vol 3: I’m sorry, I’m from Miami

New Orleans has felt like a dreamy blur, from start to finish. 

In the six weeks I’ve been here, I celebrated my first Mardi Gras, started a new job, and experienced New Orleans as an adult. Before moving here, the only other time I was here was when I was in elementary school – and I vaguely remember it. 

Since I arrived, it’s been a non-stop exploration of different neighborhoods and trying out all kinds of Cajun cooking. I did some stereotypical touristy things, including the vampire walking tours in French Quarter; I also got a tarot reading done at a witchcraft shop. I saw the bayou at Jean Lafitte State Park. I had beignets at Cafe du Monde. I met new people through mutual friends or talking to other solo travelers on the walking tours. 

Now, as I start to pack up, I find myself wishing I had checked out a few other places – but I’ve grown to really love this city, and I know I’ll be back sooner than later. 

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A few weeks ago, I took myself out on a Friday night in the French Quarter to celebrate wrapping up my first week at the new job. I sat on the balcony of Muriel’s with a glass of wine, watching the slow trickle of tourists walking below me. 

While I was sitting there, it finally struck me that I was here – really here. Not just for a weekend trip, but that I had been living in the city for an entire month. All of the changes that had occurred – from deciding to come to this city, to moving away from Florida for the first time, leaving my old job – they all felt like the right moves to make. 

Despite the disaster that was 2020, it propelled me forward to this point. Making the first shift prompted all of these other changes, which lead me here: sitting on this balcony, enjoying a mild wine buzz, people watching while a trumpet player in Jackson Square played ‘All of Me’ by Ella Fitzgerald. It was the first time I had really stopped to simply admire the city, and also allowed myself to really savor the moment I was in. 

I felt so incredibly grateful to be where I was. 

 

Mardi Gras wasn’t canceled this year, but it certainly felt different. 

The parades were not allowed to do their usual routes, and most of the city was on lockdown from the Friday before up to Fat Tuesday.  

Although I didn’t get to see the parades, I did get to see the house floats up and down St. Charles Avenue. A neighbor around my block hired a three-piece band to play on her porch and the neighborhood came out to watch them play. COVID may have canceled the parades but the city still seemed to have a buzz. Seeing all of the houses decorated felt like Christmas almost, and I felt festive for most of February. 

I got to partake in some of the traditions, starting with king cake. Typically only available from early January until Mardi Gras, king cake is a big deal, and locals kept referring me to different places to try out ‘the best King Cake in New Orleans’. Most of the places I tried were sold out, but I definitely stood in line in 40° weather for a chantilly and berries king cake from Bywater Bakery and it was 100% worth it

I also showed up during one of the fiercest cold snaps the city has ever seen. This year’s Mardi Gras was the second coldest ever, and I was completely unprepared.

The night before the cold snap hit, my landlord Miss Cathy texted me and asked me to open all the cabinet doors, run a small stream of water in the sink, and wrap a towel around the outside faucet. I read her text a few times, in a mild panic – wrap the what

Mildly embarrassed, I texted back: “Sorry, I’m from Miami and I’ve never experienced this before.” 

Before I left, I had brought a few things and felt prepared to tackle a lot – but preventing a potential pipe burst due to freezing temperatures on my own wasn’t what I expected. While I had experienced cold weather when visiting family in Toronto, I was never responsible for anything while I was there. 

I did end up finding the faucet outside, wrapped it, and also left the water running. The pipes didn’t burst. Also, all my friends who have lived in cold weather definitely had a good laugh at my expense when I told them I didn’t know what sleet actually was. 

I asked for adventure, and I certainly got it. 

I’ve already started to pack my things to prepare for the next city. While I’m excited to go, I’m definitely going to miss parts of New Orleans. 

I’ll miss walking down Magazine street on a sunny afternoon, popping into the vintage stores, or grabbing a beignet from The Vintage. 

I’ll miss the spicy cheesy grits Miss Cathy made when she invited me over for brunch. 

I’ll miss walking around French Quarter listening to ghost stories with an absinthe cocktail in my hand. 

I’ll definitely miss all the food – I don’t think I’ve had a single bad meal here. 

I’ll miss hearing the jazz music playing while walking down Royal street. 

I’ll miss strolling through Audubon Park and seeing all the oak trees create a canopy over the sidewalk. 

I didn’t expect to love this city as much as I did, and I definitely see myself coming back here post-pandemic. 

Until then, it’s time to pack up and get ready for my next city: Austin, TX.

My beautiful picture
My beautiful picture

vol 2: el viaje

In December of 1976, my parents Oscar and Maria set off on a six-month road trip that would forever be known as “El Viaje”. 

Their entire trip would span multiple countries, starting in Canada, cutting through the United States, into Central America. After flying the car from Panama to Lima, they would then travel through South America, making stops in their respective homelands of Uruguay and Peru. 

My Dad, Oscar, had arrived in Canada in 1973, originally in Montreal, and then went to Toronto. My Mom, Maria, had left Peru and arrived in Toronto in late 1973. They were introduced by friends and began dating in 1975.

The discussions about this trip began in early 1976 and originally included two other couples that they were friends with. At the time, my parents had been living in Sarnia, Ontario, where my Dad was driving trucks and my Mom was working at a Corn Wheat company. Over the course of the next few months, they pooled their savings with the intention of buying a van with the other couples and modifying it for the trip. 

When it came time to leave though, the other couples backed out. My parents were left with the decision: did they want to stay or were they still going to go? 

They opted to go. That December, they packed their things into an Austin Mini and left Sarnia for what would be the defining trip of their lives. 

My Dad and the Mini

After crossing the border, their first stop was Chicago, with plans to drive through the United States down to Central America.

It’s impossible to summarize the sheer number of sights they saw. In the Southwestern part of the United States alone, they spent time at the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest National Park. Heading further south, they spent almost an entire month in Mexico, spending time with my father’s family in Mexico City and exploring the western part of the country. They camped by Lago Apulo en El Salvador, and spent a week at a resort in Guatemala before heading to Costa Rica and finally, Panama. 

In Panama, they flew to Medellin, Colombia to start the South American leg of their journey. They took several buses through Colombia, then through Ecuador, and onto Peru. While in Peru, they stopped in Lima to reunite with the car and meet my mother’s family, most of whom were meeting my Dad for the first time. They then headed to Juliaca, Cusco, and of course, Machu Picchu.

Their departure from Peru led them to Bolivia, through La Quiaca, a city in the northern portion of Argentina, and then into Uruguay. Upon reaching my father’s hometown of Montevideo, my Mom now got to meet his entire family. After spending time with my father’s family, they boarded the ferry and made their way to Buenos Aires, then to Mendoza, before driving the Mini through the Andes to the border of Chile. 

My Mom, Maria

All of the stories weren’t necessarily as rosy. While they were camping one night in Guatemala, they were woken up in the middle of the night by gunshots and had to spend the rest of the night in their neighbors RV to stay safe. In multiple countries, the only way they were able to cross the border is to essentially try to bribe the customs agents. The Mini also broke down in different cities but left them stranded in Bolivia at one point until they found the right part. At one point in Paysandú, Uruguay, they almost ran out of money completely and my Aunt in Montevideo had to overnight them a box with cash stuffed inside a pair of shoes. 

Along the way, they met fellow travelers, some of whom they still remember fondly. While in Panama, they met a French Canadian man by the name of Rene Roux who was driving his motorcycle through Central America. They traveled alongside each other and parted ways after Colombia. By sheer coincidence, he ended up visiting Uruguay and my Dad invited him to stay with my Uncle and family in Montevideo.

Rene was apparently extremely simpatico and left quite an impression on my grandmother – so much so, she kept encouraging my Dad’s niece Anita to flirt with him; poor Anita was mortified. Rene ended up passing through Uruguay to go to Brazil, and eventually, my parents would see him again in Canada.


Rene Roux

When I went to interview my parents for this story, my Mom plucked out a photocopy of a Brazilian motorcycle magazine entitled Duas Rodas Motociclismo with Rene and his bike on the cover. The story inside the magazine was an interview of him and his travels through South America, a lot of details about the motorcycle itself. You can view the story on Rene here.

Despite the graininess of the black and white magazine cover, I could tell Rene was indeed a handsome man and I could see why my grandmother would’ve tried to nudge Anita along. I felt a slight pang hearing this story about my paternal grandmother, Rosa. She passed before I was born, and my knowledge of her mostly consists of small anecdotes and stories. Learning about how she tried to push a 20-something-year-old Anita into flirting with this handsome, charismatic French Canadian man who she had only met a few days prior felt so aligned with the version of her I had in my mind. Researching this trip not only gave me insight into my parents but also added another small story to my collection of Abuela Dominguez-Casala. 


Once my parents left Chile, it was time to make their way north, up to Colombia so they could start the journey back home. While in Colombia, they had to abandon their car – which was illegal – so they stripped the car of everything, took the plates of the car as souvenirs, and left their Mini on the side of a road. It seemed like such an unceremonious end to their trusted travel companion, but the other option of selling it would mean unwelcome attention from the police –  and so, the goodbye to their Austin Mini was succinct. 

The Mini, at the border of Chile

They flew from Medellin to Miami, where they stayed in a hotel in Miami Beach. By this point, it was early May, and they were most likely greeted by the Miami humidity and heat. While having dinner in Miami Beach, my Dad looked around and saw the crowd around them was mostly full of retirees.

“It was full of old people,” he told me. “I thought to myself…I could never live here.”

Little did he know, Miami would end up being home. My parents would eventually leave Toronto to move the family to Miami in the early 1980s. A few years later, I would be born and they would raise me and my two older brothers there. Miami would completely transform from the city full of retirees to the city it is today.

Their journey ended up with them driving from Miami to Toronto, where they quickly had to jump back into ‘normal life’ and begin working again. But el viaje forever changed them. It strengthened their bond with one another, and hearing their travel stories as I grew up instilled a deep sense of wanderlust in me. 

My own journey is going to be so different from theirs, but I hope I’m able to gather the same kind of stories they have. Our paths aren’t exactly alike – for starters, they didn’t work while they were traveling, and they definitely were not navigating a country in lockdown due to a pandemic. 

I hope I get to meet other travelers, get to explore the cities I’m staying in, and taste the freedom they got to have. 

Most of all, I hope I get to make the kind of memories they did – the kind that I can look back on years from now and have my face light up the way each of theirs did while telling me the story of el viaje

vol 1: false starts

I greeted 2021 by packing up the last of my things and preparing to kick off my journey. I moved four times in 2020, and each time I had to pack up and go, I shed; shed more clothing, more books, more mementos that I didn’t know why I had held onto for this long.

After I had decided to go on this road trip, I sold all of my furniture and spent my last three months in Miami in a furnished apartment. The small number of things I still had was either coming with me or would sit in a box at my parent’s house.

When Sunday, January 3 rolled around, I was beyond ready to go. I packed up my Kia Soul to the brim with the help of my friends Gio and Abel, coaxed Sophie cat into her carrier, and we started our caravan up the Florida Turnpike to Kissimmee, where I’d be staying at an Airbnb for a week.

The three and a half hour journey was the first time in weeks that I’d actually sat down to think about what I had just done. In the weeks leading up to my departure, I often felt that it didn’t ‘feel real’ – that this idea to go nomadic was just something I had been preparing for but wasn’t actually happening. It hadn’t sunk in, even after I sold my furniture, or when I signed the short-term lease for my apartment in Austin, or even packing up the last of my clothing. 

Yet, here I was with Sophie Cat, a suitcase and two bags, leaving Miami. Part of me was excited to go and start this journey I had been planning for the last few months; the other felt a pang of fear of leaving my hometown and the only state I’ve ever lived in, to hop between a series of cities that I had no real ties to. 

I had an itinerary planned out – I’d be leaving Miami to head to Kissimmee, followed by Tampa, then Gainesville. Each city had a friend or two I wanted to see or a place I wanted to revisit for sentimental reasons. I was giving myself a sendoff from Florida, of sorts – a proper goodbye.

And then, as I pulled up to my new home for the week in Kissimmee, I got a text from a friend: her boyfriend, who I had just seen a few days prior, had just tested positive for COVID. 

I thought the hardest part would be leaving – but now, what I left behind was the least of my worries.

The news hit me and I felt the familiar uneasiness in my stomach start to build –  a surefire sign my anxiety was rising. 

Do I have COVID? Where am I going to go get tested? What hospital am I by in case of an emergency? What county am I even in right now? Are my friends okay? Am I okay? Do I have what I need? Should I tell my parents? Who else did I see that may have been exposed?

Question after question rolled around in my head. The only thing I knew for certain was that I had to quarantine. 

The next few days were a blur of getting all of my necessities delivered to me. I canceled my Tampa trip and booked another week in Kissimmee to complete the full two weeks of quarantine. I found out that my current county – Osceola – offered a free testing location only 15 minutes from me. 

I lined up at 7:30 AM a few days later – day 5 since my exposure – to get tested in the parking lot of a Disney corporate office. The testing facility was behind Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, and from the line, you could see the top of the artificial Mount Everest. It felt a little jarring to be standing in line at Disney for a COVID test while the rest of the parks started to open their gates. 

The results were rapid and 15 minutes later I got a text: I was negative. 

Despite the negative result, I knew I had to keep waiting, but that first initial result allowed me to breathe a bit more deeply than I had in days. 

My first Airbnb, a comfortable condo in the suburbs, was not able to extend my stay, and so I moved into another apartment that was located in a complex that was part-hotel, part-owner owned condos. The condo I was in was very clearly geared towards Disney vacationers, and most of the people staying around me seemed to be tourists. 

Inside the condo, small figurines adorned the walls; an assortment of characters from Frozen, Beauty and the Beast, and a stuffed Goofy greeted me each morning as I made matcha at the small kitchenette. The couch had three Mickey and Minnie throw pillows as decoration, with red and white polka dot pillows to coordinate. 

It was an adorable little vacation studio for Disney fans; but I wasn’t here for a vacation. My work from home setup felt out of place next to the cheery decor, and I was definitely feeling less than magical. The tourists made use of the pool area while I sat in my room on Zoom meetings, which served as another reminder that I was here to work and wait out another few anxious days.

Thankfully, another negative test came in and I was able to wrap up my quarantine.

Although I hadn’t planned on staying for two weeks in Kissimmee, I was able to make the most of it. 

I ordered Tijuana Flats more times than I care to admit. This particular TexMex spot was my favorite back in college at USF, and there aren’t any locations in Miami. Although I couldn’t physically go back to Tampa, I still felt a bit nostalgic eating the chips and queso. 

I got to try the recently launched line of cookies from Mariah Carey. Yes, she launched a cookie company. Kissimmee is a test market and Postmates was offering free delivery – so fuck it, I ordered them. Surprisingly tasty cookies! 

I was able to drive 40 minutes north of Orlando to see Kelly Park. The afternoon was sunny and the temperatures were in the mid-50s, and there was zero humidity – a rarity in Florida. Although the springs I wanted to see were closed off, I was able to walk the trail. It felt relieving to be able to walk through the open trail – truly, a welcome relief from the four walls I was in for days. 

This was not the sendoff I planned for but I’m grateful I’m healthy. I’m grateful that my friends are okay. 

I’m grateful I get to keep going.

I made it to Gainesville on Sunday morning, still healthy with no symptoms. I’ll be here until the end of the month before I go on to Panama City Beach, my last city in Florida. 

After that, it’s off to New Orleans – my first official city that I’ll be staying in for six weeks.