I'm a New Yorker. I find taxis to be off-putting. I don't know if it's the pine odor mixed with the smell of ripe pits, or the constant nauseating jostling, but I'm just not a fan of taxis.
In Tokyo, I am a different person. Completely helpless when it comes to navigating their complex subway system on my own, I am not only dependent here on taxis, but I have come to enjoy them.
Why I'm loving the taxis in Tokyo:
Taxis glide over the smooth streets with expert precision. No potholes or craters blemish the smooth facade of Tokyo's streets making for a sleek and comfortable ride.
Taxis are everywhere and easy to catch. Outside of every subway stop for the most part, you will find a que of taxis. If you're not near a subway stop, you can hail a cab the good ole' fashioned way. If a taxi is on the street and empty, it is available.
Taxi doors open and close automatically. This catches me by surprise every time. The taxi pulls up and before you know it the doors are open, ready to receive you. * Note to the wise, make sure you put your legs and arms in before those doors close ;)
The aesthetic appeal is just plain quirky. Taxis are multi-colored and instead of having side mirrors by the windows, two large circular mirrors rest on the hood of the car, giving the appearance of the car wearing spectacles.
All taxis are GPS capable. You will not have to worry about the cab driver telling you "Sorry, I don't know where that is, unless you can give me directions you will have to get out!"
You will not have to gag on that conspicuous pine scented car freshener odor. Taxis are clean and odor free.
* Note: Most taxis have a starting rate of 710 Yen. Which depending on your destination does not make for a cheap ride.
Oh those whispy clouds of pink and red, delicately adorning slender branches. Cherry Blossoms are the national flower of Japan. While on a tour of the gardens at the Imperial Palace, I was surprised to find Cherry Blossoms in full bloom in December.
Known as The City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia is a world-class city worth visiting. Home of the first American flag, stomping grounds of greats such as Benjamin Franklin, Louisa May Alcott, Solomon Guggenheim, and Mr. Footloose himself, Kevin Bacon, and the distinguished first capital of the United States (1790-1800), Philadelphia is a city deeply seeped in history and tradition. So, how do you squeeze all of that into a day? You can’t. However, if you find yourself in Philly for the weekend, or are stopping by on your way to another North Eastern great, the below itinerary will scratch the surface without denting your wallet.
10:00 am – Brunch at Carman’s Country Kitchen
Imagine walking into a random restaurant in a foreign city. The moment you walk through the doors, the waiter, swoops towards you, welcomes you warmly, asks for your name, introduces you to the other waiters, and then takes you to your seat. For the next hour, you are having a great conversation with the staff, and the matron/chef/owner herself Carman.
Carman’s is a one of a kind experience. The tiny restaurant has three, yes three tables and one bar, giving the feeling that you are sitting in the kitchen with family. The interior is as kitschy and eccentric as the aprons worn by the wait staff.
Carman’s is the creation of Carman Luntzel, chef and owner. There are only ever four items on the menu that rotates seasonally and weekly.
I enjoyed an omelet with roasted turkey, chopped chicken liver, sweet onions, smoked gouda and apple wood smoked bacon.
Despite my tasty meal, my greatest takeaway, was the wonderful atmosphere and warmth of the staff. At Carman’s, they do customer service very well.
(Carman’s Country Kitchen . 1301 S. 11th Street)
11:30 am – Stroll through the Italian Market
Right around the corner from Carman’s is a series of outdoor markets and vendors known as the Italian Market.
The market takes up a few blocks down 9th street and a stroll through the market is a great way to get a sense of the neighborhood and mingle with the locals.
An assortment of goods from fresh produce, fish, meats and handmade pine Christmas decorations and trimmings are available.
(The Italian Market . 9th street)
12:30 pm – Tour of the Old City Hall
Philadelphia is home to the first City Hall in America.
This impressive building was once Philadelphia’s city hub and was the original home of the Supreme Court (1791-1800).
The building and its rooms, which are perfectly preserved and marked, are free and open to the public.
(Old City Hall . Chestnut St and South 5th Street)
1:00 pm – Liberty Bell
“Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof” – reads the inscription on the Liberty Bell as taken from Leviticus XXV.
The line to get into the Liberty Bell visitor center is long. If you are visiting in the winter, bring your mittens. All visitors are subject to an airport-like security screening, which is truly annoying, but a sign of the times that we must learn to endure. Luckily, after the hoops that you must jump through to get inside, the center, which is free of charge, is truly inspiring.
The center is laid out like a mini-museum, where you can learn about the history of the bell through pictures, artifacts and films.
Before you exit, you get to meet the bell up close and personally. It was a lot smaller than I had imagined, but that didn’t stop me from wiggling my way to the front for a photo with the most famous lady in town.
(Liberty Bell . 600 Chestnut Street . Philadelphia – Old City Neighborhood)
2:15 pm – Philadelphia Museum of Art
Constructed in 1919, this impressive building hosts one of the largest museum collections in the United States.
The building itself is truly an architectural wonder with its columns and detailing.
Within the Philadelphia Museum reside more than 225,000 objects, which are broken down into about 200 galleries.
Among these pieces, you will find famous works such as Van Gogh’s Vase With Twelve Sunflowers and Monet’s Japanese Bridge and Water Lilies.
(Philadelphia Museum of Art . 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy)
3:30 pm – Visit with Rocky
On my way out of the museum, after running down the stairs like a champion ( there was no way I was going to attempt the ascent), I paid homage to the famous Rocky Balboa statue.
The line was long. In the end, I didn’t have the patience to take a photo myself. I did however catch this guy’s moment.
(Rocky Statue . Base of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art)
4:00 pm – City Hall
The current City Hall building is an architectural beauty. Resplendent in white, silver and blue and adorned with gargoyles and statues, the building is the largest and most elaborate city hall in the country.
Just outside the city hall during the holiday season, you will find a Christmas market, with vendors and crafts. The city hall boasts an old fashioned carousel for the kids and sits adjacent to the famous LOVE statue, reminding us that Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love.
Make sure you have your camera for this one.
(City Hall . Market Street and South Broad Street)
6:30 pm – Dinner and a show at Relish
Relish grabbed my attention, the moment I walked in, with its earth tones and beautiful sepia portraits of jazz greats.
There are two dining areas and a bar. The first dining room is a more formal room that plays host to concerts (Relish boasts live music Wednesday through Sunday). The second dining area is less formal and very quiet.
The servers are friendly and the service is quick. The dinner here, your typical soul food fare with a modern edgy flare, was excellent.
The night I was there, I got to see Kathy Sledge (of Sister Sledge) perform The Brighter Side of Day, an uplifting tribute concert in honor of the late great Billie Holiday.
After rounds of drinks at Relish, I was in the mood for something to munch on. It seemed like the perfect time to sample my first cheesesteak. I had to work for this one. Despite the time, there was a line.
Pat’s King of Steaks is credited as being the home of the Philadelphia Cheesesteak, which if you ask any local, is nothing to take lightly.
Invented at Pats in the 1930’s, a classic cheesesteak consists of thinly sliced steak seasoned with onions and provolone cheese on a hoagie roll. There are about as many varieties of the cheesesteak as there are opinions about who makes the best one. I decided to stick with the original steak at its home of origin.
My sandwich was delicious. The meat was well seasoned and piping hot. It was however very greasy and way too big for me to finish. A complete meal (not a snack), I returned to my hotel in a food coma. Perhaps the best way to end your stay in Philly, after sampling all of the local food, is with a run up the steps of the museum of art after all.
Dreaming of a feature in National Geographic, or a coveted job with a leading travel guide? Work your way to top by submitting to the following publications. If you are fledgling travel writer and are looking for a home for your best pieces, here are ten publications that you should consider.
1. TravMonkey is an online forum for world travelers. The articles on this site feature top ten lists and tips to make your next adventure one to remember. The site is designed for travelers who want to be in the know. Send queries to Editor Paul Dow at editor@TravMonkey.com and check out the website at www.travmonkey.com. Approx $20 per article.
2. Pilot Guides Online publishes travel narratives pertaining to a specific activity or region. The site is inspiring and provides readers with a personal story to go along with a specific country, town, or landmark. The Pilot Guides Online site belongs to the same company that publishes the paperback travel guides as well as the television show Globe Trekker. To submit, send your article (300-600 words), complete with pictures to email@example.com. Enter “travel story” in the subject field. You can check out the website at www.pilotguides.com (click community). There is no payment.
3. AFAR Magazine publishes articles relating to culture, eco-travel and off the beaten path travel itineraries. The publication is new and targets travelers who prefer to travel off of the main roads for the purpose of experiencing another culture as opposed to those interested in resort stays. There are several departments to submit articles to. It is best to read the magazine and get a sense of each section. The editors accept queries only and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The website can be found at www.afar.com. Payment is arranged when the query is accepted.
4. Earthwalkers Magazine is a youthful, hip magazine with the aim of getting people out into the world to travel. Articles cover food, tips and advice and festivals. To write for the magazine you must become a member. Once you join the community, you have the option of requesting the writing assignment mailing list to be sent to you. Assignments are paid. Articles on average are direct and to the point, under 700 words. Take a look at the website www.earthwalkersmag.com. You can expect to make between $10-$150 per article.
5. Transitions Abroad is a magazine that focuses on cultural exchange through working and volunteering abroad and language study. Articles are designed for people in the process of transitioning to life abroad. The editors are in search of inspiring, detailed and practical information. Submissions can be emailed to email@example.com and you can look at the site at www.transitionsabroad.com. Payment ranges from $50-$150.
6. In The Know Traveler is an online site dedicated to cultural exchange. The editors are interested in travel photography, pieces relating to international music and unique adventures. A story can be sent to the editor Devin Gelaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org and should be between 450 and 600 words. The pay is ten dollars a story. See www.intheknowtraveler.com for details. Approx. $10 for a story and $3 for a blogpost.
7. Verge Magazine is an online publication dedicated to promoting information about international volunteerism and work/study travel. Contact email@example.com to submit a query if you have an article idea. The site can be found at www.vergemagazine.com. Payment negotiated after query.
8. Go Nomad is a site packed with information to help travelers plan for trips. Articles focus on topics such as creative lodging and restaurant picks by region, to tour information and itinerary planning. The articles are narratives and destination pieces and range from 800-2,000 words. Query the editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can review the site at www.gonomad.com. The running rate for features is $25.
9. Get Lost is an Australian magazine that highlights extraordinary travel destinations. The magazine seeks to inspire and present obscure locations and viable travel options. Luke Wright is the editor and Kelley Irving is the assistant editor. Write to email@example.com and include a brief biography, a brief outline of you proposed article, a sample paragraph, and photography samples. You can look at the site at www.getlostmag.com. Payment negotiated after query.
10. Perceptive Traveler is a well established travel site in search of excellent writing. In order to be considered for publication, you have to have a published article already elsewhere. Query the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org and look at the site at www.perceptivetravel.com. Approx. $100 per story.
I awoke to the sound of torrential rain beating against our tin roof. It’s a sound I don’t hear in Brooklyn, one that put me at ease. It doesn’t matter that I’m on vacation, or that we had planned to explore the highly recommended beaches on the West coast. It was time to slow down.
Imagine being carried down into the heart of the earth. You are surrounded by humid darkness. A darkness so encompassing, you are lulled into a deep calm. In the distance, you hear the steady rush of a waterfall. This sound reverberates around you, and you are overwhelmed by a sense of peace. Harrison's Cave in the St. Thomas province in Barbados is a magical place where stalagmites and stalactites break open to reveal a naturally occurring gallery of beauty.
I almost didn’t make it to Harrison’s Cave. It was not on my list of things to do. My boyfriend suggested the trek but I was hesitant. My love of nature typically applies only to things green or watery. Having never actually been to a cave, it didn’t sound particularly appealing . The word cave conjured images of a dark underground mass of dirty, slippery rocks. I would have been content to spend the day on the beach, but unable to ignore his enthusiasm, I went with the plan, fighting off images of bats diving into my hair and of rats attacking my flip-flopped feet (for surely all caves were inhabited by evil rats and bats).
Pulling up in our taxi, we were met by tropical gardens and from our vantage point on the top of a hill, a breathtaking view of the ocean. It was not what I had expected. Harrison’s Cave is unique because it exists beneath a tropical forest canopy. It was like entering a small rain forest. In seconds, my camera was out and I began snapping pictures of butterflies, lizards, and and snails. I wasn’t lucky enough to find a Green Monkey but according to the conservationist on site, they were everywhere.
Once we paid for our tour ($30 USD), we were invited to explore a nature trail as we waited for our tour number to be called. The wait was pretty long. The tours are arranged in groups of sixteen. Each tour is about an hour long and on a busy day, you are in for a bit of a wait. Luckily, there is plenty to explore.
Nature trails were abundant. Guides were available to talk about the local habitat, medicinal plants used by locals and to assist you on your search to spot one of the mysterious Green Monkeys. There were also several shops with goods ranging from local artwork and pottery to Cadbury ice cream pops.
When our number was called, we were brought into a planetarium-like amphitheatre where we watched a short video on the history of the caves. After our video, we were loaded into an electric tram and were driven through the winding splendor that is Harrison’s Cave. There were two points of disembarkation, but for the most part, we were asked to remain seated with our hands inside the vehicle. As we rode, the guide talked to us about calcium deposits and limestone, pointed out stalagmites and stalactites and stopped in front of various waterfalls and formations expertly backlit, glimpses into another world.
There were no bats, no rats; instead I found peace and an appreciation for nature’s artistic edge.
An hour later, we found ourselves at the base of an open canopy forest trail, squinting beneath the afternoon sun. The hike back to the visitor center was a quick ten minutes. The trail was simple, expertly landscaped, and paved with wooden planks.
A changed woman, I exited through the doors of the visitor center, with a new appreciation for caves. No longer would the term cave conjure up dark images of dank festering rocky labyrinths, I had a new image, the image of nature’s elaborate art gallery and the feeling of being blanketed in peace.
Barbados is the home of the oldest Rum company, Mt. Gay Rum. The tiny island receives much acclaim for its production of this sweet and intoxicating liquor. This being said, it seemed only proper that we take a Mt. Gay rum tour. Tours of the Mt. Gay Rum plant, last about thirty minutes and are broken down into three parts.
The first part of the tour began in an exhibition room and was a formal historical look at Rum production in Barbados. Having just finished “Bury the Chains”, I was haunted by the knowledge of the brutal treatment of slaves on the sugar plantations of the Caribbean Islands. I was particularly disturbed, yet not surprised, when our tour guide skipped entirely over the slave trade, how she failed to mention that slaves in the sugar mills in Barbados fared the worst out of many other groups of slaves, how the life expectancy of a slave working in the sugar cane fields was around thirty and that oftentimes the women were worked so hard that they couldn’t even bare children. Not to be a Debby Downer, but this is truly the bulk of the history of sugar cane production, rum production. But of course, our lovely tour guide skimmed over the hard facts for our mostly British tour group and talked about the prettier glory days of rum. Despite the direct historical omissions, the tour was informative.
For the second part of the tour, we worked our way into the active factory and observed workers on an assembly line, bottling and preparing bottles of rum. I grew bored of this in about two minutes, however many people gaped in awe, so in this respect, take my word with a grain of salt.
The tour culminated with our group being received in a colonial style bar for my favorite part of the adventure, the rum tasting. We sampled two different types of rums that were so strong and aged; they tasted to me like brandy. In fact, that isn’t too surprising since apparently all of the barrels for Mt. Gay rum, are imported from a Brandy company in Tennessee, where they are smoked then used to store rum.
After the tasting, we drank and relaxed in the gardens. I tried to get the authentic recipe for rum punch from the bartender, but he spoke so fast and with such a heavy accent, all I understood was bitters and nutmeg. So it is…
The Mermaid of Black Rock is back. We met a man yesterday at Weiser's restaurant who rents kayaks (everyone here has a side hustle). For twenty American dollars we are going to be allowed to use Steve’s kayak for the entire day (forget the fact that neither Mark or I have an understanding of how to kayak).
We walked back to Brandon’s Beach from the rum factory (a quick 15 minutes) just in time to catch Steve the kayak man.
“You can swim right? You two are sure you can swim?”
“Yes, don’t worry, we can swim.”
“But you can swim I mean…like really swim?”
“Yes…I’m pretty sure.”
His concern was beginning to worry me.
“But you can swim in the ocean?”
“We have been going for swims in the ocean every day. And look, we are still here. Why?”
“No reason, am just wondering. I am just making sure. We don’t need any dead Americans.”
Dead Americans? Immediately my shark radar went off.
“Steve, are there sharks or anything in the water we should know about?”
“Not in the water, on land.” He belted. And with that, we were whisked off into the ocean.
“When you make it back, you pay!”
I would be a liar if I left out the fact that I took a good moment to send up my most earnest prayer.
The kayak was surprisingly svelte. After a few awkward strokes, I found a rhythm. Two strokes to the right and two to the left – balance. It was all about finding balance. The water was gentle, the zephyrs were light, the sun was setting. We took turns rowing and made sure to glide along horizontal to the shore to avoid going out too far. It was lovely. Eyes to the clouds and setting sun, being lulled by the waves, I was so very much at peace.
Two hours at sea, being bounced about by the waves, equals twenty dollars well spent.
After kayaking, we returned to the water to swim. The tide was beginning to come in. What was in the morning placid and clear became foggy and rambunctious. Nevertheless, we splashed and floated amongst the salty waves. The water was so warm and welcoming, having spent the day, soaking in warmth from the sun.
Crowded later in the day, the water was full of teenagers, couples off from work, fathers teaching their sons to swim, mothers and grandmothers simply catching up. It was a beautiful scene.
“Imagine having Brandon’s Beach as your Coney Island.” I said in a brief moment of jealousy.
“Imagine.” Mark replied, gazing towards the glow of the setting sun.
Taking a swim
Barbados' famous Rum Punch. It's all about the nutmeg and the Mt. Gay rum.
I can settle into a place like this. Even the breeze takes its time. I’m not sure if it was the orchestral ensemble of midnight’s creatures from fields near and far, so loud and sweet they drowned out the traffic (I’m on a main road). Perhaps it’s the slow dramatic slip of the sun, which starts at six thirty, becoming a sweet memory by seven, but I can settle into a place like this. For the next week, I shall refer to myself as The Mermaid of Black Rock.
It was a tough morning. I rose tired and groggy. Despite the ceiling fan and the oscillating fan by our bed, it was hot. At 7:30, I was in a heat coma and for lack of a better word, rendered lazy and baffled.
Clearly not from the Islands, my virgin palate was sucked dry from last night’s Mt. Gay Rum and coke experiment. I had played bartender. The same rules just don’t apply. What works in Brooklyn with Bacardi, does not work in Barbados with Mt. Gay – lesson #3. I needed to work on my portion control.
Having rented a house right off of the main road in Black Rock, we made our way to the beach, first thing. We were a five-minute walk away.
Barbados is an island 21 miles in length. Everywhere you go seems to lead to the water. The water behind our cottage house was turquoise green bliss. It was like walking back into the womb. Fine feathery sand met my feet, an expense of welcoming ocean before me. I love swimming in the ocean. I list it as one of my hobbies. That being said, I am hyper-aware of the dangers and am proud to report that they were few and far between. Warm clear water for miles, free of jellyfish and sea urchins. This was truly one of the best oceans for swimming that I have ever happened upon minus a particularly refreshing expanse of ocean off the coast of Zanzibar. When I tell you that I spent hours swimming underwater and playing dead man’s float, I am not exaggerating.
We decided to walk further down the stretch of beach since we saw a cruise ship docked in the distance. We made our way barefoot and in the sand to Brandon Beach. It was if we walked a great walk to heaven. Brandon Beach was even more secluded, even clearer, even warmer and pristine than what we had left. Brandon beach was so warm and shallow, that I walked literally 40 feet into the ocean and the water never rose above my 5’5” frame. In fact, my head was fully above water the entire time. This was where the locals came to play. And I say this, with caution, because the expanse was still very secluded. Besides myself (The Mermaid of Black Rock) and Mark, I counted only seven other people.
We swam and floated until sun burnt and hungry we surrendered. Where to go? What to do? We were two people on a vacation having done no research. Having purchased no guide books, possessing not even a map, we followed our noses to a locally owned restaurants on the beach and ordered two lunch specials. My fresh catch of the day, fried in local spices was AMAZING! And let’s take a moment here please to pay homage to the gods of rum punch. The rum punch was phenomenal. The punch was strong, but it was sweet, it was fruity, but it was spicy and was adorned with freshly ground nutmeg. Oh man, I could truly settle into this place.
Day one and I don’t want to return. I’m reminded of my days in Mozambique. There is something so appealing about this life, something so sacred. A voice inside tells me I am a fool to be living in Brooklyn.
After lunch, we take a nap, because when in the Islands, do as the islanders do….
Restless after twenty minutes, I took an hour to work on my writing before waking Mark to explore the capital Bridgetown.
Bridgetown was a quick ride away in the ever-familiar converted cargo van for public transportation vehicles I have learned to love from my many adventures in the developing world. The van was crowded, but well ventilated. We sped along the road, music blasting, taking in the sights and sounds of our home for the next ten days.
Downtown Bridgetown too was familiar. There is something very uniform about colonial cities, the lush gardens, the fountains and surrounded compounds. In Bridgetown, it was charming how the ocean appeared always to be just in the distance.
Unfortunately everything closed early. We walked around downtown, happened upon a group of people practicing steel pan, found a cricket game, wandered into an open gallery to check out the work of a local painter and became familiar with what is honored as the oldest tree in Barbados, an enormous Baobab. It was a beautiful tree.
We wandered aimlessly, noting things that we would come back to do in the following days. We wandered and wandered until we found ourselves at the docks, a touristy yacht infested part of town. Cruise ships dropped passengers off here where they could buy diamond jewelry at a reduced price and shop till they dropped at pricey chain stores. We passed malls that felt like Macy’s and passed restaurants bearing tacky titles like “Barbados Bills” and “Slow Grind Café”.
Out of curiosity, we stopped in one of the restaurants “Slow Wine” for a sample of rum punch. Would it be better or worse that the punch we had earlier at the bungalow restaurant? No. The punch was terrible. It tasted like Hawaiian Punch sans rum and all.
After Mark questioned the waitress as to where to go for some good local fish, we were off, to navigate our way to dinner.
It seems everyone here has a Brooklyn story. Collin lived in Brooklyn for fourteen years and recalled each and every one of his former addresses to us while speaking of his glory years as a tennis instructor at Queens College. We took our fish to go and set off in search of a bus or cargo van to take us back. “Spitesville” we learned, was the name of our stop thanks to the kind waitress who had taken the time to orient us back at “Slow Wine.”
We scuttled back to our house and anxiously ripped into our flying fish with chips. I wish I could say it was an amazing and defining meal, but it just wasn’t. It was, to be honest sub-par. But hey, you win some, you lose some, but you keep on tasting and smelling and listening and touching and looking because you’re bound to discover something amazing – eventually.
I am jolted awake. Crickets sing to me from the alarm clock on my phone. It’s four am and I’m not impressed. Clicking snooze, I roll over and wrap my arm around my sleeping boyfriend. Ten more minutes.
Thirty minutes later I’m in the shower grinning to myself. Barbados – I’m on my way to Barbados. Vacation time has finally arrived and I, lucky me, will be in Barbados for ten days.
Twenty minutes later we are walking down the quiet street. Brooklyn is a cool frame before the sunrise. She sends us forth with her blessings; after all, it’s vacation time and we’re going to Barbados. Our belongings are packed into the trunk of the car and we take off breezily down the street.
The plan is to drop the car off with a friend. Leaving a car unattended on the street for ten days is a big no-no, in the world of New York parking. We have arranged to meet Dee at five in front of his brownstone where he will drop us off at the airport and take over car duty until our return.
At five sharp we are in front of the house but there is no Dee. My boyfriend, ever calm and patient in the midst of adversity begins to call his friend repeatedly. When this doesn’t work, he heads to the porch to ring the buzzer. In the passenger seat I began to fill with silent unmoving dread. Our vacation, our beautiful Barbados vacation, I can see it slipping away and I am becoming restless and angry.
Ten minutes, twenty minutes, we are running out of time. Without another moment to spare, the car is parked and the keys are left in the mailbox with a note. With the vigor of Vikings, efficiently and expeditiously we pile our bags on the curb, hail a cab, load our luggage and speed off.
No matter how prepared you are, things just may not work out as planned. I smiled to myself remembering Maputo, Mozambique, two and a half years earlier. It had been around the same hour. The southern African sky was an intricate web of constellations and flashes. Bats swooped around us as crickets sang an alto melody. Being feasted on by mosquitoes, my friend Sergio and I waited in the empty courtyard by the gate. We had been in Maputo for a week and were headed further North, I to Inhambane, he to Namantanda. A taxi had been called to pick us up at precisely four am to take us to the bus terminal.
Eager for our journey we made our way through looming eucalyptus groves and fragrant magnolia blossoms, towards the large white gates near the sleeping guard, where our taxi was scheduled to arrive.
Leaning against each other’s backs for support, we made ourselves comfortable in the tall grass and waited. I didn’t mind the wait at first, neither did Sergio, the night was stunning. It represented the magnificence of Mozambique, fragrant, breathtaking, calm, melodic and mysterious.
One hour turned into two, then three. The guard ensured us that our taxi was coming. “Patienca.” He reprimanded us like children – patience. Watching the sky expand and welcome the hazy pale morning we weren’t so certain.
The mosquitoes had vanished and the sun was scorching by the time our taxi slid to a stop in front of the gate. We had missed our busses.
I hate to rush when I’m traveling. I need to be calm and balanced to get the most out of the experience. I’m easily frazzled and prefer to arrive early, take my time, have a nice breakfast, perhaps settle down with a magazine or two before boarding. My boyfriend Mark is more of an improviser. With minutes before the final boarding call, we are rushing towards the only food vendor in sight. The order is placed in my sweaty palms the moment our names are called over the loudspeaker for the final boarding call warning. We sprint to the terminal and board the plane in time to learn that we have an hour and a half wait on the runway before we will be cleared for departure.
We settled in our seats to devour our breakfasts. Two hours later, finally in the air, exhausted by four hours of sleep the night before, I drifted in and out of consciousness.
The Bajan breeze greets us around three pm. We are looking for Mark’s cousin Michael. Mark has never met this cousin, and we find ourselves in the middle of an interesting game of “Where’s Michael”. According to Mark’s grandfather, the facilitator of the arrangement, Michael would be holding a sign to identify himself. We walk back and forth to the amusement of a crowd of taxi drivers for about an hour. There is no Michael.
Mark calls home, to get Michael’s contact information. His grandfather, well into his nineties, accidentally gave Michael the wrong information, leading him to believe that our flight would come in tomorrow and not today.
After more confusion, Michael himself is contacted. At work and not expecting us, we are told to sit tight until he or his son is able to pick us up.
My mood went from pure enthusiasm to dismal. Welcome to Barbados. We sat, on a curb in front of the arrivals terminal. Eager to move, I petitioned to take a cab but Mark was content to sit and wait, naively certain our ride would come any minute.
Creating a beach chair out of our luggage I resigned myself. Closing my eyes, I tried to imagine I was by the ocean, but the sound of car engines and the light smell of exhaust quickly ruined that illusion.
Three traffic humps adorn the street before the arrivals gate. Literally eye-to-eye with car tires, I am amazed. Every single car slows to a near stop easing the front tires then the back tires over the obstacle before continuing. Was this a lesson? Easy does it?
I couldn’t spot a single cross walk yet pedestrians seemed to have the right of way. If someone appeared as though they were even thinking of crossing the street, cars, slowed to a near stop to allow them safe passage.
In New York, people sped and clamored over humps as if they were things to be conquered. Here, people eased over the humps as if they were helping hands, friends to wish them a safe journey. I can’t help but relax a little.
At six thirty, the sun begins to cast a tangerine glow across the sky as it sinks down to eventually to disappear into an indigo twilight. While this magnificent show is taking place, our ride pulls up. Michael’s son, also named Michael, friendly and easy going, helps us into the car before sweeping us off to the guest-house we are renting. Cruising past fertile sugar cane plantations, the sweet breeze kissing my cheeks in welcome, I am possessed with the feeling, one that assures me everything is going to be alright.
The Notre-Dame Basilica was a wonderful stop. In the heart of downtown Montreal, the Basilica is a beautiful haven of peace. Modeled after Notre-Dame in Paris, the Basilica was an ornate wonder. The energy inside of the church was very positive.
Lynne and I opted to guide ourselves, but tours are also available for a small price.
Don't forget to light a candle or two before you leave.