Off the Ground to Hamilton

WestJet flight 720 from Saskatoon to Hamilton with a plane change in Winnipeg. We are at 41,703 feet and flying at 497 mph. It is 6:30 in the morning and the eastern horizon is glowing with an intense orange fading to the light blue of the still night sky. Slivers of dark blue clouds cut through the orange. According to the tiny screen in the seat back we are over the Saskatchewan/Manitoba border. Looking down I see the reflection of hundreds of lakes shimmering against the black background of the earth.I was hoping to see the Great Lakes as we flew from Winnipeg to Hamilton, but somehow when we were on the ground in Winnipeg a heavy cloud bank rolled in and we now fly over solid white.

Landing in Hamilton the air feels warm and moist as we walk across the tarmac to the terminal.The airport is tiny. People crowd around the baggage carousel. One batch of luggage comes and goes and we still wait. Finally our bags arrive and we proceed out.

I dig up two quarters and phone the number I have for Laura, my niece, at the Hamilton Children’s Hospital. Chris will be coming in later in the day. Timothy will probably be discharged this afternoon. Joyce is at the Ronald McDonald House. We check with the car rental booths, but none have any cars available. The Hamilton Tourism Bureau has a reception counter with friendly-looking people behind the desk. Our options would be: taxi to the hospital or taxi to the nearest car rental place. They phone a couple car rental locations and reserve a car for us with Enterprise. Then they phone a taxi for us, print out a detailed map of where the Ronald McDonald House is, and highlight our route on the Hamilton City map of where the Enterprise location is and how to get from there to the Ronald McDonald House. Wow. Thank you Hamilton Tourism!

The land is quite flat, except for the Niagara Escarpment that runs the length of the peninsula. Lots of brick buildings.

Our car is small, new, black, 4-dour, and basic. 1 key. No power anything. You roll the windows down with a handle. You lock the door by pushing the lock knob down. The seats are hard. This is what you call an economy car. What can you expect for $35.99/day (less our 10% discount from our entertainment card!).

Laura & Chris’s farmWe make the connections with Laura and her family and then drive the hour east to Jordan Station where they farm – grapes and chickens. We spend the next day-and-a-half with the Mullet-Koops, exploring their farm and surroundings and visiting. Thank you Laura, Chris and Joyce!

Galen playing hockey.
Get Crackin’ license plate
Looking for a bug
Walking with Laura and the children
New field for grapes in background

Saskatoon

Saskatoon Bridges Saskatoon, the city of bridges, on one of those glorious fall days where the sky is intensely blue. The fall colours are mostly past.

Metal sculpture by the University Bridge The city of Saskatoon has a program where pieces of art are leased from artists for display on the streets of Saskatoon. After the lease has ended, the city has the option to purchase the art. This is a metal sculpture at the bottom of the University Bridge. If anyone knows who the artist is, please let us know. (See comments)

Galen beside bronze blacksmith This bronze sculpture of a blacksmith was created by Jim Jensen of Nisse Foundry with Galen as a model. Can you see the likeness? It is in front of the Saskatoon Library.

SignJohn Arcand fiddling on the roof Fiddling is a big part of the Metis culture in Saskatchewan and as we walked along 3rd Avenue, we came across John Arcand playing for a fundraising effort to build a new roof for use at a fiddle camp. Click here to listen to what we heard him playing.

Parking the van

It was a little shocking to realize how one’s vehicle creates a feeling of security. Everything we need is now condensed into two suitcases and two backpacks. The really important stuff is in my shoulder bag – airline reservation codes, itinerary, passport, phone numbers, money, credit cards, my thumb drive, camera, voice recorder. Other important things are in my backpack – credit card numbers and the number to phone if the card is lost or stolen, passport numbers, driver’s license numbers, insurance numbers and contact info.

Still, one feels rather vulnerable without a vehicle. And free. Look, Mom, no keys. Check your pockets or your purse. How many keys are you carrying? Each one represents a little responsibility – expense – commitment. The only key I have now is this tiny thing for my suitcase locks and one for my laptop locking cable. I guess I’m not quite free yet.

Catching the bus at LaniganMy brother takes us to catch the bus to Saskatoon (thanks, Wendell!). It is 8:00 in the evening. As we board the bus, the passengers squint at us as though blaming us for the bright interior lights. I wonder who else is travelling, where they came from, where they are going, and how many keys they have.

One of the Shrek movies is playing, so we share a set of earphones and get into watching Shrek prove that it is ok to be ugly.

What’s the Beef?

The Canada/US border. On approaching it, we have two choices. One route promises a 15 minute wait, the other 20 minutes. We take the Peace Arch route. The incoming and outgoing lanes are separated by a large expanse of grass with tidy flower beds with the white arches towering over everything. Families and groups of people pose to have their photos taken. “May these gates never close” we read as we drive through the high tech surveillance equipment that takes multiple pictures of us, including the underside of our vehicle. What are all these detectors detecting? Radioactive material? Bombs” Drugs?

After the high-tech screening, and the information they gather from our license plate number, we finally get to a human being.

“Where were you born? Where are you going? Do you have any fresh fruit? Vegetables? Beef?”

Beef? Like, roast beef? I just happen to have some lovely roast beef that we had been making sandwiches with all week and I brought the balance of it along. It’s frozen and in the cooler.

The woman makes a few marks on an orange piece of paper and tells us to park over there and go inside.

We park a little ways away from a group of officers and walk inside. A large sign announces that there are no public washrooms here. That’s rather inconvenient. I wonder how long we will be here and what a person’s options for relieving oneself might be.

The room is large with lots of serious people shuffling papers and staring at their computers. We stand in line about 10 minutes before we reach a relatively pleasant official. He takes our piece of paper, our passports and our keys and tells us to go and stand at a different counter. He hands our items off to a tall, not so pleasant looking man who wants to know where the beef is. Well, it’s in a little cooler, but towards the last we were sticking things into the van wherever it looked like it might fit and I really don’t know where it might be. I offer to go out with him to find it. He doesn’t look pleased about this, but we go out together. After I show the cooler to him, he tells me to go back inside. I’m not allowed to watch him confiscate my roast beef, although I do see him putting on his latex gloves – one wouldn’t want to be contaminated by a Canadian mad cow. This must be serious stuff. What if I would have been carrying the beef near an American cow and happened to drop it and the cow ate it before I was able to pick it up. You can never be too careful.

About 30 minutes later our keys and passports were returned to us, along with the piece of paper that we were to give to the group of officers standing around outside so that they would know that it was now safe to allow us to enter the US and that our little package was on it’s way to a secure disposal station somewhere in central Washington.

On the Road

Adios AmigosGalen & KurtThe final day in Victoria was a rush. How to get the final things packed, stored away or taken along, house cleaned and still catch the 4:00 ferry to Port Angeles, WA. No need for a reservation on the ferry – we’ll be there by 2:30 and it isn’t a long weekend. We made the final trip to our storage to drop off the cleaning supplies and the last few items and were on schedule as we pulled up to the ticket booth.

“Do you have reservations?”

“No.”

“Sorry, we’re full.”

Oops. OK, what are our options now? Wait until tomorrow for the 10:30 sailing, or drive to Sidney and catch the ferry to Vancouver. We are headed for Portland, OR to visit Galen’s family and really don’t want to drive the half-hour north to Sidney, then go even further north on the ferry, only to have to drive back south through Seattle. But we also don’t want to dig out our sleeping bags and spend another night in Victoria, so it is off to Swartz Bay at Sidney. As we near the ferry terminal, the overhead sign announces that the 4:00 sailing to Tsawwassen is 43% full. Whew! We’ll make it.

At the ferryFerrySixty-five dollars and seventy-five cents later we are parked in line. We don’t even get out of the vehicle to look around at the do-das for sale or walk out to watch the ferry traffic. We just lay our seats back and fall asleep. We’re too exhausted to think about the last few furious days of packing, sorting and cleaning, or even to think about the days and weeks ahead.

Once on the ferry, it seems to make sense to have a bite to eat so that we don’t have to stop somewhere along the way. Later as we drive towards the border, I wonder if the funny feeling in my stomach is from the excitement or could this be the first case of food poisoning on our trip and we haven’t even left Canada.

Purging

According to Wiktionary, to purge is to to “clean thoroughly; to cleanse; to rid of impurities.” It is the word that comes to mind as I go through all of this stuff that we have accumulated over the past two and one half years. Oh my!

I pick up the folders of labels for herbal salves that I no longer make or sell. Why have I stored this? Empty ink cartridges that I will fill some day. Oh my!

Paper. Lots of paper. But I love paper. Different colours, textures, sizes. Ruled. Plain. Hole-punched. And then there are the pens. Where do they all come from? Do I have a powerful pen magnet on my desk that sucks the pens out of pockets as people pass by?

Maps. Southeast United States. When was the last time I travelled through the Southeast US? 1988 map of Montana? Oh, and a map of Mexico. Look, I’m putting it in the box of things to keep. How will I plan my next trip to Mexico if I don’t have that map? City maps of Seattle, Portland, Nanaimo, Campbell River, Bamfield (all free ones of course). Guides to Craigdarroch Castle, Butchart Gardens, Horticultural Centre of the Pacific. Ghost tours of Victoria. I really should start my own tourist information centre. Hmmm. Maybe I should keep all this stuff in case I need work when I come back.

The word ‘purge’ is related to the word purgatory. Wiktionary has this definition for purgatory: “any situation causing suffering”. Now, is my suffering caused by keeping all this stuff or by throwing it out? Oooh, but I feel so much lighter now!

The end is near – a new beginning is in sight!

This is it! No turning back now. We have our passports, booked the tickets, purchased the extra health insurance, got our shots in the arm, purchased items for the first aid kit, received our visa for India (it looks beautiful in our shiny new passports), had a garage sale (still have lots of stuff). . .

For those of you who don’t know, we are taking 6 months and travelling around the world. Here is our itinerary:

Sept 28 – I’ll pick Galen up from work, put a few last things in storage, and catch the Coho Ferry across to Anacortes, Washington. We’ll visit family in Oregon and Idaho.

Oct. 6 – Arrive in Edmonton for Thanksgiving and an 80th birthday party for my Mom.

Oct. 9 – Head to Shell Lake and check out our farm and friends.

Oct. 11 – Drive to Drake to visit my parents and store our van.

Oct. 13 – Catch the evening bus to Saskatoon and visit friends.

Oct. 16 – Fly to Hamilton to visit family (Chris & Laura and family) and maybe the house that Galen’s great-grandfather built – now the Bender house near Tavistock.

Oct 18 – Fly to Moncton to visit friends (Claudia & Fernand) from our days in the Gambia whom we haven’t seen for 17 years!

Oct 23 – Moncton to Toronto to JFK to London to Geneva. We arrive in Geneva on Thursday, Oct 25. We’ll stay a few days with Connie, a friend from my USask days. We also want to visit my Swiss family in Zurich that I worked for as a MCC trainee in the early 70’s.

After Switzerland, here is what our itinerary looks like: Geneva to London to Mumbai, India. Overland to Calcutta (we are thinking of spending a few months in India). Fly from Calcutta to Bangkok. Overland from Bangkok to Singapore – exploring Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand?? We fly from Singapore to Cairns, Australia. We have friends from our Gambian days living in Cairns that we hope to see if we can find them! Then it is by rail down the east coast to Melbourne with stops along the way to explore and also to visit my niece in Canberra. From Melbourne we fly to Hong Kong, Vancouver, Portland. The dates are flexible so we can adjust our trip as we go along. Our medical insurance is good for 182 days, so that gives us about 6 months.

Once we are on the road, I will set up a blog on my own server and upload photos and sound (since I bought a fancy little stereo voice recorder), but for now I am doing it the quick and easy way. I just wanted to let all our friends know what we are doing and start writing a bit.

We also need to come up with a domain name to use with the blog. . .any ideas?

So this is an invitation for you to join us on our journey and experience the sights and sounds that will be around us.

Cheers,

Rebecca

Come with us . . .