This morning I sit in the small city of Cusco, Peru, listening to Edith Piaf, sipping on a cafe and eating a crepe with Bonne Mama jam. The conversations I overhear and sometimes partake in are in French. I could be in Paris right now, and yet, I’m sitting in the middle of South America. I’ll finish my petit dejeuner, then pop outside to meet Sofia, a local gal who has made me an alpaca sweater, with arms long enough to actually fit. She and I will chat in Spanish for a while, then I’ll have to head to the office, where I’ll meet 13 Wild Women and chat with them in English for a week. I love being able to chat in several different languages, although I’m not fluent by any means, I can most certainly get by and express myself. This is one of the things I love the most about travel: being able to communicate with different cultures, and finding a common ground through language. 

I’ll never forget the first time I realized that this idea of communicating made me feel truly alive. I was sitting on the steps of Sacre Coeur in Montmarte, Paris almost 20 years ago, late on a Saturday night. A small group of us had convened and we were sipping wine and smoking hash (I’m aware that this might now jeopardize my chance of becoming Prime Minister; I did indeed inhale) To my right was a dude from Normandy, and to the left was a girl from Barcelona. I would turn my head one way, chat it up in Spanish, then turn my head the other way and chat in French…I felt so empowered (could have been the vino or the hash) being able to speak so freely. At that moment I knew that I’d spend my life exploring the world. 

 A lot of people ask me when my love of travel began. People assume that I travelled a lot as a kid, and that actually isn’t true. My parents said that my sister and I fought too much and that’s why we never really went away. I remember one roadtrip to Ottawa, one trip to Disney World with Mum (she was right, Michelle and I fought), and one trip to BC skiing on a trip Dad won at a Warren Miller movie screening. So, I never really got around that much, but do remember when I realized that I loved the freedom of being mobile. I was about 8 and Mum put me on the Greyhound bus at the Barrie bus terminal (one of the most scariest places I’ve ever encountered back then and even now) to go to Toronto to visit Nana. The drive down the 400 seemed endless; at that time there was no “south end” of Barrie, and most of the drive was open farmland until you reached the outskirts of Toronto. I pressed my face against the window and took in all that open space. The drive down Avenue Road to the downtown bus terminal felt like another world…fancy houses, myriad of stores and shops, and people everywhere. Once I reached the bus station downtown on Dundas, I’d see Nana waiting at the platform; her hair done up in her infamous bun impeccably, nails painted, and rose coloured lipstick applied perfectly. Nana always seemed pretty glamourous to me back then. She’d come to visit us in Barrie bringing gifts from Sri Lanka, where she’d spent several months, or toting Quality Street sweets back from England. To me she was well-travelled and was so worldly; I wanted to be like her. After picking me up at the bus station, she’d usually take me through the Eaton Centre to head to the subway. I’d wander around looking up at the high glass ceilings, adorned with Canada geese hanging from invisible wire, making it seem as though the birds were in mid-flight, with the blue of the sky in the background through the glass windows. A far cry from the dingy and dark Bayfield Mall of Barrie. I loved this place where everything seemed so open and full of possibility. I remember one trip back to Nana’s apartment from downtown where I had my first star-struck memory: on the escalator in the Eglington Centre I spotted Elwi Yost, who was then the host of a TV Ontario program called, “Magic Shadows” where he’d present independent and old movies every Saturday night. “Look Nana! There’s that bald guy who’s on the TV every week!” I squealed. It was then that I realized there was more to the world than Barrie Ontario. 

 I was 9 when I was first allowed to travel on the subway myself, and I felt then that I could take on the world. I went to visit Nana and she let me stay at the Eaton Centre myself and take the subway back to her place. I went into Sam the Record Man and bought my dad a Huey Lewis and the News record for his birthday, and bought myself my first pair of white Keds running shoes from Eaton’s, with the money I earned from my 2 paper routes. I was independent. I was fearless. I was free. Travel instilled all of this in me, even if it was only an hour drive away from my hometown. 

My best friend Shawna moved to Toronto in grade 5, so this gave me an opportunity to visit her over the years. In grade 7 I went down to visit her and we went to Club Focus, which was a club for teenagers to go and dance to The Cure, The Smiths, Siouxee and the Banchees and other music that was unknown in Barrie. We got dressed up in clothes trying to emulate Bananarama, and headed downtown to dance the early evening away. There, I saw people with mohawks, green hair, safety pins in their ears and all over their pants, and World Famous army bags as purses; these people were clearly much cooler than I, and opened my eyes to the world of fashion. Again, travel was the catalyst for seeing the world through different eyes. 

Nowadays, I still have the passion to travel; thanks to my parents I had the opportunity to study in France and England for university and post-graduate work. I’ve gone further than Toronto though and continue to want to explore this beautiful wild world. My Spanish is improving and I know I’ll spend more time in France in the future to improve my French as well. The jobs I take continue to take me to amazing places and for this I’m grateful. I constantly tell Mum how grateful I am that she put me on the Greyhound at such a tender age so that I could experience the joy of travel. Gracias Glo.

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