Day one in the hostel kitchen and I ran into a friend and fellow Dale Letcher fan from Halifax, Susanne. Great to see her again and she became one of my longest travelling buddies in Canada. I also caught up Yves, a friend from another travelling adventure in the UK nearly ten years ago. We had lunch together at Le Commensal, yet another vegetarian restaurant I recommend, and later headed to his house to have dinner with his wife and three kids. How things change! Sadly I didn’t really do much else in Montreal. I was in a mood, just not enjoying being on the road and checking out beautiful things every day. It sounds pathetic, but sometimes even beautiful things get tedious and you just can’t be bothered seeing them for a while … kind of like temples in Asia or castles in England. So I went to see movies instead. At least four of them in three days.
Again I took the easy and cheaper option to get around eastern Canada. It’s serviced by the Moose backpacker network (www.moosenetwork.com) which is a bus that drives a specified route and allows you to jump on and off at your convenience. No restrictions, just great destinations, a knowledgeable guide and a cool bunch of people to hang with. Of course it didn’t start so well as we tried to push start the bus and ended up being delayed almost two hours. It wasn’t really time lost though as we went to a market and watched with fascination as bagels were baked. It’s true, it really is interesting to watch and I defy anyone to resist the urge to eat one afterwards!
It was during the Moose that I became a pool/billiards demon. Playing at every opportunity and enjoying the hell out of it. As soon as we got to our accommodation for the evening I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the cue and play. “Coach”, Ian, was always there to help with our skills and we just had a great time every night.
First stop was Tadoussac, Quebec. I was tired and feeling lazy but I was sociable and wandered with the group to the top of a hill to watch the stars around a small campfire. The stars were nice enough, but around midnight I started wandering back. Luckily I got lost. A strange thing to say I’m sure, but it meant that I had to go back to the others at the campfire where I saw the Northern Lights for the first time in my life! Yay. I thought it was city lights but it was not so. The lights were green and although they didn’t dance around, they were still beautiful to see and as I haven’t yet seen them again, I count myself very lucky!
I paid for breakfast at the hostel but didn’t learn my lesson that I would have to cook it myself. The pancakes other people made looked perfect and scrumptious whilst mine resembled scrambled eggs and were only vaguely edible. In fact they looked so bad, I had other people offering to cook for me the following day!
Of great importance is the fact that I seem to be overcoming my seasickness if it’s possible after the dreadful experience I have had in western Canada and Alaska. I went whale watching and saw beautiful Minke whales, a few seals and two fin whales, the second largest species of whale! Again I count myself so lucky to have these experiences! I wasn’t feeling 100% and fell asleep during the time everyone said they saw a beluga whale.
Of lesser importance is the fact that I passed the Saint Lawrence challenge. This involves standing knee deep in freezing water for three minutes for a free beer which I do not drink anyway. It wasn’t the beer, it was the challenge. Three minutes ended up being six or so by which time it was much easier as I had lost feeling. This is not a smart thing to do.
Quebec City was the next stop and it holds sad memories for me. Firstly, although there are beautiful buildings and atmosphere, our choice for dinner was a fast food joint with a very bad choice for vegetarians (fries cooked thankfully in vegetable oil). I can deal with that. It happens all the time. It was what happened at 4am that I couldn’t handle. This wont make too much sense to many of you but basically I was checking the internet to see how my AFL team had faired in the Grand Final. We lost. We were thumped. I felt sick. The next day everyone felt dreadfully sorry for me I think, they were so nice. It’s difficult to describe what it means to be a Collingwood supporter, suffice to say you have to be strong. It’s a good thing I wasn’t able to find a place to see the match live. That would have been too difficult!
In Mt Tremblant I tasted the greatest frozen taffy every. Well honestly I have never tasted it before so I can’t say it’s the greatest but it was yummy although incredibly sweet! Mt Tremblant is essentially a touristy ski village which based purely on appearance reminded me of Whistler. I was very impressed with the luge ride for $10. At our hostel Penny and I paddled a pedal boat, but it took so much effort to get anywhere that we mostly just hung out at a pontoon picking up frozen freeloaders who had swam out. Later in the evening, after a few games of pool of course, we sat out in a tepee where I belted out yet another rendition of Mercedes Benz which was well received, meaning that people clapped rather than threw things or booed.
By the time I arrived in Ottawa I was sick with the cold that everyone was sharing around on the Moose. I did manage to do a few things like going to the chemist to get cough medicine and tablets. Otherwise I slept, ventured out a few times here and there but it was all a bit vague. I do remember eating a Beaver Tail which is not quite as meaty as it sounds. It’s some kind of bread/doughnut thing smothered with chocolate. Dead healthy! Actually it was so sweet I couldn’t even manage to eat the whole thing which is quite unusual for me!
Back on the Moose with a different bunch of people as this was the first time I had jumped off. But I was still travelling with some friends including Sus and Lisa and also on the bus was Coach, Fabienne and Inga who I had met previously. We headed to Maynooth for some camping in Algonquin Provincial Park, but as it was snowing by the time we arrived there we just did a couple of day hikes instead. We timed this visit perfectly as we had the beautiful snow, coloured leaves and generally bearable weather. The tracks were often indistinguishable from a river and at one point we seriously thought it was one as we hadn’t seen a trail marker for a while. I fell three times, all of them hard and uncomfortable with bruises to prove it. I started to lack confidence in my vegetarian hiking shoes … but in fact it was mostly due to the weather and the condition of the trail. Algonquin Provincial Park is surely one of my favourite places in Canada so I am happy to have stopped there an extra few days.
My first day there I didn’t stay there at all. Instead I went to Niagara Falls. To me it was kind of like a place you have to go and I had no strong opinions or ideas on what it would be like. My first impression was that it was a gawdy tourist trap. Pretty interesting but not spectacular. Then I jumped on the ultra touristy ‘Maid of the Mist’ boat ride, donned my see through blue garbage raincoat and hoped for the best. Against all my better judgement, it really was quite fun and interesting. I had never been that close to such a large powerful waterfall and I was impressed and enjoyed it with a big smile on my face. After the ride we walked up town which is kind of like a cross between Disneyland and Las Vegas. Great big flashing neon signs lining both sides of the street with very much the carnival atmosphere.
Back in Toronto I wandered for miles in Chinatown trying to find the legendary $2 internet place. We found $3 but being cheap backpackers where every dollar counts, we were prepared to walk for hours trying to find cheaper. It’s probably a myth. We never did find it. We also spent a good amount of time wandering up Yonge St looking for a particular travel agent. Little did Fabienne know when she arranged for her plane ticket to be picked up from there that Yonge St is the longest street in the world (18km) and walking wasn’t going to cut it. The subway ended being the only viable option.
I had great fun in Toronto with the people I met there. Sus and Fabienne were great friends and I was so sad to leave as always but sometimes, like in this case, it was harder than usual. By this time I had spent at least three weeks hanging out with Sus and in one week felt just as close to Fabienne as they’re both great people who I will truly miss. In neither instance when I said goodbye was I able to speak without getting sooky so I didn’t say too much. As I sat on the airport shuttle bus (on route to Winnipeg) I shed a few tears which then became quite a few tears and wasn’t it just great to have sad songs playing on the radio to boost my mood!
Then Winnipeg. I was still feeling melancholy on the plane so I didn’t speak and at the airport was pleased to see Anthony, a fellow ex Mooser, waiting for me after his earlier flight. Soon I was wandering the streets of Winnipeg with him and another traveller and by the evening there was six of us hanging together. It wasn’t the same as having Sus and Fabienne there but it was great and it did stop me wallowing miserably too much. Lisa was there (from Moose) and we had some common friends and travelling tales but the rest were new people so life stories had to be retold.
A good sleep cheered me up and waltzing around Winnipeg the following day took my mind off things but was pretty uneventful. Lisa and I stuffed ourselves with Japanese food. When I say stuffed I mean it! I was defeated as I couldn’t finish the rice but Lisa was a champion who finished the rice, 12 rolls, miso soup, vegetable tempura, agadashi tofu etc.
The next day, Ruud whom I met in Alaska, will turn up before a very early start the next day to the Polar Bears.