Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tracy's guide to exploring london

London city exploring: Day one

I slept in until noon on day one and decided to explore the neighborhood of Ealing where I was residing. I seem to end up in odd places due to the fact that I usually stay with friends I have met while traveling in other parts of the world. I quite like this but like in Argentina where I wasn’t actually in Buenos Aires it was Luis Guillon, I was again in a suburb of a big city with the locals.

So I did what I do best; explore. There is this thing about me though, even though I have travelled far and wide, I have an absolute shit sense of direction. It never fails I will look at a map and think I have it figured out and I am supposed to go right but instead I should have gone left, every time I get it wrong it never fails. Even when I think, ok Tracy you think this is the right way which most likely it’s not because you are always wrong and I decided to go in the opposite direction then I still get it wrong.

Instead of exploring the shops and cafes on the Ealing high street that I remembered or barely remembered from the night before, I ended up in Acton also referred to as Crackton or Blackton. Although in my wandering I walked up to a sign that mapped out an estate in Acton, I was about to walk through it when I remembered Estates are not the same in Canada as they are in England. In Canada Estates are very posh neighborhoods with grand houses and long driveways. Estates in England are the exact opposite, there was a low income housing situation happening in there so I back away and returned to the high street where there was a market with Rasta guys selling clothes and patties. An adolescent walked in front of a van that prompted the driver to yell and curse at him and the kid did the same. I chuckled to myself watching the scene unfold in front of me. It was so very rough English. To an English person they wouldn’t enjoy watching the interactions of the rough, chavy, lower classes but all people in all cultures different from mine interest and amuse me. This area was slightly shady but it was cool, it was new and different and it was another side to London.

London Calling

The first time I travelled by myself and the second time I was ever on a plane I flew to the UK and then did a couch tour of Europe. One of those 18 - 35 year old party tours where you see 10 countries in 14 days. I was 19 and my parents didn't like the idea of me backpacking alone, they thought hostels were dirty crack houses, so I signed up for the tour. I visited relatives in Scotland first then took a bus from Glasgow to London and arrived to Victoria Station in the busy cosmopolitan city. I felt so out of place and timid. My Dad insisted I get a taxi even though the tube is quite manageable. I had to have a local help me hail the taxi as they whizzed past me, I wasn’t aggressive enough. The taxi driver rush about the city driving like crazy while talking on his mobile phone to someone he called kitten in a thick gay Londoner accent. The city was huge, busy, full of people and action which was a bit much for 19 year old me from a city in middle of nowhere country Canada.

Since then I have travelled all over the world and have been to London several more times. I became confident and assertive and was able to get to know and love this city, which still remains one of my favourite cities in the world.

The last time I was here was New Years 2005 and its seems my arrival then and my arrival this time aren't too different; from flight to pub.

In 2005 I came with two girlfriends, we had been up all night and were tired, hungry and jetlagged but when we arrived the restaurant in our hostel was closed but the bar was open and there was an iron man drinking contest going on. We gave up food for alcohol and joined in on the fun.

Fast forward to 2011 I arrive to Gatwick airport where my English friend was waiting for me. I was so excited to be in this country again and a little nervous for various reasons (one being I quite fancied this English boy) so I had a bit of garbage mouth and wouldn't shut up about nonsense. We arrived to his house in Ealing London where we decided to go out for lunch. We ended up at a pub called the Grove where we saw a friend of his on the patio. I thought it would be funny to walk up and pretend to know him and he actually went along with it afraid we had met but he forgot.

This friend of his has outsourced a lot of his work so he spends quite a bit of time in pubs drinking bottles of wine. I however found him quite entertaining with a plethora of crazy hilarious stories. So after my sparkling water finished I joined in and had a beer. One beer turned into many and many beers turned into tequila shots.

Tequila has a way of ruining the best laid plans. I had planned on playing it cool hanging out with English boy for the day then staying with my Hungarian friend until English boy and I went to Germany together. I was going to take things nice and slowly so we could get to know each other and see where things went.

That all seemed like a nice idea…


Monday, October 17, 2011

From Backpack to Suitcase

I had a huge moral dilemma on my hands. I was about to embark on a new adventure but I sold my backpack at a garage sale at the beginning of the summer. The waist strap wouldn’t hold together anymore and the zipper was broke in numerous places. It was hard for me to part with this bag as it has been to many countries with me. This blue traveling backpack started me on my journeys alone. I left the English boyfriend I had knowing I needed to be on my own. I returned to Canada where after a series of what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-here fits I found a job in Mexico. I was actually looking for a job on an African Safari because I had met a guy in Hereford England who had owned one in Zimbabwe but nothing came of that and through my internet searches for other Safaris I came across Hostel Pochon in Oaxaca, Mexico.

I bought the blue backpack and took off to a place I never heard of in Mexico. I spent a year in Mexico then six months traveling through Central America. I had my camera stolen twice and several small backpacks but the big blue one stayed. Mould grew on it when I lived on the island of Roatan off of Honduras. It was tossed around and thrown on many chicken buses and stayed with me for a month on Little Corn Island. I returned to Canada after reaching Panama City but for a brief period of time. Soon the backpack was filled again with my books, journals, clothes, sleeping bag, tarot cards and Frisbee to head to South America. Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and to Colombia it travelled with me. This time it was a part of the Gringa Trail, I finally decided to start a blog. I have had many crazy adventures since leaving for Mexico and my dream is to be a writer so I started to recount the random adventures of a single female traveler. Little did I know I doomed myself to that title and have been single this whole time but I am sidetracking.

I thought I was going to have a base and stay in Colombia forever but I trucked the ol’ blue backpack back to Canada to work on a boat. When my season on the boat finished I didn’t know what else to do but pick up the backpack and take off again. It was a bit of a hard go in the beginning. Big Blue was worn out, the waste strap did not hold together anymore. The zipper kept breaking and I was losing the zest for travel. What was I doing? Things started to look up once I arrived to Brazil, I met some amazing people and after seeing a French Canadian friend struggle with his suitcase across the sand on Moros De Sao Paulo I felt happy to still have my backpack no matter how many times the zipper broke.

I did have to say goodbye and get rid of it and I was happy doing so I knew I would get a new one soon enough. Maybe even a better quality durable one than the $80 Canadian tire special I had.

Now back to me embarking on my new adventure. I am off to England, Scotland and Germany to visit friends and family. I needed a new backpack so I priced them out and eventually found myself back at Canadian tire; I am still thrifty I can’t help it. The dilemma though is, as I picked up the new backpack it just didn’t look big enough to me. I just bought a whole bag of gifts to give to the friends I will be staying with and by the look of this backpack that is the only thing that will fit! I could just use a suitcase I thought but then push that thought out of my head.

I am a traveller!! I go on adventures! I carry a backpack! I am not a princess that brings a suitcase! Nonsense! So I picked up the backpack again and wondered where I would put the two boots, heels and hiking shoes.

What has happened to me? The mere thought of bringing a suitcase was horrifying and embarrassing. What would my traveler friends think when I show up with, with...with a suitcase?! The guy that I will be visiting will be so turned off. He will think I have turned into a complete girlie girl.

I do need warmer clothes though, I am not going south this time, and they take up a lot of room. I am also going to cities and going out with friends. It dawned on me...I’m not backpacking. This is a different trip.

Maybe I am moving on to a different phase in my life as a world traveller. Maybe with the single girl backpack gone it will erase that stigma from me as well. I will eventually go on another adventure and buy another backpack but not just yet. I am growing as a traveler and taking a suit case this time. Full of presents for friends I have met along the way and who knows what it will come back with.

Next up...

Through my travels in the past years I have collected many things. I have collected photos, charms for my grandma’s charm bracelet, hippy bracelets, memories and my most cherished collection of all; Friends. I have met the most amazing people on my travels. I have met true friends and deep and meaningful relationships. Don’t get me wrong I have also met wankers dickheads and bitches.

The friends I have made while traveling have stayed with me with each step I took and each border crossing I made. They were parts to a story; they gave me advice, friendship and comfort. They were my family on the road. I have randomly met up with a few after meeting in a far off land, including Tracy my soul sister, who I wouldn’t know what I would do if I didn’t have her at the other end of this internet connection. I also saw Cameron and Paul again whom I met in Nicaragua when I had no money and didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going (do I ever?). We all ended up in Canada near Toronto at the same time. I got to see David and Andrea in Honduras who I met in Egypt. They were able to see the single strong and independent me. Also from the same Egypt trip was Max, crazy Argentinean Max who was the most kind, caring and amazing host in Buenos Aires. I will always think of him as my Javier Bardem. There was the Canadian couple who picked me up on my way to a coffee finca in Salento Colombia, we met up again in my home town for Mexican and I was amazed and excited to hear of their motor bike trip to Mexico, Jacque’s trip to Bolivia and their plans for China.

It seems as though with these friends, these fellow travelers and vagabonds we can just pick up where we left off. We swap travel stories, catch up on life and share dreams of future travels. Years can go by and arms and hearts are always open. I have collected a lot of great friends along the way but most of the time I do not see them again as I am always off to a new adventure in a warm land. Well this year I am doing something different, this year I am not heading south. What?! Shocking I know!!

People collect many things some collect country flags on their backpacks, eventually the pack gets full and there are so many that you can’t really remember what makes each important and dear to you. Maybe it’s best to go back and revisit some and build on them. I will build on the friendships I have made and see people in their homeland because it was them that made my travels special. If it wasn’t for them there wouldn’t have been laughter, sadness, pure enjoyment, adventure and risk. There would have just been a site, a place, a building and a landscape.

So where am I off to after all this rambling...The United Kingdom!! (With a side trip to Germany)


I met you in Mexico X 3

I met you in Colombia X 5

I met you in Peru X 3

I met you in Greece X 2

I met you in Argentina X 2

I met you in Nicaragua X 2

I met you in Brazil

In Honour of an Amazing Woman; My Grandmother Barbara Renwick

The story of my Grandmother Barbara Caird Renwick

April 03, 1920 – September 11, 2011

My Grandmother Barbara Caird Renwick was an incredible woman whom I admire. She always thought I was crazy traveling all over the world but she lived through the war, married a Canadian soldier and left everyone she knew for a world so foreign and unknown. This was a time when there was no internet, no phones and plane travel was rare. She sailed with her son Bill on the Queen Mary from Southampton, England. She left the bustling cities of Great Britain and a house with two washrooms for the Renwick farm in Keene, Ontario with no indoor plumbing. Today there isn’t much in Keene so I couldn’t imagine what was there in 1946. All this and I am the crazy one?

Barbara Renwick was one of eleven children. She grew up on 78 Leven Road in Kennoway, Fife, Scotland. Her father died when she was young and her mother remarried. They had two sections of terraced houses with two bathrooms to fit all the children.

Barbara often took care of the younger kids and she was a favourite amongst her brothers. She left home quite young to work. One of her jobs was working in a Whiskey factory. When the war broke out she followed her brothers and joined the forces. She signed up with the Women’s Auxiliary Air force and was based out of England. She met my Grandfather while they were both on leave. She was scrubbing the floors of the house when the Canadian soldiers came in. She hated Canadians and she didn’t quite like him at first. She spoke her mind quite a bit and even let the lazy loud American Soldiers have it on the streets of London. She told them off and told them where to go. She loved to go to the dances during the war and she loved Vera Lynn. She however eventually started to date my Grandfather and they got married in a Manse. Her sister Chris was the maid of Honour and her brother Ron was the best man. Billy Smart was the minister. There was no honey moon, they both returned to the war.

She came over to Canada leaving from Southampton on the Queen Mary arriving in Halifax with a band playing greeting the war brides. My Grandfather picked her up in Belleville.

She lived in Keene Ontario and had four children William, Lorna, Ron and Marion. She has ten Grandchildren, nine Great Grandchildren and two Great great grandchildren. (My mother got the numbers wrong by accident)

As kids my brother and I called her Sassy, that was Pierre and I don’t know why. Eventually we realized that was a bit strange and she was just Grandma. She gave the best hugs and always had treats for us. Yet I feared getting in trouble from her because she would tell me she was going to give me a licking, and I thought that meant she was going to lick me.

I always thought I got my feistiness from the Gaudreau side (if you know the Gaudreaus you will know what I am talking about) but perhaps I got some of that from her as well. I know that is where I got my frugality from. I swear her hang bag must have been lined because she always snuck leftovers from restaurants in it. Her freezer would be full of boxes of chocolates that she was saving if my Grandfather hadn’t gotten to them.

Her favourite colour was green, she was Scotch through and through, and she always loved her country and wore her kilt with pride. She loved Pipers and she would have loved a Bag Piper here today. Her favourite trip she went on was to Hawaii. She loved plain vanilla ice cream and fish and chips especially if they were made like in the old country. She loved the littlest Hobo, watching hockey, baseball and curling. She had the best hearing out of anyone I know and used that to aide her nosey nature.

As I grew older she became not just my grandmother but my friend. I loved hearing her stories from when she was young in Scotland and from the farm. I loved the way she would laugh until tears would come out when something was funny and it didn’t take much. She had a great sense of humour, one she shared with her closet sister Ethel. When they got talking her accent was thicker and all they did was laugh.

She loved my grandfather very much and till the very end she made sure he had a dessert to eat everyday for dinner.

Secretly she made fun of him for walking so slow and was certain she could run circles around him even just a few months ago.

I told her I was going to Scotland in October and she kept on saying I was going to the Bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. I didn’t know what she meant at the time but I have figured it out in the words of this song. Both my mother and I remember her singing this song.

“Oh! ye'll take the high road and
I'll take the low road,
And I'll be in Scotland afore ye;
But me and my true love
Will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”

She also loved the song “The Flower of Scotland.” And she will always be our flower of Scotland.

The World Is Not Enough

Sometimes I feel like getting on a plane again and taking off because for me it’s so much easier to be a stranger in a strange land than just somebody at home. I am back in my parent’s basement, looking for jobs, cleaning houses for my cousin to make some extra cash and biding time. I am back where I was two years ago. What am I doing here is a constant question that is ringing in my head. Why am I back here?

I asked my tarot deck what was going to happen, it told me I was bored but there are opportunities being handed to me that I am ignoring. It also said that everything will be ok I will leave the troubled waters and I will have public acclaim. I asked it point blank about him and it gave me the hermit card. The Hermit is a card of introspection, analysis and, well, virginity. Thank you! Just what I needed!

I realized then the guy I am completely crazy about is me two years ago but I’m not. I am different I have grown and I am not going to make the same decisions again. It’s so not me to chase after a guy anyway. They are the hunter and gatherers, hunt and gather me. Maybe I will see him again in some other time or place.

In the end things really are going to be OK

I have a job in my hometown in Canada with a radio station. I bought a one year gym membership, a cell phone and my parents are letting me have my old car back. I am also on the lookout for an apartment. Am I settling down and becoming like the rest of the world? Am I going to deal with the monotony of everyday life and live pay cheque to pay cheque waiting for the weekend and waiting for my two weeks’ vacation? Am I going to give up my gypsy ways? I think not.

I may be here for a while but I am moving forward not back and not in loops. I won’t settle for an average life. I want adventure and I want the world but a good friend once told me,” the world is not enough,” certainly not for this Gringa.

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