I first heard it whispered about in the cozy kitchen of The Doctor’s House hostel in Sarajevo. Čajdžinica Džirlo, or ‘the hippie tea shop’ as the girls at the hostel put it. It was my second day in Bosnia and I was having breakfast with some other guests at the hostel, girls from Spain and Britain. We got to talking about when they told me I had to visit this place, near the Ottoman fountain in Baščaršija, the old town market.
One girl grabbed a map and the place was pointed out and circled. “It’s awesome,” she said, “You have to go.” I did go, and it was awesome.
How better to honour Oscar Wilde, playwright, poet, novelist and total lush, than to savour tea named after him in a gilded room just around the corner from Piccadilly circus in the heart of London’s West End. In his old haunt you’ll find some of the fanciest tea snacks and opulent walls in the city known for its love of afternoon tea.Read More
When I first told people I was going to Bosnia for a month, there were a lot of raised eyebrows. “Bosnia? Why Bosnia?”, “Isn’t it dangerous?”, “Wasn’t there a war there?” and “I hear there are land mines.” I got that a lot. Read More
It’s late morning when we pass a huddle of sheep by the side of the road and turn the last rocky corner into Lukomir, Bosnia’s highest-altitude and most remote village. It’s tucked into the side of the Bjelašnica Mountain, home to semi-nomadic Bosniak sheep herders. It’s accessible via a ten-mile hike or by truck on crumbling switchbacks—except in the winter, when the only way to access it is on skis. It’s a cluster of small stone houses: short, squat, and steep to protect from snow.Read More
Over 7,000 islands and not enough time. I was in the Philippines for three weeks and barely scratched the surface of this complex nation. It is a country that is as heartbreakingly beautiful as it is heartbreaking — from the famous beaches of Boracay and the cliffs of El Nido, to the slum-towns and poverty that affects roughly a quarter of the population. The Philippines is not somewhere I’ll soon forget.
For a short trip, I’m lucky to have seen the natural beauty, experienced many Filipino smiles warm hospitality, ate lots of delicious new foods and heard firsthand stories about the reality of poverty.
Here’s a brief itinerary of how I spent my time — where I went, what I did and where I stayed.
October 1 — Left Toronto airport in Canada. Head to Manila via Seoul with Korean Air.
October 2 — Arrived in Manila late at night. Headed to Manila International Youth Hostel for the night (There were four dead cockroaches in our room, plus the live ones outside. Would not stay again.).
October 8 — Take a kayak up and down Loboc river. Walk into town.
October 9 — Hike and taxi back to Tagbilaran airport. Catch a flight back to Manila with Air Swift. Kill some time in Mall of Asia then head to the Ohayami bus terminal where we catch the ice cold overnight bus to Banaue.
October 10 — Arrive in Banaue in the morning via the overnight bus. Check into our Banaue Homestay and hike the Banaue rice terraces.
October 11 — Rooftop jeepney ride to Batad entrance from Banaue. Hike around the Batad rice terraces.
October 12 — Tricycle to Ha Pao. Hike the Ha Pao rice terraces to hot spring. Come back to town in the afternoon and spend time in town. Catch the night bus back to Manila.
October 13 — Arrive back in Manila in the morning via the night bus. Check into Orchid Garden Suites and register for TBEX. Walk around the markets and catch up on some sleep.
October 17 — Pick up from Belmont and head to a Gawad Kalinga NGO village in progress in Quezon City. Spend the morning helping move gravel for home foundations and hanging out with people in the village. Get back on the bus and head to the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm in Bulacan in time for dinner. Stayed onsite at Oasis hotel.
October 18 — Spent the day at Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm, meeting entrepreneurs and seeing their different ventures, looking around the farm, meeting people and asking questions.
October 19 — Spent more time around the farm, meeting people and catching baby goats. Leave the farm around lunch time. We’re back in Manila by dinnertime and check in at the Henry Hotel for dinner. After dinner, I repack my bag and catch a 9pm taxi to the airport.
October 20 — With the time change, I arrive back in Halifax at 6pm on the 20th. 33 hours later. I flew Manila, Seoul, Toronto with Korean Air and Toronto to Halifax with Westjet. I booked my flights with Skyscanner.
Tourism and the Philippines
During one of the morning sessions at TBEX, the secretary from the Philippine Department of Tourism, Wanda Corazon Tulfo-Teo, addressed us attendees. She said that for every tourist who visits the Philippines, five jobs are created for three days.
There is an argument to be made about the negative impacts of tourism on the Philippines. In El Nido and Boracay, there’s the overload on the waste management system and negative environmental impact that comes with loose policies. In Banaue, the rice terraces are not kept as well as they once were because people would rather be in the well-paying tourism industry than tending rice.
Tourism can also be hugely positive. Tourism dollars can pull people out of poverty and create jobs that people are proud of.
Some people would say the natural beauty of the Philippines is its most attractive feature, but really it’s the people. People everywhere met us with hospitality and kindness. I couldn’t turn a corner without someone saying, ‘Good morning, ma’am”. In the slum I visited, the kids called me ‘Ate Mel’, big sister Mel, and asked to see whether I had Pokemon Go on my iPhone.
The Philippines are beautiful, friendly and affordable. One day you’ll be swimming through a hole in a rock to a secret beach and laughing with your guide as he cooks red snapper on the back of your boat, the next you’ll be brushing up on your colonial history and acknowledging your tourist privilege. If you ever get the chance to go, you should take it.
My travel partner for this trip was Lauren Marinigh over at Twirl the Globe. She’s Canadian too! You can find some great itineraries on her blog.
This past week a whole reservoir of love flew from Canadian pens and keyboards towards Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip. The man, machine, poem and his band have made us cry and reminisce as they toured one last time in the wake of Downie’s incurable glioblastoma — terminal brain cancer.
The Hip finished their tour last night in Kingston, Ontario, the band’s hometown. CBC live streamed the whole thing.
Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip, a Canadian treasure
For any non-Canadian readers: Gord Downie is an amazing performer and all-around badass who never held anything back on stage, who made you feel like being Canadian was cool, powerful and poetic. Whose lyrics could be mumbled by drunks and intellectuals alike and shone a light on all the idiosyncrasies and secrets that make up this big land north of the 49th parallel.
As a young liberal arts student, The Tragically Hip’s songs were a part of the musical wallpaper of my high school and university years. It was on the radio as you drove from Lennoxville to Montréal. New Orleans is Sinking was playing in a Halifax bar before your friend’s band got up to play. You woke up hungover and put on The Hip while you made pancakes.
The Hip’s records were like a friend you could trust. Whether recovering from a broken heart, a broken family or a broken world, you could always put on The Hip’s records as a safe place.
American bands and albums are nice, but Gord made a narrative path for a generation of Canadians to tread on, with our own problems and possibilities.
I just wanted to share how we celebrated The Hip’s final concert, like many other Canadian across the country, with a bunch of friends and a backyard projector.
Weeks before we had made plans to all gather in the backyard of our friends’ house.
The day before our friend Gab had gone around to all her neighbours’ houses in the North End of Halifax with cookies and simultaneously invited them to the concert while pre-apologizing that it was going to be loud.
Yesterday morning, Rob and I drove out to Burnside to rent a ridiculous six thousand dollar projector that used to belong to The Trailer Park Boys. We then hit up Long & McQuade in Dartmouth to rent a pair of Yorkville speakers.
As we were loading them into the back of the van, an employee idly kicked an empty space along their rental wall and said they should consider sweeping the space since it’s never clear — everyone in the city was renting gear to stream The Hip’s concert and had cleaned them out.
In the backyard, we glued four white shower curtains together to make a twelve-foot square screen. We stapled the glued curtains to two 2″x4″ beams to hold the top and bottom of the screen straight.
Using some ‘industrial strength’ twine from the dollar store we lashed the screen to the side of the house out of the second floor bedroom and bathroom windows. There were cables coming out the windows, out from the basement. A computer might have fried because there was no grounding.
The concert started at 9:30pm Atlantic and friends and neighbours arrived, bringing air mattresses, lawn chairs, chips and beer. There was a keg.
Gab is a talented designer and made these awesome candy shish kabobs. Another friend, Allie, brought a legendary spicy cheese dip, the recipe for which she rescued from a restaurant chain she used to work at before it closed down.
People make things happen
When people come together, whether it’s to build a rocket ship or have a backyard concert, awesome things happen.
So I love that I was together with friends, celebrating The Hip. I love that the set list was 30 songs long and included three encores. I love that they played ‘Bobcagyeon’, ‘New Orleans is Sinking’, ‘Wheat Kings’, ‘Grace, Too’, ‘Ahead by a Century’, ‘Tired as Fuck’ and so many others. It makes me happy that #InGordWeTrust is a thing.
This morning I woke up to a Tragically Hip Spotify playlist. I love these photos I took last night even though it was so dark and they’re so grainy and objectively not good at all.
I love that Downie used the national stage last night to bring attention to first nations communities up north.
“Prime Minister Trudeau’s got me, his work with First Nations. He’s got everybody. He’s going to take us where we need to go… It’s going to take us 100 years to figure out what the hell went on up there, but it isn’t cool and everybody knows that. It’s really, really bad, but we’re going to figure it out, you’re going to figure it out.”
“A promise to this country. I mean the Prime Minister… We’re in good hands folks. Real good hands. He cares about the people up north, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore. Trained our entire lives to not hear a word of what’s going on up there. But what’s going on up there ain’t good. It’s maybe even worse than it’s ever been. So it’s not on the improve and we’re gonna get it fixed. But we’ve got the guy to do it. To start. To help.”
Almost five years ago now, on October 21, 2010, Downie came to Bishop’s University with his other band, The Country of Miracles. They put on an amazing show that was attended by maybe a hundred people.
I was just starting my third year of university and shooting at the concert so I could write an article for the university newspaper. Gord let me get up close and made me feel like a real concert photographer even though I was a self-taught kid who barely knew how to use a camera.
The theatre had just flooded a week before and it was a miracle the show was able to go on at all. The river had risen 7.3 metres and 900 people left during evacuation.
The piece I wrote has long-since been swallowed by The Campus archives, but I’ll always have the photos and the memory.
Thanks for everything, Gord. You were the coolest guy. Ahead by a century. You helped a whole country figure itself out.
If traveling through Bosnia, there will come a time when you’ll be pulled into a street café or someone’s kitchen, seated, and offered a thimble-sized cup of what looks, smells and tastes like hot, sweet, thick bitter mud.
This is bosanska kafa. Bosnian coffee. Hot, thick and strong, it’s a staple in the region and brings people together every day and has the miraculous power of drawing conversations out of people.
Meals, entire afternoons and evenings can slip away over the table as you sip with family, friends, strangers and those you’ve only just begun to know. In Sarajevo especially, you are never out of sight of a coffee shop.
People will sit for hours, chatting or arguing. Everything and anything in a person’s life can be raked over a cup of coffee. I had a lot of Bosnians tell me their high unemployment rate is also why so much time is spent in coffee shops, so it’s both a social and economic imperative.
In modern Bosnian cities of course you can find espresso and drip coffee, but the heart of the culture really lies with this brew that matches their sometimes-dark sense of humour.
I drank more coffee during the four weeks I was in Bosnia than I had the entire year before.
The coffee arrives on a tray — often made of etched or imprinted copper, one of the country’s traditional crafts. Bosnia’s mines provide the metal and people here have been working with copper it since before the Ottoman era, although it was the Ottomans that advanced copper
Bosnians also have a delightful tradition of serving their coffee with a glass of water. You don’t have to ask for it, it just comes on the tray, de facto. This is perfect, because your mouth often feels dry after the astringent bitterness. I wish all coffees came with water.
When you take the coffee, don’t drink the last sip. You’ll get nothing but a mouth full of thick sludge.
Because of their shared Ottoman history, it’s understandably similar to Turkish coffee (some would call it the exact same) and Greek coffee, for that matter.
No matter what you do, do not — I repeat: Do NOT, call it Turkish coffee in front of a Bosnian person.
Bosnian names for coffee things
On the tray you have your džezva (‘jezz-va’), the larger pot with a flared base. This is what your coffee comes in.
Then there’s the fildžan (‘phil-john’), the tiny ceramic cup without a handle, into which you pour your Bosnian coffee.
Rahat lokum is the name for the sweet we’d call a Turkish delight, and the lump of sugar is called grumen šećera.
How to make Bosnian coffee
Add the hot water along with a few spoonfuls of fine-ground coffee into your džezva.**
Stir it around, like you would a hot chocolate.
Put the džezva on the stove and turn it up medium-high. We want to heat it up so that a thick foam called the crema forms on top of the coffee, but we don’t want it to boil.
When the crema forms, take it off the stove and spoon a bit of crema off the top and put it into your cup. This is the good stuff. If you’re drinking with more than one person, each one should get a bit in their cup.
Then pour from the džezva to finish filling each cup.
Sip slowly and smile.
** This is actually what distinguishes it from Turkish coffee, where the grounds are mixed with cold water.
So that’s the spiel on Bosnian coffee. Even for a tea drinker like myself, a small but mighty cup of bosanska kafa in the morning just felt like the right way to say hello to the day in Bosnia.
Have you tried Bosnian coffee? Have you been to Bosnia? Did I get anything wrong? Let me know in the comments below!