I have been so disenchanted with Canada and Canadians for the past three days that I couldn’t even bring myself to write about it. About midway through British Columbia, the population thinned out considerably and most of the Canadian folks (at least the ones we encountered) turn into rural yokums. It’s been hard to wrap my head around the swift change from progressive and liberal Vancouver and the nude beach to Fort St. John, where you have to rent your shopping cart at the grocery store.
Around the time that the people turned backwards, the showers at our campgrounds became coin-op, a disappointing development given that showering is one of the few times when tent campers like us can do some quiet reflection. Try as I might to enjoy a shower in discreet 3 minute intervals fully prepared for the pleasantness to end, whenever my water actually turned off, I felt shocked and utterly wronged. During shower-time at the Muncho Lake campground, standing in the tween place between shower and dressing area, dripping, soapy, and shivering, I fiddled with the antiquated coin-op machine cursing the Canadians wondering why anyone would vacation up north. Give up all the comforts of home, take up residence in a tent camper, and suffer through regular abrupt cessations in hot water only to travel through endless miles of mostly repetitive scenery to a destination that is really only lauded by convalescing seniors. In that cold, dripping, and traumatic moment at the Northern Rockies Lodge at Muncho Lake, I began to question our sanity.
I must admit, the landscape is beautiful in its own way. And it is very quiet except for the perpetual buzzing of robust and very persistent mosquitoes, the occasional chirping of birds, and wind. There are big horn sheep, caribou, moose, and bison that pop up along the road every few miles. The animals are cool, but it doesn’t trump the closed-in, closed-off nature of the people. Although it would be great to wake up every morning to a view like the one I see through my window right now, I couldn’t stand to live with the small population of dopey people in this area. Sorry. Is that too blunt? Though I imagine they’re nice enough to each other and insiders in their little communities, who knows what it would take to become One of Them. And I just doubt that it would be worth it to try to stumble through their various designated hoops.
I’ve sat on the outskirts of many small towns in far-off places in the world looking in, wondering how the people there can stand to be there all the time. Once, we parked along a gravel road leading into a small town in the Yucatan so that we could put together “salad in a bag” (i.e. lettuce and salad dressing in a baggie). As John was situating himself to eat while driving, I stared off at some young kids walking along the street toward some shabby, run-down house, a limping, mangy dog following them. Chickens clucked and strutted around our car as we sat there and I wondered, how a town like that could survive with more civilized areas so nearby. What possesses people to stay in places like that? I’d want to leave the moment that I had the chance.
In Yaxachen, Mexico, when we took some supplies to a family that lost everything in a fire, there was one young man who kept eyeing our English-Spanish dictionary and road atlas. I could relate to him and I wanted to give him the atlas, but we really needed it to find our way back home. I gave him the dictionary instead.
In Turkey, shepherds strapped goats, propane bottles, and their wives onto their tiny mopeds to travel treacherous roads. They lived in squalor separated from modern civilization and other people. With Istanbul so close by, I often wondered why any of them chose to stay in the countryside.
Canada is a perplexing place. Especially northern Canada. As pleasant as the landscape is during the summer (ignoring the mosquito problem, of course), in the winter, the weather would be absolutely brutal. And it would be dark ALL THE TIME. If I lived in such a closed off, cold, and dark place, I think I would be excited and giddy about the light and the people coming and going, but then again, I wouldn’t take up residence in this area of the world unless I was forced into it by some unfortunate twist of fate (e.g. the rest of the world is overcome by nuclear war and there’s nowhere else to live).
Apparently many of the people who are in northern British Columbia are there by choice. I guess they must be happy enough about their location to be choosy about including others like me in their carefully guarded bliss.
Or perhaps they’ve simply figured something out to keep others from moving in on their piece of unpopulated paradise… Slightly cold, timed showers, unfriendly people, and chronic low-level discomfort can make the miles and miles of rivers, trees, and mountains into a tired, endless monotony that few want to see or experience.