If you want to spark a heated debate in a room full of writers, just mention the Huffington Post. Arianna’s publishing empire incites a range of alternating fury and support that occasionally makes me fear for my life. There are those who proudly declare they write for such a widely read publication, even if it is for no pay, and others who proudly declare they will never give their work away to a non-paying giant like Huff Po.
I’ve been fortunate with my travels. Apart from a few small inconveniences—falling for a timeshare scam in Bali and being abandoned at the side of the road, having a camera stolen in both Cancun and Los Angeles (you think I would have learned the first time), suffering food poisoning in Veradero, sitting in a Florida ER after breaking blood vessels in my right eye—I haven’t fallen prey to serious injuries or other dangers while roaming the globe.
I knew something was amiss when my Kit Kat—my favourite of all the chocolate bars (okay, second favourite, after peanut butter cups)—tasted… wrong. Too sweet. Too fake. Too I don’t know what, but not good. Could it be true? Did I really change my tastebuds and cure my daily 3pm addiction to sugar in one week? Looks like it. And I blame Mountain Trek Resort.
It all started 10 years ago. I was going through a rough time, a period of intense stress that had left me with a severe case of insomnia and—when I could finally sleep—nightmares.
My long-time friend and eternal voice of reason (and fellow mojito hunter) came to the rescue. Erika showed up at my house in downtown Toronto and told me and my roommate Shanna that she was whisking us away to her family’s cottage for the weekend, to kill off the negativity that had consumed us. We were to pack our bags with no worries for what awaited us back home, and head three hours north, to a patch of water near Pointe au Baril known as Harris Lake.
Tell someone you’re headed to Cuba and you’re likely hear two things: how beautiful are the beaches and how terrible the food. Yes, Cuban food can be bland, especially in the massive resorts where buffet-style fare leaves much to be desired. But what kind of dining experience can you find off-resort? That was what I wanted to find out as I headed to the city of Havana.
When we travel, or prepare to travel, we can often get caught up in the safety precautions: strategically hiding our money from pickpockets, tucking passports into secret pockets of our backpacks, hiding valuables under pillows while we sleep in hostels. Sometimes, between all the hoops we have to jump through at airport security, combined with the preparation for what dangers might happen abroad, I wonder if travel is nothing more than an experiment in mistrust. And sadly, many of us travellers have had an experience or two to lead us down into that spiral of fear.
The taxi pulled toward the curb and shuddered to a stop. It was already filled with people, but we squeezed our way in to join the crowd—four of us in the backseat, three up front. Then we took off, hiccupping down the road at a tortoise pace inside a vehicle with the temperature of a sauna. Beside me, one of the passengers was engaged in a heated debate with the driver, the two of them yelling to be heard over the pounding beat of salsa pouring from the radio.
It was the scent that first caught my attention. The sweet smell of frying batter floated through the air, catching my nose and transporting me on a cloud of memories to funnel cakes and BeaverTails at amusement parks and carnivals back home.
My interest—and nostrils—completely captured, I then noticed the line of people that snaked along the cobbled Calle Mercaderes in Old Havana. There were dozens in line—young Cuban children clutching coins or sprinting circles around their parents, teenage girls gossiping and tourists like me, who were mesmerized by the scent.