's only 3 but looks like she's 4 or 5, she's so tall....but I guess that's her parents fault cos they r both so tall! About 2 go make the icing and decorate my mom's BD cake 4 tomorrow. On Friday, my brother turns 33 yo! little brother who I've changed his diapers, helped him eat and so on! He's turning 33! He has 2 kids! I'm including a pix of Mélodie's BD, this year was all about Dora, the explorator. Since I don't have a digital cam, I used my brother's pic taken with his digi cam!....

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

My very first post ever!

Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare, Ireland

I'm new here so I thought I would start out with answering a little questionnaire.

Here it goes:

  • Initially I wanted to air stewardess.

  • My favorite music is... reggae.

  • My favorite movie is...Pulp Fiction.

  • My favorite TV shows are...Alf, Weeds and Spaced.

  • My favorite food is...Caribbean food like buljol with coconut bake.

  • I am most irritated by.....waiting for ages in the wrong queue.

  • A current major influence is...Sebastiao Delgado. ( a documentary photog)

  • For me, an influential thinker of the past was....Ghandi.

  • I get the greatest pleasure from...dark chocolate!

  • I am most uncomfortable clothes are wet.

  • My biggest phobia is...spiders.

  • The trait is most dislike about myself is...I'm way too sensitive.

  • The trait I most dislike in others is....lack of respect.

  • My best feature be able to make others laugh.

  • I wish I

  • My greatest regret is...I don't have regrets. What is done is done and I must make the most of what is out there.

  • My fondest memory is....Christmas in the Rainbow hostel in Doolin, co. Clare, Ireland.

  • If reincarnated I would choose to return as ...a pampered cat.

  • My most treasured possessions my head.

  • My favorite country to live in is...The Fiji Islands, without a doubt.

  • The quality I most like in a man is....a good sense of humour and adventure.

  • The purpose of life is...who knows?