La Carrotte Joyeuse On not being Interesting

 

La Carrotte Joyeuse

On not being Interesting

Revenge of the Stumpy Munchkins

Paddling at high speed and in the wrong direction brings a standing ovation.

Maynooth, Ontario
3rd August, 2001

I've spent most of the last two weeks jumping into, onto, under, through and out of all the lakes, rivers, rapids and floods in Canada. It's hard to avoid. Canada contains 35% of the world's fresh water, lashing in great trickles and pools throughout its vast bulk like the men's room after a beer festival.

Yet instead of finding a practical use for all that water, such as lobbing giant water balloons at the U.S., or holding world-class wet T-shirt competitions, they use it to breed flies. And what flies! Horse flies, mosquitos in great blood-sucking hordes, blackflies that don't bother with blood when they can take the entire arm off, and the dreaded deer fly, so-called I'm sure for carrying off entire stags in its terrifying jaws. I've never seen a fly attach itself to human skin with such decision. When you try to flick off a deer fly, it looks up, annoyed, as if to say, do you mind? before settling back to its lunch.

The Canadians never mention this in their wilderness brochures. They, of course, are completely unaffected by the flies as they bounce through the wild, all vim and enthusiasism. I believe they must have made a pact with Beelzebub long ago. His Canadian minions bring him a supply of fresh victims, and he gives them a fat-free eco-concious life. You can hear them murmuring under their breath, as they promise you the pristine forest, wild water rides and acres of untouched lakes, "Yes lord, soon he will be thine... now let me have the bio-yop vitamin supplement thee promised".

Quebec

I'm travelling still with my English girls. I believe it's my duty to teach the Sasanach dearg how civilized people behave. Emma, Claire and Trish are the names of three who are always pleased to see me. They let me know this by bursting into peals of laughter at the very sight of me.

I am determined to be sensitive and aware regarding the people of Quebec, their unique heritage and culture, and not laugh at them any more. All I'll say is, about the entire wing of the Quebec museum dedicated to the importance of Quebec, being from Quebec, speaking Quebecois, and celebrating the Quebecois heritage with all the other great Francophone nations of the world, from Haiti to Senegal: well done boys.

Mont Tremblant

Mont Tremblant is a ski resort used for hiking in the summer. After our customary jump into the lake we held a blindfold canoe race. Now, out of our group only one person possessed any kind of expertise in the Canadian C2 canoe, and was therefore forced to pontificate at length in his stringy Irish accent about the J-stroke, the Indian stroke, the sweep, and the pry. When the same individual took up his blindfold stern position and sent his canoe careering directly into a bush despite the screaming pleas of his bow paddle, before extricating himself, setting off in a great, majestic circle and crashing into the same bush again, let me say that the almost ecstatic cheers and laughter from the bank were much appreciated. It's not every day that a teacher gains such appreciation from his pupils.

The English girls and I went off for a hike. As we were all products of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme (long hikes over four days sustained by a single pot noodle in a cold tent all for miraculous views of a patch of damp, grassy bog), we yawned at our guides suggestion of a gentle 8km nature walk, and went straight for the 28km mountain scramble up 'the Gorilla'. Of course, we had done our hikes in the British winters. In the fly-blown heat of the Canadian summer we collapsed after 6km and one little 300m climb, jumped into the nearest lake and refused to go on. "I know" the guide said. "I've never actually made it to the Gorilla myself," leaving us to work out whether he had just made up the name to impress people, or scare them off.

Ottawa

I stopped in Ottawa to visit an old Cuban classmate, Jess. Ottawa is the capital city, with neo-gothic parliament buildings, the supreme court and statues of the Queen and the various kinds of historical bald men who made it their lives' work to pester the Queen. An especially impressive ceremony, our guidebook promised, is the Changing of the Guard, in which a regiment of Guardsmen, replete with red coats and bearskins would perform military drill in front of the parliament. Although we'd all been to Buckingham Palace and seen the Brigade of Guards on parade there, nevertheless we were eager to see a demonstration of living history as the Ontario Regiment marched up in perfect order. We watched, we stared, we frowned... and turned to each other trying to form the question nagging at the back of our minds: "They're all... a little... short, aren't they?" And so they were. Instead of the six-foot Guardsmen staing contemptuously into the middle distance, the rather cute display here averaged about five foot two. The proudest icons of Canadian democracy were being guarded by a band of scarlet munchkins.

I put it down to the desperate need of Federal Canada to be fair to everyone, even martially-inclined gnomes. The Canadian Museum of Civilization was a fine example of all-inclusive niceness. In the large Viking settlers section we were reminded that the Norsemen were kindly farmers and tradesmen rather than pirates with pointy hats, in the huge French Canadian section we learned that the French voyageurs were noble, intrepid explorers rather than pirates with furry hats, and the gigantic hall of First Nations taught us how the west coast Indians were persecuted for throwing giant parties while wearing carved animal heads. Presumably all their wars must have been related to headgear rivalry. Canadian civilization seems to be born of a long misunderstanding among gentlemen's drapers.

Fort Coulonge

We stopped in Fort Coulonge to go canoeing and whitewater rafting. Considering that nothern Quebec and Ontario is one giant puddle interspersed with bumps of rock and trees, this is not a bad way to get around. It was a beautiful day, the sun shone through the trees as we made our way through the magnificent Ottawa river though the tree-lined wilderness, paddling bravely to the rapids. We were with Esprit Rafters, famous for their daring, exciting water thrill rides. Alas for our guides, the hydro dams upstream had all been closed, allowing the river to fall to ridiculous levels. Time after time, Tristan the raft guide would prepare us in a hushed voice for gigantic rapids like the Coliseum, or the Butcher's Board, only to be greeted by a sadly depleted stretch of water resembling nothing more than a thin stream of donkey piddle. I think he was going to burst into tears at one point. At least that would have provided some waves.

But there were still some spectacular rapids. We went down a level 5 rapid called the Dragon's Neck, that looked like a small waterfall. We went surfing into the mouth of the Butterfly, where the boat was supposed to hover on the backdraft, wherupon it promptly flipped on its side and we lost five out of seven rafters. Reports are unclear, but if your hero was seen holding onto to Trish in front, he was helping her IN, not tossing her overboard to save himself.

And there was more jumping into the river. But as I splashed up the shore to our final berth, I could hear the dreaded buzzing in the trees again, and behind me, just a whisper?... "let your creatures take this sacrifice, lord, so I can trot up the Bruce trail and check out the biomass one more time..."

 

 

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Blindfold Canoe

 

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Ottawa

 

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Algonkin Park

 

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East Moose Route

 


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The Facts

Where I stayed
Quebec: HI Quebec. Pleasant hostel in the old town with terrace.
Mont Tremblant: HI Mont Tremblant . Fantastic hostel, comfortable, sociable, huge lakeside outdoor area with canoes.
Wakefield: Gatineau Hostel . Beautiful country farmhouse, open kitchen lounge areas, woods, lakes, barbecues.
Ottawa: Backpacker Inn . Standard city hostel, relaxed, patio area.
Fort Coulonge: Esprit Rafting . Great location on Ottawa River with beach, canoes, bar, volleyball.
Algonkin: Maynooth Hostel . Large old building, friendly, small kitchen, real bar downstairs.

How I got around: Moose tours. Excellent hop-on/hop-off service. The staff struggle to do their best for you wherever they can.