30 Days on a Greyhound Bus: Part 1

Across Canada 4,967 km (Oct/Nov 2011)

I didn’t realize it at the time but I was adrift in my life, no idea what I really wanted to do or where I wanted to be.  Somehow the solitude of long, boring bus rides between cities; staring out the window at the varying landscape, gave me some sense of purpose.  There’s a lot of time to contemplate your life when you don’t have internet, or really anything much to do but look out across the magnificently flat Prairies, become immersed in the green Spruce forests and winding hills of Ontario or stare down at a Rocky Mountain runaway lane on the Coquihalla Pass.

After 30 days and one giant circle of approximately 9894 kilometres, I arrived at my brother’s house in Ottawa and began the long arduous process of applying to Teacher’s College and obtaining a new Visa to return to South Korea for another year, depending how the aforementioned application worked out.

I am getting ahead of myself, obviously in 30 days I did more than stare out the window of a Greyhound, I should probably start by telling the story of how I came to decide on this trip and this particular mode of transportation.  I had been living in South Korea for a year; it was my first time outside of Canada or the USA and my first time away from family and friends for such an extended period of time.  When I decided to go back to Canada, I knew I wanted to return to South Korea for another year but I just needed to see my family and friends for a bit.  I had this overwhelming need to see EVERYONE! And everyone had dispersed across Canada like a dandelion seed head in the wind around the same time that I left for Korea.  I had friends all over so I thought, why not see some more of this continent and visit some people while I’m at it.  Maybe I was loosely inspired by ‘On the Road’ (Denver and San Fran were on the list-made it to Denver not to SF) but being unwilling to hitchhike, unable to drive, and too poor to fly; I discovered that Greyhound offers a hop and go ticket deal for about 500$ (2011).  I spent the first week back in Canada hanging out with friends and family in Sherbrooke and Montreal.  Then one fine, chilly Autumn day, I boarded a bus to Toronto.

Sherbrooke Dam Downtown.  Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada

To be honest I don’t have much to say about Toronto, I’ve never spent enough time there to form an informed opinion about the place.  I met up with my friend Will who lives in Korea Town.  I ate Korean for dinner which was pretty decent but upon seeing a 20$cdn price tag on a 1,500won (1.50$cdn approx.) bottle of makgeolli made me sad and confused. I went to see Will and Tim’s band, Staycation, at a bar I don’t remember the name of.  I took some fun shots of them performing, we had some drinks and the next morning went for a pretty delicious breakfast at a diner I can’t remember the name of and then I hopped on a Go Bus to Barrie.  All in all, it was a good time that I could have had anywhere.  I was pretty excited to see my BFF after a year so I wasn’t too concerned about Toronto, it’s been there for a while, it’s not going anywhere, I could always go back.

Barrie, Ontario, not a top destination for most people but set on Lake Simcoe, it’s pretty damn nice.  I took a Go Bus between Toronto and Barrie because I was informed by someone that it was more convenient-it was not.  I had to change buses halfway through and hang out in a cold bus station for an hour.  Then some scumbag, degenerate, douchebag attacked our poor bus driver because he didn’t have enough money or the right ticket or something.  Anyway the driver was ok but totally rattled (obviously) and not able to drive at that point.  The cops were called and they took statements from some people and we waited for another driver to come. Interestingly and perhaps related though I’m just speculating; Barrie is the home of the Central North Correctional Centre which is a maximum security prison and one of Canada’s most violent prisons.  Having just come back from Korea where the worst you normally see is a drunken red-faced wrestling match ending in hugs and handshakes, I wanted none of this shit.

I was stoked to see Lindsay, my BFFL. We had a blast catching up, hanging out, she showed me around her new city and we basically just ate, drank and walked for 3 days.  After a few days it was time to head West, but first I had to go back to Toronto on a Greyhound and hang out downtown for a bit to catch the overnight bus to Sudbury. If you’re planning on driving across Canada, you can skip this part and go through the US; it’s much faster. Crossing Canada from Toronto to Calgary takes 2 days and 2 nights straight on a bus.  Yes, I know, it sounds horrible but I’d been told by several people who had done this trip before, that the bus is half empty so you can usually have 2 seats to yourself most of the way.  I had planned to fly from Toronto to Calgary but due to bad timing, it being Thanksgiving weekend (Canadian) the flights were way more than I wanted to spend. Also due to it being a holiday, the bus was jam packed-not an empty seat on the bus for 2 days and 2 nights.  ‘It’s Ok’ I said to myself while breathing deeply, my friend gave me a travel pillow and some Neo-Citron (I had a cold to make matters worse); ‘you have your laptop with some movies, your MP3 player, and a large Game of Thrones novel to get through, you’ll be fine.’ The buses I had been taking up until now were new so they came equipped with wifi that sometimes worked, plugs, and USB ports. The bus they give you to cross the 2nd largest country in the world doesn’t have any of these things; it’s old, drafty, with scratchy, hard seats.  My laptop battery died in no time, eventually so did my MP3 player and I read the book too fast so I had to start over.  I drank Neo-Citron and passed out intermittently through most of Ontario.  We reached Regina, Saskatchewan a day and a half later, where I finally had some time to partially charge my electronics.

What I remember: It was cold ALL the time, the only places to eat were fast food chains and gas station convenience stores; I ate a lot of cashews, apples and beef jerky.  I remember being a little weirded out in Brandon, Manitoba, and that some small towns in Saskatchewan that were so flat you could see right through them, and somehow the lack of tumbleweeds rolling down the empty streets was almost more unsettling.  Finally, I remember pulling into the Calgary bus station early in the morning and getting to my friend’s apartment and finally lying down. Lying down for the first time in 48hrs was an intense feeling of relief and freedom from my body I think I could have cried.  Nowadays I dread 12 hour planes rides and often try to schedule a short or long layover half way through.

Poster at the Glenbow Museum

What I knew about Calgary before arriving:  Pickup trucks, the annual Calgary Stampede and their affinity for conservative politics and an oil based economy.  What I learned about Calgary: they have a great museum outlining the settlement and railroad development of the West, a majestic horse sculpture downtown and Calgary’s downtown core was easy to navigate on foot and every time I looked out at the horizon I would see the Rocky Mountains surrounding the city.  The weather was pretty disagreeable while I was there, so I headed over to the Glenbow Museum, which is both Canadian Art and History museum as well as showcasing artifacts from other cultures.  Being from Quebec (Lower Canada), which was the first settled area in Canada, we know our history well but we only glanced over the history and settlement of the West. Our history museums exhibit relevant history to the culture of QC and the Indigenous people of the region.  Glenbow Museum was successful at educating me about the frontier settlements and Indigenous culture of Western Canada.  They had some excellent displays about the railroad that looked as good as those you see in the Museum of History in Ottawa (my favourite museum).

Kristina was a great hostess and she took me around to some bars. We went to a semi-pro league hockey game at the Saddle Dome which felt like a very Calgarian thing to do.  I am terrible at remembering names of places I’ve only been to once so don’t ask me to recommend places to eat or drink because it’ll most likely go something like this:

Friend: Do you think it will be hard to find Vegan food in Vietnam?

Me: Not at all, my friend was able to find Vegan friendly food everywhere we went.  In fact we went to an all Vegan restaurant in Ho Chi Minh that was awesome!

Friend: Do you remember the name of it?

Me: No but I remember it was on this busy, touristy street next to the hotel I stayed in, it’s Vegan and super delicious- so yeah try to find it- it was definitely left from the hotel and it was right beside it.

Friend: What was the name of the hotel?

Me: Uh, well, I’ll have to look that up for you.

(actual conversation on where to eat Vegan in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam)

I spent 2 days in Calgary and then hopped back on an overnight bus to Kelowna, British Columbia.  When the sun came up the next morning, we were rolling down a mountain into the Okanagan Valley.  My only regret about this trip is that I couldn’t just ask the bus driver to stop so I could take photos. But to say that the view was stunning, is not enough, although anyone who has seen the sun rise over a remotely impressive valley will understand.  I clearly do not ever get up early enough to see the sunrise. I had lived in Kelowna twice for 4 month periods-between Winter and Fall semesters but I had only ever flown in and out.  Driving in made me realize what a secluded and special place the valley is.  

Nowadays, the Okanagan Valley is known for the longest lake in North America, Ogopogo, forest fires and of course WINE!  It’s an incredibly popular tourist destination in the summer and hotels are typically sold out on weekends.  When I was working there as a Front Desk Hotel Person, I would get phone calls and walk-ins all night from people desperately seeking some sort of shelter; they’d been to every hotel and campground they could find, and my advice would be-sleep in your car or pitch a tent somewhere but don’t get caught and next time book ahead!

Enter a caption

Kelowna City Park Beach.   Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada

Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada

Anyway I was super excited to be back in Kelowna, I stayed for the first 2 nights, at my old house, ‘Kamp K.L.O. which was essentially a crash pad for people passing through Kelowna for a few months at a time.  Since it was around Thanksgiving, we got a turkey, covered it in bacon and had an incredible feast with my lovely BC friends. We picked hazelnuts and biked around a bit.  Afterwards, I went to stay with my dear friend Lianna; we went for a hike, ate delicious food and had some time to catch up.  I had a great time walking around the downtown core, having a delicious and fresh brewed coffee at The Bean Scene.  I picked up a few bottles of wine to share with friends throughout the rest of my journey.

One incredibly fun and popular activity to do is go on a wine tour.  There are upwards of 70 wineries in the Okanagan valley alone.  In addition to world-class wine, many of these wineries also offer a delicious selection of food and spectacular views of the valley.  As you’re traveling along sampling wine, you can also stop in at Carmelis Goat Cheese Farm.  They had so many different kinds of goat cheese for us to try we actually had to quit part way through because it was simply too much; but thankfully they also make Gelato which was an excellent palate cleanser.

Unfortunately, after a few days in Kelowna it was time to move on. The day before I left, I posted on facebook, my intentions to pass through Vancouver on the way to Seattle.  An old high school friend saw the post and sent me a message letting me know he was living in Vancouver and was free for the day.  He met me at the bus station and took me around Vancouver making a long and extremely pleasant stop in Stanley Park for snacks and beer.  I am terrified of birds, Stanley Park is therefore a terrifying place for an Ornithophobe; there are all the usual suspects: pigeons, seagulls, crows, and tiny birds I cannot name, but there are also massive Canadian Geese and Swans.  I saw a tourist chasing a Goose trying to get the perfect shot, I was both amused and horrified by this scene.  Stanley Park is 400 hectares of forest, hills, paths, ponds, and beach, we might have explored 1/100th of it. We walked to the beach, it’s rocky but still quite pleasant, as we were eating our snacks and drinking our beer this brownish seagull perched itself a little ways away and squawked irrationally at us for about an hour.  I made my friend chase the gull away from time to time but the jerk kept coming back. Regardless, Stanley Park is the optimal place to spend an afternoon if you’re ever in Vancouver.  I left Vancouver that evening, back on a Greyhound into the USA.

Aaron Turner in Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

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