Scotland by Train with Frederick Douglass

Let’s follow the journey of Frederick Douglass as he lectured on the anti-slavery circuit in Scotland in 1843. On this adventure we will visit the places where he spoke from big cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow to his sightseeing trips to Scottish castles and country houses.

This adventure tour is part of my Daydream Black History Tours around the around the world. They combine the best of adventure, travel and history – all from our unique Black perspective. The trips are a daydream right now. Let’s see if we can turn them into reality.

Frederick Douglass became a superstar in Scotland. His lectures and his books were sold out in each city. Douglass even considered permanently living in the country, as for the first time in his life, he was treated as a man and not as a slave.

The tour will be fun and historic. There will be plenty of stops for lunches at pubs, walking tours, shopping and boat tours.

Tour Highlights

  • Get to know Scotland’s Black History by following the footsteps of Frederick Douglass.
  • Visit the major cities in Scotland such as Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee.
  • Boat and walking tours in the cities.
  • Hadrian’s Wall and the African troops who guarded it.
  • Visit castles, country houses, museums, pubs and art galleries – all with a connection to Black History.

Daily Itinerary

  • Day 1 – Arrive in Edinburgh
  • Day 2 – Edinburgh, the castles and the Black musicians at the Royal Courts from the 1400s.
  • Day 3 – Glasgow, tour the 1800s homes and estates of the tobacco barons.
  • Day 4 – Dundee, visits to the art gallery, museums and pubs.
  • Day 5 – Aberdeen, tour the castle, maritime museum and local pubs.
  • Day 6 – Inverness, see the castle, canal and Scottish highlands.
  • Day 7 – Return to Edinburgh
  • Day 8 – Hadrian’s Wall, walk in the footsteps of the African legion that guarded this edge of the Roman Empire.
  • Day 9 – Edinburgh, visits to a country house, distillery and shopping.
  • Day 10 – Depart from Edinburgh.

Facts File

  • 10 day land tour.
  • Minimum 4 and maximum 16 participants.
  • All meals and accommodation included.
  • Start and end in Edinburgh, Scotland.
  • Comfort level – road trip on modern roads.
  • Accommodation – comfortable hotels.
  • Departure – spring.

Who wants to come with me on this Daydream Black History Tours? Let’s see if we can make it real.

50 Places: A Black History Travel Guide of London

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Fried Plantain and the African Diaspora

It started off with the fried plantain. Seven of us – all Black – sat around a table in a Jamaican café discussing the joy, and for some the horror, of eating the delicacy.

The café is the end spot of my Black History Walks in Toronto. Two women from the southern USA, Mississippi and Alabama, I think, were mystified about the deliciousness of eating ripe fried plantain. It was not part of their southern cuisine.

Plantain is one of those foods that shows the history of the African Diaspora. Its story is less well known compared to that of say sugar, cotton and tobacco. For starters, there is often confusion about what exactly a plantain is and its relation to bananas. In grocery stores I have seen plantains labeled as cooking bananas or plantain bananas. The two belong to the same Musa species. Scientifically there is little difference between them. Both are old crops in the human ladder that were domesticated eons ago.

The Musa species is native to Papua New Guinea and has spread throughout the tropics. The plant reached West Africa about 4,000 years ago and from there to the rest of the continent. How it reached West Africa hints at forgotten pre-historic trade routes between Africa and Asia.

Culturally there is a huge difference between how plantain and bananas are consumed. Plantains are generally bigger, starchier and less sweet than bananas. Whether ripe or green, plantains are cooked before they are eaten.

To me, fried plantain is sweet and soft with a delicate flavour. To one of the Americans it was simply mushy, sticky and bland. She had tried eating several times. This time, she pursed her lips, and declined.

Of the seven Black people around the table, by nationality, there were three Canadians and four Americans. If arranged in a Venn diagram, the biggest overlap was the four people with Caribbean heritage, two each from the Canadian and American circles.

Fried plantain was comfort food to the Caribbean sub-group, who all knew it as a delicious snack or as a side dish to lunch or dinner.

And there was another subdivision in the group. This time within the Caribbean sub-group, as it contained people from Guyana, Jamaica and Costa Rica. Three spoke English as their mother tongue, while the Costa Rican spoke Spanish. As a member of the Afro-Latino community in the USA, he was a minority several times over. He was tired of explaining that he was Black and Latino. The twin pillars of his heritage were as indivisible as the heart.

Fried plantain was not part of the African Canadian woman’s cooking culture. She got to know it when she moved to Toronto and started hanging out with new Caribbean friends. Her family came to Canada over two centuries ago. They were part of the flood of refugees who fled the USA due to the American Revolution. These Loyalist scorned independence and wanted to continue living in a colony that was loyal to the British royals.

She did not know if her ancestors came as slaves – part of the property or the white Loyalists. Or if they came freed – the prize for serving on the British side during the revolutionary war.

The Black Loyalists stronghold was Africville, Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada. The community thrived in the town until the 1960s. Then it was bulldozed. Slum clearance according to the official rationale. The attempt to make the Black community disappear is part of the long tradition of anti-Black racism in Canada.

Like all the people around our table, plantain is not indigenous to the Americas or the Caribbean. The African staple sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in the same slave ships. The crop was easy to grow, high in starch and provided energy to those worked by the whip.

Bananas are eaten all over the world. Plantain has a more limited culinary appeal. The largest plantain eaters are still in Africa, in Nigeria, Rwanda and the Congo.

I take green or semi-ripe plantains with me on camping trips. The vegetable is easy to carry, does not bruise easily and won’t spoil. As it ripens the plantain becomes sweeter. On camping trips I serve it sliced and fried as a starter for dinner. With lots of explanations on what it is and how to eat it. Plantain is also delicious when roasted, boiled or mashed and served with a rich, thick and spicy stew.

Fried plantain. A gorgeous snack that encapsulates the history and cooking cultures of the African Diaspora. Around the café table, with reggae playing in the background, it sparked many discussions on what it means to be Black in America and in Canada.

Heartbeats in Africa: A Memoir of Travel and Love

Photo credit: Homemade Zagat

A Black View on Climate Change

An opera about Black people, climate change and dub poetry. Lukumi is a fascinating show on so many levels. In the first place it puts Black people at the centre of the environmental debate.

Look at the conservation, outdoor recreation and environmental movements, and all one sees is a river of white faces. It is easy to assume from the images that there are no Black people in Canada. Lukumi puts the colour back into the environmental debates.

Starring D’bi Young as Lukumi, the opera is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humans have destroyed nearly everything. Lukumi, a reluctant warrior-goddess, must journey to the depths of the Earth to find the roots of the tree of life. It might be too late, but a seed from this tree could heal the planet.

Lukumi must conquer her own doubts, travel through a nucleared landscape and convince other animals to help her. And she must battle the black skins in the white masks. These are the soldiers hunting for bleeders, the few women who are still fertile, to restock the nuclear-ruined population.

The opera is also a journey through Black music. The live band shifts from African drumming, to gospel and to jazz. The melody and reggae beats of dub poetry weaves the whole thing together. The large cast are excellent singers. The music is co-composed by Waleed Abdulhamid and D’bi Young.

The opera is not all bleak. Humour comes from Daniel Ellis, as Anancy, a versifier, shape-shifter and unreliable giver of wisdom. The trickster admits that his words have to rhyme, even if it means that half the time the sense is left out. The sound-bite is what matters.

Lukumi is produced by Watah Theatre. The professional company ‘specialises in producing political theatre from a radical queer Black feminist lens.’ The founder is D’Bi Young.

Lukumi mixes African, Caribbean and Indigenous myths to create something uniquely Canadian. It is not the official myth of Canada as a happy land of multicultural people. Rather, the opera exposes how pollution, mining and fracking disproportionally affects Indigenous people in Canada. The opera is a call for environmental and social justice. It we don’t clean up the mess, in the end humans won’t matter. We will be no more.

The opera is at the Tarragon Theatre September 22-October 14, 2017.

Black History Walks Toronto

Hiking in Jamaica

The other side of Jamaica includes forests, mountains and limestone valleys. There is more to Jamaica than just miles of white sandy beaches. On this adventure tour we will hike the only UNESCO World Heritage Site on the island – the Blue and John Crow Mountains. We will watch the sunrise from the peak (2,300 m or 7,500 ft.).

This adventure tour is part of my Daydream Black History Tours around the around the world. They combine the best of adventure, travel and history – all from our unique Black perspective. The trips are a daydream right now. Let’s see if we can turn them into reality.

On the Jamaica tour we will also hike in the footsteps of the Maroons. The escaped slaves hid in their stronghold in the Cockpit Country. We will follow them into the challenging karst limestone hills and valleys.

In between hikes, there will time to relax on the beach, go on a river safari in the mangrove swamps, and to explore the museums and art galleries in Kingston, the island’s capital.

Tour Highlights

  • Hiking the forests of the Blue Mountains.
  • Hiking the limestone hills and valley of the Cockpit Country.
  • Boat safari on the Black River to see the crocodiles in the mangrove swamps. Beach.
  • Explore the culture and history of Kingston.

Daily Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrive in Montego Bay

Day 2 – Troy Trail hike

Day 3 – Quick Step Trail hike

Day 4 – Quick Step Trail hike

Day 5 – Black River safari and beach

Day 6 – Kingston culture tour (museum, plantation Great House, art gallery, Emancipation Park)

Day 7 – Blue Mountains hike

Day 8 – Blue Mountains Peak sun rise hike

Day 9 – Kingston culture tour and return to Montego Bay

Day 10 – Depart from Montego Bay

Facts File

  • 10 day land tour.
  • Minimum 4 and maximum 16 participants.
  • All meals and accommodation included.
  • All hikes lead by experienced and certified local guides.
  • Start and end in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
  • Comfort level – must be able to hike for about six hours each day.
  • Accommodation – comfortable hotels, guest house and lodge.
  • Departure – August 2018.

Who wants to come with me on this daydream trip? Let’s see if we can make it real.

Black History Walks Toronto

Toronto Black History Tour

Come and celebrate Black History and Caribbean life with us in Toronto next summer. The Caribana Caribbean Carnival is the biggest street party in North America. On the tour we will visit the stops on the Underground Railroad, hear some great music, eat spicy Caribbean food and dance along the bands.

Let’s make this trip real. There is a lot of Black History and Caribbean sunshine in Toronto. The tour also includes a trip to see Niagara Falls – one of the great wonders of the world. There we will learn about its Black History as well as enjoy a wine tour.

This tour is part of my Daydream Black History Tours around the around the world. They combine the best of adventure, travel and history – all from our unique Black perspective. The trips are a daydream right now. Let’s see if we can turn them into reality.

toronto black history tour

Tour Highlights

  • Caribbean carnival in Toronto
  • Visit Niagara Falls and explore its Black History
  • Walk in the footsteps of Harriet Tubman
  • Underground Railroads stops in Oakville and Hamilton

Daily Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrive in Toronto

Day 2 – Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake Black History tour

Day 3 – Toronto Black History walking tour, part 1

Day 4 – Caribbean carnival in Toronto

Day 5 – Meet Harriet Tubman

Day 6 – Oakville and Hamilton Underground Railroad tour

Day 7 – Toronto Black History walking tour, part 2.

Day 8 – Depart Toronto

toronto black history tour

Facts File

  • 8 day land tour.
  • Minimum 30 and maximum 50 participants.
  • All meals and accommodation included.
  • All tours lead by Black History experts.
  • Start and end in Toronto.
  • Comfort level – enjoy bus rides and able to walk for about two hours each day.
  • Accommodation – comfortable hotel.
  • Departure – August 1-8, 2018.

Who wants to come with on this Daydream Black History Tour? Let’s see if we can make it real.

50 Places: A Black History Travel Guide of London

10 Daydream Trips for Active Black Folks

As the summer sinks to the horizon my thoughts naturally turn inwards. Many happy hours will drift by as I daydream – of adventure in faraway places.

My bucket list of adventures all have some connection to Black History. Here is the initial list. I will put together a detailed itinerary of each adventure in subsequent blog posts.

I want to check off some of the things on the list – and I don’t want to do so alone. Are there any Black adventurers out there who want to join me? I promise you these trips are a once-in-a-life time experience.

  1. Hiking in Jamaica. There is more to Jamaica than sandy beaches and warm seas. Let’s hike the Blue Mountain and the Cockpit Country Trails. They were the only access into Maroon country. Controlling the mountain trails ensured that the Maroons escaped from slavery.

2. Across the Alps with Hannibal and the Elephants. Tunisian general Hannibal was annoyed with the Romans. To settle who would rule the Mediterranean Hannibal attacked Rome. On this trip we will travel his route from Tunisia, across to Spain, Portugal and end at the gates of Rome. Hannibal feat was so audacious that he is still a legend 2,000 years later.

3. From China to Mozambique. In 1405 the great Chinese explorer Zheng He sailed from Shanghai to Dar es Salaam. He brought back two giraffes for the Ming Emperor. We will tour the stops on his route including Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania.

4. Scotland by Train. Recreate the journey of Frederick Douglass as he lectured on the anti-slavery circuit in Scotland in 1843. On this adventure we will visit the places where he spoke from big cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow to his sightseeing trips to Scottish castles and country houses.

5. South American Trek. Simon Bolivar liberated the slaves when he freed South America from Spanish rule in 1830. Let’s hike and ride in his footsteps as he took his army across the Andes to freedom. Stops include Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador.

6. From Angola to Italy. In 1643 Miguel de Castro, an Angolan ambassador, made an epic voyage from Luanda to the Vatican. He was sent by Queen Nzinga to renegotiate the terms of the trade deal between Angola and Portugal. On this journey we will stop along his route including Brazil and Portugal.

7. Cycling the Caribbean. How long will it take to cycle around each island in the Caribbean? On this trip let’s enjoy the cultural and language diversity of the Caribbean as we cycle around the islands that speak English, French, Spanish and Dutch. What’s your pick for the islands?

8. Hiking the Underground Railroad. Let’s follow in the footsteps of Harriet Tubman as she trekked from slavery in the USA to freedom in Canada in the 1850s. We will start at her birth place in Maryland, make stops in Washington, Boston and New York. We will end near Niagara Falls where she lived for twenty years.

9. From Egypt to Switzerland. Let’s follow the route of Saint Maurice, an African saint. We will start in Luxor, Egypt where he was born in 250 C.E. Then we will tour the places where he served as a general in the Roman army in France, Sardinia and Switzerland. Saint Maurice is the patron saint of soldiers and there are many churches and places named after him in Europe.

10. To Timbuktu. The great Arab traveller Ibn Battuta spent 30 years travelling the world in 1325. Let’s follow his African tours. The first leg will be from Morocco to Timbuktu, a fabled city of wealth, trade and learning. The second leg will be from Cairo down the East African coast to Zanzibar.

Let me know if you want to join me on making these daydream trips real. And let’s check the first one off the bucket list within a year. By September 2018. Which do you want to do first?

Black History Walks in Toronto

Adventure Stories and Race

I was that kid curled up in a corner with my head buried in a book. Adventure stories were my favourite. By the time elementary school was done, I had read through the classics of British children’s literature. The books were birthday and Christmas presents from friends and family. The best came in in gift pack of three or more books.

I devoured Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and the Swiss Family Robinson. And anything by Jules Vernes. I loved the stories, except the bits where they talked about the natives.

It was uneasy believing in the heroes of the story when they encountered the natives. Even as a skinny sapling I knew that the natives were connected to me. It was unfortunate. I wanted to be like the heroes of the stories.

Adventure stories were popular from roughly the 1700s to the 1900s. Those two centuries were the height of colonialism. In his book Imperialism and Culture, Edward Said argues that artists not only followed the flag, they also created a culture that celebrated the planting of the flag on foreign lands. Through this lens, adventure stories were a cultural and geographical guide to foreign places. And the right and might of the British Empire to conquer and rule.

The books promised the gift of foreignness, adventure and travel without the bother of leaving the armchair. Adventure stories created landscapes of distant, tropical islands. The heroes journeyed to the islands by sea. Battling storms and shipwrecks they learned to be brave and survival skills. Crossing the oceans signified crossing into a new world, leaving the rules and rituals of home behind. In the new found land, the heroes were free to create their own version of paradise.

We crossed the ocean too.

Chained up as cargo in the belly of a square rigger. The adventure ship and the slave ship passed each other in the night and in the daylight. They were the two sides of the same colonial project.

Shipwrecked on an island, the heroes had to create new rules. The first rule was conquest. In adventure stories, it was never possible for the heroes to share the island with the inhabitants already living there. Conquest was the right of the whites. It could be peaceful as in seducing, naming and subjugating Friday in Treasure Island. Usually it was more violent.

Guns. Bullets. Blood. Dead natives to the left. Dead natives to the right. White heroes in the centre, hugging victory.

Once conquests was completed, the next step was creating white civilization on the island. That civilization was a rough version of Little England. The resources of the island, whether crops, minerals or people, were harnessed to enrich the empire. The natives were taught to be good Christians, happy to find a new savior in exchange for their land, rights and culture. Smiling natives were the best advertising for the beneficence of colonial rule.

Adventure stories are complete only when the heroes find their way back home. Their mission accomplished the travellers return to a more comfortable life funded by the treasures acquired from the foreign islands.

The British Empire is long dead, but adventure stories live on. Travel literature is the latest reincarnation of the form. More on this later.

It was adventure stories that inspired my love of travel and outdoor recreation. This time, I, the Black native, is the hero of the story.

And I win.

Sailing on a Half Moon