When my wife Jody and I were at home researching our trip to Jibacoa, we checked out a variety of travel advisory websites for tour guide recommendations, and wrote down the contact info for a man whose name kept recurring: Humberto Mesa. Once we were at our resort and had hooked up with the lovely Aurora and expert traveller Lorraine, we had to laugh when Lorraine whipped out her cell phone and speed-dialed the same Humberto, arranging our day trip to Havana for us in the blink of an eye.
Humberto picked us up at our resort in a small Renault that had seen better days, and he laughed as we ogled some of the beautifully restored, colourful American cars waiting for other guests. “From the outside they look good. From the inside, no good.”
Classic cars on the road to Havana (c) Allyson Scott
He went on to explain that most of the cars had no shocks, no air conditioning, and were prone to breaking down – understandable given their mechanical history and availability of parts. Sure enough, we saw several overheated cars with overheated tourists on the side of the road awaiting tow trucks. We sailed past in our boring but reliable car, excited to see what Havana held in store for us.
View from our room at Breezes Jibacoa (c) Allyson Scott
For two people who love to travel as much as Jody and I do, going a year and a half without so much as a camping trip was a long haul. Unfortunately we had one newly adopted dog who was too neurotic to board, and one elderly dog who was too sick to leave. When she broke our hearts in April, we knew we had to get away to do some mending.
Cuba never held much interest for me, as I thought it was just an inexpensive, resort-heavy party destination. However, we needed a cheap vacation after spending thousands of dollars on veterinary bills, and Jody’s research led her to the Breezes resort in Jibacoa.
Seagull on frozen Lake Ontario, Toronto (c) Allyson Scott
The winter that simply won’t end sent yet another blast of snow our way. The large snowflakes fell in beautiful clumps that made photography a real challenge – keeping the camera dry, keeping the lens clear, getting the focus to settle on something other than an airborne snowflake – but it was worth the effort. A trip to Sir Casimir Gzowski Park at the lakeshore reminded me of all the beauty this harsh season can hold, provided I actually leave the house.
Seagulls beside frozen breakwater on Lake Ontario, Toronto (c) Allyson Scott
Gate to Reesor Pioneer Cemetery, Markham (c) Allyson Scott
Driving north on Reesor Road in Markham, I caught sight of some abandoned buildings that exerted a magnetic pull on my car. Two feet of snow still blanketed everything, but I couldn’t resist getting out and trudging through the drifts to take a closer look.
Note to self: if you want to have a more successful spontaneous exploration, plan ahead.
It’s one of the snowiest winters on record, I’ve just gotten my camera back from the repair shop, and with some errands north of the city yesterday, it seemed the perfect time to do some winter landscape shooting. I can’t count the number of times beautiful scenery has whizzed past the window when I haven’t had time to stop (or couldn’t figure out how to exit/park/not get killed on a highway).
But the fates were having none of it. I shot some wintry suburban streets at the start of my trek (stock photo want lists ingrained in my head), but outside the city all the side roads I chose through Newmarket and Aurora seemed to lead to more cookie-cutter construction. And dead cornstalks, lots of dead cornstalks. There were no happy accidents to be had.
Feeling a bit dejected, I stopped by my parents’ house for the cure-all cup of tea, and they suggested I head over to a nearby farm with an old-fashioned skating rink. I vaguely recalled a family trip there twenty years ago, but didn’t really know what we’d find when my mom and I pulled up to the locked gate.
Statue of Liberty and Hudson River seen from Battery Park, New York (c) Allyson Scott
New York’s been in the news a little more than usual lately, what with their new mayor finding his snow legs (we can only dream of such minor squabbles over snow removal here in Toronto), and Jimmy Fallon about to move The Tonight Show back to its 30 Rock roots next month. It’s made me nostalgic for the one and only whirlwind experience I had in the city, which may not have been an ideal approach, but gave me a taste of the Big Apple.
I flew down to New York in March 2005 on business, to art direct a one-day photo shoot. A tight expense report allowance dictated the cheapest accommodation possible, a blessing in the end because I could afford to add a couple of personal days on my own dime. I was single at the time, and my mother was happy to join me and make it a girls weekend. That’s my mom in a nutshell – game for anything!
Little did she know what she’d gotten herself into.
Hotel room at The Marcel in Gramercy Park (c) Allyson Scott