Dreaming of History in Kumasi
Feb05

Dreaming of History in Kumasi

The traffic stood at a stall as I tried to weave my way between the cars while I attempted to enter the historical city of Kumasi, Ghana.  I squeeze my way between a tro-tro and a beat up green and yellow taxi and reach a traffic circle abused by honking horns and gridlocked traffic.  Somehow, I’ve managed to make my way into the grips of a tro-tro station as the amused looks of onlookers also note my mistake. After an hour circling to find an escape from my latest mistake, and perhaps the terrible life decision of driving a scooter across Africa as a whole, I find myself thinking this isn’t the Kumasi I was expecting. My professors in university spoke of a Kumasi full of kings and gold, not of traffic and smoke.  They told me of a Kumasi drenched in history and pride, not of flickering electricity and a lack of running water.  They told me of a history so grand that it rivals the stories of any of the world’s great empires.  But I’m starting to realize that I’ll have to dig a little bit to find the history that has so intrigued me since my late teens. It’s easy to wish you could see the world as it once was, but maybe the truth is that even then it was more chaotic than it seems in the stories of the old men and women who tell the tales.  It’s perhaps a romantic dream that the world wouldn’t develop, that instead it would remain intact and uncorrupted as it once was. However, as I now push through the crowded Kejetia Market I realize I’m going to have to settle for the stories. The garden of the Kumasi Cultural Center offers a reprieve from the crowds, but I’m hit by the realization that the heat of the air melts most to those in the open air.  I wander into the white walled museum and turn down a barrage of towels to wipe the sweat from my brow, my neck and, well, my everywhere. My guide stands with a strong stature as she leads me through displays of old cloths, cooking equipment and finely carved stools of powerful significance.  I nod my head in the realization that I learned all this in school but never really understood it until I saw it with my own eyes. History has a funny way of molding in the minds of those who are told it.  We create stories and visions for the way we interpret it.  Our imaginations wander in the way they choose, like they did as we lied in bed as our grandfathers described the dungeons...

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Getting Cultured in Alert Bay
Jul15

Getting Cultured in Alert Bay

“Why Africa?” people ask me constantly in regards to my choice of next travel destination. “What makes it special?” I always come clean with the details instantly, as if they are rehearsed.  I love the fact that there are such deep and meaningful cultures that exist in Africa; and I love the fact that there is such a huge diversity of tradition stuffed into small areas. “There are over 100 languages in Senegal alone,” I like to tell people to blow their mind a little bit. But interestingly enough, the farther I seem to venture from home, the more I remember that there is an often forgotten culture right next door.  There are cultures laden with incredible stories and powerful traditions on my home soil.  And although we tend to group Native Canadians under one heading, the truth is that in British Columbia alone there were likely more than 100 different First Nations language groups before first contact with Europeans. As we stepped into the U’Mista Cultural Center in Alert Bay, just off of Port McNeill on Vancouver Island, and sat to watch a video about the traditions of the local First Nation people I was struck by my shortsightedness.  I have literally travelled around the world to seek out interesting cultures and beautifully preserved traditions when they exist right here at home. Moreover, the coastal First Nations people have some of the most beautiful cultural practices and artifacts in the world.  The native songs and dances offer a powerful insight into the relationship between themselves and their natural environment.  Their masks are easily the most intricate that I have seen anywhere in the world.  And their totem poles are some of the most distinctive pieces of art found anywhere on the planet.  It is a shame that we as a society have somehow managed to, somewhat, sweep these traditional practices under the rug.  That being said, it seems as though there is a resurgence in the cultural practices, here in Alert Bay anyways, and perhaps the growth and interest of tourist has a lot to do with that. However sad it may be that someone like myself, a travel writer who seeks out tradition, history, and culture, can forget about such a powerful system so close to home, it is also natural.  Just as we will often travel around the globe to see a beautiful lake, waterfall or beach while never visiting the places we have at home, there is a draw to the exotic.   It almost seems to be human nature to seek out the most difficult means of exploration, as if we are forcing ourselves to...

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Holding Tight to the Roots in Tofino
Jul05

Holding Tight to the Roots in Tofino

I still remember the first time I heard about Tofino.  It was about 10 years ago and the conversation went something like this: Dude: “Have you ever heard of this surf town called Tofino?” Me: “No, where is it? Hawaii?” Dude: “It’s on the west coast of Vancouver, actually.  The place is about to go off.  Beautiful beaches, killer waves, and a really cool kind of hippie vibe.  And the best part is that no one knows about it yet.  If I had any money, I’d be putting it into Tofino.” Well, years later I’ve been to Tofino a handful of times and the truth is that most of that conversation still holds true today; well, except that it is much more well known now.  Tofino has become well entrenched in the conversation of top British Columbia tourism destinations over the past decade.  As such, the population has swelled and the amount of tourism activity has grown exponentially in recent years.  But still, despite the notoriety of this left coast island town, Tofino manages to stick true to its roots. Despite my ignorance, I was on to something, without knowing it, when I wondered if Tofino was in Hawaii.  The town’s history and makeup holds a variety of similarities with many once secluded Hawaiian island towns that have felt the pressures of tourism and foreign investment.  Beyond the obvious surf comparison. Tofino was once populated mostly by first nations people.  People who chose to live out in the Tofino region, were left to their own means, somewhat secluded from the rest of the island.  But as tourism grew, so did the foreign population.  And with tourism, the locals now both desire what tourism brings, but work hard to protect what makes this place special to them.  Nature, peace, and community harmony are all important factors of life in Tofino.  In fact, the majority of Canada began hearing about Tofino due to that protection of the local environment when they took part in what, at the time, was the largest protest in Canadian history as people took to the trees to protect the area from being over-logged. One doesn’t have to wander much farther than the center of town to realize that Tofino is a different type of settlement.  The center piece of town is not a square, but a skate park teeming with activity.  In between spins around the park, the kids chat about the waves, girls, and the usual.  But the kids here seem more conscious than the usual North American teens who seem to be more concerned with iPhones and what’s going down on the latest episode of Jersey...

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Edinburgh: Where McDonald’s and Castles Live Together in Harmony
Apr04

Edinburgh: Where McDonald’s and Castles Live Together in Harmony

Feeling like a character in one of the Shrek films I hike up High Street amused by my surroundings. I peer over my right shoulder and down the hill to see the Queen’s resident comfortably nestled at the bottom. As my head turns to regain its natural position it spots an old pub; the haunts of old men and stories. My tired knees continue to climb as I pass Mary King Close; once host to some of the most storied writers of our time, and perhaps the current commune for those looking for inspiration as well. “This is the land of fairy tales,” I can’t help but think, “this is where princesses walk the street and ogres prowl from the forests below.” However as I continue to stumble up the street I am struck by the reality of modern Edinburgh as well. The line of a busy Starbucks branch on the corner leads into the street as people desperate for a fix of American coffee wait patiently for a Grande Chocolate Machiatto Espresso Super Latte. I leave high street and begin hiking into the park that forms in the depression between sides of the city: new and old. On one side a historical building flickers with the navy colours of the Union Jack, narrow streets are bordered by towering walls, and a castle stands guard on the hill glowing in the light of the setting sun. On the other side of the valley, construction is under way on the main road.  Large glass windows provide shoppers with a glance into the fashion they could be sporting.  And at the end of the street a McDonald’s restaurant stands directly across from the high castle walls. There was a time in my travels where this might have bothered me. I would have scoffed at the fact the world of corporations has taken over, how beautiful historical roots and culture have been taken over by H&M, Next, and – of course – McDonald’s. However, I’ve come to accept the fact that this world changes, and sometimes McDonald’s takes over streets that were once dominated by peasants and feudal lords alike. As I sit down on a park bench in the middle of these two worlds I take a different approach this time. I stare off into the not-so-distant views and not only take them in, but try and imagine what they must have looked like 100 years ago, or 1,000 years ago. Amazingly, despite the influx of Starbucks-type businesses in Edinburgh it still manages to maintain its appeal. It is perhaps the most attractive city in the whole of the United Kingdom, McDonald’s...

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Peeling Below the Surface of Belfast in a Black Cab
Mar27

Peeling Below the Surface of Belfast in a Black Cab

As a younger version of myself I remember hearing the stories of Northern Ireland and of Belfast. Those names were synonymous with violence, bombings, rioting and, quite frankly, hatred. But as I wandered the streets of Belfast for 3 days I couldn’t help but wonder where the signs, or perhaps the scars, of those days could be found. The streets flared with nothing but calm and the monotonous shade of brick told to me not a single secret.  I wondered if the conflict in Northern Ireland still existed. However, within a minute riding in the back of a Black Cab with George in the city, all I wondered was explained. It was right in front of my eyes the entire time. The stories of Belfast need not be peeled back from a superficial layer, they lay on every street corner, they are painted on the walls, and they read out as clear as a thousands words. The moment I stepped into the comfortable cab George warned me: this won’t be a tour full of rosy fairy tales, too many people died to glaze over things. And as someone who studied conflicts in University, and has seen it on the ground level in Colombia, Sierra Leone, and a number of other places, I wouldn’t want it any other way. At the end of the day, wiping our ugly past under the rug might make it quick to forget but we will never learn from it and soon the mess under the rug will begin to rot and cause another stench, and no one will even know how it got there in the first place. We dive through town as George explains that the violence and seperation is not as religious as it may seem. It is republican against loyalist. But let’s be honest, it is citizen vs. citizen. No conflict between two people would ever exist if there were no economic tension between two people, and their certainly are; they are fairly evident. “Right now we’re in neutral territory” George says as he drives along what appears to me as a normal street in the city, “We’re crossing now into Loyalist territory.” I wonder what has defined this sudden change of grounds before he points to a mural on a wall, one I took a photo of earlier not knowing of it’s meaning. “That’s a Loyalist mural,” he says as if it should have been obvious to me. I look closely at the markings and notice King George’s Cross and a red hand. “That red hand is the one thing we agree on, us and the loyalists” he says finally...

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