Monday, August 15, 2011

Oh yeah, that blog...

Okay, so it turns out that I'm really pretty shit at blogging!

Current location - La Estancia hostel in San Salvador, El Salvador. San Salvador's the first capital city I've been stayed in since Mexico so I was quite excited about checking out some big city lights, some culture and the nightlife (apparently, San Salvador has the best nightlife in Central America).  Just a bloody shame the only day I'm here is a Sunday and most things are shut! Well the museum (if you get the chance, check it out - it looks cool: Museo de Arte Popular) I wanted to go to was shut and so are the two bars I thought I'd check out. I'm on my own again so figured it best not to venture too far away... The hostel is in Boulevard de los Heroes which is a pretty chilled out (muy tranquil) neighbourhood with some good restaurants and bars nearby (just not on Sunday) and I could probably find some excitement in the town centre or Zona Rosa but San Salvador is also one of the most dangerous cities in Central America (erm... like every other major city in Central America. Actually, surprisingly, Mexico City is probably on the safer side of the spectrum!) plus I couldn't be asked to work out how to navigate around an unfamiliar city using the buses. I nearly went to the cinema to see a dubbed Harry Potter but decided to use the night in to upload photos and hell, now I'm writing a blog post so hurrah!

I did make it out for a wander earlier in the day to find the closed museum and closed pupuseria recommended in the guidebook. The streets were pretty quiet - but also just pretty. Lots of flowers and the couple of people I asked for help with directions were super helpful (so far, we week into El Salvador and I can happily say that El Salvadorians have been some of the smiliest and friendliest people I've met - they also just seem really pleased you're here!). I did end up finding an open pupuseria and managed to stuff myself with 3 pupusas - queso and jalapeno, queso and zapote, queso, chicharonnes & something else I can't remember (can you tell I love queso?). I think two is the optimum number of pupusas you should eat... especially if you're having a licuado con fresa y leche to wash them down. I'm still full! Aside from the food, the lady serving me was really lovely and gave me the card to the restaurant so I'd remember where it was.

San Salvador
Flower spotting whilst wandering around Boulevard de los Heroes

El Salvador has been a really pleasant surprise - I initially thought I might skip it altogether and now here I am a week into it and having been to Santa Ana, Juayua, El Tunco already.

Tomorrow, I'll be leaving early to make my way to Perquin...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Remembering Bruno

Bruno died today. He lost his battle with cancer but I'm pretty sure he gave it hell and fought hard right up until he decided he'd had enough and was off. I'm sorry to have been so far away and not to have seen him for such a long time. Or even to have seen him give the staff at the hospital a hard time for not letting him smoke. Don't get me wrong. Bruno was a grumpy old git - actually, he would always sign off as The Old Git... but there was always a crafty smile behind it. I loved that smile.  There was and is no-one quite like him. I'm glad I knew him and I'm glad he was my friend.

A big fan of a good knees up - cheers, you Old Git! 

You had to bugger off before I could see you again but I am holding to your words (I always loved your words!):

Please do me a favour, if worse come the worse you and your friends have a good party on my behalf no tears no sadness.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Blogging... like actually blogging

I am currently being hosted by the fabulous Zina on a small beautiful island called Isla Mujeres in Mexico.  A blogger herself, she's given me some advice on improving my blogging - like, you know, regularly posting something even if it's a line or 2.  As I have a fair bit to still catch up on in terms of blogging about places I've already been to (last blog puts me in Detroit - that was actually 2 months ago...oops), posts will (hopefully) start featuring ramblings on current travels. Woohoo!

So.... here goes!

aggghhh, getting ready to leave Isla Mujeres where I've been spoilt rotten for the last 5 days with Zina and move on to Belize. As exciting as seeing new places is, this is also mixed with a touch of anxiety about that new place as well as quite a bit more sadness about leaving the place I'm in... It's the traveller's life!

On another note, I think I've actually made a decision about which language school to go to in Guatemala (you'll note, however, that even when I make a decision there is still a touch of unsuredness - is that even a word?!)

Detroit - so much more than an abandoned city

And the best way to see it all... couchsurf it!  Who better to help Detroit surprise and inspire you than the people who didn't abandon ship.  Or, like my hosts - Gary and Cathy - decided to make it their home all the way from LA.

When I told people I wanted to see Detroit, the main reaction I got was ‘why?!’. It certainly had a reputation and it wasn’t good. To most, and hell, maybe it is – Detroit is the poster child for recession. People left it and there remains less than half the population of its heyday. I'd heard enough about Detroit to be aware of the negativity that surrounded it - the crime, the abandoned and neglected buildings (and people!)... the nothing-ness. And well, that's all true but it's not the whole truth.  I'm not entirely sure why I was so drawn to it, I just was. But the Detroit I'd heard about wasn't what I wanted to see. I wanted to see the life that was still in it - and thriving.

Gary and Cathy were the perfect hosts to help me do that. Artists and passionate about their environment, they knew just about everyone in the arts scene in the city. They took me to a local art opening  and local art closing, to the Detroit Institute of Arts (which is an incredible and first class museum) to hear some music in the Rivera murals room before slipping in to see Le Quattre Volte (a quiet, unexpected, quite beautiful film with the funniest scene with a dog and some goats). I even got to help Gary out with his current project - a camera obscura film on the abandoned train station - Brother, Can You Spare a Station (see youtube vid below). By help, I mean I spent a sunny afternoon making sure his car didn't get stolen, chatting to other tourists (the majority of tourists who come to Detroit are photographers hoping to capture the beauty of the many abandoned buildings around - and I guess they must also be intrigued by the city like me) as well as a lovely conversation with one local on his bike who talked positively of Detroit's comeback and his plan to give people bike tours of the city. We also managed to bump into another of my hosts' artist friends - and one me and fellow couchsurfer, Gail, were particularly excited about as we had been admiring the beer bottle cap bathroom he had built in their home and was designed with the help of Cathy (Cathy's work around their house was also very impressive - sculptures made with colourful telephone wires, wool and pieces of driftwood, branches and all sorts of big seeds - I think they're not actually seeds but I forget the name of them...).  I also got to visit the community garden that Cathy works on - as well as do a bit of pheasant spotting.  After people left and buildings crumbled, there now is lots of space for new things to grow - perfect for a community garden :o)

Exhibition opening at Alley Culture - my favourite piece was from Bridget Knoche who did a series of drawings of a dog in slightly different positions. I got to talk to her too which was cool! It reminded me of an article I read about how Mark Rothko used to leave the room that he was paining in so that he could sneak up on the piece he was working on - and see if from a different perspective. I think it was her first exhibition to she was pretty excited about it all and fun to talk to. It was also just fun walking around the corner and finding this place as it really is local!
Detroit - Alley Culture

Music in the Rivera murals room at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA)
 DIA - Rivera & Music (6)

Closing of 'Turn' at the Edwin Gallery - I can't remember the name of the artist sadly but the installation and the way the exhibition closed was so bloody cool! The installation was made up of lots and lots of rubbery strips hanging from the ceiling to the floor. You could walk around it feeling your way through, stretching the strips as you did so. For the closing, some musicians and dancers improvised on a piece which basically stretched some of the strips to their limits. The audience got to have a go afterwards too! Loved it.
Closing of 'Turn' at the Edwin Gallery

Making art and movie magic at the Imagination Station

  Detroit - Imagination Station
Detroit - Imagination Station (2)  Detroit - Imagination Station (18)

Looking through the pin hole of Gary's massive Camera Obscura
Detroit's abandoned station (8)

The abandoned train station
Detroit's abandoned station (2)  Detroit's abandoned station (5)
Somebody had planted a line of tulips in the green space outside the station leading up to it... so cool - just gutted not to be sticking around to see them bloom!

Gary's film - Brother, can you spare a station

You can see more of Gary's work on his youtube page.

I was also very fortunate to meet Gail (see her blog here), fellow couchsurfer at Gary and Cathy's and amazing storyteller, photographer and general wonder woman - and she's from the Philippines too!  We spent a very sunshiney Saturday soaking up the positive vibes at the Eastern Market (every Sat, folks from the 'burbs roll on in so the place looks packed). We ate ribs, listened to people sing, did some fruit and veg shopping (as well as looked for something for a vegan dinner party Gary and Cathy were taking us to later) and I learnt to do the Cupid Shuffle. I love markets and the Eastern Market on a Saturday is one not to miss.

Detroit - Eastern Market (5)

Yep, he's doing Prince
Detroit - Eastern Market (3)  
Some folks do the Cupid Shuffle
Detroit - Eastern Market (13)

Serious about Ribs
Detroit - Eastern Market (10)

Hells yeah!
Detroit - Eastern Market (11)

The Heidelberg Project
In the afternoon, we met up with Sherlock the Shoe Doctor who she'd met the previous day. Together and armed with our cameras, Gail gave us tips and we captured the Heidelberg Project - a piece (well, it covers two blocks in East Detroit) of street art like no other! Started off by Tyree Guyton 25 years ago, it's an evolving work that is continued by other residents (as well as him). It's their comment piece on the world around them using everyday and discarded objects. See their website to learn more - it's too fabulous to ignore!


Gail and Dr Sherlock
Gail's photography class 

Heidelberg Project - Green House (2)  Heidelberg Project - On the box (3)

Heidelberg Project - Toys (12)  Heidelberg Project - On trees (4)

Heidelberg Project (52)  Heidelberg Project - Healthcare (2)

Heidelberg Project (77)  Heidelberg Project - Ode to the Hummer (4)

Heidelberg Project - Toys (2)  Heidelberg Project - Cars (6)

Heidelberg Project - Back that ass up  Heidelberg Project (121)

Adding a Coney and some colour to your diet
I'd got a rideshare to Detroit with another Detroiter (tho' now living in Chicago but hoping to move back), Andy, who'd tipped me off about trying a Coney (it was a Detroit thing to do!) - a chili dog covered with mustard and onions - so I was excited when me, Gail and Sherlock ended up there. We were only going to have a coffee but how could we resist. It's certainly something to try and tasty too... can't say I'd put it on my 'food to die for' list if I had one though!  The vegan party we went to later ended up being an Easter bonanza where everything (aside from our offerings!) was dyed in a garish (Easter) colour. Once you got over the colour, the food was pretty tasty. I also got to try deviled eggs for the first time which was cool!

Detroit Coney  Easter food

Seeing Family and Diego Rivera's Detroit
Being in Michigan also meant I got to see some family there (my second-cousin, Mayette, her two daughters and brother and sister in law and their son). It was especially nice as it was the first time I got to meet her daughters who I guess would be my third cousins...(?)  Having family spread far and wide, it's always great to be able to see them when you just happen to be in town!  We went to the DIA and I got to ogle Diego Rivera's work again and then we stuffed our faces at a great Mexican place... so much good food :o)

DIA - Rivera & Music (8)  DIA - Rivera & Music (2)

A City to Yourself by Nicole MacDonald
My last night in Detroit, I watched a short film with Gary and Cathy on Detroit. If you're interested in Detroit, then I absolutely recommend hunting this film down and seeing it. It does an amazing job of showing you just how much more than an abandoned city Detroit is and can be. It's also like a beautiful poem - anyway, here's a trailer...

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Chicago - a music and architecture fest in America's second city

ahhh, Chicago - it's a city I've wanted to see for a while and so glad I did :o)  Getting off the train and walking into Union station, I knew I was in a big city and I loved it already. I think it's about getting lost in that big mass of people, feeling completely anonymous with a whole world to discover. 

I arrived to see Chicago in light rain and heavy fog - which is really quite a sight when you see all these huge towers disappear into the sky (sadly, no pictures of that particular scene I'm afraid so you'll just have to trust me). I met my host, Sherry, at her work place and we made our way to her home in Andersonville nattering away on the bus. She meets lots of her couchsurfers at her workplace which amused me because the door people there (and where she lives) must wonder what the hell she does always meeting different people heavily laden with a backpack or suitcase. I guess couchsurfers who host a lot might end up with curious neighbours too!  And Sherry really is the hostess with the most-ess - and this despite not having done much surfing herself.  She'd already done her homework on what was going on in the city and had plans for a food trucks opening and/or comedy at a nearby club. We nearly made it too... but after getting thoroughly drenched just walking to the station in the crazy rain storm that was going on, we decided that being dry and drinking a bottle of vino tinto, whilst watching a movie (Black Swan - I'm giving it a thumbs up!) would do just nicely.  We did actually manage to make it out on my second night - to the Underground Wonder Bar to catch a few live bands.  First, a bluesy outfit led by France Jean-Baptiste who has one hell of a voice and then Taggart Transcontinental who had everybody on their feet dancing with their funky, hip-hop style - and with such a positive vibe, you didn't want to leave the dancefloor.  We also got to meet Lonie, the bar's owner who was just super cool. I want to be her when I grow up!  

I made a last minute decision to stay an extra night and was very fortunate (with the help of Sherry) to find another host (as she was heading out of the city) in Mox. As Mox was from the Philippines too, he treated us to some filipino take out food - ahhh, it really was like a taste from the homeland :o)  After that and some more vino tinto, we headed out to check out the legendary Green Mill. It was truly like stepping back in time to the 50s with a big band playing jazz, people dancing and drinking old school cocktails. I loved it!  Also, as Mox had never tried Pimms before (and I spotted a bottle in the bar), we had a Pimms cocktail. Yum.

I spent the days wondering the streets, admiring the buildings, checking out a wee photography gallery, walking around the lake, going for a ride on the El, trying out the deep-dish pizza Chicago's famous for. I also got to try an architectural tour by boat - which came highly recommended (and I agree). From big shiny buildings, classic and intricate architecture to spotting trains weave through the city up in the air, it really is the best way to see Chicago in all its glory. Just a damn shame I was deceived by the sunshiney day and spent the last bit of the trip absolutely freezing because I felt like dressing spring-like in the 'windy' city in April.  Still, I had a blast :o)

Chicago from the streets
Chicago (12)

Chicago (22)  Chicago (25) 

Chicago's lakeside
Chicago (13)

Millenium Park
Chicago - Millenium Park (7)

Chicago - Millenium Park (15)

Chicago - Millenium Park (26)

France Jean-Baptiste and the Sexy Menz
Chicago - Underground Wonder Bar (2)

Taggart Transcontinental
Chicago - Underground Wonder Bar (7)

Lonie (owner of the Wonder Bar), me and Sherry, my first host

Catching some old school jazz at the Green Mill
Chicago - Green Mill (3)

Chicago by boat
Chicago (56)   Chicago (62)

Chicago (34)

Chicago (63)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

7 States in 3 Days on the California Zephyr

I made the most of my railpass and made the trip from West to the Mid-West (which really should be Mid-East...), Chicago to be more precise.  If you've seen the post from my train ride from Toronto to Vancouver, you'll already know how much I like taking pictures from my seat.  The ride was 3 days, 2 nights and we crossed 7 states, admired spectacular mountain ranges, canyons, rivers and plains.  Out of all the train rides I could do, I wanted to do the California Zephyr the most.  I wish I'd had the guts to ask the people I met and talked with on the train if I could take a photo... they were just as interesting as the scenery. I talked travel and politics with Mac from San Francisco who was heading all the way to Siberia by train (aside from the flight from New York to Copenhagen), had dinner in the dining car with John and Sharon who were farmers in Ohio, Pat, an 85 year old woman, who showed me how to use her nook and countless others.  I learnt a bit about the Pioneers who were some of the first people to make the trip West (other than the natives of course!) and shared my fellow passengers awe of their feat.  The land is truly amazing - I enjoyed the ride but I SO wanted to jump off the train and explore (again and again and again!).

Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (2)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (4)

  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (33)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (53)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (65)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (71)

Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (82)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (74)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (79)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (80)    Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (88)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (91)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (98)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (106)

Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (121)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (123)

Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (124)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (134)

  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (138)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (143)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (148)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (152)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (154)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (156)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (163)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (177)  

Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (187)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (20)

PS. For my friends who thought I was crazy to consider going to Nebraska (erm because it didn't hold that much appeal - well at least not compared to other states), I did make it through there... tho' sadly, I slept through it (not on purpose - Nebraska was during the night bit of the train trip - honest!).   Any Nebraskans out there, I don't mean to do your state a disservice - I'm still intrigued by all the places that are less obvious destinations for tourists.  Anyway, feel free to post your travel tips in case I ever make it there!