Monday, December 27, 2010
We have been on the road for almost 3 months and we always moved every 2, 3 days, except for LA where we spent around 2 weeks. Always when you travel it is good to take a break from time to time and the fact that Amanda lives in Ohio made it a good option to stop and have this well deserved vacation from a vacation. After leaving Mankato and Toby and his family, there were two options in order to arrive to Ohio: one, going through Chicago and the second going up north first, to Michigan Lake and then coming down to Cleveland. We chose the second option because we also heard it is so beautiful up there but also because Chicago and Detroit are two big cities hit very badly by the crisis, and we did not have enough energy to enter again in a big American city and spend time in crowded places. So we drove up north through little roads, surrounded by woods of conifers, many lakes, the weather got to be quite chilly sometimes but not very bad.
The more the days were passing the less we were interested in visiting anything and in the end we ended up driving about 1000 km in one day to arrive Cuyahoga Falls, where Amanda lives. She is an old friend of Jan, married to an American guy , living in USA for about 10 years now and working in an agency for women abuse, where she tries to give shelter and legal advise for women that suffer of abuse. More than a 25% of women in America suffer some sort of abuse and this violence does not make social differences. All women are exposed to it, even the rich ones, although the rate of women that report the abuse is lower in the higher classes. Anyway there are many factors that would make the numbers even higher but because police is not doing their jobs properly many times the reports of the women never get to the justice. Even though USA considers itself one of the leading countries of the world, the number of abused women is on such a high level. There are many resources oriented towards solving this problem but as Amanda says there is much more to do. Once arrived by night at the lovely house of Amanda and Mark, we made ourselves comfortable in our own room and decided that for the next two weeks we will do nothing just recover energy because when you feel down you do not really enjoy and to enjoy such a big travel you need from time to time to take brakes. I was almost in a state of trance, waking up in the morning, having breakfast , then watching TV or reading, then having lunch and working on the computer and then dinner. What a beautiful monotony. We did not do just that in these two weeks. We also went out with Mark and Amanda for dinners with their friends, or we played Texas hold’em up Poker or cycling through the close by towns and forest of Cuyahoga Falls. These two weeks have past so quickly but I would mention here on of the best events that we took part in. Amanda had 2 more invitation to an event for the Legal Aid organisation in Ohio. We went to this great event that celebrated the achievement of so many professionals that give free aid to abused women and children, to immigrants and even to local citizens. We even got to see one of the judges of the Supreme Court of USA. I felt so impressed but in the same time so thankful to Amanda that made this possible.
After such good time here in Ohio we prepared the car again and started the road to Canada. Our next important destination was Niagara Falls, that we enjoyed from both American and Canadian sides. To be honest the Canadian side shows a much better perspective of the falls but on the American side there is a much nicer and well organised park, with a few gardens, some other falls and little refreshing shops.
Crossing into Canada was an important step in our journey through North America because it could mean that when we get back to USA after our one month plan, we might not get an extension for our American visa and so our travel through the north would be much shorter and we would loose important places that we wanted to visit. I developed a kind of hatred and angst for borders since in this travel I think I had to cross more than 150 borders, I had to deal so many times with immigration and police that not always is professional, fair, efficient or nice. If you choose to cross from USA to Canada through the Niagara Falls, you will get there very easily by crossing one of the bridges close by, and so we did the same, but once into Canada we realised we weren’t able to talk to an USA immigration official and because we needed some information on visa extension we did the mistake to ask an official on the Canadian side, if we can go back to USA and ask our questions. Of course we did not know what was about to come!
As we told to the Canadian immigration officer that we want to go back to USA he sent us inside the immigration building to check some papers with the officials inside. After waiting for 15-20 min one official attended us, wrote a paper and added a code to our reason of refusing to enter Canada and told us we are ok for returning to USA. Happy that the Canadians seemed so helpful, we drove the van back to the entrance into USA; only this was where our luck was ending. A very rude and poor in sympathy official started asking questions on why we were refused entry into Canada, why we wanted to come back to USA, if we want to work and so on and so forth. We replied very calmly to all his questions only he seemed not to understand that we needed to talk with someone about the possible extension of our visa. He made a phone call and told us to wait in the car and so we did. He then took our passports and the keys of the car, two police officers came and we were escorted by both of them, just like two criminals, inside the immigration building. After waiting 30 min more, we were received by a different officer to whom we had to explain again why we were asking question and we had to detail all our reasons of why we want this information and finally we were clear enough that we plan to go to Canada, spend a while there and then come back to USA and get a visa extension he finally seemed to understand. It seems there is a protocol for all immigration police officers to consider everyone a possible criminal, terrorist, immigrant or who else what, all that before even listening to what people are saying. I think they need more training into listening. Anyway after he realised that we really had the plan to travel so long through USA and that we seemed honest and reliable, he talked with his boss and told us that generally it depends on the border official if they extend a visa or not. With that in mind we got out of there not before getting our passports and keys of the car. It has been a very frustrating experience for me and actually it had ruined my mood for the whole day. The impoliteness of the border officials seems to be a common characteristic around the world.
Soon after getting back to our car, we drove again to the border of Canada, summing in total about 120 min just for one clear and easy question: Can we extend our visa in the border?
As soon as we crossed into Canada, we looked for a cheaper parking place ( on the Canadian side there is no national park and all hotels and restaurants seem to charge a big fee for parking). We found a place about 10min walking distance from the Falls for just 5 dollars (Canadian). As soon as we parked the car we looked for an ATM because w had no Canadian money and as soon as we found one, we realised that on the Canadian dollars there is the face of Queen Victoria of England, due to the fact that Canada is part of the English common wealth and the head of their state is the Queen. After seeing the Niagara Falls from the Canadian side and walking through the touristic city around the falls we took the car and drove away in order to find a place where to park the car and sleep.
Each new country has new rules and you never know if you can camp on the side of the road or not. It took us a long time to find a proper pace where to sleep but finally we ended up in a park on the side of a small road and we had a pretty quiet night. Next day we drove to Toronto, our first stop in Canada and we arrived in the afternoon at the house of Eva and her family.
Both Eva and her husband Christian emigrated in their youth from Europe and they met in Canada. They were both running from communist Poland and probably that was the best decision of their lives. They both got asylum and citizenship here and with many years of hard work they managed to build a family with 3 kids, the have a nice house in the suburbia and live a peaceful life. I like the feeling of being with Eva and her family because they remind me of eastern Europeans and their warmth.
They made us feel welcomed, we had the chance to talk a lot, they even gave us their national parks pass and offered us a great deal of information. We spent one day in Toronto , visiting the main touristic attractions, we listened to international music at a local festival and had a few great dinners with Eva and her family. The first two days it was difficult to see the difference between USA and Canada, but the more we were advancing, the more we were feeling like home in Europe. The Canadians have different ways of doing business, they have their own culture, television is completely different from American TV, the culture and art is different. I felt very comfortable. Even though an ocean separates us I feel much closer to life I Canada than in USA.
Couch surfing works here pretty great and after 4 days in Toronto with Eva we started to drive towards Ottawa where another great host was waiting for us, not until visiting Algonquin Provincial Park. The pass that Eva gave us was for National Parks but Jan forgot too mention to me that and we spent two hole days trekking through the park with no parking permit.
The second day while I was enjoying a nice trek he finally admitted that he lied to e and that we do not have a permit to be in the park.
Immediately I lost all my amusement because I did not want to have the car towed away with all our stuff inside and that’s generally the risk you assume when you park somewhere without a permit. I did enjoy my first 47 hours in the park, walking through beautifully coloured forests.
The autumn here makes the trees change the colour of their leafs but the pallet is so striking with such beautiful reds, gold, browns and greens that you can spend days taking photos. We had to sleep outside the park so both nights we took a small road on the outside of the park, which led to a beautiful lake and a few houses. No one seemed bothered with us camping on their property. It was so relaxing to sleep there and enjoy the lake and the colours.
The third day we drove to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, a city about which we did not know more but we had to visit it and the fact that Dino offered to host us was a plus. Dino is a Canadian of Italian origin that lived most of his life in Montreal but now he has a good job in Ottawa so he rented a nice bachelor apartment in a 4 apartment house.
We parked our car outside and as soon as Dino introduced himself, showed us his place, and offered us the already cooked dinner, he left for the date he already had appointed with a new girlfriend.
Next day we walked through downtown Ottawa, saw the parliament and a few other government buildings that actually impressed us due to the great architectural value and resemblance to any old European structure. Although the rest of the city did not have much else to offer we enjoyed the downtown and the market close buy and also the company of Dino.
After 3 days in Ottawa it was again time for driving even more up north, this time to Montreal.
Driving up north into Quebec, the weather was getting colder and colder and the sun was hiding a lot in the clouds and also we had a few showers, but travelling with Couch surfing means you always have a warm place to keep you bones and little things you carry with you when you do such a long travel. We were lucky to be hosted by a French Canadian young family: Guillaume, Emilie and Sarai( their baby girl).
As soon as we arrived into their home we felt a good connection. They are warm people with amazing hearts, we cooked dinners, went out to eat at a Chinese restaurant with a bunch of their friends but we also had time and space for ourselves and could enjoy also the company of an old friend of the travel that currently lives in Canada.
Second day after arriving in Montreal we contacted Inigo, a basc guy that we met in Xining , China in a hostel in the summer of 2009 and with him and his girlfriend Sarah we ended up spending a few days talking about our travels. It was a good connection and we maintained contact though internet and now we were about to meet them again. We rented two bicycles very easily also due to the fact that Montreal is the first bicycle friendly city in North America. They actually have bicycle lane inside the city! We met Inigo close to downtown and we cycled through the city most of the afternoon talking about our lives and what has changed in the last months. Inigo is already in his 40’s but does not seem to know where his life is going to. He seems to be a guy with the plan to have no plan but sometimes he also gives you the feeling that maybe he is too old for that. In his past he made some bad decisions but his greater passions are travelling and photography although he did not find the right recipe yet that would help him combine the two and sustain a long time travel. He met Sarah, a Canadian girl of Philippine descend, in Australia 2 years ago and they ended up travelling together and sharing the goods and the bads of long time travelling. Sarah is in her 30’s and her family seems to disapprove of their relation due to the fact that Inigo has no proper job and that Sarah seems to be throwing away her future. With all that against them, and with the fact that they come from two different cultures and countries they still are together climbing and descending little mountains in the relationship. I think that they seem to be a good couple and that they should work their way on but it all depends on them. Inigo has no status in Canada so he cannot work and Sarah earns too few money to be able to sustain them both for a long time so probably they find themselves in a crucial moment when they need to take decisions and its never easy.
It was nice meeting them again, seeing how their life is going, having a dinner together and talking about their future. Sometimes when we meet again people of the travel I get the feeling that we are in a never ending Carrousel.