Trapped on that bus, our bladders whimpered as our legs ached for rest. One child began to cry in frustrated exhaustion before nodding off. Otherwise, the Canadian spirit seemed indefatigable. Those with weaker legs were offered a seat. A woman pulled chocolate out of her purse to pass the time eating it with friends. One couple standing held onto the overhead hand bar, kissing their way through the next 40 minutes, swaying back and forth with the stop-go of traffic. An Asian lady gave one of us a seat, then tried to convince the driver to let her slip out and take a taxi, but he didn’t dare with so many police around. “It’d cost me far too much too risk.”
As we inched closer to the center of town, a window slid back somewhere in the middle of the bus as one intrepid Canadian crawled through and hopped to the street. Everyone cheered his bravado as he ran off to find a quicker way home. Ten minutes later, as we came within leaping distance of a sidewalk, the bus driver asked if anyone wanted off. The entire bus erupted in a multilingual “yes” and dove for the sidewalk.
We woke up the next morning to escape the city and its traffic for a three-hour bus ride north to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and Quebec City. Within minutes of arrival, we found that Canadian patience is coupled with unexpected kindness.
After some confusion when the bus stopped at one terminal, we stayed in our seats until a second stop closer to the center of old-town Quebec. An observant older lady approached us to verify that it was our first time in town. Within moments she’d taken us under her wing. We tagged along as she pointed out the bus stops, hotels, and where to find an elevator to the top of the hill where a famous hotel – Fairmont Le Château Frontenac – overlooks Quebec. She was so kind we were forced to extricate ourselves from her clutches before she gave us a tour of the entire city. Our bladders and stomachs were getting far too impatient to wait through the couple of errands she had to run first.
We splurged on a spacious hotel room at $150 a night, including free breakfast tickets to the restaurant below. Fortunately, during my time in Canada, the U.S. dollar was holding a slight advantage over their currency. With accommodations settled, we stalked the old streets of downtown for a restaurant that struck our fancy. We dined on seafood and watched the city stroll past our window seats. It was here that I finally heard that cliché Canadian rising accent everybody jokes about. As a couple sat down to eat, the man jabbered on through a 1970s biker’s handlebar mustache with his wife. He threw out one “aboot” and two “eh’s.” It was the only time during my trip that I heard that accent.
As sunlight turned to lamplight, we walked along the cobblestones, shops and remains of rampart walls that once surrounded a city that recently celebrated its 400th anniversary. Along Saint Jean Street, we stumbled into a Peruvian playing a Manu Chau song on his charango. The instrument echoed cheerfully across the damp streets and old walls as he sang. When he spotted me mouthing along, he repeated the lyrics again and again until I realized he didn’t know any more of the song. I dropped money in a small box at his feet and struck up a conversation. He was shy, hugging his charango like a child. But he spoke happily of the year he’d spent in Quebec so far. He lived nearby and made plenty of money from the tourists passing by as he serenaded through the night. It was at least as comfortable a survival as his mountain hometown of Ayacucho.
After our second day of traipsing about before a bus ride back to Montreal, we realized Quebec was not a city to be seen in such short time. A full day or two longer was needed before one could ever fully appreciate the sights. The Citadel of Quebec remained unexplored. I’d hoped to stroll through several historic parks. We ended our day regretting the return trip, and drooling as a boat returned from its day-long whale-watching excursion. But our bus was waiting.
A bit of home so far from home
My final day, back in Montreal, was spent in the Latin Quarter listening to a familiar language and lunch in a Peruvian restaurant; oh how I’d missed my Peruvian food. And how quick had my week in Quebec province flown by. A blue sky opened up for the first time in a rainy week, and a chill in the air reminded me the North Pole wasn’t terribly far away. I looked up from a meal, to see a family devouring their papas a la huancaina with abandon. Two women came into the restaurant for small talk, before continuing on.
The number of Latinos in a land so far north surprises me. I’d met Columbians at a bus stop. Mexicans lived next door. I chatted with Peruvians. Salvadorians stood in the doorways of their cafes awaiting customers. Roving bands of Spaniards were everywhere in Quebec City.
Maybe it’s the strong Catholic culture. Or a Latino’s ability to easily blend into a multicultural city, compared to Phoenix – a city split between two distinct worlds. Or maybe French is just easier to learn than English. Is it because the Canadian government supports and encourages citizens in earning degrees to further their careers? Or, maybe… just maybe Canadians are just nicer people than us Americans.
They certainly were to me.
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