Friday 16th August - 80 KM 50 M
Hopefully today’s Greyhound bus to Washington isn’t delayed unlike yesterday’s journey to Baltimore. I say goodbye to Charlie and head to the bus stop that will take me to the Greyhound terminal. I wait for a few minutes and the number 73 doesn’t arrive so I order a Lyft instead with the bus leaving on time and arriving into Washington at half 9. That gives me the whole day for sightseeing, most of which will be on foot. First it’s a walk past the Supreme Court, then State Capitol building with the first museum of the day the National Museum of the American Indian. The Native American Indians suffered a similar destructive fate as did the Native Australian Aboriginals upon European settlement/invasion. Due to the racist nature of the conquerers, the attempt to destroy and eradicate thousands of years of ancestral life amounts to what today would be called a genocide. Yet the spirit of the native Indian people could never be eradicated and it was great to learn about the struggle for native recognition in American society. After leaving the museum I walk along the National Mall with the iconic Washington Monument in the background. The second museum I visit is the United States Holocaust Museum - an area which I’m extremely passionate about, especially when I’m teaching the subject. I start with a one hour guided group tour, with the question being asked by our tour guide “Could America have done more to prevent the Holocaust?”. It’s a really informative tour, and I take lots of picture of the information boards, which will be useful for when I return to the classroom. Once the tour is over I head for the main exhibition where I watch a short film on the history of Anti-Semitism. Most of the information here I have studied/taught in detail as it’s based on the Holocaust in general, whereas the tour was based on the Holocaust and America’s response (lack of?). It takes me a while to find somewhere for lunch and once I have eaten my sandwich it’s took to do some serious walking again - this time of the memorials to prominent American figures, starting with Thomas Jefferson, then George Mason, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln and finishing the circuit with the World War II memorial. Upon arrival at the last memorial it’s not too far a walk to the White House. The best views/access are from Pennsylvania Avenue and once I have taken a picture of the iconic building and I’m finally done. It's time for a well deserved rest and I really fancy a herbal tea. Luckily I find myself randomly stumbling across a lovely place called Teaism. My next Couchsurfing host is based in Herndon, VA, which is near Dulles Airport from where I will be catching a flight to Toronto the next day at around lunchtime. To get there from downtown Washington it’s an easy metro ride to the end of the silver line, from where he will be kindly picking me up. JB is another nice guy/host, driving me to his house where I drop my bag and quickly freshen up. He’s gonna be playing volleyball tonight so I asked to be dropped at a local’s bar where I can have a couple of drinks, something to eat and chat with some regulars. JB takes me to Old Jimmy’s Tavern and I have a drink with him before he leaves and long not after he’s gone I meet some locals/regulars whilst sitting at the bar - Eric, couple Audrey and Paul and their friend Sandra. It’s not long before the discussion turns to politics resulting in a pretty heated debate between Audrey and Paul and Eric - who ends up leaving. I find it fascinating to hear their arguments with regards to the state of the country. As the night progresses, Sandra is the first to leave with Audrey and Paul leaving not far after - it’s Paul’s surprise 70th and Audrey invites to appear in the bar at around 2:30 the next day. I tell her I would love to but unfortunately I will be in Toronto, Canada. I’m feeling the effects of a few drinks, a couple which have been kindly donated to me. Around 11pm, JB comes to pick me up and it’s an amazing feeling to be heading to a bed for the night - what a day - and night. The day was about learning and seeing more about American History and Politics whereas the night ended up being an eye opener on American culture.
Saturday 17th August 550 KM 340 M
JB has to go to a tennis match in the morning so I’m left to relax, listen to music and pack for my flight. By the time he gets back it doesn’t leave us much time to get a sit down brunch/breakfast so we stop at Subway and eat our sandwiches near Dulles airport. It’s been a good week of Couchsurfing - he drops me off at the airport and I’m on a small propellor plane to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport and considering the size of the plane and the weather I was expecting a much bumpier ride. I always tell myself that the chance of the plane falling out of the sky are pretty slim - let’s just hope this thought is never proven wrong. My cousin from India, Sandeep, is ready to greet me at the small downtown airport and take me to his family home in Cambridge, which is an hour and half from the city. We spend the journey chatting and it’s great to see his wife (Ashdeep) and baby boy (Himmut) upon arrival at their newly built home in the suburbs of a small city. My first impression of Canada is that it reminds me a bit of Australia - a young, growing country attracting migrants with skills/money. Canada has a big North indian/Punjabi community and Sandeep’s in-laws/Ashdeep’s family live just around the corner and come for dinner and drinks (men only) to see me. Dinner is a creamy paneer (cottage cheese) curry with fresh chapati washed down with a couple of Canadian beers - beautiful. Once dinner and drinks are done, its pretty late so it’s time to hit the bed.
Sunday 18th August
I’m supposed to be heading over at 6am to Sandeep’s in laws to watch the final day of the 2nd Ashes test between England and Australia. I ended up lying in till around half 8 - it’s been a busy/tiring week and it’s the comfiest bed I have slept in since leaving Brad and Sandy’s house back in Titletown. I head over and England are batting in what looks like will be a draw. Breakfast is a traditional North Indian dish of cholee puri (chickpea curry with fried chapati) - so good. Ben Stokes gets a century - which I really enjoy as he and I have some history. Back in 2015, during a warm up game in St Kitts before the first test in Antigua, we met in the local casino where the England players were also staying. I had been drinking all day, and Ben was drinking water. On the same table I was gambling and as is standard policy, gamblers get to drink for free. The rum and coke didn’t last long in my body and it was ejected onto the table near Mr Stokes - he wasn’t too happy - luckily he keeps physical alterations with only homophobes. England declare and Australia have around two sessions to a bat out a draw-which they do - but England get the tourists 6-down and it’s gonna be an exciting third test as Smith is likely to miss out due to concussion - Australia certainly looked rattled in their second innings without their best (probably the world’s number one) batsman. After the game I head back to Sandeep’s to get showered and changed and we head to the Sikh temple (gurduwara) for prayers. I’m not a devout Sikh, but it’s a religion, like most other religions, I respect and value and I believe in God so I always enjoy visiting a gurduwara whether it be in India or England. Plus after prayer you get to eat a meal (langer) which is always good, although sometimes a bit rich in oil/fat which is why it should be eaten in moderation. The rest of the afternoon is spent relaxing and Sandeep’s father in law comes round for dinner and drinks. He wants me to stay for a month next time - the whole family have provided me with great hospitality, a great reason why I always make the time and effort to visit my family whether it is inside or outside India.
Monday 19th August
It’s another great lie in but by the time I get up, Ashdeep and baby Himmut are gone and I wasn’t able to say goodbye. Once I’m showered and changed it’s time to pack my bags. Sandeep and I are heading to Niagara Falls and then I’m gonna be dropped off with more Punjabi family in the predominantly Punjabi Toronto suburb of Brampton. First, I want to get a local a SIM card - eventually we find a place in a shopping mall in Cambridge and the second generation Canadian-Punjabi mobile phone stall worker guides which plan to purchase and then kindly sets up my phone - it’s pretty expensive - even more so than England but still cheaper than America. But at least I have got coverage/access for when I’m in Canada - the company I have chosen is called Chatr and they proudly boast they are nationwide - hopefully it works in Manitoba, as I plan to hire a car and head into the countryside from Winnipeg after the Packers-Raiders game. Using google maps I find a breakfast restaurant which turns out to be pretty good - we both choose the vegetarian omelette which when served with potatoes and toast ends up being a pretty filling brunch. It’s not far to Niagara and as it’s a Monday the traffic isn’t too bad. We find a car parking in town which is a short walk to the falls as the closer you get the more expensive it becomes. Walking around the falls, I cannot not notice the number of Punjabi’s here. In fact I lose count of the number of males wearing turbans and I reckon I see every colour in the rainbow - Sandeep and I chuckle when we hear a parent shouting in our local language to their child not to climb the rails so they don’t fall off - sound parenting advice around a massive waterfall. That’s the thing about Punjabi’s - whether your born there or not - if you have any blood from the place your probably going to be a larger than life character that will be loud without even noticing it - people that know me well would hardly disagree. Niagara Falls is a cool place to visit, but certainly not as spectacular as Iguazu Falls, particularly the Argentinian side. We eventually get to Brampton at around 5 and Sandeep drops me off and we part ways. He's been a great host and I wish him well with his family and new home/job. My auntie (Baljit Massi) comes out to greet and it’s both crazy and exciting that I’m seeing her in Canada as the last time we met was back in India last December before I headed to South America. I meet her daughter in law and lovely two month old baby which I’m so excited to hold. Later my uncle and my cousin come back home from work and we all have a traditional Punjabi meal/dinner which is good. The family all live together in a basement house below Baljit Massi’s oldest daughter’s (Puneet) upstairs main house, which has a spare room, so I will he sleeping there. Puneet moved to Canada from India around 12 years ago after marrying a Indian guy based here and has a ten year old son and a 15 month year old daughter. Her in laws also live with her and are fast asleep by the time I head to the spare room.
Tuesday 20th August
I was thinking of going into downtown Toronto but this changes when I realise that from where I’m staying with my family it’s around two hours journey with two bus changes each way. So it’s gonna be a chill day - I will be back in Toronto in the next couple of years or so to visit the two families in Ontario and I can go sightseeing then. Baljit massi is a great cook and I always have fond memories of visiting her village home back in Punjab and being served really good food. Today is no exception - aloo paratha with dahi (potato stuffed chapati with homemade milk curd/yogurt) reminds me so fondly of India. Her youngest daughter (Veerpal) works Thursday-Monday at Home Depot and she comes by to visit me and the rest of her family around 11. We all used to play as kids back in India during my visits from England and in our culture she is my sister, as well as personally for me too. Veerpal’s husband (Gurpreet aka Garry) works in construction and sadly we will have to wait until my next visit to meet him for the very first time. Puneet and her baby daughter come down and we spend the next couple of hours just chatting - all in our local language - I haven’t really spoken much English since arriving in Canada. Brampton as you can imagine has lots of gurduwara’s (Sikh temples) and so Baljit Massi, Veeerpal and I head there, which is only a short few minutes walk away. Once we’re back, Veerpal heads back home and I go for a walk with my uncle around the neighbourhood - it’s crazy how many Punjabi’s live here - it’s particular funny when a little boy with a joora (bobble with uncut hair) speaks English in a Canadian accent. I haven’t done much meditation so I head upstairs early after dinner - I love doing silent savasna whilst listening to Above and Beyond’s Flow State album - it’s so peaceful and I’m trying to clear my thoughts/feelings and connect to my mind. I actually fall asleep and end up walking up at around 1am but it doesn’t take much time to get back to sleep.
Wednesday 21st August 1500KM 950M
After I have woken up, I get Puneet to take me to an ATM. I need Canadian cash to give to her kid and also the newborn baby. As I’m their uncle, it’s part of our culture to give money. There is normally a lot of argie bargie when this happens, with shouts of “no don’t give money” “yes here is the money” with both sides trying to win but ultimately the money is taken grudgingly on show although deep down it’s accepted with love and respect. For my last meal, I over indulge slightly as my next visit to the Punjab, once the Packers season is over, will probably be the next time I get to eat traditional home cooked North Indian food. It’s always emotional saying goodbye, and this time is no different - I’m gonna start visiting Ontario regularly now that two of my closest Punjabi families are now based here - I tell them the next trip will be in the next couple of years or so - everyone will be older, the baby will be running around and maybe I will be holding another new born baby in my arms. Being the global traveler I am, I plan my trip to the airport using Google maps, and it seems with a $4 transfer ticket it’s three buses and an hour and a half journey. The trip runs smoothly and I arrive at Pearson International in plenty of time. My Air Canada flight is nice and smooth and I have an emergency exit row window seat with no one sitting next to me. The guy at the end of the aisle is an American football fan and once I tell him about my schedule he is pretty excited/fascinated. I find his journey fascinating. He was born in Brampton but lives in Kenora, Ontario - it’s quicker and cheaper to fly to Winnipeg, Manitoba and then drive for a couple of hours back east into Ontario. From Toronto it would be a 20 hour straight drive! I will be definitely sharing that with my students when teaching mapping skills in Geography. I’m staying for my first two nights with a CouchSurfing host called Liam, whose place is based south of the city and it’s two buses with a transfer in downtown. He meets in the parking lot and takes me upstairs where I meet two of his flatmates (Austin and Mason)- turns out they are all young student’s all from a small town in Manitoba, 5 hours drive away from Winnipeg called Swan River. Liam kindly offers me dinner and a beer and then we head to the supermarket to buy some supplies. Similar to Australia, you can’t buy alcohol in the supermarket itself - within the same building but in a separate store there is a liquor shop. I am about to buy some beers and the attendant asks if Liam and Austin are my minors!! They are both required to show proof of age but I ask the attendant why do they need ID as I’m buying. I’m told the law is that if anyone carries the beer then they too have to be asked to verify their age - what a crazy system. Once back we play MarioKart which reminds me of my uni days back in England - Austin and Liam finish the game first and second respectively whereas I finish seventh. I show the guys some dark British satire/comedy based on the work of Chris Morris (Brasseye/The Day Today) - they find it hilarious, then they head to bed. I’m sleeping on the couch.
Thursday 22nd August
It’s game day but until then I haven’t got much planned. The cricket is on - it’s day 1 of the third ashes test and so after breakfast, whilst watching, I’m telling Liam some history and rules of my favourite, great sport. England do well to fightback and bowl Australia out for less than 200 - let’s hope they can get a good score tomorrow. Due to rain and bad light delays the game finishes at half 1 local time. I make sandwiches for lunch then watch some European soccer. Then it’s half 3 and time to get ready as I’m catching the bus at 4:17 from just outside Liam’s so I don’t have that much time. The student boys don’t live far from where they study, which is where the stadium is also located. I arrive around quarter to five so have a good couple of hours to walk around, chat and try and get a ticket. A guy called Chris, who I meet outside one of the gate’s, has read about me in the local paper today - crazy. I go to the ticket office and the cheapest seats are $95 - I still decide to take my chances so I’m frantically searching on my phone on VividSeats and StubHub for cheap tickets - they keep on selling out/getting expensive! I’m a bit anxious and nervous so decide to hit the parking lot. There aren’t many people/cars but I notice a group of people outside a ute (pick up truck) with a packers flag - it’s an elderly couple (Tom and Peggy) and a young family (Tom, Randi and their young son Buck). It turns out that they don’t know each other and like myself, Tom and Peggy stopped to have a chat with the young local family. Young family guy Tom also recognises me from the paper and is excited to meet me and is quick to offer me a beer. Tom and Peggy are also visiting, from Minneapolis, so when I tell them about my Packers adventure they offer me somewhere to stay for the Vikings-Packers game, which is great as they have an apartment downtown with a spare room. I show them all my schedule and I’m actually in Minneapolis twice - first for the Badgers-Gophers game on Nov 30 and then Packer-Vikings on Dec 23. It's so nice to be told that I will have accommodation for both of my stays. Immediately I’m no longer anxious/nervous - I’m stoked to have met these people who have provided with so much support and enthusiasm and generous hospitality. Young Tom offers both older Tom and I pizza and then it’s time for a Captain Morgan Rum Shot. We all do a 3-2-1 to the Packers and it’s a double gulp for me as the pour is pretty big and I don’t really drink liquor. We all exchange social media contacts and then part ways to the stadium. I’m heading towards the ticket office to get a ticket and due to the presence of the alcohol I’m a bit more confident asking for tickets so start hollowing “tickets please, does anyone have any spares thanks”. An elderly couple have a couple spare but a guy is immediately upon them, needing both for him and his mate. I’m a bit disappointed to miss out and it’s getting close to the start of the game so ask a security official if in Canada it’s legal to scalp for tickets - he says no and I don’t want to get into any trouble, especially being prevented from entering the stadium so it’s time to do this the offiical way - at the ticket booth. There is a bit of a queue (line) and whilst I’m not too far from being served, I’m tapped on the shoulder - it’s the same security guy I spoke to earlier. I’m immediately worried, thinking that I’m in trouble for scalping. Turns out he has a spare and offers me it!! Result - and it’s face value is $399 - what an unbelievable piece of fortune. The seat is in a great location - right in the middle, seven rows up. The kind woman that gave the ticket to the security official turns up with her son and son’s girlfriend, who are all from Brandon, where I’m heading to tomorrow. I immediately thank them and they all provide good company during the game, which the Packers looked on course to win but end up losing by a point due to a Raiders field goal in the final minute of play. It’s a improved performance than last week against the Ravens, especially in defense. There is no sight of Aaron Rodgers, still. He hasn’t played any of the pre season games so far - maybe he is being looked after until the final pre season game against the Chiefs next Thursday at Lambeau. The bus service in Winnipeg is limited so it’s a 40 minute or so walk back to the apartment. Liam greets me and is immediately off to bed - so am I - it’s been a long day.
Friday 23rd August
It’s the second day of the test match and when I get up I can’t believe the score - England have been bowled out for 67 - YUP 67!! That’s a really poor effort and I’m glad I didn’t wake up at 5am - it’s gonna be a long day - I have to get the airport, drive to Spruce Woods National Park and then on to Brandon. After breakfast I wish Liam all the best and head to the airport with two bus transfers again. When I get to the car rental desk, the representative informs me that no economy vehicles are available. In fact the next car they can give me is a full size Chevrolet Impala V6 which is an free upgrade of 4 classes higher than what I have booked. It’s an amazing car with less than 4,000 km on the clock but its gonna cost me a bit more in fuel - a bit of a surprise luxury I suppose. It’s really smooth and you can loose track of speed so I’m careful not to overdo it. I arrive at the national park around 1pm and head on a couple of trials spending around 3 hours on total - it’s a nice walk and the sun is kinda out and I’m glad I’m trekking again. I think of doing another trek but sadly it starts raining pretty hard so I’m off to Brandon, which is not too far away. My CouchSurfing host is a Brazilian student and he’s not gonna get back until 7 so I head to a bar in downtown Brandon, which is pretty small as it’s only a town of around 48,000 people or so. I met Leo at his apartment, just after 7 - he is formerly a dentist from the south of Brazil but decided to start a new life in Canada - it’s difficult to practice as a dentist as a foreigner so he’s enrolled at the local community college, studying for a Business Diploma. He’s a great host, making me an amazing Brazilian hotpot - it’s so much food and it’s delicious. We chat a bit about each other before I head to sleep.