Monday, October 5, 2009

Hitch-hiking in Europe

Growing up,  I was taught to be scared of hitch-hiking by society in general and, of course, those horror movies like "The Hitch-Hiker".
Therefore the very first time I tried it, I was very scared. It was in Germany, on the outskirts of Cologne, with a "seasonned" friend. She did all the "work".  Gabriele & I also hitched our way to Amsterdam to meet a sweet Swedish friend of mine.

Call me crazy or adventurous but I grew to love it. Yes, I loved it. It was the best way to meet locals and experience the country from the inside.  
I've hitched mainly as a pair. From London ( where I lived at the time.) to Dover &amp back, just for something to do. I was with Carol, my American friend, shown on this photo. We did get to Dover and back to London in just one lift!  The same guy, a TV repairman, he bought us ice-cream in Dover and drove us back all the way uo to our local pub!
Carol & I made a longer trip, hitching to Amsterdam & Germany (visiting friends) & back for a couple of weeks.

With my travel buddy, Sara, we went from London to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, in search of a cheap ferry across to Norway. Not possible, so we hitched back to London. The next day, we made our way to Dover, took the ferry across to Oostende (Belgium) and hitch-hiked all the way to Oslo via Hamburg (Germany), the ferry crossing in Denmark, somewhere on the west coast of Sweden (spent a couple of days with 2 guys that were selling hot-dogs on a Swedish island to drunk pub goers, at closing time.). We finally arrived in Oslo 4-5 days later, exhausted but happy. We hitch-hiked all the way to Bergen. Despite what my Norwegian friends says, we found the Norwegians to be very hospitable.

Along with hitching extensively in Europe, we also did  it  all over the world: in New-Zealand, Gran Canaria (the biggest island of the Canaries),Jamaica, Canada (Ottawa-Montreal) & Hawaii.
By myself, I hitched in Ireland (all over from Clare to Donegal  and into Northern Ireland back to Dublin), South Africa (mainly in Kwa/Zulu-Natal) and Zimbabwe (alone & with a friend).

Sure it's a risky business, but most rewarding. Along the way, we refused a few lifts with dodgy drivers but mostly people are a generous & hospitable lot. Many times, we were offered a roof for the night, food, gifts, a day by a magnificiant Norwegan lake, even a trip! (see my entry called Amal Kabli). I always followed my intuition, no matter how silly it may seems.  Thankfully, nothing bad ever happened along the way.

I must also point out the difference in terminology between North America and English-speaking Europe. A "ride" in Canada is when someone picks you up when hitch-hiking. In the UK, Scotland or Ireland it has a sexual connotation and to mention the same thing one says "lift". I found out the difference the hard way!
I remember a young red-haired Scotish lad on his bike saying to Sara: "I'll give you a ride Baby!"  It was rolling-on-the-ground funny!

I could ramble on for hours, just about my hitch-hiking experiences and if you're curious you can read more details in the book I'm writing.

This photo is of Carol holding up an Europeen phrase book near Aachen, Germany, 1989.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Las Vegas, 1991

Sara and I were going to Australia for 1 year. (minimum!)
Since we were flying from Los Angeles, we took buses from Montreal, Canada, to LA. It was a 5-day trip, full of adventures. We made 3 stop-overs to sleep in a real bed: Chicago, Las Vegas and Denver.
What I want to talk about today is about our stay in Las Vegas. It was day-time when the bus rolled-in town.
Day-time Las Vegas is quite disappointing. No bright lights. The Strip looks quite regular. Nothing like what we see in movies or on TV.
At the Youth Hostel, we met, Klaus, a German who called himself "The Master of the Slot machines". Yes, really. He owned a black old Cadillac, limousine-style.
We spent a wild night, visiting a few casinos, playing with the free money one gets and having a free brunch at 4 AM.
Needless to say, we did not sleep very much that night....
The strangest thing is upon our return to LA, 1 and half years later, we met Klaus again. He was now living in La and had married a Phillipino woman.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Sorry it's been a while. Lots of excuses but my best excuse is: it's been a crazy last couple of months with all the Birthdays!

The first thing that strucked me when I got in the airport is how British it is! The police wear the same ridiculous hats as English bobbies!

But this is not the story I want to relate. You can find out more in the book I'm writing about my 19 years of travel/living abroad.

The South Island is the hippyiest place I've ever been to! Here's a prime exemple.

Sara & I were hitch-hiking , when this old-looking car (see above picture.) stopped. Steven, his friend & Joplin, the dog were offering us a lift. Starting the car was not done with a key, but a kitchen knife!

It turns out they were living on this commune & offered us a bed & to stay as long as we wanted! Sweet!

Our bed was in an old abandonned VW van in the field. Steven's was a tree-house! A whole community of young Kiwis lived on this self-sufficiant farm/commune. They had cows & with that they made milk, yogurt & butter. They grew everything, from garlic, all sorts of fruits, veggies, wheat (which they grind to make bread!), everything I say! You name it, they were growing it.

There was a kitchen and everyone made dinner, each had their turn. to cook for everyone else.

It was like that all week, til Friday, when they'd go into town. Get their dole money, get pissed all weekend. On Sunday, they would return and do the same thing again.
After 3-4 days, we moved on.

Our budget was extremely restricted, so we had to hitch-hike everywhere, from North to South Island. We found the general Kiwi population very friendly and welcoming. Turns out, the Canadian flag on our backpacks was helping us a great deal.

On the photo is: me, Steven, Sara & Joplin, the dog. 1991

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sons of the Desert

I was looking for a pic of them but have none, so I found this unrelated pic of a Rye bottleshop in England.
This is a band that I discovered (actually someone brought me to see them!) back in March or April 1989.

It's the kind of band that if you feel blue, you go see them and you feel great! They were playing every Sunday at Elephant & Castle pub in London.

There were 5 members and many instruments. Most played more than one instruments. There was the fiddle, saxophone, guitar, bass, bohdran (Irish drum), trompette and the electric mandoline. I'm probably forgetting an instrument or 2. The members were: Steven, the Yorkside lad (with the thickest accent I've ever heard back then!) who played the bass; Jim the guitarist; Joseph, from Belfast who played the fiddle & the saxophone; Tracy, played the bohdran, the trompette & had a magnificient voice and, finally, Ewan, the ever-so-excentric leader of the band, played the electric mandoline like Jimmy Hendrix played the guitar and also lead singer.
At first 3 of us went religiously to see them every Sunday, then soon, almost the whole of The Pembridge came along. The word spread out quickly!
After a few months, I was going to Ireland and went with 2 Irish (also fans of the band.) who were visiting family. They were going to see SOTD playing in Salthill, close to Galway. I came along only to find out that they were opening for The Pogues! (A major Irish band, quite popular in Europe) I went to the after party. The next morning, I was asked if I had any set plans. I said "no" and was promptly invited to tour with them! I quickly learned that the life of a touring musician is not glamorous: driving to next town, sound check, guig, after-party (maybe), driving to next town and so on! It was just a 5-day tour, Thank God! Their manager was telling everyone that I was his assistant! I was very lucky to see the "insides" of a band.
I found out about 1 year ago, that Ewan & Tracy got married and moved to France. The SOTD is still alive. You can find out more about them (and hear them!) at : Sons of the Desert

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Ruby In The Dust

The restaurant started life in the basement of The Pembridge Hotel in 1989. It was runned by 2 young South Africans: Anton and Jonatan.

I was part of the cleaning-before-opening process and started as a waitress. I made a poor waitress. After a tiff, I was quickly put Head of salad bar kitchen. That was a lot of work but also a lot of fun. I was in charge of making the cold starters, the desserts and the drinks. The ever-changing dishwasher was also with me.
Nine years later, I found myself in South Africa. I was in desperate need of work (read: money) and I heard that Anton had opened a Ruby-in-the-Dust in Capetown. By now it was a music venue and a bar with pool tables. I found myself serving drinks to young Capetownians while listenning to local bands. Some great, some good and some very bad.
Soon it was decided to open a small pizza place on the top floor, in the back. We sold home-made individual pizzas, all made from scratch, including the dough. My pizzas soon became popular and known as the "Helen Special". Toppings: pineapple (fresh), garlic, hot peppers and mushrooms.
A very basic bar/music venue but the local place to hip young Capetownians of all walk of life. I made some great friends and heard some brilliant music. It closed whenever there wasn't enough people left: 2AM, 3AM, 4 AM.
It was in Capetown that I turned the big 3-0.
This photo is of the bar with Nohoko, after hours. (early morning)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Pembridge Hotel

What can I say about the Pembridge hotel, or where do I start?
The location: Bayswater, London, UK.
It was where I started my real life. It was a Backpacker's than a "proper" hotel, full of young travellers like me, broke and eager to explore the world.

How I got there? A long story (of which I will explain more in the book I'm writing) but here's the jist. I was living in Germany and after 1 1/2 months I had enough of Koln and left to London, on a whim. Someone scooped me from Victoria train station and brought me there. I arrived broke and in desperate need of working.
I was immediately put on breakfast duty for more fortunate backpackers. I was not earning much but I got free board and I was making it on my own in London!
I also took another job outside the hotel as a waitress in a cafeteria-style new restaurant. During my time there, I had plenty of different jobs, none of which ever lasted a long time - meaning more than a few weeks.
I was a "runner", waking people up and "running" all over the hotel. A job that was given to me by a friend when I was jobless and homeless, playing hide-n-seek with the managers.
I also became an hotel "taunt", scooping people off Victoria train station and bringing them to the hotel. That was a fun job. I was put in a big room nicknamed "The Tree House" and is where I met Sara, the one that became my best friend. At Victoria station is was with the "bobbies" (local policemen) that I was playing hide-n-seek with. Technically, our job was illegal as we were taking customers from paying hotel booths on site.

The main attraction to this hotel was all the young travellers I met, in the same situation as me. There was Spaniards, Mexicans, Aussies, Kiwis, Americans, Brazilians, French, Canadians, Chileans, East Europeans, you name it. We bonded and helped each other. I made lasting friendships, some to this day, 20 years later.

It was an off and on stay as I often took off hitch-hiking through Europe or just for a day to Dover, because I was bored.
I also worked at this new restaurant in the basement of The Pembridge called Ruby In The Dust (that's another story). I started out as a waitress, then went on to be head of the salad bar kitchen. I was in charge of the cold starters, the drinks and the desserts. Also it was there that the dishes were cleaned. I had many wild nights there with different "dishwashers".
So many fond memories of my time in Bayswater, London. I think that everyone should have a "Pembridge" in their life.
The photo above is of the "Tree House", with my bed being with the yellow blanket on the top right.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Key West, Sept 93 to May 94

Travis with his dog, Simonton, in front of his house.
(Taken with a polaroid cam.)

After, Sara and I returned from Jamaica, Sara returned to Canada to pursue her studies. I stayed back in Fort Lauderdale. I just worked long enough (10 days) to make some money to get out of there.

I met a Dutch woman, older than me (back then everyone was older than me!), and we rented a car going to Miami, looking for work on a cruiseship. It did not happen so we drove down to Key West where we heard that it was easy to get a job despite having no "papers".

It's a small island at the end of the Keys, technically part of Florida but very much island life.

When we arrived, it was very very hot and humid. I could not walk more than a block without having to drink some water! I much prefer that to fall and winter in Canada!

I first lodge at a youth hostel. I quickly moved out to rent a room in a splendid old colonial. house. My room was vast, with lots of furniture and a balcony that went all around my room. The house also had a pool but the owner (an old lady) was dirty. The rent was not cheap either.

While I was asking for a job at the local photo lab, a man (Pat Clyne) heard me and offered me a job as his assistant PR director for Mel Fisher, the greatest treasure hunter! I said yes on the spot! Most of the time the work was quite tedious but occasionnaly I had to photograph a gold coin for a potential buyer, make the museum's first newsletter, take trips to Key Largo to do stills while Pat was filming and a Miami court (the law on "finders' keepers" for treasure found near the Florida coast.) Amonst my favorite activities was going in a Cesna, a small 4 seat-plane, and jump clouds. I was to learn scuba diving and under water photography.
My dream job lasted about 5-6 weeks. It ended because they could not get a working permit for me.

Meanwhile, I had moved out of the house and moved into a shared 2-bedroom appartement with a lovely Norwegian woman and a weird alcoholic American scuba instructor. The place was tiny but my rent was cut by half. I shared a tiny room with Idun, the Norwegian. The house was situated in the Bahama village - the "black" neighbourhood. Our next-door neighbours was a sweet Cuban family. It was definately more "colorful" than my first place!

I quickly got another job, selling African art in a stall on Duval street (the main "drag".), next to Tootsies restaurant. I was working for a quiet Kenyan lady named Mary. I remained there until I had to go back to Canada for an exhibition.
To see more of my photos, please visit my Flickr stream.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Follow my adventures

I just added a "widget" that makes it really easy to follow my blog. It's on the side bar, near the bottom.

So don't be shy and travel with me!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My beloved Hasselblad!

I don't have any pictures of my Hasselblad 500CM but here's a photo taken with it, taken circa 1987.
For those who don't know, a Hasselblad is the Rolls Royce of the medium format camera and it's expensive.

How I came to own one is not the story here.

When I started to travel, I brought it along with me. In the late 80s, I was living in London, England, in a youth hostel. I kept it locked in the hotel's safe for security.
One early morning, I was awaken by a frantic friend, who asked me if I had anything in the safe. "Yes, everything." " Why?"
"Everything was stolen!"
So I got up quite fast and was greated by the police on the scene of the crime. As I was describing everything I had in my bag (apart from my camera, I had my passport and all the money I had left.) , the same friend told me to come have a look because there was a couple of bags left.
So, I had a look and about the only bag that was left was my old and scruffy looking bag....with everything in it!
The morale of this story is, never NEVER put your valuables, (camera or otherwise) in a camera bag or an expensive-looking bag! The thieves had left my bag alone and I had the most expensive camera in the lot!
After that episode, I was too scared to travel with my Hasselblad anymore (with no insurance- too expensive!) , so upon a visit home, I left it there. Later sold it for more travel dineros.
My present camera (my trusty Nikon FM2-a totally manual 35 mm) is in a padded lunch bag.
To see more of my photos, please visit my Flickr stream. To buy a photo, please contact me.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

You goan a Jamaica?

Our host "Chest" and his friend "Froggy". 1993

As soon as our Jamaican friend in Ottawa found out we (Sara & I) wanted to go a Jamaica, he sent us to his village, Central Village, between Kingston and Spanish Town. (locals call it "Spain".)
As soon as we arrived at Kingston airport, we knew we were in for quite a "ride"!
Since our guest didn't know we were coming yet, he wasn't there to meet us. After many deliberations with local taxi drivers, we opted for the bus. As we were waiting, we thought : "We don't know exactly where we're going." , "We have to take 2 buses." We quickly changed our minds and reached for the taxi driver with the best deal.
The taxi spead along this beautiful coastal road. Ah, the sweet smell of a tropical island.

Passing many rough looking villages."Is this Central Village?" we asked worried. "No" was our answer. We were relieved each time....
Until we forked at a very similar rough village that turned out to be Central Village. Every one was looking at us passing by. We were very worried. We arrived and our host wasn't there. He arrived shortly. It turned out that he was talking to his cousin (our friend in Ottawa) and he told him that we were coming.
Throught out our 3 month stay, many people came to see the "whiteys", who knew their brethren back in Canada.

During our stay:
- we bleached (spend a night awake) at Reggae Sunsplash, the first year in Kingston, taking short naps on our "ragga bed" (cardboard).

- We went to a few dance "sessions" at the Spanish Town Prison Oval. It's not in the prison but on a field next to the prison. One could see the prisoners at their respective window.

- With Chest, we took a shared taxi (4 at the back and 3 at the front) to Ocho Rios, visiting the Green Grotto and, of course, the Dunn's River Falls.

- Visited Bob Marley's museum at Hope street, Kingston. Quite an esoteric experience. Of course, by then, I understood "patois" (the local lingo) quite well and amazed some rastas by understanding what they told me. Eh! Eh!

- We learned how to play dominos. According to Froggy, I ketch it fast mon!

- Went to a few sessions in Kingston clubs. Witnessed the debut of Ninja man. I remember our van being stopped fro a search by machined gun cops at 4 AM!
"4 O'Clock, road block..." like in the Bob Marley's song.

- Hitch-hiked to a Kingston beach a few times, where we were the only "whiteys" there, with food vendors (mainly jerk chicken or fish) and reggae music blaring everywhere.

- Rented a likkle car and together with Roy and Chest, we went to Clarendon, Montego Bay, Negril and Mandeville. We slept on Mo'Bay's beach to wake up to find Roy's shoes gone missing!

- Went to Sumfest in Mo'Bay.

I quickly learned that "soon come", means "See you later" and not coming back soon and that "Raggamuffin driving" is crazy driving.

Althought Central Village is a very rough and poor village, we never felt in danger and the people were very friendly. We had such fun and were very fortunate to experienced the "real" Jamaica.

Found on a BM's Museum wall:
"Time is not measured by the years that you live...But by the joy that you give."