Wednesday, June 08, 2016

My Travel Adventure To The Canadian Maritimes Part One

By Der Kosmonaut

It took only 55 hours to hitch 980KM (609 miles)  from the south shore of Montreal to Moncton. While it's hardly a world record, it's pretty damn fast. I'm glad that I didn't spend $150 on a long bus journey.

 I had spent a year in Ottawa, the national capital of Canada. Though Ottawa is my second favorite Canadian city after Montreal, I was slowly stagnating. Ottawa is a very staid and conservative city. During the summer it's a great city for biking and exploring the nature in and round the city. However, I was socially isolated and very lonely there. When Der Kosmonaut gets bogged down by stagnation, then it's time to hit the road.
  I have long wanted to visit the East Coast of Canada known as The Maritimes. The Maritimes consist of the three provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Gaspésie the easternmost peninsula of Quebec along with the island of Newfoundland comprise the rest of Atlantic Canada. Many Newfoundlanders will quickly remind central and western Canadians that they are not part of The Maritimes.
  When I first moved to Montreal more than 15 years ago many of the first people I met were from The Maritimes. I obtained my first job in Montreal thanks to two men from New Brunswick. Also within my first year I met Francophone Acadians. I learnt the differences between the Quebecois and the Acadians. My first lover was from Gaspésie. My first girlfriend hailed from St. John's Newfoundland. My second girlfriend was an Acadian from Moncton, New Brunswick.
  I learnt quite a bit about The Maritimes and Atlantic Canada from my many friends and lovers. I had long wanted to visit the region but never got around to doing so for various reasons. Mostly because of the distance. As the second largest country in the world by area, it takes quite a bit of time just to go from one province to a neighboring one. I was told that it's a 16 hour drive from Montreal to Moncton. Given the distance, the cost of travel is rather prohibitive. In my typical paradox, I actually ventured all the way to the North American West Coast and went as far as Eastern and Southeaster Europe before I traveled to The Maritimes.
  I was done with Ottawa and I needed to see a new part of the world. The time was now ripe to make the journey East. Indeed, The Maritimes is the last part of North America I hadn't explored, which I had wanted. I've been to 29 US states plus the District of Columbia. The remaining 21 states I have no interest in seeing. In Canada, I have at least seen all of the main provinces between Quebec and British Columbia. I'm sure that the northern territories would be fascinating but since my travels are based on cultural and social interests, the far north of Canada never appealed to me. All that was left was The Maritimes. I knew that there was plenty of culture and that the social structures of the region would fascinate me.
  As usual with most of my trips the problem was cash. How was I going to finance my journey and moreover how where would I stay and how would I eat. As always, these concerns are secondary as I have always managed to make my way. Even if some trips are disasters, such as my Swiss misadventure, I quickly retreat and make sure that I don't get trapped. Der Kosmonaut will periodically get stranded but I never get trapped forever.
  I decided that that I would hitchhike from Ottawa to Montreal at the end of April. I would spend a month in Montreal. From there I would either hitch or take the bus from Montreal to New Brunswick. It was a nice return to Montreal. I got to meet many new people as well as reconnect with many old friends. I had wanted to organize some spoken word performances to raise funds for travel but that didn't pan out. However, I had made my mind up that I was going to The Maritimes come hell or high water. Once Der Kosmonaut makes up his mind to do something, it's set in stone.

Planning The Journey
  I went to the bus terminal in Montreal to ask about the cost of a one way ticket to Fredericton. $150 was a bit too steep. In fact, it cost less to take Amtrak rail from Seattle to San Francisco which is a much greater distance. I had no other choice but to hitch. A few people in Montreal discouraged me from trying to hitch to New Brunswick. The distance was just too great. Moreover, trying to hitch from Quebec City to New Brunswick was risky as there is little traffic. I took that into consideration. I concluded that it would take between 15 hours and 15 days for me to hitch. Many suggested that I look for a ride-share online. Still, I had an initial budget of $10. Fortunately I was able to raise it to $20. That wasn't enough for a ride-share as many expect petrol money. $20 wasn't enough to cover petrol for the 813 KM distance.
 The initial plan which I drew up was to hitch from town to town and find a place to stay each night via the Couch Surfing social media site. I thought that I would spend the first night in Quebec City. The second night in Montmagny and so on and so forth. There were a couple of snags to that plan. The first snag was that I was unable to find anyone to host me in Quebec City. The second snag was trying to get a lift. According to the hitchhiking online guide, I would have to take the Montreal Metro next to the last stop, then take a one hour and forty-five bus ride to Repentigny and from there hitch to Quebec City. In other words, it would take me nearly three hours just to get far enough out of the city. The next snag was to discover that once in Quebec City, I would need to cross the mighty St. Lawrence River in order to hitch on to New Brunswick. To my dismay I read that it's impossible to get a lift from the bridges across the river to points east. I would have to take a ferry boat from Quebec City to Lévis. From the dock I would have to walk 5KM to the Trans-Canadian Highway. Between my backpack and my laptop case I'm carrying nearly 40KG of weight. To walk 5KM with that much cargo would be too much of a burden. Moreover, I needed to cross the St. Lawrence River to get to New Brunswick. I decided to take advantage of the Montreal Metro service to Longueuil. From Longueuil, I would hitch up to Lévis. suggested that travelers heading east of Quebec City should asked to be let off at the St. Nicholas rest area and ask for a lift further east. I had more or less decided upon my route. I did my laundry the last night and I was ready to begin the next adventure.
Day One Longueuil-Lévis
 When I hitched from Ottawa to Montreal one month earlier, I had a rough start. This was replicated leaving from Longueuil. Though I woke up at 7 o'clock, I didn't leave the house until after 9 which is quite late. I took the Metro to Longueuil. The writer for the Hitchwiki site didn't describe getting to the highway properly. They just wrote to take the 81 bus to Autoroute 20.It would've helped had they written the bus stop street and intersection. Shortly after the bus departed, I saw that we passed the sign for the highway. I then asked the driver if she went to that highway. She said no. I asked her if she stopped at LaFrance Street. She hadn't heard of it. I got off the bus. I ended up hiking about 5KM via a dead end. I finally got to the highway on-ramp but lost 2 hours.
  Then I waited about 90 minutes for a ride. I noticed a young man who looked like he too was hitching. He had a knowing yet contemptuous smirk on his face. He walked about 150 meters ahead to a better on-ramp. Again, the page should've have been more specific. He only waited 10 minutes before he got picked up. I went to the spot. For another 90 minutes no one picked me up.
 A few meters away was a freight train going back and forth adding more cars. One of the rail workers noticed that I had been standing in the hot sun for 90 minutes without success. He came up to me and offered me two cups of water. He brought luck. A couple of minutes later I got my first lift.
A 20 year old picked me up and drove me to McMasterville. He even bought me a Maple Ice Coffee from Tim Horton's. I didn't have to wait for minutes for my next lift to Drummondville by a father and son. Not 5 minutes after they dropped me off, I got picked up by a truck that took me to the rest stop in Lévis.All in all, it took 6 hours to get there.
  I asked many drivers if they were going east but no avail. Most were either going into Quebec City or they were heading north towards Chicoutimi. The sun had set. I never hitch at night. It's useless. Most people aren't going to pick up a hitchhiker at night, especially a man. The rest area had wireless internet connection with a seating area inside open 24 hours. I ate a chicken sandwich which had been left over from the previous day's brunch in Outremont. I wanted to buy a coffee but the machine only took coins. The cafeteria didn't have a change machine. I sure as hell didn't want to break the ten dollar note. Outside of the building there was a wooded area which was perfect for camping. I set up camp. For the first time in more than a year since I was on the streets of Seattle, I slept outside. It was a warm and pleasant night. I was secluded far enough in the woods and I had a decent and restful sleep.

Day Two Lévis-Edmunston, New Brunswick
 The problem with hitching to New Brunswick is trying to get past the bridges that lead to Quebec City. Most of the traffic between Montreal goes across the bridges. Fortunately at the rest stop I found a couple that gave me a ride to the east side of Lévis the next morning. One hour after getting dropped off, I got picked up one hour later by a guy driving a red jeep without doors. It was the first time I had ever rode in a door-less vehicle. You can bet that I put on my seat belt. The wind was refreshing as we sped east. I was slightly concerned that having an accident. Even with the seat belt if the jeep capsized, then it would be bye bye blackbird. The driver was blasting AC/DC on the stereo. I never gave AC/DC the attention and respect they deserved. Back in the 1980s I had a strong bias against Heavy Metal music. I thought bands like AC/DC were just noise without rhythm and rhyme. Moreover, growing up in the USA in the late 1970s and early 1980s there was a severe racist backlash against Disco music. Indeed, at school the kids were racially polarized. Nearly all the Black and Puetro Ricans in New York liked Disco as nearly all the whites liked rock. People forget that one of the reasons Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 was due to the white racist backlash against Disco. Heavy Metal seemed to be the whitest of rock music. I always considered Metalheads to be dumb as rocks (thanks to Clarissa for that metaphor). This was reinforced by the dreadful 1990s MTV series Beavis and Butthead in which one of the characters wears an AC/DC t-shirt. White Metalheads seemed stupid banging their heads as if they were suffering from an epileptic seizure. Heavy Metal certainly didn't have the rhythm to dance to. However, in recent years I have come to appreciate and respect some Metal music. As a professional music producer and DJ, I have insight into how music is composed and played. I'm also less partisan than when I was younger. No genre of music has a monopoly of good or bad. Listening to AC/DC at full blast going more than 100KM/H on the Autoroute was an inexplicable joy. That's how bands like AC/DC are meant to be listened to. I paid close attention to the guitars, bass and drums. Those Aussie white boys knew what they were doing. Their lead singer, while not having the vocal range and talent of Prince, wasn't a slouch. I realized that AC/DC wasn't bullshit and that they earned their success and global fan base on their own talent. Besides, AC/DC 30 years ago is better than most of the music being produced today. I found myself nodding and swaying my head and tapping me feet as we sped down the highway.
  I was dropped off at Bellechasse. I was now in a new part of the world as I had never been beyond Quebec City. I got to see the St. Lawrence River and the valleys. It was beautiful. However, I could see a thunder storm come in from the North across the river heading East. I knew that I would get caught in it.
 I got picked up by another man who drove me to Montmagny. I was surprised by how far I had gone. I had expected that Montmagny would be as far as I would make it for the second leg of my journey. But it not even 1 o'clock in the afternoon. Sure enough it was raining. I went to the petrol station for cover and bought a bottle of water. I stayed dry and waited for the rain to slack before hitching again.
 A lighthearted woman picked me up and drove me just outside of Montmagny. Now it was pouring but again I found shelter at Petrol Canada. It rained much harder than earlier. So I stayed dry at the station for 30 minutes before I resumed hitching.
 I got picked up by another woman whose birthday it was. I told her that I knew two other people born on May 31. I had hit the jackpot with her as she was driving all the way to Gaspé. I thought that I would make Rivière-du-Loup at nightfall. I didn't expect to make it there by mid afternoon. My driver had no choice but to let me off right at the side of the Autoroute as the highway split in two heading towards Gaspé and New Brunswick.
 My extraordinary luck continued. I didn't have to wait for than 10 minutes when I saw a 1960s Volkswagen bus come down and I knew it would stop. Sure enough, an old hippie from Ottawa stopped and gave me a lift. He was headed to New Brunswick. We shared travel stories with each other. He dropped me off in Edmunston, New Brunswick.
 I was exhausted and decided to stay in Edmunston for the night. There isn't much there. It's a poor working class town. There's a huge lumber and paper mill which is probably the biggest employer in town after the local hospital. I also realized that it's right on the US border to Maine. That was a bit too close for comfort but as long as I stayed North of the border, I was ok.
 Speaking of borders, I then discovered that I was on the brink of disaster. I had kept my passport and papers in my grey tweed jacket. My intuition kept sounding alarms. I investigated and discovered a huge rip in the inner lining of my jacket. My passport and my papers could've easily slipped out. I put in my back pocket secured and fastened with a button. Having losing my passport in Portugal, I'm extra vigilant. Besides, I was specifically warned at the embassy that if I lost this passport, I might not get another and if I did, it could cost around $300. I need to cling to this passport for life over the next 6 years.
I went to Tim Horton's. I had received a Tim Horton's $10 gift card as a Christmas gift. I still had more than $6 on the card! So I ordered chicken noodle soup. That hit the spot. That was extra money. Fortunately since I prefer independent cafes, I hadn't used the card since I had left Southern Ontario returning to Ottawa after spending the holidays in the Niagara region. I've never been a fan of Tim Horton's. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that I'm not Canadian. As I've written many times on this blog, I prefer Canada to the USA. In many ways, I consider myself to be more Canadian than American. However, if there's one thing about Canadians that I don't like, it is their veneration of Tim Horton's. It's a national chain which is nothing more than just a coffee and doughnut shop. But Canadians are quite pathetic when it comes to "Timmy's". Canadians generally aren't sentimental except when it comes to their "Timmy's". It's a source of national pride for them. Often I've heard Canadians boast: "You know, they've got Timmy's down in the States too!" I've never found anything particularly special about Tim Horton's. Its coffee certainly isn't anything to write home about. I've had better doughnuts at establishments in the ghettos of New York. The decor is somewhat drab and dull. My real issue with Tim Horton's is its role in the service of Canadian and US imperialism. Shortly after NATO invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Tim Horton's opened up a store in Kabul. The corporation went on a national propaganda campaign seeking Canadians to work at its latest store. Many Canadians actually believe that they're in Afghanistan to help the people and to build democracy. Quite a few Canadians will cite the opening of "Timmy's" in Kabul as the prime example of Canada doing a good deed in Afghanistan. It cannot be overstated how Tim Horton's makes far too many Canadians pathetic. But I digress.
 I slept in a wooded area in the town centre. It was quite cold that night in Edmunston! Yikes! I had to put on my scarf, gloves and winter jacket. I was glad that I didn't chuck or leave the jacket behind. It's a pain in the ass to carry but I'm aware that this is Canada and it can drop to single digits at night in the summer. Moreover since I was headed to the coast, I knew that it can get cool. I remember this from a summer in Portugal. During the day the temperature would reach 40 degrees but then drop to 10 at night.

Day Three Edmunston-Moncton 
  My original itinerary was to hitch from Edmunston to Fredericton. AVD, my best friend in Canada had suggested that I visit Fredericton as it's the nicest city in New Brunswick. She told me that Moncton was quite depressed but Fredericton had a couple of museums worth visiting and that there was more to do there culturally. When the -2 degrees Celsius gave me a rude awakening, I went to Tim Horton's to warm up and to drink a coffee. I walked to the Trans-Canadian Highway and thought that I would reach Fredericton by the afternoon. 
  The third day was long and most unexpected. I thought that Fredericton would be my next stop since it was the next big city on the way to the coast. However, I got a lift with an Acadian. When I told him that Moncton was my final destination, he said that he lived on the Acadian Coast and would take a shortcut via Northern New Brunswick. My good Acadian friend in Montreal had suggested a few days before I embarked that I should visit the Acadian Coast. So I agreed to be taken there and bypass Fredericton all together.
 My driver was really interesting. He works in agriculture but as a radical engineer. He is the Wilhelm Reich of agriculture. We had a very long conversation about pollution of the soil and food. He explained how nutritionists have everything backasswards. He said that vegetables need to have an energy balance. He said that vegetables that have a poor energy balance as far as the chemical elements can actually be detrimental to the body. He works with Orgone energy. He was quite surprised that I knew about Orgone. I explained that I've read Wilhelm Reich, who was the one that discovered Orgone. The driver also is using salt from rocks in order to help farmers and big agribusiness companies to improve farming techniques. He's worried about GMOs and the poisoning of the land.
 We drove along Chaleur Bay and saw the Gaspé peninsula about 30KM across. We drove through hundreds of kilometers of woods. My driver explained to me about the Irving Company which is the biggest in New Brunswick. Irving is in the lumber and oil industry. We then stopped at an interesting Native restaurant for breakfast which he treated me to.After breakfast ee drove on through Bathurst. From there we drove and stopped at Caraquet which is the oldest French settlement in Canada unofficially known as the Capital of Acadia. We visited a very nice cafe and bookstore. I had an iced coffee. He let me off in his home town of Tracadie.
 Yikes was it bloody cold! I'm so glad that I brought my winter clothing. It was 7 Celsius! I thought that perhaps I would kick around the North Acadian Coast for a few days before making my way south to Moncton but it was way too cold. Summer comes late in The Maritimes!
 It took more than an hour to get a ride. To keep warm I danced at the side of the road. Prince was still on my mind. I would hum and sing A Love Bizarre, a duet by Sheila E and Prince and dance to keep warm.  I was driven 10KM and let off. 
  Then I got another lift with a sketchy Acadian who spoke no English. While my French as atrocious in the extreme, I understand 75% and I know enough to get by. While my best foreign language is German, the ability to speak and read in French and Spanish has saved my ass countless times. This driver seemed to be mentally unbalanced. He said that he would drive me to Mirimichi but the vibes were weird. He was blasting the latest Nickelback CD. It wasn't bad but I exaggerated how much I liked it as I was slightly alarmed by him. It was also good that the music was loud that we didn't have to converse. He reached down to the floor of the car and produced a sharp knife but put it in the compartment between the driver's and passenger seat. I kept my composure. He dropped me off in Neguac even though he said that he would drive me to Mirimichi.  
I tried to get another lift when a father and son picked me up. They said that I was right in the middle of the village and they would drive me a bit further out. They let me out in a town called New Jersey. I kid you not. Ha! I've been to New Brunswick, NJ in the USA. I had no idea that there was a place called New Jersey in the Province of New Brunswick. The next time that I will talk to Americans, especially those from the Northeast, I'm going to fuck with them. I will tell them: "I've been to New Jersey, New Brunswick." To which they will automatically reply: "You mean New Brunswick, New Jersey."
To which I'll reply with the perfect mind fuck: "No I'm not talking about New Brunswick, New Jersey, I've been there. I'm talking about New Jersey, New Brunswick Canada."
I got picked up by a couple of Natives (Canadian Indians to my readers abroad) who drove me past Mirimichi but dropped me off in a rather desolate stretch of road. Bicycles and pedestrians are allowed on the New Brunswick highways. A cyclist stopped and asked if I knew where the nearest store was. I told him that I was a stranger as well and couldn't help him. Thereafter, a male and female pair walked up along the highway and they gave him instructions. To me it was unusual for a group of 4 people to  randomly meet on a desolate stretch of highway in the middle of the woods. One hitchhiker, one cyclist and two pedestrians in the middle of nowhere. Before that that encounter, I saw a young man on a ATV riding down the ditch off the side of the road. He waved to me. About 500 meters he came out of the ditch, crossed the highway. He went up the shoulder in the opposite direction of traffic and then disappeared into another ditch.
 After one hour a driver picked me up but only took me 5KM. It was getting late. I was starting to get worried. Another driver picked me up. He was also sketchy and he seemed to be unnerved my me. He was from Burlington, ON in the Greater Toronto Area. He was on vacation at his beach house. He was perplexed that I hitched from Montreal but went the long way to Tracadie via Bathurst. He was further taken aback that I don't have any fixed residence and that I travel around the world. Suddenly I realized that he might have been either an off-duty cop or perhaps worked for Immigration or even worse, with the Border Protection Service Agency. He asked what I was going in Moncton. I replied to visit friends. He then said that he would drive me all the way to Moncton. However he was further unnerved when I told him that I lived from writing and poetry. He said that he suddenly remembered that friends were waiting for him at a pub. He dropped me off. He was obviously perplexed by me. He had never met a Bohemian artist. It was simply beyond his comprehension that such a person could exist. I had no fixed address, no steady job, no money but yet I've managed to visit 20 countries. In his mind, it didn't add up. What was really striking was the realization that he was afraid of me! I'm one of the most peaceful and harmless person anyone could meet. Besides, he was quite larger than me and probably stronger. I never carry any weapons or firearms. Yet buddy was fearful of me. Again, this is why I detest Toronto. Many people in Toronto simply don't get it. Toronto is one of the most conformist and narrow minded metropolises in the world. If the driver were from Calgary or Winnipeg, I could've at least understood their apprehension and lack of comprehension. But for a person from a region which never stops of boasting of being the most advanced multicultural city in the world to be so afraid and lost, reinforces my conviction that Toronto is the most backwards, ignorant and reactionary metropolis in the world. Yet I digress again!
 By this time, it was dusk. I was worried that I wouldn't make it to Moncton even though it was only 65KM away. In the woods behind me, I heard someone walking and saw a figure. I was getting sketched out. I was going to walk to the exit and find a place to camp. I got a lift by a young man who grew up both in Hull, which is the town opposite from Ottawa in Quebec, and Quebec City but with roots from Moncton. He dropped me off at Starbucks on Main Street downtown.I went down to the riverfront park and pathway to find a place to sleep. It was another cold night in the single digits but I had my winter gear on. I had very strange and disturbing dreams.
It took only 55 hours to hitch 980KM (609 miles)  from the south shore of Montreal to Moncton. While it's hardly a world record, it's pretty damn fast. I'm glad that I didn't spend $150 on a long bus journey.
To be continued....

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Anonymous karen said...

Hi Der,
I've just read part one of your adventure. Very Interesting and detailed; I look forward to reading more, in the near future. It was very nice to have met you and I wish you well in all your travels. Keep in touch and stay safe. Karen

Thursday, August 18, 2016  

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