A brief pictography on Colombia, complete with a little commentary. Individually the images illustrate life in Colombia. Collectively – and in comparison – they tell quite an interesting, if not funny story. Read it all and scroll slowly. Enjoy.
FUN AND GAMES
One of the best fighters in history. Not sure who he is though, looks tough.
This is the grand city bull fighting ring in downtown Bogota. Quite a structure and quite the tradition.
The bullring was closed by ‘Prime Ministers’ orders in 2012 and re opened as an outdoor skating rink.
And from a traditional sport to a non-traditional sport and back to a more traditional one…………..and this certainly is one.
PAST TIME SPORT
It looks like a simple game of throwing something for points.
Tejo (pronounced Te-ho) is a National game in Colombia. It is not found everywhere, but when you find it, its pretty cool. The three times I was actually able to find an arena and we went, the game cost the same to play. In all threes instances ‘senor bartender’ approached the group and we discussed playing and what was involved. The “ante in”, I have to refer to it as, was 15 beers. Yes, one-five. Brought to us in a case along with the discs to throw….and a little bit of instruction…..not much. This is yours truly, three Brits looking on. Good people.
If you are really lucky (or skilled enough) to hit one of the triangles dead on, there is a wonderful little reaction. really skilled players can do this two or three times in a row…..for us, it was a matter of pride to at least hit one, once. We did…….I did, at least
The triangles are filled with a bit of gun powder. Everything striking together at the same time makes the ka-boom. And man it feels good. Fun Times.
And for the record – Beer selection: Poker, Aguilla, Club Colombia. Mix them up if you want, but you buy 15 – none the less – in order to be able to play for as long as it takes you to drink the suds. Senor bartender and instructor on the right of the pic. Nice stash.
SOME LOCAL FARE
Colombian BBQ Bogota
Downtown Bogota features a couple of these BBQ restaurants with this impressive vertical style grill cooking up various meats. You can get an assorted plate of chow for around $12/pp. The grill masters working street side entice people passing through by offering a sample of something savoury handed to you on the end of a prong……..seems pretty good.
Between chews it is quite likely that you would ask what exactly you are eating. Beef? Chicken? Pork? Carne? Pollo? Cerdo? After a resounding ‘NO’ to these three likely choices, the employee then hands over a little sign depicting the animal who’s meat just went from the grill to your hand then your mouth. What is it exactly?
The Chiguiro is in fact the largest rodent on the planet and is found and sometimes eaten throughout South America. Its bigger than a beaver, reproduces like a rabbit, hangs out in packs like a wolf, eats like a rat, barks like a dog, and is as big of a pain in the ass for residents and homeowners as racoons are to us here in Canada. There is some interesting information about the animal on Wikipedia. Click here for Chiguiro facts and figures on Wikipedia.
The best line on Wikipedia about the Chiguiro is below:
“The meat is considered unsuitable to eat in some areas, while in other areas it is considered an important source of protein”
As always and with anything: Buyer beware.
A LITTLE BIT OF CULTURE
The Colombian National Museum in Bogota is an impressive building that was originally (and previously) used as a prison. It has some impressive spaces and works to look at. Certainly (as in everything in Colombia), there are some interesting and opposing works and exhibits.
There are many examples from one of the most celebrated Colombian artists known as Fernando Botero. He is known for creating bloated, oversized depictions of people, animals and elements of the natural world. Certainly he is prominently featured in this museum. Lots of big bums and rounded people.
A little bio on Fernando Botero.
Back to the prison feel and open spaces…oh if these walls could talk.
And finally the ‘piece de resistance’, a piece of a meteor that struck and landed in Vichada, Colombia. Somehow doesn’t see to fit in the museum filled with art.
Nor does the headless statue.
List of famous people over history who were beheaded.
A complete list of impact craters on earth.
Travelling is not at all travel without meeting a whole bunch of other travellers from all walks of life and from all over the world. This particular guys name is Russell. I met Russell during my first week in Colombia. Like me, he arrived with very little plans for his adventure. Unlike me, he was travelling on a very very tight budget, was busking at nights to make ends meet and our differences dawned upon me when he stated he arrived in Bogota with only $100 in his pocket. To further differentiate between us, Russell was going to depart Bogota in a few days, and do so on foot. I was in shock to be honest……walk out of Bogota? No fares for buses or taxis or anything of the sort…..just simply walk. Out of monetary necessity and pure enjoyment Russell went about his journey, one step at a time. To be honest, I thought the idea was a bit crazy.
And to prove the point, we came upon Russell on his way out of town. Hes not hitching a ride but was waiting for a western union money transfer to arrive of $100usd and then he would be on his way. Once again it dawned on me……who would think of just leaving city and heading out (route unknown) with only $100 in their pocket? Money that Russell told me he would use on provisions. Say the words provisions, walking and Bogota in the same sentence and you are either the craziest or coolest guy in town. Russell was a pretty cool dude. age:26. hometown: Pheonix, AZ. Profession: Artist/Musician. Full name: Russell A. Barnes, look him up.
Stray Dog: Day 1
While staying at Los Pinos Hostal, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains on the north coast of Colombia, we had a visitor come by looking well worse for the wear. The visitor was the dog you see below and this picture is of him when he arrived. Barely able to put one foot in front of the other, the stray was certainly on his well worn out death bed…..he’s probably been there for a while. After a few hrs of him scared and timid and looking like he needed something to eat at least, I recalled a similar dog we had in Utila Honduras that (due to the physical nature of him), we called ‘Bones’. And this dog was now another ‘Bones’.
Bones must have made quite the impression on his first night…….everyone was horrified by Bones at first but for different reasons. Some were horrified by his skidish nature, and protruding frame, wanting the dog to just ‘go away’…..others were horrified about the lack of strength and health of the dog and were very compassionate for him, wanting just ‘to feed him and get rid of his ticks’. I was neither here nor there on the particular topic until the following morning, although I did name him Bones.
Upon checking out of Los Pinos the next day, one of the guests turned to myself and handed me a bill. Not a bill of sale, but a bill. Amber put 50,000 Colombian pesos in my hand and asked me to “take care of Bones”. Not only that, but that she would also send money each month to continue the care. Folks, its not one for me to step up and suddenly start my first NGO or anything, but the look of Bones and the plea by Amber were two things you couldn’t say NO to.
Suddenly the dilapidated Bones was in my hands at his new home Los Pinos Hostal. We did our best to feed him, take out his tics, and he did his best getting to know the other resident dogs Luna and Brando. We fed him and he got stronger and more confident. In a matter of a few weeks his tail would sail high above his body, he would run and prance and even bark (although this would take the wind out of him). We witnessed, in front of our very eyes, the re-socialization of a well worn out canine. Bones came to life. I could go on and on about it, but for the sake of brevity the long and short of it is: Amber saved Bones, we did the work and the dog responded. Almost a love story if there was one.
By the end of three weeks I had made my way down to the city and purchased some eye drops for an infection as well as the best flea and tick collar money could buy. I got him used to both very quickly, and the photo below shows a very proud Bonsey. Complete with his new collar he’s more than happy to show off. 21 days folks.
Senor Bones, bless him.
More to come, thanks Colombia. 2013.
06 April 2013
The first time I was ever given proper credit was sometime in the 80’s at the exact moment I received my eight carefully selected tapes from Columbia music company. Six to eight weeks previously I was tearing apart postage stamp representations of music albums, licking them on to a selection sheet, and getting involved in the wonderful interdependent worlds of consumption and consumerism. After hand writing the application (re: name and address), and the envelope, I walked off to the mail and sent in my very first credit application. Beuf!
Wetting the appetite of the young consumer this credit purchasing trend did not cease with the advent of the CD, although Colombia Music House succumbed, but rather increased and manifested its self into every aspect of our everyday lives. When I started college there were very few people holding their own credit cards, but by the time I walked down the aisle for graduation, you couldn’t get through the school year without being approached by dozens of credit card companies vying to sign you up. If the free mug or “something U” tshirt or flannel uni pants didnt entice you to sign up as you walked the hallways of higher education, then maybe the allure of having a photo of your alma matter on that little piece of plastic – with a little visa or mastercard logo in the corner – would…..or eventually did.
With credit being king, suddenly a lack of fluid cash did not cease our purchasing power. In fact, credit increased our ability to buy goods and we did so at an ever increasing rate. We were inundated with phrases like “don’t pay a cent”, “do not pay till the year 2005”, and “no money down” until they became context of this new popular culture. As a group we were dealt a wonderful hand of increased tuition and cost of living, lower wages, higher unemployment, and larger debt load. This didn’t phase us however as we had access to credit, and companies were offering this credit to us at an alarming rate and with increasing frequency. We bit and we bought. And we bought and we bought.
We don’t need to look much further than our own debt loads and credit problems to know the rest of the story. More and more people are struggling to make even minimum payments and the interest rates are astronomical.
Taking solace in the vast amounts of goods contained in our homes, garages, closets, and basements and finally making their way to the land fill – the debt continues its stranglehold. Strangely enough, a frequently used “feel good” remedy is the purchase of an Iphone, even throwing out the old one and lining up for an hour for the opportunity to spend $500 on a new one (re: more credit, and signing up for a 3 year contract) because then the phone is free right?. Smart isn’t it? Not really……but it feels good in that moment, so I’m told, or so it appears.
And there it is, we have stuff and we have debt and we live with it. Some people are even comfortable with it, wouldn’t know what to do without it, the new normal. Gather those airmiles, but never take flight. For me conversely it’s the flight I’m looking for, and for what I like to take.
I am able to do this because I don’t have debt (re:things) that create the debt and thus keep one grounded in one spot for a long long time. This new world normalcy for many, is for myself, so foreign. Debt controls us, strangles us, and holds us like a bear hug we want to get out of but in some sense we like – and are used to, not like we have any other choice.
When packing for my recent 3 month trip to Colombia I took all of what I needed, but what some might call the bare essentials. My entire life for 90 days on the road was folded up into a backpack that weighed 36 pounds at the airport check in. That is all. My entire living existence was contained in one bag slung on my back and really, this is all I needed.
Although I was introduced to consumerism, credit and consumption by Columbia Music House some twenty five years ago, I did not get caught up in this culture as most did. For some reason (maybe years of living day to day during and after university with a strict accounting dad holding the reins), I paid off my debt and never returned. I clearly remember the day I became 100% debt free, it was the first time I actually felt free…..and it was a great feeling . A better feeling than I received from anything Ive ever bought. Suddenly I was empowered and able to make choices in life based on what I wanted to do not what I had to do. Happiness and mobility increased, working hand in hand like a secret formula we were never taught or shown. I continue to challenge myself to work with what Ive got and not extend myself beyond my means. Its fairly easy when travelling in second and third world countries but understandably harder whenever I return home for more than a week or two. With that said, each time I purchase a plane ticket Im reminded why I don’t want an Iphone or new living room set or the latest kicks, and why I just laugh at people who’s local grocery store is Costco (re: you never leave there without spending a couple hundred bucks).
Not getting caught up in Columbia Music House, has allowed me the opportunity to travel COLOMBIA!
For the interested, here is a complete list of what thirty six pounds of goods in a backpack adds up to:
Colombia Packing list:
-2 pairs of jeans
-1 pair light weight hiking pants
-1 swim shorts
-3 pairs socks, 1 pair wool socks
-1 long sleeve T shirt
-3 button down shirts
-1 pull over fleece
-1 rash guard
-1 winter hat
-1 rain coat
-1 pair lightweight hiking shoes
-1 pair flip flops
-head lamp, sewing kit, bottle of camp soap, flashlight, toiletries, sunscreen, sleeping bag, travel pillow, quick dry towel, snorkelling gear, 2 books, note pad, bag of band aids, swiss army knife,
-(in my carry-on not incl in the 36lbs). laptop, speakers, iPod, earphones, usb stick, camera, cell phone, chargers.
Things I didn’t use, or were lost or stolen on trip:
-2 button down t-shirts (not used)
-winter hat (not used)
-sewing kit (not used)
-1 book (not read)
-cell phone (stolen)
Foot Note: An interesting article about how Colombia House was able to make money through their sales scheme in the 80’s and 90’s
Inundated with various animals and wildlife high up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains outside Minca Colombia, Danny decided to take one unsuspecting mule under his wing. After a few days of joking that the mule was now adopted by the hostal, we encouraged Danny to prove his relationship with this beast of livestock AND to make friendly contact.
However, this would not be enough for the onlookers who chided Danny to actually mount and ride the mule. With little coaxing, this relationship between man and his animal was established and caught on camera for all to see.
What follows, ends up being a nice little outdoor tour of Los Pinos Hostal, and the landscapes and views this wonderful place offers. You will also get a glimpse of the largest hammock in Colombia….check it out.
If you go, you too can ride the mule if you’re up for it. Pretty much anything goes at Los Pinos, SO, if there is something you want to do you will never be met with “you shouldn’t do that”, but rather “go for it”……of course, no matter what the consequences might be. Sometimes things just seem to be normal given your surroundings and environment. Kids, don’t try this at home.
For some years, some many years ago, I suffered with bouts of anxiety that surfaced for no real explanatory reason what so ever. Trying to combat the limitations this feeling can exacerbate I realized that the best way to over come was to face this anxiety head on. For some people this anxiety surfaces in daily living, for others it is brought on by events or scenarios associated with the aforementioned stress. Personally, I could not determine the root cause nor the factors which brought this upon myself. With that said, when this feeling came upon me in theory or actuality, the best way I could overcome the issue was to face it head on and go for it. The resulting accomplishments would then serve as a backboard – or bench mark so to speak – and check, that the anxiety was driven down beyond any means of resurfacing….and hence healed. Travel was one of those scenarios for me which could bring upon anxiety. Unfamiliar people, places and things could in essence, get me anxious. So, to over come…..you just GO. And Go. And Go. And that I have. Diving was as well was something I wasn’t to particularly fond of – BUT – to overcome I had to come face to face and simply continue till that anxiety was so small it was non-existent. Some 1000 dives later and I’m master of the sea. Bringing me to this next point.
Falling/floating/flailing from the sky from absurd heights in something that most people would be apprehensive about and possibly anxious. Not good regular – I’m about to have a big job interview anxiety – but real unhealthy limitation experience anxiety. One that cripples you and shapes your choices and experiences from that point on. So, in that, Paragliding is one of those activities I’m not fond of in theory….and something I would never consider doing. However, as per my usual medicine in these cases, it was best to hit this apprehension head on. Thus, when I was thinking about my trip to Colombia and the possibility of going paragliding, taking part in this activity was not an option, it was a need. An internal need to find that back board and burry that anxiety once again.
I accomplished the paragliding and lived to tell. Im better off for it and although it really was a “stomach in the throat experience”, I would now consider doing it again, somewhere else, some other time. I took a video of part of this experience. It shows me floating around and somewhat enjoying myself. We return to the landing zone and are still very high above when the pilot asks me if I want to do “some spins”. Everything inside me said” no freaking way”, but alas in the video you can hear me say, “lets go for it”. The video below shows how insane these spins can be…..and of course that we had a safe landing as well. If you hold on till the end you’ll see the relief on my face. Not normal relief but relief that comes in the form of facing your fears and knowing that being empowered in that manner is the best medicine…..be it paragliding, diving, travelling – or for some – even simple day to day activities and life. In this manner the best prescription is a well know remedy (and saying) that is very seldom used. Its called: GO FOR IT. Try it, it might work for you as well.
Ive been asked many times by many people, what exactly draws me to this small little Caribbean island of the coast of Honduras. Over the years Ive either become inept, lazy or just plain bored trying to sell the feeling of Utila to the lay person who is more worried about iphones, after school activities or the traffic on the QEW. To their credit (although never being short of words), Ive not been able to fully capture what it is I love about Utila.
Today, I was lucky enough to come across this video about Utila which uses the sinking of the Halliburton Wreck (to make an artificial dive site) as a background while (for the first time Ive seen), properly portraying the essence of this wonderful little place. To all of you who have ever asked or wondered about this island I love and have called home, have a look at the short movie here and soak it up.
To be truthful, Im putting this up here just for me……..What an amazing video of an amazing place.
29 Aug 12
Well now that the CFL season is well underway and things are moving along towards the labour day classics and fall weather football, its about time to introduce the Argos Admirals.
Consisting of a group of around a dozen Toronto Argonaut fans, we have been brought on board to contribute content – about the team and the league – to the various social media outlets available today. Having been hired in early June, this group of enthusiasts have been writing and uploading and tweeting and talking and yelling (while at the games), in all forms and fashion about the Toronto Argonauts. Being a big supporter of the club myself, it was natural to get involved and I was one of the lucky hires of this group.
We will be working all the way towards and through the 100th edition of the Grey Cup to be played in Toronto this coming November.
You can find information, details, events, contests, and all things Argos via facebook, our website, the Argos official website and twitter…..simply search ARGOS ADMIRALS.
Having been a fan for my entire life it is certainly welcoming to get involved with the club in this fashion. We work out of the head offices on King st in Toronto in a room called M31, and on game days we are in the press box and in the stands at the dome. Anything going on in Argoland or regarding the Grey Cup will come right through our channels via the club.
argosadmirals.com Great articles with player interviews, summaries, predictions, and stories from the past.
Admirals on official Argos website With links to twitter, pintrest and reddit.
Facebook page with lots photos, video, and banter.
I asked a very good friend of mine if he would write a story bout his travels that he would share on this blog. And he did. Its worth the read, if not for the adventure, for the sincerity. Thanks Colin.
Central America – 1 June 12 – Colin Sim
Growing up in the Niagara area, just 20 minutes from the US border, I was fairly used to the relative ease in which a Canadian could cross into the US. It was generally just a quick chat with the border guard and you were into the states, or the same going back into Canada with my bucket of buffalo wings, case of cheap beer, and a tank full of gas. I´d say I´d crossed back & forth well over a 100 times without incident, ever. But it´s slightly different here in Central America when it comes to crossing borders. For example, you have to have your passport visa stamped OUT of the country you are currently in, before you can get a visa stamp going INTO the country you are on your way to. Sometimes this process can be extremely simple, Like going north into Guatemala from Honduras. You stop at a little outpost in the middle of nowhere , get a quick stamp from Hondo, walk across the dirt road to the Guat(emala) Immigration office, which looks identical to a toll booth on a US Expressway. Ironically, you do pay an entrance fee going into Guat & you just know that a portion of that fee is going to pay for the border guards´ dinner that evening. But all in all, quick, easy and painless. Sometimes, however, border crossings can be an exercise in patience, humility, absolute corruption and hopefully, redemption. This is one of those stories.
My good friend Chris and I had been traveling for awhile and ended up in a small surfing town in El Salvador for the better part of October in 2011. Two other friends, Melanie & Ty, had been on a rubbertramp (driving a van) tour from BC and had met up with us. The plan was to drive from El Salv into Nicaragua. To get there, you have to cross out of El Salv, into a very small portion of Honduras, and then into Nica. We had 4 border crossings ahead to get into Nica & to get there with plenty of daylight to spare was the goal. We were leaving early enough, the drive only 6 hours, it should be attainable, we were sure.
The rules for vehicles are exactly as they are for people. If you´re driving in Central America, your car needs a visa/permit too and also has to follow the stamp IN/OUT procedure. So, as we were leaving El Salv, the van´s permit was stamped OUT first at a small checkpoint prior to the main office, we then drove the 300 meters to where we needed to have our passports checked. I went to the window first, and was promptly told that my visa had expired and there was a hefty fine of $104US! That´s a lot of money down here.
And on with the story….
Now, I had been in Central America for 7 months by now, and El Salv, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua share what is called a CA-4 visa, giving 90 days maximum within those 4 countries. I had received a 90 day extension in Guat about 45 days earlier, so I should be fine, I tried to explain to the border official in my broken Spanish. In turn, in his broken English, he said he knows, he sees the stamp, they just weren´t going to honour it AND he reminded me that the fine was $104US.
The other option he said, was to drive to the capitol city of San Salvador, go to the main immigration office there, and get an El Salv extension and the fine would not apply. After a quick discussion, the 4 of us jump back into Ducey (of course the van had a nickname) and proceeded to turn around and drive towards San Salv. Just a quick stop at the checkpoint for vehicles and we´d be on our way. The next guard looks at the van´s permit and quickly retorts that our permit has ended and no longer valid. It was only 20 minutes earlier that it was stamped out but the guard didn´t care and told us to turn around, go back to the office we were just at, and get a new permit to drive into El Salv. Back down the 300m, of course we get the same officer as before, and he tells us that this office does not provide vehicle permits and we´d have to drive to another border crossing, about 200kms away. But, he giggled, because we did not have a current permit, we could not do that either. Yep, we couldn´t get out of El Salv or back into it. We were stuck in border crossing limbo. A 3rd option came about….if we stayed at the hotel conveniently located beside the immigration office for 3 nights, they would stamp us OUT and we could be on our way. Something was telling me that he had a stake in that hotel, or that his brother or uncle owned it. I tried to explain the situation again, that the visa from Guat should be valid & I should be allowed out of the country. Again, he explained to me that the fine was $104US.
I reached into my pocket & had $27. He told me to go and beg my friends for the rest, but I convinced him we were all broke. He finally relented a little, pulled out an official Customs & Immigration binder, opened it up to a specific page about fines, pointed out how many days my original visa was over the 90, leading to a line with the fine of $57. Bastardo!
I think I might be screwed.
I knew he was just gouging me before, but at least this was somewhat acceptable. I paid the fine, he gave me a 5 day extension out of the CA-4 countries and we were on our way. Well, at least the 150m to the next border station for Honduras. A traffic warden waved us over to the side of the road and came to chat. He had noticed the problems we had at the El Salv office and was curious as to what happened. He seemed a friendly guy and as we talked, I gave him a quick rundown. He asked to see my passport, and to quell the urge to prove my story to a total stranger, I gave it to him. He checked it out, then without saying a word, put it in his back pocket and walked away.
Yup, its Central America…..it actually does get worse, way worse.
I was dumbfounded. Did that just happen? We sat there for a few minutes, shocked, and discussed our current options and I decided to go and talk to him. He was clearly after a bribe, it was just a matter of how much it was going to take to get it back. When I approached him, he immediately raised his hand to have my stop in my tracks, and with his other hand, reached for his gun. Holy shit! He was yelling at me in Spanish far beyond my understanding, but the body language was telling me enough. I backed up, slowly, him keeping his hand on his gun, me keeping my eyes on him just in case he went cowboy on me, and I sat down on the curb. I sat there for the better part of an hour, my friends unsure what to do, and me just stewing about it. I mean, this guy wasn´t police, or customs but some lowly traffic warden (insert sarcastic tone here ) helping to maintain the immense amount of traffic at this crossing. Who was he to steal my passport? So I started to walk up to him again, and the same response came back at me, but this time, I understood – ¨sit down & shut up¨. That line, accompanied by the gun grab is an effective way of getting what you want. Back on the curb, 3 hrs have passed and now my favorite traffic warden is on the move. Not towards me for the bribe, but towards a small building with a dozen or so other traffic wardens. Break time. Obviously I´m not going to confront this guy in front of his colleagues, so I needed to form a new plan. What to do?
I recognize that his office, is only 15ft from the Honduras Immigration building. So I walk over there, tell the officer at the border that a traffic warden has my passport and will not return it. his eyes widen, leaps out of his chair, runs out the back door, around the corner and is beside me within seconds. He asks me to follow him and we are now at the warden´s building and wants to know which of these guys here has my passport. I can feel all eyes on me now, staring through me with teeth clenched and furrowed brows. I´m petrified. I reluctantly point out which warden has it, and the officer starts charging towards him like a bull. Yelling at him, arms flailing, the conversation between the two of them does not look like its going well for me. This goes on for a minute or two, and eventually, the warden lowers his head, reaches into his back pocket and hands over my passport to the officer who quickly snatches it out of his hands, berates him a little more and hurriedly walks to me and returns it. He begins to walk away, and me feeling the eyes of the wardens still staring through my soul, I follow him like a lost puppy. We head back to the Honduras office now, rejoined by my friends who saw this go on, and the officer sits back into his chair, and asks us for all 4 of our passports and he quickly stamps our visas in succession and without any questions. Ty had gotten the permit for Ducey while I was dealing with el douchebag, so we jumped into the van as quickly as possible. We were all pretty nervous as we pulled away, thinking the traffic warden would simply call one of his friends a little farther down the highway to make retribution, but we seemed to have luck on our side and didn´t see another official until we got to the Nicaragua border. What should have been 6 hours, turned into 12, but we made it out of Hondo and into NIca fairly quickly, and after a few days, I journeyed into Costa Rica, then back into Nica with a fresh 90 day CA-4 stamp.
I´ve been in & out of 19 countries, and crossed international borders so many times its hard to remember, but that´s a day of traveling I´ll never forget.
UTILA – Bay Islands – HONDURAS
After years of killing and feeding lion fish to would be predators, finally this video shows a Green Moray attack a full on – live (not captured or wounded) lion fish. It is the culmination really, of efforts of divers on Utila putting their skills and hard work, to work. Only a few years ago we would be lucky to see a nice grouper. Well now, you should see one of them suck up a lion fish, its an incredible force of vacum…….shit, the groupers will follow you around at some dive sites waiting to feed, and even help in the hunt……….I digress though, this video did not come by fluke….to EVERYONE that has worked effortlessly on this initiative over the past couple years…. once again, thankyou. Thousands of lion fish have been fed to predators over the past 24’ish months, shit….and way back when, we didnt even DO that………..maybe leave a dead lion fish on the surface knowing at some point it should get eaten – starting point 1.0. DMs on Utila have provided – full on National Geographic – retraining of would be predators, to the lion fish. Ive fed mostly semi live ones to Queen Angel fish, all sorts of groupers and eels, even snappers will get in on the mix. Believe me when Im saying this. From the 1st lion fish on Utila (of tens of thousands since then) in early 09′, to actual natural hunting/eating shown on this video is absolutely awesome.
Viewing Notes: You will see the Moray eel right at the beginning of the video, closer to the bottom. From there the diver rotates away 180 degrees and comes across the lion fish….it will take a second to come into view but then you will see it in all its splendidness. It is a gorgeous fish, but if we’re not proactive it could well be the only fish in the Caribbean reef.
Notes: This video was produced out of UDC on youtube. Whoever the diver is with the spear gun…..perfect….didnt shoot at the wrong times….let the fish twitch and dance, they are memorizing and dangerous. Thanks guys. Amazing!
For more information on the wonderful conservation efforts on Utila and the Bay Islands visit:
In the newest series of ads for the CFL, they have released what I would call Memoirs of the Grey Cup, a montage so to speak.
None the less, a great tribute to Football fans and proud Canadians alike. Can you guess the narrator?
Check out the Argos Admirals Blog…….official fan voice of the Toronto Argonauts……14 dedicated boatmen offering their views and interacting……..having alot of fun with it!
13 June 2012
Amongst other things going on, there was another painting job on the horizon, but really though, it did come out of the blue.
A friend requested some help doing some inside rooms and hallways, walls and trim…….ceilings as well.
Stayed over a couple of times. Worked during the day and connected online doing other work also…..stay connected.
One job always turns into the next, Im supposed to go back on Monday.
The work is turning out well. In the mean time, I feel like Picasso.
Having first been recorded on the reefs around the island of Utila (Bay Islands, Honduras) in May 2009, this species of fish multiplied, divided, and almost conquered. For those of you who are not aware of this particular fish…..they are a gorgeous one for sure…….BUT, they are not native to the waters of the Caribbean (but of the pacific, amongst others), and they are tearing apart every fish species they can get their mouths on. Being able to expand their stomach thirty times original size, to be able to go weeks without food, to multiply like rabbits, and their penchant for dancing and mesmerizing the young juveniles into a trans – then to be eaten quickly and feverously . With no natural predators in the Caribbean, the Lion Fish are desecrating many fish species from Florida and Mexico – in the north – all the way Panama in the south. Simply put, the fish has no natural predators in these waters AND no external method of population control – as such, you will soon have a reef population consisting solely of Lion Fish, at the top of the food chain……and then you will start loosing the actual reef as well.
A few years ago – on Utila – some very concerned people began voicing the problems this situation was flourishing into. Different studies were done and different methods of controlling (see: making the Lionfish extinct) were experimented with. All though rules are irregularly enforced (ie. Never) in Honduras, using a spear gun/sling to kill the Lion Fish (or any fish for that matter) was illegal at the time. A good friend of mine helped to lobby the government (ie. anyone who drives a nicer car and might listen) for an exclusion in the law to allow spearfishing on the islands in the effort of reducing the Lion Fish population. With extreme effort and then approval, there were training sessions and signs up and educational pamphlets and even practice spearing on innocent potatos, for those trained and interested. Spears were assigned to each dive shop (at their cost) and dive professionals were allowed to take along the spear/sling on their dives in an attempt to control the expanding pest population. Off to a slow start for the first year or so, the program gained momentum and grew to a point where every dive shop is currently participating during all of their recreational dives – each and every day – in the sea and reefs surrounding Utila. To our knowledge it was (and might still be) the only community business initiative embraced and practiced by all – for the betterment of the reef, the divers, the local population, and overall sustainability of the fish populations which almost everyone relies on in some way or another, to make a living – on Utila and many other places in the Caribbean.
And I almost forgot. The Lion Fish are actually venomous. That is, the fins (or more like spikes) can give you one helluva painful situation, if you do get stung by one. Swelling, numbness, and burning, with the outside chance of death thrown in. In only a few people, the reaction to a sting is simple (Burgundy has handled it well from what Ive witnessed). Mostly the reaction, is of the “ That was the worst pain ever” category. Simply put, you don’t want to get stung.
And as a secondary for those in the gambling business…..something like 16 of 24 of the spines are venomous….8 of them are fine, will not hurt you. Have a look at the photos and tell me if you can figure out which is which. The Lion Fish wont attack you specifically but they will react to you trying to stab them with a three pronged spear, and dart one way or another in fight or flight reaction. You will get anywhere from no chances to three chances at a fish. If you do strike, you then have a very alive but trapped bad ass lion fish two feet away from your hand till you can finish it off, quickly hopefully. They live as shallow as a couple feet beneath the surface all the way to as deep as you want to dive……….ok then, enough is enough on the background of the lion fish……on with the rest.
Anyway, I caught a mammoth lion fish one day on the north shore. After a bit of a struggle and with help from a fellow grouper sourcing out the hiding fish…….it was finally hooked…and a good one at that. It remains the only time – of the 400 or so lion fish Ive ever killed – in which I brought the fish directly back to the boat. I was happy……the grouper, not so much, trailing most the way back looking for the usual feed.…..to no avail, I surfaced, yelled at Captain Kerry, and handed the spear and kill carefully up to him.
“Ya look at that man” exploding with elation I say. “Its huge!”
“It tis it tis, get It up here in the buhket.”……do as the Captain says.
We returned to the resort and within an hour the fish was measured. It certainly was a good sized one but nothing anyone wouldn’t expect. Nose to base of tail, measured 31.5 cms.
I called Anjei on the rock from the boat on the good old Claro phone, my neighbour, the man in the know about this stuff…..………he confirmed, biggest ever caught…….. Biggest Ever. Nice one I thought, and of course Im happy to contribute to the cause and my ego appreciates the accolades of that accomplishment, even if Im the only one who brings it up.
The third Utila Lion Fish derby was completed a few weeks ago with upwards of 20 teams (of 4 participants) competing for the chance to capture and kill the invasive and detrimental Lion Fish.
They offer prizes for the most fish caught, the smallest fish caught and the largest fish caught. In the end they all get eaten in a wonderful feast for the senses complete with reggaeton in the background and bragging rights on the line.
Im so happy that this tournament has continued to be done. It is a part of Utila, it has to be….thank you to everyone who helps in this cause, day in day out, its just that important.…….and not just during the tournaments. For each tournament lion fish kills are quite large, numbering 400-500 per occasion. They are tallied, weighed, measured and eventually filleted. A large feast – free for all so to speak – occurs shortly after the last afternoon. Lion Fish specialities for everyone. Everything (time included) donated humbly by the caring and enthusiastic expats, tourists, dive shops and even locals. Of course, BICA headlining the efforts and organization. Again, thank you. From me, from the reef, from future generations of divers alike.
But back to my final point,
My Lion Fish record survived the first two tournaments and over 1000 fish caught…..I was not on the island for the most recent derby, so I emailed Dave (of one of the organizers) to enquire about the sizes of the fish caught in the most recent derby………..fingers crossed, my record would remain intact. Dave is usually a smart ass, and being my lion fish killer understudy, he would like nothing better to crush my ego with news of a fallen record. Verbatim, here is text of my message and response from Dave Burgundy:
“Ok, Burgundy……lets hear it……what was the biggest lion fish caught yesterday? Im sitting at 31.5 cms and change.”
“ How did it go otherwise?”
“Youre safe, the biggest was 31 cm, and it was an even bigger success than last time..onwards and upwards. 90% of the fish brought in were over 20 cm.”
I guess that is enough said, ego intact.……I look forward to the next Utila Lion Fish derby. Here’s to protecting a place we love! Great work everyone.
Ps. I know Ryan, you dont endorse the name Burgundy. None the less, you inspire me.
………………..And a couple more photos if youre really interested.
Without any big explanation, Ive been painting my friends place over the past week. Nice to do outdoors and with the good weather lately. Returning to a trade I left some years ago (meaning: painting for cash on the side), it actually has been quite nice to be working on a project for a few runs in the sun.
I wished I took a picture of the before and after but alas I didnt. It is coming together and looks good. Spent 3 days on trim and prep, 2 days on painting………using a sprayer – and thus the skill for which I landed the gig. Last, shutters and door, and done in the next day or two.
While working, something I gained appreciation for: CBC 99.1 morning radio.
Something on radio that upset me: Edge 102 playing the same list of 102 “best ever” songs each day….SamE! SongS! each day….and that meant OurladyPeace 5 times in the playlist (thanks Canadian Content)…..hip 5 songs as well, which was fine with me.
How to turn your effort to your advantage: have wifi avaialable and have a look on a break or lunch. Send a couple emails or quotes and youre essentially working from anywhere. Balance two or three things at once……it means youre never not working………but then again, maybe youre never really working….but for sure at least youre enjoying it.
On to the next one. I looked at the neighbours place next door…..it could certainly use the work as well………it would look tip top with a bit of effort, with me doing it. Projects like these I like to spin into another…….it really is a nice gig.
Thailand became a big part of my life quickly and exactly at the moment when the intent was set for my first trip there. That was 2004, and four weeks of my life. I returned the following year for an anniversary, but not one of the happy sort. A couple of years later I went back once again – in the mean time – planning all the while for a time away in Central America, the following year.
These trips through South East Asia have remained some of my more formidable travel experiences having shaped my future travel preferences, intentions, actions, satisfaction and choices. Putting a backpack on and without any pre arranged/pre paid plans (see: showing up with no where booked to stay), Thailand has provided me some of my first interactions abroad, and within a culture that has been hosting travellers for decades. As crazy as Thailand was, and it is………..it remains a great place for the first (or second or third) jump off for an extended vacation – travel. Bangkok is the gateway to more than the east…..it is the beginning and ending of different peoples journey from far across, and from all points on the globe. People colourful, traffic and confusion plenty, order and extravagance personified, detailed and yet spontaneous……this is Thailand.
When people ask the obvious (see: any question about Thailand)……..I always respond:
“You don’t have to die to go to heaven, just go to Thailand.”
Gets them every time……but its true.
More than a few stories have come about during my travels to Thailand…….what I always experienced was even more than simply ups and downs. I mean, the route less travelled is not supposed to be easy and that is the point…………however, when you first start this whole travel thing this is the point, and a valuable lesson. Many trips later, you can actually make it easier and better for yourself (all the while being able to extend your person further and more forcefully, in a positive way)………..and that is the culmination of comfort , experience, people, and place………..this – for me – started in Thailand.
I’m going to share some of my experiences travelling through Thailand – stories that interact entirely – even though I might not be able to make the obvious connection to you right away. They will jump around a bit, and Im going to have to leave out adjoining details as so Im not writing a novel, but for all intents and purposes…..these are going to be true and transparent, funny and ironic, sad and spiritual. If for anything else, the stories deserve the medium.
Im going to submit a new post once a week for reading pleasure. Below is a great little overview video of Thailand. It is not something Ive put together but the video does a great job introducing the highlights of the country in just over 3 minutes. Enjoy!
Ps. I know many people have been to Thailand over the years. If you have an interesting story to tell (and you put it on paper), I am looked for outside content for these pages. Just get in touch!
Dangerous Dans Diner…….A Dangerous Burger, served with a heaping side of ATTITUDE.
7 May 2012
After a lovely Sunday afternoon hanging out with friends and family in Lesliville, some afternoon suds, and great conversation – early evening hunger set upon us. Combined with the “end of the weekend” blues and laziness we decided to check out a diner just down the road which apparently serves one hell of a burger. The joint is called Dangerous Dans Diner.
Ill try and keep this short in the spirit of not posting every detail about everything I eat in the city…..but this place deserves a few points to mention.
First, it is a basic diner, set on the corner with views of the street through the large glass windows, and lit up by traditional fluorescent lighting. The menu was quite extensive but certainly focused on various burgers ranging from the traditional ½ pound cheeseburger all the way through the “Colossal Colon Clogger Combo” at $25.
Note: the “CCCC” is a 24oz burger (1 ½ lbs) topped with 2 eggs, ¼ lb of bacon, ¼ lb of cheese, served with a small poutine and a large shake. I asked the manager how many people actually eat the CCCC and he replied that they probably sell 25-30 a week. WOW, glutten.
Immediately upon entering the diner you could smell the grill, hear the music and chattering, see that the seating was slightly different than we are used to……and notice a touch of attitude from the manager, cashier, cook, and dishwasher. For those of you not familiar with traditional diners and “how they should be”………..a certain amount of attitude, cockiness, no care if youre there shtick, is appropriate and expected. They treat you as if youre the one lucky to be there….that WE need them (to eat) more than THEY need us (the customer to pay the bills). This however is no reflection of the food or speed or efficiency of service, simply how the staff interact with the guests. After finishing your meal it wouldn’t be out of place for the waiter to say something to you like, “hey you done?”…………ah ya…………”well if so why don’t you free up these seats and get the hell out of here.” . This might sound offensive to some but it is the essence of a proper old school diner, and just one small example of this attitude.
None the less. Dangerous Dans Diner is this type of place, and interestingly enough the seating in the restaurant is comprised of seats from cars and vans. Neat concept. Not sure if it adds to anything or takes away….but it is what it is, and when you go there you sit in a retro fitted car seat around the tables of four. We all ordered the traditional cheeseburger and decided to split a large order of poutine to see if in fact it was good old traditional poutine or simply fries, gravy, and shredded cheese.
Everything was served quickly and in the astonishingly large portions we were expecting – becoming even more impressive when the plates are right in front of you.
Burgers were awesome all around. I though the bun could have used a bit more work but all in all, what a good burger! Poutine was decent as well. Good Ontario cheese curds but certainly not those rubber squeaky curds you get in La Belle Province. Well, we tried.
We finished our meal and on our way out of the diner, I had this exchange with the cook.
Me: “Hey man, good burger.”
Cook: Walking by, looking away, in a snarky voice says “Ya……. you don’t think we know that?”
Prices: ½ lb Cheese Burger – $ 5.55. Large Poutine $ 7.25. Pitcher of draught $14.00
Location: 714 Queen St East, Toronto, On 416 463-7310
It is never interesting to watch people eat, but here is a quick video of us at the table with food in front of us. The really cool thing about the recording is: THE MUSIC PLAYING IN THE BACKGROUND. To hear a sample of that alone, is worth clicking on the video if only for a few seconds. Hilarious.
The Big Slice of Life.
3 May 12
Years ago life was simpler. We’ve all heard that – probably say that – and shit, even thinking that ages one immediately in front of company even a few years younger than yourself. It is true though – in some sense – there were less rules, more personal responsibility, and in that, more leeway in what we could do and get away with. Kids could still go to playgrounds or adventures in the woods without a parents supervision……dressing up as a devil on Halloween was considered an appropriate costume, and there was no such thing as a peanut free zone. Today of course, none of these three examples are appropriate or allowed. It is too bad really.
My early youth was accelerated by an amount of independence given to me by my parents, with trust of course (although I didn’t always follow that, kids will be kids), and appropriately for the times, I lived a great childhood exploring, doing, living and learning. Growing up, I was a big sports fan and I was allowed to attend Toronto Maple Leaf games at the Gardens – me and my buddy on our own – as early as age eleven. Living outside of the city a random “Leaf game school night” would look something like this. Mom drops us off at the GoTrain station in Oakville. We ride into Toronto to Union, and transfer to the subway. From the subway, walk to the Gardens and watch the game from up in the grey section (and get this, tickets were $8 at the time), and do this in reverse following the contest. Alternatively, my friends mom would pick us up around 11pm in Oakville and drop me off at home for bed and an early rise the following day for grade six. Grade SIX! Yes folks, during those days, you could leave a somewhat responsible child on their own to do their own thing, and not have your neighbours call family and children services for neglect. Having this new found freedom, my friend and I would snatch up every available Leaf ticket and exercise our independent option from those early days well into our teens. I remember heading to the ticketmaster outlet at Sunrise records on opening day for ticket sales and laying down $300 for upwards of 20 games we would attend. And this would be at age 12. On a side note. When the boys in blue played their last game in the storied building back in 1999 I remember people saying they had never been to the gardens to watch a game. Or maybe once for a game, once for a concert and once for a wrestling event featuring Hogan vs Andre the Giant or something along those lines. At the time I went through my meticulously kept ticket stubs – in a photo album – and counted the games I had attended during those years. A proud me had walked through the hallowed halls of my/this hockey shrine, at least 122 times. Thank you mom and dad and the late 80’s.
To continue, one of the places we would frequent in the city was a pizza joint called THE BIG SLICE. Located on Yonge St just south of College this appropriately named pizza parlour was just what a young and hungry kid needed. In no particular order: Pizza, Cheap, Big. My friend and I would go there night in night out for our fill right before puck drop and I would always order the peperoni and mushroom – cost with a coke at the time $3.50. Standing at the counter in awe of the massive slices of pie, the smells, the excitement of the city and game night, was magic to us. This was growing up at its finest…..free to do as we wished and away from moms and dads who (as with most other kids our age) were telling their children to do their homework and go to bed. How cool were we?
Fast forward 25 yrs later and I’m still eating THE BIG SLICE. It has become a Toronto staple for me. When Im in town and I need a quick bite to eat, nothing tempts me more than going for a quick slice of premium pizza (note: this is not gourmet pizza or gluten free pizza or organic pizza or any other lovey dovey term of the day), simply pizza. And it is good. It was good then and it has been good ever since, including yesterday. The pizza is still spun by hand in the front window, toppings generously added by feel – not by scale and weight. The counters, tables, chairs, and paintings on the walls – all remain the same. Dance music of the day played over the decrepit radio shack speakers – wires still unattached to the walls – a five minute job that could have been done decades ago. Until recently Ive not taken notice of how long Ive been eating at The Big Slice and how long things there have just remained the way they were. Continually I still order peperoni/mushroom and a can of coke. The cost today is five bucks tax incl. Pizza, Big, Cheap. I was thinking to myself that maybe it’s the nostalgia, maybe the feeling of returning to a different time – young, innocent, free – or maybe Im just stuck in my ways, and this the reason I keep going back. I mean Im not with my buddy like the good old days – who has long since moved to Asia – nor going to a hockey game……..nor there avoiding bed time and homework. But I am there for some reason besides just being hungry.
I can only think to myself that I love the place because it hasn’t changed. Its grown up a bit – like we all have. Funny though……on the other hand it means that (in this case) I haven’t grown up either. To take note of yourself in a slice of pizza……it’s a bit crazy, but I think its contemplative and cool. Life is good sometimes.
Final Note: take away all the philosophical stuff and life lessons Im trying to pull together, and the pizza there is that good. You really should check it out. Open daily…….pretty early to very very late. East side of Yonge at the corner of Gerrard.
……and my buddy, that’s Graham. Some of you would know him. Hes lived in Thailand for the last decade with a lovely wife and two beautiful children…..he has everything he needs but access to The Big Slice.
Walking along Queen st East this afternoon I came across the Caplanskys Deli food truck affectionately called Thunderin Thelma.
Its located at 72 Queen St East and serves up a mini menu from the actual restaurant. A smoked meat sandwich with pickle costs $7. They have poutine as well ans some sort of speciality maple donuts which sound (and probably are) very good. The truck is open M-F from 11-3pm. This also happens to be the idea that owner Zane Caplansky pitched on the CBC show called Dragons Den. Incidentally the Dragons did not invest in the food truck idea, but Zane went ahead anyway. They also make appearances at food shows and other outdoor events in the Toronto area.
Next time Im in the area, its going to be a tough decision between traditional street meat and Torontos best (and first) smoked meat. A pic of the truck below.
Check out the video of the pitch from Dragons Den.
1 May 12
Metro Toronto convention center hosted the Toronto Argonauts season ticket holder jersey unveiling last night and it was well attended, well organized and somewhat of a star studded affair.
One of the best reasons for following the CFL and the Argos is the public access to players and coaches in a very informal way. Access not granted in any other sport. It is the essence of this wonderful football league, who this year is celebrating the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto at the end of November.
Lights, stages, displays, food areas, casino, interactive exhibits and a bit of a hob knob in the whos who of the Argos, lit up the convention hall for a couple hours – we were there – and we certainly did enjoy it.
The biggest disappointment was the convention centers pricing of suds. A domestic bottle of brew selling at $9. NINE BUCKS? Are you kidding me? For serious football followers, keep in mind, many of the events during the Grey Cup week will be take place at this same location and I certainly hope they get their pricing a little more pocket book friendly or people will certainly shy away. For our group it is pretty much unheard of that we wouldn’t purchase a frosty beverage during any football event, game or otherwise..……..in fact, this evening will go down as the first time ever that we went dry. It certainly says something about the tolerance level for high priced beers having gone over the top. A $10 tall boy at the dome is bearable. A severely over priced bottle of beer in the convention center, no way! Enough of that rant……..a pit stop afterwards at Joe Badalis restaurant/bar across the street for $7 pints of decent ale was the remedy.
Back to the event. For those in the CFL/Argos football know, here are some of the people who were in attendance: Ricky Ray, Damon Allen, Jason Maas, GM Jim Barker, Pres Chris Judge, Prefontaine, Chad Owens, Drurie, Jordan Younger, Jeff Keeping……at least a dozen other players…………and of course, Mike Pinball Clemons staying till the bitter end as to make sure he greets and meets anyone and everyone who waits in line for a few minutes of his time. Remarkable guy.
As for the jerseys, they were ok…..nothing spectacular or “wow”, but not terrible either. Of course, the jerseys were the focus…….creating a buzz around the team the goal. Certainly for those in attendance the event provided this.
Good to see many of my “football friends”……the ones you say goodbye to at the last game every year and say hi to at the first. It will be fun to be in the city this summer, if only for the Argos games alone.
Damn Good Burger – Royal Meats Barbeque
25 April 12
Finding myself tailing along with a buddy on a business appointment just outside of Toronto, we were delayed in the timing of his meeting so we decided to go for a quick bite to eat. The sales rep we were waiting to see suggested that there was a “great spot for burgers – if you like burgers – right around the corner.”
Now I am a burger guy and this comment peaked my interest with the usual cynicism I hold when it comes to peoples evaluation of what a good burger is, what good wings are, what good street meat is (Diamond cut required) or who serves a good deli sandwich. These four items Ive searched far and wide for – and when possible, indulged, eaten, and evaluated. For years I’ve been complaining that no one could make a decent burger on Utila for example. Some people there blame it on the beef, some on the lack of fresh baked buns and others simply don’t care about this stuff and would look at me like “why does this guy talk and care about a freaking burger so much?”.
Recently when in was in Israel I went through the same process with friends there of whom most claimed to know of a decent burger spot in Tel Aviv or somewhere else. I digress, I was so enamoured with the high quality shawarma in Israel that I didn’t give even one burger the chance at my criticism, while I was visiting. I looked but didn’t take. At a cost of 12-15usd for a minced beef sandwich (with probably a crappy bun – although I don’t know why Im saying that), the thought of an Israeli burger just wasn’t doing it for me…….that ……. and the shawarmas were just that good.
On with the show here and back to this afternoon.
My buddy Hitch and I stepped inside a very tidy and simple restaurant with big glass windows and lots of light. Immediately I sensed that we might be in for a bit of a treat. At Royal Meats Barbeque, you select from the deli counter the meat you wish to be cooked. They favour burgers there (in two sizes, ½ pound and full pound) and they are well on display beside a few other items such as sausage and chicken fillets, which are also on the menu. After placing the order, you have a seat and wait a short time while the fresh made patty is grilled in the open kitchen with your eyes and nose as witness.
Once ready, they call you back up to the counter to garnish the fine looking specimen of beef. There are the traditional toppings – lettuce, tomato, full size deli pickles, and condiments. Further, they only provide Heinz Ketchup – there is only one kind (as WE know) and anything different would be sac religious on a burger (or anything else requiring ketchup) – check mark for that.
Also offered, was a special house dressing which looked decent, but I didn’t want to crowd the senses in the overall evaluation. This would be similar to being served a draught beer in a frosted mug – that is, youll never know if the beer has gone sour because of the coldness of the glass – always room temp mug for the first beer to verify a good brew, FYI. Royal Meats also offered another special “spread” we’ll call it. I believe the worker said it was a mixture of cream cheese and mayo. I usually add mayo to my burger so I reasoned this wouldn’t be too far off the path not to give it a go. They spread it on the underside of the top bun, looked good. Was a decent replacement for cheese.
Speaking of bun. This is where everything about a burger can fall apart – literally and figuratively. You can have a decent burger….heck you can even have a great burger…..but if the bun isint up to speed the whole thing can fall apart and go right downhill. This burger bun was big enough to cover the patty and was toasted as well – which made me a bit nervous. That is, with over toasting and a large portion to shove down the trough, a badly toasted bun can become hard and tends to cut/chafe the top of your mouth. Not a great description but a situation we can all understand. Well…….. this bun was perfect. A mix between toasting and steaming on a fresh baked bun that had the consistency and look of a ciabatta and Kaiser roll mix.
When leaving I inquired to the manager about the burger and he told me they were made fresh daily at their Royal Meats Butcher shop that has been in business for the past fifteen years. Also, they only use salt, pepper, chillis and onion in the patty……simple but good. Fresh and fast. Price was decent at $7.50 for the half pound and $9.50 for the full pound………youre going to pay a bit more for drink and fries if you even have the room.
And there it is……..a very decent burger at a relatively new joint.
Royal Meats Barbeque
710 Kipling Ave, Etobicoke, On M8Z 5G5
This post is dedicated to Dor, Arbel, Stass, Niv, Nir, and others.
Hitch driving and Corporate along for the ride as well.
Story One: About the flames.
Quicker than online viral first account reports, I received news this past Sunday about a fire at Skid Row Bar in Utila. The news came from long time island resident Barbara – who years ago was a reporter in native Switzerland – and still uses these skills to this day on the small sleepy island. The news was there was a fire at the bar the evening before, sometime late night or maybe even just prior to dawn….and from what I gather it could have gone really really bad.
“Im not exactly sure what happened but I heard they had the bucket brigade….Ill make a call and find out.” And she was off to dig up some details.
In the mean time I messaged Ryan (the owner of the bar), and eventually that afternoon we spoke on the phone – him on his cell phone, me via skype- so I could get the scoop. Of note: to call a cell phone from Honduras to a cell phone in Canada the cost is around 5 cents a minute. For me to call a Honduras cell phone through Skype, the cost was 46.5 cents a minute – something is wrong here, and this made my call to Ryan a lot shorter than I had planned.
We got right to the point of my call. And so, to the story.
It starts off that Ryan had this particular Sunday to himself and was not at the bar (it was probably staffed by Visor Steve who is actually retired from working at the bar but canno’t actually stop working). Ryan didn’t need to tell me that on his day off he was at home sitting in the AC and watching TV (this is a given for him). The phone rings – Reggaeton plays – and then Ryan answers.
“Hello.” he dribbles lazily.
“Fire! Real fire now!”, the voice on the other end screams – and with that – hangs up the connection.
Without further details, Ryan flew out of the house, barefoot (not unusual on Utila, but maybe unusual if you were on your way to fight a fire burning down your economical lifeline). Now, moving fast down the road on his bike – head racing – wondering WTF was going on, what situation he was going to arrive upon. This must have looked funny as well since the only people who move fast on Utila are anyone under the age of 16 and on a scooter….that is it.
When he arrived there was some chaos and confusion but no flames to speak of, some smoke Im sure.
According to Ryan three particular people helped rescue the burning down of the bar “just in time” and with some interesting and somewhat unconventional measures. Gib took it upon himself to remove the butane tanks sitting directly around the burning inferno in the kitchen area. John went and acquired fifteen 5lb bags of flour to throw on whatever was in fact burning. Thank you Gib and John and Wharty – who has a store across the street and was on water detail as well. What I am learning now, is in this particular situation were three different fires occurring: electrical fire, regular fire, and grease fire…..throw in the possibility of compressed air explosion and this could have been quite the fireworks display not seen since the famous Laguna Beach resort cabin burning of Jan 2011 (see: faulty AC/electrical unit for that one as well). Apparently, the electrical company named UPCO had been turning the electricity on and off prior to the fire (they are famous for this), and this was the contributing factor……it started from crappy wiring, some surges, and all these other voltage issues that I wont even begin to pretend I understand or know anything about……but this is what started the entire ordeal.
With some quick actions from the neighbours who were probably worried more about the surrounding houses and local business than they were Skid Row – this disaster was averted just at the point where it could have gotten very very out of hand. Call 911? Emergency line of some sort? Well, there is a fire station with a fire truck on the island. But Ive never met a fireman nor seen the fire truck move an inch from its parking spot, in the three years I’d spent living there. I don’t think there is even such thing as a fire alarm or extinguisher in any house or business – not that Ive seen anyway although John the Baker, I bet hes got one….I mean he has the only 40ft ladder on the island so I am sure he has thought about fire precautions for his home as well. Lets just say, there is and was, only people looking out for people in the spirit of community and to generally “do the right thing”. This saved Skid Row from total destruction. The fact that the building is still intact and operating today is a testament to luck, action and ……..well, timing.
“We were really lucky.” Ryan admitted. “The only thing we really lost was a toaster, and some burned particle board……..actually, the kitchen was open and serving food a day later.” He proudly stated to me on the phone at the end of our conversation.
Two things are interesting about Ryans final comments. One, he says “we were lucky” although he is the only actual owner of Skid Row……it’s a great sense of place on Utila where people actually feel part in parcel with the community…..and likewise the people/public feel a sense of family and ownership in many aspects of the island. “We” are in this one together so to speak. And two, that the kitchen was serving food no problem, 24hrs later – stated proudly by Ryan (see: its not the hand youre dealt with its how you play your cards, no harm no foul sort of attitude – again very related to the attitude on Utila). And we thank God for that.
Story Two: About the Fun.
A couple months ago the power went out on Utila during a scheduled shut down (ie: someone on the street tells you that the power wont be on until 2pm………or something along these lines). With this extended time away from anything electrical, I headed down to Skid Row to hang out and shoot the breeze with others doing the same thing. I wrote the article below, the day after this particular afternoon. It’s a good one so I thought I would resurrect it for this post.
28 Jan 2012
Power out? People come!
Not an unusual event in the day to day life of living on Utila……the power going out. I was mentioning to someone that it actually saves us money when UPCO suddenly decides (by their choice or not) that the island is in need of a little less AC and Reggaeton. I was also told that we can just make that choice if we want to. No though, its better to be motivated by force and then turn around and take credit for the validity of such greenness.
None the less, and more to the point of this story is what exactly people do when the power does indeed cease to flow. We pretty much go on with life from what I can tell. Only those accustomed to either laziness (see:TV) or luxuriousness (see: Air Con) seem to complain……the others continue on. Food is cooked with gas, fridges stay closed a little more, and well, a little romantic candlelight at night is never a bad thing.
Another phenomena seems to occur as well……and I witnessed it yesterday. Pulling up at Skids for a frosty and some fat to chew on around 2pm, I was in fact not the only one with the same idea. It appears that when the power decides not to interact with us for a while, a logical choice for some of us is to head to the pub. And its not a bad idea at all. Different folks began pulling up and the balls on the pool table were cracking. The only sounds made available to us were those of chatter, banter, and the odd low level argument…….this and one guys cell phone which has one of those loud and annoying ring tones (of the lets pretend Im an old phone on a wall in your grandmas house sort of ring). I planned on a few with a few but it turned out to be an entire afternoon of fun, relaxation and unexpected comfort which always succeeds in drawing us in to what we later refer to as “that was a fun day”.
On queue Ryan breaks out a little game to pass the time – and what I now see as a submissive attempt to keep people engaged in their drink a little while longer (see: customer retention). It was a real easy concept of course, easy concepts are key for the wonderful clientele of the establishment. Pick a time when the power will come back on. Pick a time? Really? Is this what we do for fun in Utila? Well if yesterday was an example then the answer is yes.
After a few minutes 18 people had chosen their respective times and threw in 20Lemps in a winner take all sort of bet. As things progressed and the pool of times was being chipped away, the power did arise from its sleep. It wasn’t about the money or the bragging rights or some trophy (or heaven forbid a free shot of giffity), but just about the fun. No Wii fun here, proper good ole fashioned for no other reason fun. For those wondering, the time was 4:06pm.
Simplicity in its finest hour, fun in its freshest sense. At Skids (and with Ryan at the helm, yes I can give kudos when they are due), this is more of the norm than the exception to the rule. Think I might poke my head in there this afternoon to see what fun can be had without knowing whats coming.
A very special mention to a random tourist who first asked to have a seat at the bar and then asked to buy the five us sitting directly around him – a beer. That was nice. And to make it even more special he introduced himself as Steve……and then produced his dive card to show his full name as STEVE IRWIN. HA!
Another weekly visit to Jims Diner in Lesliville for some eats this past Saturday at noon.
As always, the food was hot, fresh, served quick, and with just enough attitude to make you feel welcome. I had a choice of weekend papers to read and found a quiet table close to the back of the restaurant – me and the Toronto Star. As I have previously written about the “Best Western” they serve here, it was on the tip of my tongue to make that my choice yesterday as well. However I opted for a dish we are all familiar with but one I neglect (do to the grandness of the western) when Im visiting Jims. This particular choice can be found in many restaurants, diners and bars with the prefix “all day”. After eating I got the check and proceed to the cashier. A quick look at the bill to see what I was in fact being charged for, I decided to take a picture of the order as written by the waitress. Based on this, any ideas what I ate? Of note, the total included a drink and came to $5.50 with tax.
Worst Big Mac Ever.
Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand. Jan 2006.
I was travelling through Thailand on my third trip there in as many years. Yes, I fell in love with the place, the people, the food, the everything about it. This was also was the first time and place I had ever backpacked. So like a high school crush, or actual first love, I couldn’t let Thailand go for a few years. Now I look back on the place with fond memories but with no intention of reliving high school (so to speak) at this point in my life.
My girlfriend at the time – and I – made our way over 6 weeks through the south, the north, into Laos and then finally back to Bangkok – for our last night in town. Specifically, Khao San Road. KSR is the beginning and ending of anyones journey to south east asia. Everyone there is either coming or going but no one is staying any longer than they have to. If you’ve never been to KSR, you must go….it is something out of this world and has to be experienced in order to understand. Alas though, not the point of this story.
With all the culinary delights and choices of exotic and fun, somehow the moment seemed right for us to eat at McDonalds in what would be our last meal in Thailand – on what would then be – our last night ever in Thailand. Things were working well off the start. Familiar, air conditioned, clean, and a menu in English. Maybe the menu wasn’t in English because pictures certainly are a universal language. I imagine I was just pointing at a picture and saying a number. Nung, song, sam, sip, 1, 2, 3, 4….or something along those lines, which was all I needed apparently.
Everything to this point was spot on for McDonalds as weve (re: North American collective) come to expect, and we sat down inside the restaurant to eat familiar food in familiar surroundings. I started with the fries (add more salt always) and a sip of coke, check. Moving on to the burger, I opened up the wrapper and saw a glorious specimen of a Big Mac. Finite details of lettuce and sauce and buns and floating. Yes the whole sandwich appeared to be hovering layer on top of layer….. fluffy like. In other words, fresh and put together with inspiration that would be similar to that as making a house of cards…..detailed, delicate, and tall.
At this time,
There was a lunch hour line up starting to form and we realized that our selection of serenity seating –or a nice quiet meal – was basically parallel to the people waiting in line to give their order. We had started, so we sat tight and kept our talking low – in other words, listening to other peoples conversations around us. Looking into the meal, I carefully picked up the sandwich making sure the layers were not sliding off one another – and by this, making two indistinguishable menu items. With strategic placement of my pinky fingers around the master piece I was off for the first bite of my last meal in Thailand. Bite one tasted ok (a bit more sauce I thought) and I was chewing away actually thinking that this was decent. Second bite was roughly the same thing but I noticed that the sandwich was starting to move each level around and getting a bit out of control. Chewing and not thinking, I continued on. It was the third bite that was the disaster. Something unexpected here. The wonderfully constructed weightless and fluffy burger took on a life of its own. Probably the sauce factor, slippery pickles, greasy patties – and my lack of attention from bites one and two – and suddenly the burger exploded. One bun this way, one patty that way, a pickle flying off to the side, lettuce flying like shrapnel, sauce dripping like dough from a spoon – gooey but quick.
The overwhelming thought when my girlfriend pointed out I was a disaster – or looked like one rather – was that, in fact I was. Mess everywhere, literally. Its amazing how fast that can actually happen. One minute, sitting down and diving in, and the next, a make your own big mac platter sitting in front of you.
Standing next to us in line were two British girls, one looking at me with shock
“oh my god, I think Im going to be sick.” She says to her friend as they peer on my sorry soul.
“Girls……Save yourselves.” I announce. “This was the worst choice ever…..I cant freaking believe……..” My girl kind of nods her head in support…….going with it….
I got up and threw the entire tray in the garbage. The two British girls left the restaurant.
And, I was pissed (for the food that is, and my choice to be there). I realized at the moment that I was sitting in McDonalds on my last night in a place that can easily offer the best food reputation, as a purposeful reason for going there. Cheap and abundant…..for years enjoying fresh fish on the sea, padi thai in the market, and well, tons of stuff….mango salad, theres a mention as well.
“This is the worst thing ever, this is freaking disguisting.” I mention, getting up to leave and to clean up as well.
So we did. Up and left. Meals gone in the bin, 2 additional customers lost (plus the British quitters), and a sour Thailand taste to boot.
With these events, headed back to the room…..or maybe the pub – it’s the last night Irish one for those who have been there – one or the other we were gone. Quickly I was absorbed in the last hours fiasco and true to form couldn’t let it go. I was mad…not gone mad, but well, spouting off.
Announcing “that was the last time I eat McDonalds ever!” and so it was….
I haven’t eaten one iota of McDees for 6 yrs. Until Luxor Egypt last November and it saved my soul.
Best Big Mac Ever Pt. 3 soon to follow.
An Expensive Big Mac.
It is top news in the wonderful world of economics that McDonalds has decided to lower the price of the Big Mac (and other menu items) in Israel. Apparently this is not about value for food, gluttony, our the fast paced world we live in, but rather, an actual economic indicator of some sort.
Written yesterday in the Jerusalum Post was an article referring to this unexpected drop in the “benchmark price of the Big Mac” throughout Israel.
I was visiting Israel in the fall for 3 months and although I never actually ate at McDonalds, I did have a look at the menu a couple of times, to see what they were offering ie. Kosher vs. non Kosher. In fact McDonalds was one of the only American franchises in the country I could find. I heard tales of Starbucks being driven out of there within a calendar year…..so this is possibly a picky place. With that said, the all American burger restaurant was in full swing, everywhere and people seemed to enjoy it. Remarkable were the prices though. Using my quick (but not entirely accurate exchange rate of 4:1 –shekels to the US dollar), you could easily spend upwards of $10 on a regular Big Mac meal. This of course is expensive for the value meal but none the less also reflective of the country where everything is more expensive. Me, going directly there from wonderful 3rd world Honduras, the prices seemed like highway robbery (see: lets just go for a walk to the beach, that wont cost us anything).
In any case, reading about the Big Mac its self got me thinking about two particular personal situations involving this menu item at this restaurant. The first, where in fact I vowed never to go to McDonalds again – ever. And the second, six years later where I ate a Big Mac meal – for the first time since my vow – that saved my soul. Location one: Thailand. Location two: Luxor, Egypt. Stories to follow in pt 2 and 3 blog.
Below: south Israel, on the way to Elat…a highway service center. Aroma Cafe to the left……the store whos name starts with an ‘X’, reading right to left. Probably the favorite of my places to go for a coffee if it was on the run, more or less. Coffees were absolutely amazing in Israel, and coffee shops were everywhere.