On a whim, I joined my friends Lloyd, Taelor, Diamond, and Derrick for a trip across the border to experience Caribana, my first Caribbean Festival (not counting the DC Caribbean parade thrown on Georgia Avenue every summer before getting discontinued due to violence). Caribana is an annual celebration of Caribbean culture and tradition held in Toronto, Canada. The real deal Carnival takes place in Trinidad & Tobago, and it, according to an Uber driver that weekend, deserves a spot on everyone’s bucket list. Caribana, however, is one of the largest of the little sister festivals held outside of the Caribbean weekend.
The Canadian getaway was a low-frills, relatively low cost way of going ‘international’ with the gang. Although, it doesn’t feel like a different country at all. Save for the red Maple leaf flags proudly dancing throughout the city, it’s basically America Junior, with much more appealing currency bills. What it lacked -- the passport stamp or the gut excitement of being somewhere truly foreign -- it made up for in being a pretty city to explore with a good vibe, very nice people, and a beneficial USD exchange rate. Toronto’s cool in my book.
GETTING THERE & LODGING
One favorable aspect of residing in the middle of the East Coast is the ability to road trip up north or down south, with a number of states, or in this case, our neighboring country, being no more than a day’s drive away. Travel for cheap was the objective, so we opted for Megabus to deliver us to Toronto. It wasn’t the most comfortable 15-hour bus trip (each way), but it was less than half the cost of a flight. (We agreed that next time, though, we’d just rent a car and drive up ourselves).
We also kept it inexpensive by avoiding premium-priced hotels and found a great deal on AirBnB just a week before arriving. As Caribana beckons hundreds of thousands of visitors into Toronto, all of the convenient hotels were either booked up or out of budget.
When making travel plans, I always comb through both AirBnB and hotel availability to weigh out my options. With an AirBnB stay, you may forgo luxuries like daily cleaning service, hotel amenities, and continental breakfasts, but in turn you can often book an entire apartment for less than a standard hotel room.
We came up big with our spacious loft just two miles outside of downtown Toronto. There was enough space for all 5 of us to comfortably sleep, spread out our luggage, and simply chill with our Bluetooth speakers booming through the open space at all times (nothing like being woken up by DJ Diamond in the mornings to the tunes of Young Dolph or Marvin Gaye). The full kitchen came in handy, providing us the ability to have a home cooked family brunch complete with the essentials -- omelets, bacon, french toast, and mimosas.
There were two downsides, though. In typical loft fashion, its warehouse build was notably decades old; which can simultaneously be characteristic and cozy, and also a bit of a nuisance with the lack of renovations made to the bathroom. The outdated plumbing, weird tub/shower set up, and leaky shower made for an undesirable washing experience as time progressed in the trip. Secondly, there was no wifi in the loft. Since none of us got international service plans, we turned into coffee shop wifi scavengers all weekend. You should have seen us, straight wifi fiends every time we passed a Starbucks or Tim Horton’s, Canada’s off brand Starbucks. There was one point you could have caught us loitering outside of the Tim Horton’s by our spot -- after it closed -- hoping its weak signal would at least send off our iMessages. Us millennials, I tell you.
When reserving your AirBnB, note what’s important to you for the particular trip and make sure to ask the host before booking if you have any questions about things like cable, wifi, the bathroom setup, and proximity to food or public transportation.
Caribana weekend is held over the last days of July and has Toronto popping off like the grand finale of a fireworks show, brimming with parties, galas, parties, themed performances, celebrity-hosted events, and more parties all weekend long. The weekend also coincides with Drake’s annual OVO music festival. An outsider would likely have a hard time choosing which events to attend without the help of a local friend -- there are so many options packed into those few days. We did have the pleasure of meeting up with Toronto natives who gave us the run-down of their favorite parties, however we were all pretty much on the same wavelength and preferred to skip out on the big parties and nightclubs.
The crew and I took it extremely easy. We literally had nothing planned for the 5 days we were going to be there, letting each day lead its own way. We didn’t get the full blown Caribana experience, but alternatively we had a laid-back trip that allowed us to wander around on our own pace instead of attempting to keep up with all of Toronto.
The Grand Parade was the only must. The festive show culminates the Caribbean ceremonies with marching bands, whimsical floats, and dance troupes donned in beautiful jeweled costumed and extravagant feather headdresses. It’s an explosion of vibrancy -- colors, music, food, flags, people proud of where they come from.
As the line of official parade participators ends, the streets turn into one massive block party, keeping the procession flowing as everyone joins in to follow the last of the floats. We of course followed suit and became one with the festival, surrounded by the contagious spirit of celebration, and a whole lot of twerking.
ELSEWHERE IN TORONTO
Since we didn’t have anything else planned throughout the trip, we found ourselves wandering… walking, and walking, and ubering, and walking... through the Six… (with our woes). We hit up a few events: The first was Anwar “Carrots”’ pop-up shop at the Legends League store. Anwar is a young entrepreneur who is known for his involvement in the urban fashion, music, and creative arts scenes in Los Angeles. Having previously managed rapper Casey Veggies, Anwar is currently building out his personal brand as a global lifestyle influencer. Our friend Sessen wanted to pick up a few pieces from his recently launched eponymous clothing line, so we headed over to check it out. If you’re unfamiliar with Carrots but interested in blooming as a creative, his story is definitely worth following.
Speaking of blooming as a creative, the next event we went to later that day was all about just that. Held on the third floor of the Soho House, a private members club, a panel of young influencers and creative artists talked about forging your own path, creating your own platforms instead of waiting for recognition from established ones, and the necessity of having an unwavering work ethic. I didn’t catch who the speakers were, but I remember feeling inspired to step my game UP. The Soho House is a historic building in downtown Toronto with an aristocratic feel; dimmed, rich, and mysterious. At the end of the panel, the DJ bumped Future’s new album DS2 -- the irony of the trap music jam session inside the classic upscale private club was just fantastic.
On our last day in town, we went to a brunch hosted by our new friend Eden on behalf of her passion-baby Black Foodie. Meeting Eden was a Toronto highlight, she was a joy and delighted to show us around her city. Her knack for great food and great company -- two of life’s best pleasures -- is apparent, whether you’re hanging out with her or browsing BlackFoodie.co. She works incredibly hard to highlight delicious recipes and restaurants that highlight the tastiest of African, Caribbean, and Southern cuisines, and to connect with other foodies in all her favorite cities.
Black Foodie’s first official brunch meetup was at Simone’s Caribbean Restaurant, one of Eden’s favorite Toronto eateries. I’m a shameless jerk chicken fanatic, so I was thrilled to indulge (I had it 3 times in Toronto alone). I’m definitely excited to see Black Foodie’s growth, with many more meals to come.
Lastly, we made it to the last couple hours of the 40z and Waffles’ day party -- the Caribana/OVO Fest edition. My sis Tamika worked with the organizer of this day party series all summer to throw fun brunch parties in Santa Monica, bringing it to DC and Toronto for special weekends. As the party started to end, thick clouds suddenly took over the sky and made way for a crazy storm that came out of nowhere! All of a sudden, it went from a bright 80° day to dark and pouring down HAILING. Gusts of wind and pellet sized ice balls darting everywhere, all we could do was take cover and wait it out.
Well Toronto, what a way to thank us for our visit. ;-)
I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t taking pictures everywhere when walking around. Here are the fruits of all my camera-snapping hard labor, including the eccentric Kensington Market area, every possible angle I could capture of the CN Tower, and a 5AM walk around our Corktown neighborhood. I especially loved the 5AM stroll -- seeing the bright full moon illuminate the quiet streets, watching the sunrise over Toronto’s famous skyline, discovering a beautiful skateboard park with the best graffiti art I’ve ever seen, and hysterically climbing up to the top of playground fixtures like kids under the periwinkle morning sky. It’s the simple things.
5AM in TO:
Ritz Caribbean Foods (Get at their $5 jerk chicken lunch special)
Simone's Caribbean Restaurant (yes, I know, but they're both so good)
South St. Burger Bar (A bit pricey for burgers, but simply delicious)
AirBnB - If you sign up and book your first BnB through my link, we both receive $20 off :)