Arif the World Traveler
When I finally arrived in front of the apartment of Arif, it was already 6 PM. We first met in Beijing, when he was traveling around the world. With two girls (one Norwegian one Dutch) from couchsurfing, we did wild camping together on the wild Great Wall. Seriously, that was summer and downtown Beijing would sear you alive but at night on the Great Wall, it was…… enormously cold and windy! However, the sunrise and sunset we saw on the Great Wall were priceless, worth every bit of the effort. It was a life experience.
After returning from his legendary world journey, Arif started his own entrepreneurship project in logistics. When I finally saw him that evening, he had not changed a bit, same hairstyle and sense of humor.
Arif: Wei! Tonight is my treat! Don’t even think about spending your own money! Even you just try to touch your own pocket, I will get offended and you are not my friend anymore! Hey dude, I went on a world journey myself, I got helped by so many people! It’s my turn to give it back!
His friends all gathered in his apartment and Arif enthusiastically introduced me to everybody, adding the line ‘he hitchhiked around the world! Even crossed Taliban controlled area in Pakistan!’ His friends dressed me up and we went on partying as a gang. There were people from Russia, Serbia, Kosovo, Iran, India, Ukraine, Portugal, Nigeria …… and yet they were all Canadian. You could find people of every possible mixed ancestry there.
When we came back, it was about 3 AM.
Arif: Now have some rest! Wake me up at 9 AM and I will show you around! Oh man, you can not leave Canada without seeing Toronto!
just when we intended to sleep, another friend came up knocking on the door. He brought a couple of girls and the party simply went on and got bigger. When we eventually went to sleep after much drugs, alcohol and semi-conscious talking, I saw the sunrise already.
At 9 AM, I struggled to get up and shook Arif, who was sprawling out on his bed like a dead body. ‘Arif! Arif! Wake up man!’
No response at all. I put my finger under his nostril. Still alive.
At 10 AM, I crossed over all the sprawling bodies in the living room again to Arif’s bedroom. ‘Hi Arif! Arif!’
No response either.
At 11 AM, he finally responded to my calling and whispered with a hoarse voice:’Give me… half an hour… I will… take… a … shower…’
When eventually he drove me to the train station, it was already 2 PM and he was still just half alive. Must have partied pretty hard.
Best Way to Hitchhike from Toronto to Montreal
Basically speaking, the best way to hitchhike from Toronto to Montreal was to take a 30-min train to Oshawa and from there walk up the highway leading to Montreal.
That was what I did.
When I was standing on the highway, the wind was breezing softly and the sun was shining. There was not much traffic. I could almost use ‘quiet’ to describe the highway. I felt not hot, not cold but just fine. The day was almost perfect except for a car to stop.
That did happen, after about 40 minutes of waiting. Compared with my previous waiting time in North America, this was the best record (except when Toby stopped for me a second time)!
Things just kept getting better.
Who said ‘hitchhiking is much easier in Canada than in US’? You come here! You look at me in the eyes! I must tell you ‘You are damn right!’
40 minutes, that was the longest waiting time I had in Canada since that day. Afterwards I waited on average 15 minutes, with 5 minutes the shortest. Then I felt that the bonding of my magnetic field and the magnetic field of Canada had finally completed. I must have also started to look Canadian even. I opened my mouth and even the wind tasted sweet.
After meeting so many people with of mixed blood, I was totally shocked to find my first driver that day to be a ‘Canadian Canadian’, whose family had lived for 6 generations in this country. His wife was born of Dutch immigrants from Haarlem. I lived 6 years in the Netherlands and had probably the best time of my life there.
She: So, have you learned any Dutch?
Me: Ja, natuurlijk! Maar ik heb zo lang Nederlands niet gesproken hoor (Yes of course! But I have not spoken Dutch for such a long time).
She laughed hysterically: You speak the real Dutch. You use the ‘hoor’!
The distance between towns there was so huge that I believed there were more wild animals lived there than human beings. The forests were vast and for hours the landscape did not change at all. This reminded of the Nullabor desert in Australia. When I was hitchhiking there the landscape did not change for days.
They dropped me at the entrance of a highway nearby a small town. As I read on Hitchwiki (a must-read website for willing hitchhikers), in Canada the easiest place to hitchhike was the ramp leading to the highway from a town. The webpage also stated that ‘although there are clear signs saying no pedestrians, actually nobody minds’. Compared to US, Canada is a country much less policed. During my journey in Canada, I could recall only one time seeing a police. I felt that there were essentially more bears than policemen in this vast and lovely country.
The traffic was modest. Some cars passed me and one car, after passing me for about 100 meter, backed up and the driver rolled down his window: ‘where are you going?’
I: To Montreal! Perhaps I won’t arrive there tonight as it is getting late, so anything in that direction is fine.
He waved me in.
I hesitated for 0.34 second.
Now, to be honest, the car was a bit shabby and smeared with the smell of cigarettes. Besides, this dude was in his late thirties or early forties. He was shaved bald, with black sunglasses, a black vest and loads of tattoos. Although obviously Caucasian, his skin color was of an unhealthy yellow. He spoke in a manner like he was devoid of strength. His whole appearance reminded me of those drug junkies I met in New York City.
During the 0.34 second this went through my mind:
Prudent me: What if he turns out to be an unstable junkie?
Adventurous me: So what? He had driven this far without any obvious accidents and once you are on board, you can try to make things right once he turns out unstable, which would save the lives of both of you. (although I did not and still do not know how to drive)
Prudent me: What if he is a pervert junkie?
Adventurous me: OK, I know you don’t have either pepper spray or a knife, but hey, you have always talked your way out of danger, even in Taliban controlled Pakistan, even in Africa and so what are you afraid of?
Prudent me: I am still not sure.
Adventurous me: Well, if it turns out dangerous, I am sure you will survive it. Then it just becomes an experience. If all turns out fine, then you get a ride!
0.34 second later, I got in.
Marc turned out to be a very cool guy. I had a nice ride and we talked a lot. Do not let your doubts get in your way. Everyday we meet probably 10 suspicious situations but almost none of them actually materializes into real dangers. Most of the time we were just scaring ourselves. Seriously, Canada is one of the safest countries in the world. Do not trust me, trust statistics. While the global homicide rate is 7.6 people per 100, 000 inhabitants, the rate for Canada in 2016 was 1.68, far below the average. Yes, statistics, so sexy!
The next driver who took me used to hitchhike himself also.
He: You know, I tried once when I was in college. Oh my, it’s so difficult. I waited for two hours and nobody stopped, so I gave up. That’s my whole hitchhiking experience! For my wife, it always works! Sometimes she would hitchhike all the way from London Ontario to meet me in Toronto. It’s crazy!
I had a good look at him. He looked like an average 40 something working man, with stable mental status and a complete family, really nothing threatening could be discerned. However, to be honest, for every human being, especially the male ones, the first try with hitchhiking always takes some more time. It’s not clear why but it can possibly be explained by the magnetic field theory again. So, the magnetic field of you the newbie hitchhiker and the magnetic field of the road itself need some time to bond, after which things will become much easier. Therefore, it is essential that you do not give up at your first try easily. Don’t give up! That’s the key!
He dropped me at a place called Kingston. I had never heard of it until it appeared in front of me. Guess what? It used to be the capital of Canada, exactly speaking the capital of the United Provinces of Canada from 1841 to 1844. Even now this town still boasted more than 120, 000 people. WOWO! That was like …. Leiden! The small town where I studied and worked in the Netherlands.
A Piece of Armenia
The sun was starting to set and I was about halfway from Toronto to Montreal. Still about 300 km to go. The air was not breezing warmly anymore. Instead it was getting a bit chilly. The tall shrubs around me covered half of the sun. I was entertaining the possibility of camping among those shrubs.
The traffic got sparse, really sparse. I simply thumbed up without any signs. If cars could be compared with drops of water, then from Toronto to Kingston, I have stepped from the Nile valley to Sahara.
However, at a certain moment, Sahara did get a drop of water and this drop stopped. A sharp stop! Door opened like a bullet. The driver was a quick tempered young man with French accent: ‘You are going to Montreal aren’t you? Come on in!’
Before I could ask ‘how did you know? I did not use any sign’ I was already inside and like a bullet, the car went!
This was Pierre, a native Quebecan born of an Armenian mother and French father. French Armenian mix, Iranian Irish mix, Pakistani Slovenian mix, Chinese Jamaican mix…… So this was Awesome Canada. 🙂 The keyword was FAST. He was fast witted and fast tempered. The car he was driving could be named ‘fast and furious’. He asked me: ‘You like music? Let’s play some music!’ He played some Armenian music with his USB stick with Canadian flag on it. We drove even faster with the high pitched music rocking the car, passing basically all the cars.
Suddenly the car slowed down like it was about to hit a wall. I looked at him: ‘What’s wrong?:’
He pointed to a black big car beside us: ‘look at that car. That’s police in common clothes. I used to work for them. I can recognize their cars.’
The air got from chilly to cold, then a shower ensued. However, soon a huge rainbow loomed in the dark blue sky, arching the endless straight road. The sun emerged again, like a shy girl, with a flushing face.
Pierre was on the phone with his friends. He was speaking fast Armenian.
Me: Was that Armenian? That sounds like a mix of Russian and Persian to me!
Pierre: Really? Never heard of Persian.
Me: Say, you work in Kingston?
Pierre: Not any more! I worked in a pizzeria. This afternoon the boss pissed me off. I said to him ‘ca suffit’ (That’s enough) ! Then I threw my apron away and left! I am going back to Montreal! When I saw you, I took you along! You hungry? Let’s stop for a bite! My treat! I am free now! Freedom!
Then he turned the music to maximal volume and we started dancing Caucasus style in the car under huge arching rainbow. Deep in the Canadian forest, here was a piece of Caucasus.
The nearer we got to Montreal, the thicker the traffic became. When Pierre finally drove me to the street where my couchsurfing host lived, it was already 10:30 PM. I wanted to leave him my contact but he said it was not necessary. Then off he went, fast as a wind again.
So, hello, Montreal.
To be continued