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costa nova: you ran out of money, lucas ran out of breath, and we ran into annabelle

16 Oct
costa_nova-vista2a-cor-mod

costa nova: the land of no money but lots of memories!

Portugal is incredible. You know what’s really incredible? Credit cards. You know what doesn’t always go hand-in-hand? Portugal and credit cards.

Montana:

The day after Fernando and Carla’s beautiful family party, we got to the beach. What. A. Beach.  After swimming, suntanning and thanking whatever higher power we believe in (I’m still feeling this one out), we went for a walk and found ourselves sitting on a patio munching on some cheap eats. It was cheap! What’s the worry? They will take credit card. No? Ah, shoot, it’s all good, the ATM is attached to the restaurant we are eating at. Oh wait, what do you mean there is “no money left” in the ATM? Ah, right, there’s one down three blocks. Ok, good. Wait, excuse me? That one is empty too? Uh, how does that happen? All the money is just gone? Ok, ok, can you tell me where the next ATM is…? FOURTY MINUTE WALK. OUT. OF. TOWN?

This was at this point in the conversation that Lucas was having with a server that people, English speaking tourists, were starting to listen. This might be because they just happen to notice us or, oh, I don’t know, because Lucas was visibly and audibly annoyed. It happens. One sweet, younger couple offered to “lend us the money” to pay our bill. How would the logistics of that even work? We had to catch the bus back to where we came from whether we owed him and his honey or the restaurant, the money. We politely said “no thank you” like good little Canadians and I started to hide my total embarrassment behind a polite smile. Was I embarrassed of us? I don’t think so, we are sort of a crazy couple in public to begin with; we dance, we’re loud, we love out loud. I think I wasn’t comfortable with the language barrier we were facing and I do want people to know that we plan on paying for our food. I’m a planner. I have post-its. I plan. A-type. What?

Looking at the time we know that we 22 minutes until the last bus leaves Casa Nova to where we are staying. After discussing our various options (Hey! what a great place for our first dine-n-dash!), we speak to the people running the restaurant and they allowed us to leave  and go to the next ATM that might or might not have money and come back with the cash. Here is what happened:

We walked very quickly to the bus stop where we would need to catch our bus and I held the bags we had brought with us for the beach. Lucas then started running. And I mean running. He is gone in seconds and I can’t see him. I sit there basking in the sun trying not to look at my watch and concentrate on this woman who is standing at the pay phone with beautiful, curly hair and a sweet looking chocolate lab. Ah, I can’t handle it any longer! What does the watch say? Oh fuck. Ok, 15 minutes isn’t bad. He”ll be back.

Lucas:

So I started into a full sprint knowing that I only had 22 minutes which means I had 10 min to get to an ATM, 2 to get money out, and 10 to get back and that’s not even allowing  time to pay for the bill but that’s something I would worry about later by convincing the bus driver to wait for us while I pay the bill.

It is at this point that I realize that I’m grossly out of shape. I have been running for 30 seconds.

I am also realizing that flip flops are not an ideal choice for running shoes.

I stop, take off the flip flops and proceed to start running as fast as I can on the grass. What seems like eternity goes by. It’s been 3 minutes. I’m exhausted, my feet are sore, and I am now realizing that even if I were Ben Johnson I wouldn’t make this run. Plan B. I start throwing my thumb out while running in a full sprint. I am actually running along the side of the high way, no longer on the grass, while cars honk at me in aggravation. I’m a leaky, sweaty mess and no one is pulling over. Watch check: 15 minutes.

While sprinting, I contemplate that it is time to turn around, give up, and stiff the waiter. Fuck karma. Fuck the waiter. Then I think, that won’t fly, Tana is all about Karma. Time for plan C. That’s when I see a pair of hazard lights, a sweet Audi wagon, and a pretty, curvy Portuguese woman frantically waving at me to come to her car, “Hurry up and get in; we’re on the highway!” I learn that her name is Annabelle.

My first worlds are “I’m soaked in sweat. Should I get in the back?” Annabelle laughs, and says no, get in. I’m clearly going to like this woman. Over the next two minutes, she communicates that there are not enough nice Portuguese people and assumed that since I was running at such a frantic pace, I must be in need of something. I tell her the situation and that my girlfriend is waiting for me. She asked how much time we have left and off she goes at breakneck speed towards the nearest bank.

Time check: 13 minutes.

We arrived at the bank. I run across the street, almost getting run over excited that the mission might actually happen only to find that I need a bank card from that institution to get into the bank.

I look around, the streets are empty. Annabelle now gets out of her car and asked “What’s the problem Lucas?? I told her. “Ah fuck,” she says “we’ll get this.”

Between the two of us, we verbally harass the next 10 people who passed by, frantically asking in a combination is English, Portuguese and Spanish, if they are members of this bank and will they let us in?

A woman, who was more stunned than agreeable, hesitantly opens the door for us with her bank card and pretty much runs away once she does.

In and out money is had. Back in the car and off we race. Five to go.

While Annabelle is driving towards Tana, she explains her story of her very recent divorce, her lovely three children and her longing to travel. I explain where we are off to and how we have met such amazing Portuguese people not to be outdone by our host Fernando and Carla, she offers to drive us to their home.

Montana:

Ok, we will have to just swallow this one and take a cab. It will be expensive but we are screwe…. why is Lucas in that car? With a Portuguese lady? Slowly waving to me? He just passed me. Am I missing something?

Alright. That was Lucas. He must have gotten a ride back to the restaurant. We might even make it ba… and there they are again.

“Get in! Hurry!”

I picked up our bags and I ran to the car. I would normally think this was much stranger than I did in this moment, but this has Lucas written all over it. I hear Annabelle as I run to the car, “You are indeed a lucky man.” This tells me that he wasn’t just picked up; they have been talking for a while.  I say hello and Lucas does the introductions the same way he did when I met his oldest friends.

I smile. “Annabelle, you must be sent from heaven because if you hadn’t picked him up, our day would look very, very different.” Listening to Annabelle, I too learned about her recent divorce, her new love, her children, her garden and her kittens. She found her kittens in the wild and brought them into her home. She said “I found my kittens the same way I found you.” I thought that was the best sentence I have ever heard. I also learned of the faith she has in God which is why she picked Lucas up. “God trusted people, so I do too.”

Annabelle drove us back to the place we were staying, got out to share hugs and good-byes and went on her way. I hope she realizes what a difference in our day she made.

“I found you the same way I found my kittens.” Cutest. sentence. ever. I adore you, Annabelle.

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this story has a key message: a coruna

16 Oct
sailing on the Atlantic with Jordan and friends. uh, yes please

sailing on the Atlantic with Jordan and friends. uh, yes please

I like to think of it as Ahhhhhh, Corunaaaa…

This place is stocked with pathways for runners and walkers alike. It also has a Tapas section that consists of a three or four block radius where one can wonder and get lost amongst the restaurants in search of a good drink. Once you order one drink, magic shows up. For example, whenever I ordered a glass of wine, I received a piece of tortilla (Spanish omelet), or a piece of baguette with cheese, or some soup, or whatever delicious morsel those brilliant bartenders had behind the bar. Whatever it is, it is delightful and amazing. But this is not what stands out in A Coruna. It is the people and experiences that shine.

Jordan, oh sweet, hilarious Jordan. An Australian living in A Coruna for work. He’s a legend, really, and one of the best hosts from Couch Surfing that we have had the absolutely pleasure to be with. We immediately fell in love with him. I think he was taken back by my sense of humour at first, (we were on the ground, laughing in the hallway after one very inappropriate joke at one point) and I had fun listening to his rationalization of female and male relations. I must elaborate.

While we were sailing on the Atlantic ocean with Jordan and his friends, we all got into a discussion about woman and men. Spain is “machismo” in comparison to Canada and I was interested in this. As we discussed this, the topic naturally lead to sex as it’s always a favourite topic when comparing the two genders amongst adults. Now, before I tell you Jordan’s theory, for those of you who know me well, know that I have never shied away from calling myself a feminist. In fact, I find that too many women start sentences with “I’m not a feminist, but…” as if it’s some horrible label that they don’t want to be associated with. There is a spectrum of feminism: you have the woman who believe all sex is a form of rape, then you have others like me, who think that feminism means to understand where woman have been, are coming from, and where we still need to go, and there is everything in between. Not to devalue my perspective of feminism as it is much more than this but it’s not what this post is about.. it’s about the theory. Here we go with Jordan’s theory:

“It’s the lock and key theory.”

“What?”

“Yeah, the lock and key theory or the master key theory.”

“Tell me more!  What is it? This ought to be good!” My head pops up from laying down on the boat as it sways back and forth in the  Spanish September sun so I can make eye contact with Jordan and the others.

“A lock that can be unlocked with any key isn’t a lock. It doesn’t work. It’s fucked. No one wants that lock if any key can unlike it, right?”

“….Go on….”

“But if you have a key that unlocks all locks, that’s just called the master key. It works on every lock and everyone wants it because they can unlock every single lock. A girl with a lock that any key can open? What good is that? But a guy with a dick… that’s just the master key and can unlock every lock. The lock, or girl, that any dick can unlock, it’s a broken lock.”

The word “broken” made the hairs on my neck stand up and made my muscles tense.

My head, that I had propped up to listen intently to Jordan’s theory flung back down and I could not hold in my laugh. We were all laughing. I can only speak for myself when I say that I wasn’t laughing because I believe this to be true, I was laughing because of the level of ridiculous this held and how I was already forming a dissertation length response on the societal double standards that women are held against. I didn’t respond with this though. I feel comfortable in my own feminism to the point where I do not feel the need to challenge every word that goes against it. I am learning, especially through travel, to appreciate and enjoy people regardless of different views or ideas. I don’t think I’m any less of a feminist because I laughed.  In fact, Jordan told me this theory with such a sense of puerility that I wanted us to put him on our pocket and keep him as a friend. He has this credulous sense about him that I can’t help but find wonderful.

Jordan created a space and an experience that allowed us to fall in love with A Coruna. He also allowed me to intrinsically challenge myself to see that I do not have to challenge every idea that goes against my stance on feminism. Now I must go to the locksmith; it turns out that I have lost the master key and my lock is, well, locked.

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the feminist in my life. she taught me all i know, including that it’s ok to laugh through the ridiculous sometimes.

morocco: green fields, blue walls, warm hearts

16 Oct

Morocco

On September 16th, Lucas and I went to Chefchauen, Morocco. It was there that we explored the blue Medina. During the late 15th century, the Spanish Inquisition forced Muslims and Jewish people out of Europe. Beginning in 1471, Chefchaouen was founded essentially as a refugee camp with a prominent Jewish influence. Following the Jewish traditions, the people painted their buildings blue as a reminder of the God’s power above.

The region is also famous for its massive marijuana fields for as far as the eye can see. We had 24 hours to explore this city so our main goal was to go to the village where they grown the marijuana to see it for ourselves. As we walked along the main pathway through the barns and houses, having locals point us in the right direction (whether it was the right direction or them telling us to get off their property, I am unsure), we came to a home where a woman was feeding her chickens and goats. She smiled brightly at us with a missing tooth. We asked with sign language, “can we take a picture of the chickens?” We weren’t clear enough because she, in sign language and some Arabic, told us that we can have a chicken, they are yummy. We smiled and rubbed our tummys and said thank you and laughed. She laughed. I could feel that she was a lovely person; kindness and warmth radiated from her.  We went on to our journey to the end of the road and took more mind blowing pictures of these fields. When we decided to walk back down the mountain to the cab that was waiting for us for only one hour, we passed this same home again only this time, the husband was there. We peeked around the corner and smiled at them again. To our amazement, the husband had a massive bale of fresh cut marijuana and using only gestures, called for us to come and see his bale of weed in the back of his truck.

We immediately noticed his hands; they were dark and sticky and covered in resin from the plant. He let us feel them and we smiled, and laughed. Then he waved us over to his big bale of Marjiuana. I pointed to my camera and he nodded “yes” but then pointed to his face and turned it away. I get it: no pictures of the people, and that is understandable. I took some pictures carefully cropping him out and showed it to him out of respect so that he felt that he could trust me. He gave me the thumbs up and we laughed. They let us stand there watching them work while we tried to communicate, all the while they smiled. I just now notice that I keep referring  to their smiles but that is what I truly remember; they were so warm, so welcoming, they were so humble. All of a sudden, the husband brought Lucas to the back of the house and I stood there smiling with the wife. Usually, I would feel a bit shy perhaps, or uncomfortable but I had no reason to be. I just stood there smiling with the wife, looking at the chickens thinking, “I bet they kill them. I bet that chicken has no idea what’s coming at 5:00pm.” I chuckled to myself.

The husband’s head popped out from around the corner and waved me to the back of the house as well. I got this feeling, this excitement in my chest. I felt honoured to be welcomed and I smiled and skipped to the back of the house. While the husband and Lucas went upstairs inside the house, the wife took me and said some things in Arabic. I stood there and pointed from me to her and then from me to the stairs where the boys went up. I was trying to communicate, “do I come with you or do I go with them?” She smiled and shook her head and tried again to tell me something. I said something back in English, she shook her head and said something in Arabic. At that time we both shrugged our shoulders and we bent over laughing because we both knew we didn’t understand a word or gesture from one another and yet, in Africa, standing amongst chickens and a rooster in this family’s yard and not having a single clue as to what was wanted of me, I felt completely at ease. It was their total trust in us and their gentle, smiling faces.

She finally pointed to the stairs and gestured for me to go there. When I walked in I found myself in a Moroccan family living room. I immediately felt humbled. We had been invited into someone’s home. The hazy sun was shining through the middle of the room as traditional Moroccan living rooms are rectangular in shape with an open roof in the middle. The husband tugged on his shirt and said “whew” and rolled his eyes and smiled, signifying that he was hot. He put a finger up to say “one minute” and left the room. Lucas and I looked at each other and started whispering. Why? I don’t know, it was just one of those times that whispering felt like the thing to do. We asked each other what was going on and decided to go with it. We felt welcomed, not in any danger so why not?

 The husband went to the bathroom and began washing. At one point I thought he was taking a shower. He washed his face, changed his clothes, and washed his hands. Just as he was finishing his washing, a beautiful and unexpected thing happened: his wife come through the opening with a tray. On the tray there was a large, round loaf of bread and two small dishes containing mushrooms and olives. Lucas and I looked at each other and our faces sank: we have 10 minutes to run down the mountain and catch our cab. We did not know that bread was to be broken and in Moroccan traction, nothing takes a quick couple of minutes. We knew we had to go. I can not explain in words how my heart broke at this. Here was a poor family that saw us walking down the road and invited us into their home. They prepared what little food they had and had washed up to break bread with us.

The worst part about it was that Lucas and I decided in that moment that we should offer them something to say thank you. All we had was Duram (Moroccoan money) on us. Lucas took out 200 Duam (about 20 euros) and handed to the husband. He shook his head and refused. It was only after Lucas put it away that they shook our hands, smiled, and put his other hand to his heart. My heart only sank further.

Today, as I write about this story, I feel the same heaviness in my body and my heart as I did that day. Without being able to say “We have to go but can we come back?” or “we want to stay but can not,” it must have looked like we didn’t want their food, and just walked out. We tried so hard to say “taxi” and Lucas tied to write it on his phone with a translator but I am unsure if they understood. In fact, I’m unsure of it all, other than my wish is to visit this village again, go back with a hired translator and a loaf of bread to share. To have a poor family invite us in and want to share food and break bread with us, for nothing, other than to do it. I was shown a part of Morocoo and humanity that day that I will not one day forget. I will think of this family often and when I have the chance to show others the same warmth and hospitality as this family so easily showed us, I will do so.

A piece of me is with this family and they have no idea.

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amster-DAY-UM

1 Oct

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When I arrived in Amsterdam I knew a couple of things. First, I had just flown in from Morocco and I had “Madina” all over me. Second, I just spent the night *sleeping outside on the ground, on a piece of cardboard, 20 feet away from the homeless, (they also think the Barcelona train station is a good place to crash. I can get down with all kinds of people). Third, I just traveled on local trains for 10 hours to get to Amsterdam and fourth, (warning to men, this will gross you out. Shit, it may even gross women out), but I was having a full fledge period and it felt like there was a little man driving a big tractor on my uterus. That’s not the gross part. At my very first step onto the Amsterdam sidewalk, my body decided to go, “hey lady! I don’t want your stupid tampon in me anymore. I’m going to push it out. Oh, you’re wearing baggy pants? You mean I could fall out of the bottom of your pants thereby mortifying you in front of Lucas’ friend you just met? I don’t give a shit. Fuck you.”

So upon meeting the lovely Barry, I gave him a hug and smiled.

“Uh, I am trying to deal with a tampon that keeps coming out. How long is the walk?”

“10 minutes.”

“I can do that.”

Thank GOD Lucas loves and accepts my openness. We all had a good laugh while I held my crotch in fear.

How do I explain Amsterdam to those who have never been there and how do I do it justice for those who know what I’m talking about? Amsterdam looks like a quirky cartoon where every house and building is beautiful and whimsical. It is full of skinny, tall buildings, with round soft embellishments and a hook at the very top of each building so they can pulley furniture to the top because the staircases are too narrow. The people are laid back, bikes are rulers of all things, and they have wonderful, delicious food.

When I arrived in Amsterdam, I immediately took a shower and upon making myself decent with a towel and wrapping this fine **curvy thing I call a body up, Barry walked over to the bathroom where I had opened the door and handed me a glass of red wine. It was at that moment that my auditory senses really kicked in and I realized that Billy Holiday was playing. Oh wait, what’s that? and garlic is sizzling? Clearly, I like Barry.

This post is short. It doesn’t have a great long adventurous story. It is however, etched in my mind as the moments after a very long, long travel period, being awake for 24 hours and a interesting start to a wonderful time in Amsterdam.

*I did not sleep. Not by choice, I just couldn’t. Lucas however, slept like a baby.

** Curvy as in traveling Europe for five weeks curvy, ya dig?

ilhavo, portugal

9 Sep

Oh Ilhavo! You are so crazy with your slow, steady movement, your baked goods and your tiny town feel. The people here are happy and they are even happier when they find out you are staying with their neighbour. “Come, come! You have coffee with me tomorrow. No, you don’t leave Portugal yet, you stay.”

*Tonight we are in Ilhavo, Portogal. We started our day late and decided to make it a beach day instead of exploring Aviero. When Lucas brought a load of laundry next door to put into the washer, (for goodness sake, it got stank up in here), Lucas told Fernando, our happy host, of our plans:

“We’re going to head up to Costa Nova to have a beach day today.”

“No, you stay here. You can go around town, have a coffee, maybe go see the river but you stay in town. You stay and you eat with my family and we drink. We will go see the fireworks later.”

“How late will this go?”

“I don’t know, 11pm? 4am?”

Fair enough, Fernando. You, your friends and you family out weigh, by far, any beach that we could go see.

First, we showed up for dinner a bit late but everyone shows up late in Portugal so it’s relative. And besides, there was enough of them that you could’t really notice us anyway. Wait, what am I saying? We were two white people coming in, smiling, yelling, “Hola!” and waving. Who waves at people at a dinner table? wtf?

When we first sat down there was a few moments of awkwardness for me, the introvert: do we get up and get our own food? That means that I’m placing my armpit right by someones head. Do we pass our plates down? That might be too presumptuous. It didn’t matter: they took our plates and filled them. And refilled them. And refilled them and because the main dish was lamb and beef, I had a lot of potatoes and rice (because who doesn’t want delicious Portuguese starch with delicious Portuguese starch?) and these incredible cod cakes with onion, flour, cilantro, cod, salt and pepper. They were amazing. Fernando called them fish cookies because you could just scarf them down like cookies. Instead of milk and cookies, I had fish cakes and wine. I wasn’t saying no.

Fernando’s brother in law brought out a guitar and started playing and singing Fado music, a beautiful, traditionally sad music that is home to Portugal. There is a difference between Lisbon Fado, and Coimbra Fado: In Lisbon, there is a snail like shape at the top of the guitar and men and women can sing. It’s also more sad in nature. In Coimbra, only women traditionally sing and there is a tear drop shape on the top of the guitar. Fernando’s brother was excited enough by the fact that Lucas and I could play guitar that he left and returned with a second guitar and an amp. Heaven.

As the wine poured, the bubbly was poured and people poured into the ground floor deck we were sitting in. Ah, pinch me!

As the guitar was being played and the snacks were being nibbled, I suddenly realized that I was the only woman out on the deck and that all of the women were inside. I asked, “Is it usual that the women stay inside together after a meal and the men come out to drink?”

“Yes. You are lucky to be here with us. You’re a guest so it’s ok.” They laughed. I smiled. Tread lightly, Tana.

“Yes, but we are outside; the guitar is here, the sun is here, they should be here too?”

“They aren’t being separated, they are being protected.” Somehow coming from Fernando’es brother-in-law this seemed sweet with his soft accent.

“I am sure they can handle it. The women sitting in there are strong women, yes?”

“Yes, but we run things, still!” This was said by a lovely Portuguese business man who just moved back from living in Australia for 20 years.

I threw my head back and chuckled. “Your women make you think you run things. It’s the way of the world!”

They laughed, I laughed and we played guitar and at that moment, the women come out and it was the most beautiful night of my travels yet.

 

*I wrote this almost a week ago but could only post it now.

lisbon, portugal

9 Sep

The old city of Lisbon is a bizarre world of speedy cars, trams and sidewalks so arrow that if you don’t turn yourself said ways as the busses pass, you will in fact, die.* It really is a party town with much to give the senses, especially taste. Late one night after going out for dinner and getting completely ripped off, (that was how much?), we decided to head back to the hostel we were staying at but took the long way about so we could see more of the city. Lucas was still hungry so we stopped at tiny corner store that sold french fries. I was thirsty so I got water which I grab myself right out of a fridge. This isn’t uncommon in Portugal: there’s a fridge, you grab your drink of choice, you pay.  Lucas grabbed his french fries, I grabbed a water and we stood on the steppes outside. While I was talking away with Lucas I opened up the bottle and I put it closer to my mouth. Wait a minute, “Babe, I”m not sure that was difficult to open.. I mean, I don’t think that I opened the little plastic tabs, but I was talking and I can’t be sure.” Lucas took the bottle from me . Smelled it. Drank it. Threw his head back.” “Thats’ not water,” he said with a hoarse voice. We grabbed the bottle out of the fridge ourselves, the bottle that stood among all of the rest of the exact same water bottles.  “What is it? What do you mean.” “That’s home made alcohol.”

We walked back into the store and gave it to the small Indian man that was behind the counter. “I don’t think this is water.” He looked at us and took the bottle. “Smell it.” He smelled it.

“Oh! It’s alcohol. Some for you?”

“Uh, no thanks.”

Lisbon, you and your moonshine were wonderful for a first stop. I like you but I don’t feel the need to ever see you again; I grew up in a big city and there is much of Portugal to see. Although, you were my first stop in Europe so you will always have a piece go my heart. A very tiny piece. I mean, really, really tiny. It’s me, not you.

*This is not a fact.