9/10 Covid-19 Travel Diary: Nassau, Mar. 5

We got a call from our pal Delroy the next morning inviting us out for a night on the town. He would pick us up at 8PM. With our evening to look forward to we set out on the jitney for another island adventure.

Love Beach is tucked away down a secret staircase off of Compass Point resort. Because of its hidden entrance it is often empty. An entire stretch of pristine white sand and turquoise ocean all to ourselves. We felt safe and free. We stretched our muscles in the sun, floating around, feeling the divine weightlessness that comes with salt water submersion. I was so full of gratitude for the friendship of these two incredible women. This trip is just the most recent chapter in the evolution of us. It is the scariest chapter, but not the craziest. I look forward to reminiscing about all of it when we are old and grey. Hopefully, our love for each other will only have grown. Long friendships are rare and so special. There is no one else in the world I would rather have had a near death experience with. For all the shock and terror, we handled ourselves calmly and efficiently and managed to come out the otherside unscathed but for a bit of residual PTSD. Connie and Jenny, my ride or die babes for life.

Back at the house Delroy and his friend arrived right on time. They drove us over to Lyford Cay, the very wealthy, very private end of the island that Prince Andrew, Michael Jackson, Oprah Winfrey and Robert DeNiro have all enjoyed. The gated community on steroids was in the news just before we arrived because Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard was just busted for using his oceanview mansion there to run a sex traffiking ring. We pulled up the long dirt road to Philosopher’s Smokehouse, an outdoor party complex with twinkly lights, picnic tables, a cute DJ, and what smelled like delicious BBQ. Under the sweetest protection of our generous friends we wiled the night away dancing until we dropped. I made a gorgeous new friend who looked like a Bahamian Queen. Her name was Cornelia and she had been Nygard’s personal assistant until the week prior. I was dying to hear stories, but we parted ways with promises to get in touch for a brunch that never happened. Connie, Jenny and I stumbled back into the house for a nightcap on the upstairs patio. Everything was alright.

8/10 Covid-19 Travel Diary: Paradise Island, Mar. 4

I called the cops first thing in the morning to inquire about the police activity on the block the night before. They assured me it wasn’t related to our robbery. The news of the passengers stuck in quarantine on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan was a headline. We brushed off our feelings of fear and discomfort determined to have an incredible day. The glorious tropical sun was shining all our troubles away.

We got ourselves decked out in swimsuits and sunscreen and hopped on the jitney. The bus driver was blasting Kenny G. classics really getting us in the mood for a wonderful day. We hopped off at the ferry docks and took the boat across to Paradise Island where we tried to sneak into the epic mega resort Atlantis. We have done this before without any problems, but the security was TIGHT! Crime has risen significantly in the Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian decimated many residents’ livelihood in 2019. The Rolex store at Atlantis had fallen victim to an armed robbery the week prior. So we hoofed it to the public part of Paradise Island unattractively titled Cabbage Beach. Don’t let the name fool you though because this is one of the most beautiful, pristine beaches in the world. The water is clear turquoise and the perfect temperature; just cool enough to be refreshing. We indulged in rum drinks in coconuts and sunned our skin from white as Canadian snow to lobster red. My old pal Randy manifested and offered to roll us a spliff. The vibe was chill, at last. Perfect, actually. Ahhhhh yas. Toes curling in the sand, hair in salt waves, and skin bronzed. We made it. It felt like we had another chance at life. But a life without fear of death. Liberated. And no fucks given. I was enjoying this new attitude.

We taxied back to Nassau and scored a comfy cabana at Bikini Bar on Junkanoo Beach where we immediately ordered conch fritters and bottomless Bahama Mamas as we watched the sun set. A flea-ridden stray beach dog sat with us and acted as our guard dog as twilight fell. The four enormous cruise ships docked on Paradise Island shipped out one at a time. We imagined the cruise ship scene; everyone showered and dressed for dinner on board as the monstrosity head back out to sea. Connie would be on one of those with her family the next week if her passport arrived in time. The manager of Bikini Bar sent us a round of drinks on the house and offered to get us a cab home. He also gave us his reggae album. What lucky girls!

7/10 Covid-19 Travel Diary: Nassau, Mar. 3

I woke up the morning after the robbery with all four of my limbs in pins and needles. Maybe I was so shocked my blood slowed down? I’m not sure, but it was very odd. Connie was right beside me, still wide awake. Jenny was downstairs starfished on the back patio having a coffee and smoking a cigarette in the sun. We called our local pal Delroy and told him the story. He was floored and kindly arranged a driver to take us to the Canadian Consulate. Our driver’s name was Maurice, and he was an angel. He drove us to the back parking lot of a run down strip mall where a tattered Canadian flag hung askew from the second story of shops. Pretty ghetto right off the bat.

There were two dumpy Canadian women working at the consulate where they enjoy the casual working hours of 9am to noon, Monday to Friday. We were there to get Connie a passport. She had piggybacked a work trip on a cruise ship out of Fort Lauderdale directly from Nassau. The consulate woman offered Connie one option; she could issue Connie a one way pass back to Montreal and she could get a new passport there. We were unimpressed and thought there must be another option. Connie decided to give the High Commissioner in Kingston, Jamaica (the closest Canadian Embassy) a call and sure enough, there was another option. They could issue Connie a one year passport and get it to her in time for her departure to Florida in five days. Brilliant! No thanks to the consulate lady. It was nearing noon and the consulate lady played sorry to tell us the closest and cheapest passport photo spot was a twenty minute drive away and $50USD. She sent us on our way telling us to come by with the photos tomorrow morning, but then we may not make the DHL boat to Jamaica with the documents in time. As Connie was filling out her paperwork, I went outside with Jenny and Maurice for some fresh air. We gazed across the street and there was a sign “Roger D. Photo Studio, Passport Photos Done While You Wait $20!” I ran to get Connie as it seemed our luck was changing. The consulate women agreed to wait twenty minutes so we wouldn’t have to hitchhike back to the consulate in the morning and we went over to Roger D’s Photo Studio.

Now Roger D. turned out to be the best photographer in the Bahamas, if the many accolades hanging on his wall account for anything. His studio is full of his gorgeous wedding photos and impressive antique cameras. He said, “Welcome home!” warmly when we entered. He told us to wait just a moment while he readied his studio for Connie’s passport shoot. He fired up his lighting set-up and put on a Billie Holiday record. The mood was romantic and sweet. He had Connie giving all kinds of looks until he was completely spent, at which point Jenny and I burst into a standing ovation. Roger D., our hero!

We waltzed back to the consulate with the coveted passport photos. The ladies were super annoyed now to be working past noon, but we had them, thank goodness. As we were waiting for all the paperwork to be done, I perused the pamphlets section of the office and came across a stack of Roger D. business cards. The swines! They were willing to send us on a wild goose chase after surviving an armed robbery because they needed to get home to watch their kids’ swimming lessons or some shit! I was pissed. But we still needed these lazy slags so I suppressed my anger. In yet another misstep, they sent us to the DHL office to ship the documents to Jamaica after charging Connie close to $500USD for a new passport and a lost passport fee. Rude! What if we had no access to money? What if we didn’t have Maurice’s help and couldn’t get around?

Anyway, we went to DHL and shipped off the documents. Maurice drove us there and then took us home. We were so grateful for his help. We still needed to get some cash, a Blackberry phone charger, and Connie’s medicine. So we set out on foot to The Caves, a shopping centre down the street. We took some photos on the walk in an effort at normalcy. Since Jenny was the only one of us with access to money she agreed to be our sugar momma for the trip and we promised to pay her back upon our return home, bless her heart. We managed to get cash out of the liquor store ATM, but no luck on the charger or perscription. We called a cab from the liquor store and spent the next hour and a half visiting all the pharmacies on the island to no avail. We got a charger though. In the end it was a $70 cab ride. Ouch!

Back at the house again, the sun was setting and we proceeded to get drunk. We closed up the first floor of the house, storm shutters and all, which was now a necessity, and hung out on the second floor balcony, which had a great view of the street in front of the house and the ocean beyond that. We felt good up there from our vantage point, until a car cruised by us slowly and pulled into the neighbours driveway. I got spooked and we ran inside and locked up the whole house. Like three Rapunzels we drank the night away trying our best to laugh about it all. Just as we were going to bed I noticed police lights across the street. I planned to call the cops about it in the morning. We were exhausted…

 

5/10 Covid-19 Travel Diary: Toronto, Feb. 28

Jake and I hopped a train from Paris back to Brussels where I said, “Goodbye.” It was an epic sibling Eurotrip and I was sad to go. Jake’s contract at the wind farm had him there until August so we made plans to meet up back on Canadian soil at my wedding on Vancouver Island planned for August 8th. Exciting times!

I set out to the Brussels airport at 4AM. There was a wet, heavy snow falling beautifully in the lamplight. Jake said that’s the first and only time he saw it snow there. At the airport I got chatting with a South African gentleman who said he was an epidemiologist. His work seemed very focused on Malaria, despite my urgings to shift the topic to the Corona Virus. He was en route to a conference in Russia where he was hoping to get more information about it. He didn’t seem alarmed in the slightest. It was only when I reached customs in Toronto on Feb. 26th that there was warning of the virus. All the staff at YYZ were wearing masks and gloves and inquired if I had been in Wuhan in the last 14 days.

Back home, I was welcomed by a very sick fiancee. He had a high fever that broke my second evening home. I figured it was a bad flu and was happy he appeared to be getting better fast. Maybe he had Corona? Maybe not. We were not able to get tested either way and he recovered back to perfect health. We were very lucky.

I did my pile of laundry and packed my bags again, this time for my bachelorette party which was happening in Nassau, Bahamas a few days later. The news about the virus in China was alarming, and there were a few more cases in Italy, but still nothing too out of the ordinary. I figured I was fine to take off. And off I went…

4/10 Covid-19 Travel Diary: Paris, Feb. 24

Jake and I were delighted to be putting our bust of an evening in Prague behind us as we boarded yet another flight, to Paris this time, on the first day of Paris Fashion Week. The streets were vibrating with excitement as designers, photographers, models and celebrities descended upon the City of Love. Fashion Week is a bit like hunting season, except the hunters are shooting with cameras, not guns, and the pray are not wild animals, but wild young giraffes of the human sort with cheekbones that could cut glass. A model in the wild is an easy thing to spot. The six foot tall waifs in their Instagram-approved outfits stand out of the crowd like attention-hungry peacocks in mating season. Jake deftly observed that the paparazzi vying for their “street style’ photos were decked out in flashier garb than their lithe working prey. The streets are the runway during #PFW. All you have to do to get published on the international fashion media outlets is go for a stroll in your favourite haute couture. Jake and I were unprepared in the outfit area so we played ninja and stayed out of the limelight. We strolled around the city, pausing to act as voyeurs to the scattered fashion events popping up around town. One particular square was full of posing fashionistas and skaters. We posted up on the steps in the sun and soaked up the glorious scene.

Of course, we indulged in coq au vin, steak frites, and the finest, cheapest beaujolais in the world. I got so excited about finding one of my favourite wines for four euros that I dropped my bag full of wine bottles and smashed them all to bits, but that is neither here nor there. Jake cheered me up with a replacement bottle asap.

I wonder what the world of fashion will look like after this pandemic recedes. Will there still be room in the global economy for the frivolity of fashion? Germany has rolled out a staggering €50 billion aid package for small businesses that boosts artists and galleries. CBC had a two hour program on last week discussing how out-of-work artists should be bailed out by the government.

On the one hand, arts and culture bring an extremely important element of humanity to this strange time of social isolation, but on the other hand, you could say being an artist is a complete luxury undeserving of government funding that could be used more effectively in the social sectors. When you sign up to be an artist don’t you automatically agree to put the sharing of your work with the world first and hope to syphon a few dollars off the top to feed yourself and keep a roof over your head? Being an artist is risky business. Often we are working on a contract to contract basis without any safety net. We sink all our money into our work and then hope and pray people find it valuable. There are no guarantees. We must be creative in our work and also, in how we get paid for our work. Now that we are in this new era, it’s time to reassess our streams of revenue and use our creativity to imagine where we can go from here. I was flabbergasted that artists were getting so much airtime when it seems like our healthcare workers, government workers and grocery store employees should be getting our undivided attention. What do you think? Should the government put a special stimulus package together for the freelance artist community? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

3/10 Covid -19 Travel Diary: Prague, Feb. 23

Bidding a sweet adieu to Budapest, a land of wonderful parties, spas, food and vintage Korean clothing, Jake and I embarked upon our next stop; an overnight in Prague. We were to arrive around 11PM and had a dinner reservation at a neat-looking restaurant in an old clock tower for 11:30PM, a 20 minute walk from our $30/night Air Bnb. That was the plan anyway…

We were flying Czech Airlines for the first time. Again, we breezed through security and customs without a hitch. No one was wearing masks or gloves or taking any precautions yet regarding Covid-19. When we reached our gate, Jake took a peek at the plane we were about to take. It was a smaller propeller plane built by Bombardier. Jake mentioned he had worked on the design for this particular model at his stint as an intern at Bombardier last year. In his words, “I hope it doesn’t fall out of the sky.” And with that promising warning, we hopped aboard, sanitizing everything in our sight, of course.

The hour-long flight was peaceful up until our approach to landing. There was a torrential storm hovering over Prague. Out the window all we could see was horizontal precipitation in the flashes of light caused intermittently by the plane’s caution lights and the actual lightning bolts touching down all around us. The little plane felt like it was being tossed around by a bored giant and many people around us emptied their dinners into the lovingly provided barf bags onboard. Then the news came that we were unable to land for 45 minutes due to the weather. So we proceeded to circle in this storm for the next hour as our anxiety levels soared right up to our current altitude. I said to Jake, “If this is it for us, I just want you to know I love you, man.” And Jake said, “You know, it’s not such a bad way to go. We’ll be worldwide! The two Canadians who perished on the crashed Czech Airlines flight. We’ll be infamous!” It was a moment completely out of our control, so we relinquished ourselves to the machine. Finally, we were cleared for landing, which was rocky, but we survived.

Back on solid ground with our nerves totally shot, we set out about getting to our AirBnb. We missed the public bus, and splurged on an Uber. The keys for the AirBnb were at a sketchy shawarma spot down the street. We got the keys, dropped our bags, and hurried over to the bell tower restaurant to try and rescue the evening. If the walk there told us anything, it’s that Prague is haunted. The streets were deserted. It was a great scene for a murder. The looming clock tower could have housed Frankenstein back in the day. The troll woman who manned the lift up the tower refused to let us in, saying the restaurant was closed despite the numerous signs around posting the closing time as midnight, which was still a half hour away. Turned down and discouraged, we headed back to the shawarma spot and proceeded to get drunk on cheap beers and lebanese food. A slew of very drunk English tourists kept the joker guys behind the counter busy and entertained as they fed them and charged them way more then was fair. I went to order another dish and they said because I was Canadian I wouldn’t mind paying more than the fair price and charged my card without asking. What had been funny until that point then turned gross as we realized the racket these guys were onto every night. I plead karma and one of the cooks said he had twelve children, so fuck karma. Point taken. We retreated back to our AirBnb and got in a couple hours of sleep before our early flight to sweet Paris…

 

2/10 Covid-19 Travel Diary: Budapest, Feb. 22

The flight from Brussels to Budapest was as smooth as a Corona-infested stainless steel countertop. We checked in online and sailed through security and customs. No one even checked our passports. No one was thinking about Covid-19. Life was still normal.

A friend said to me yesterday, “We lived in the time of large gatherings.”

Our first stop in Budapest was the Szechenyi Spa & Baths, the largest spa in Europe. Imagine Versailles, but switch the gardens for hot spring pools. We proceeded to sweat and cold dunk on repeat with trips to the outdoor pools in the interims for heavy waterfall massage pouring out of ancient fountainheads. Groups of excited people were celebrating their bachelor(ette) parties there as the bar was selling mulled wine and the shining sun kept everyone’s spirits bright. That evening there was to be a Sparty, the infamous spa party, but Jake and I decided as neat an idea as that was it could become a literal cesspool of germs. We decided to go dancing instead.

We stumbled into Akvárium Klub where Rebekah was spinning and proceeded to dance for hours to her high-energy, driving, mechanical beats. The club was wall-to-wall packed. The crowd was swept up into a trance and time was suspended as our feet left the ground. 

We escaped both large gatherings unscathed and Corona-free thankfully. Looking back, I wonder when we will be able to hit the spa and party again. I am feeling a little less free than just a week ago. Our next stop is Prague…