Optimism

 Kandy and Dambulla, Sri Lanka

With extra time on my hands, thanks to still-inefficient but favorable public transport, I decided to do things a little differently. Heading into Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second-largest city, I opted to scour Couchsurfing and found a generous host in Leslie, his wife, Vasanti, and their young-teenage son, Jehan. They live in a village 12 km east of Kandy — not a terribly far distance, but with local buses, it meant being an hour out of the city. Despite the crowded buses, fellow passengers were super helpful and also a little surprised to see a foreigner on their rather untouristy bus route, making for a pleasantly peaceful experience, zooming by non-descript shops and the countryside.

Staying with a family in a decidedly normal, sub-sub-suburban neighbourhood away from general tourism was a refreshing break that provided a much clearer perspective of local life. Leslie and his family were incredibly welcoming, with Vasanti’s amazing cooking and their homegrown backyard bananas being an extra treat, and I was beyond grateful to be received as a friend, on super short notice and overlapping a night while they were hosting another couchsurfer too.

With Leslie at work, or at home helping Jehan with his math homework, and Vasanti seeming prepping food at all hours of the day (waking up at 3:30 to start a fire and make breakfast!), I busied myself reading or writing or watching TV courtesy of Leslie’s homemade satellite that I helped him install. Between all that though, we had some fascinating conversations about something that I had really wanted to learn more about, but was afraid to ask — and I didn’t even have to ask.

War and politics. Easy stuff, eh?
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Ha! Ha!

Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec

Roadtrip! Conni planned our route, and it was to a region I’ve admittedly never heard of. A giant fjord. Sounds interesting!

But first, we had to rent a car. With Conni having not driven in three years and me having not driven (but for 10 minutes) in seven years and Xavi not a licensed driver, we were a bit nervous as to how we would fare…but we picked up a tiny little Fiat and were ready to go, no problems at all. There’s a first.

After a 4 hour drive to Lac St-Jean where we took our time and stopped several times, the skies opened and out came the rain. Well, there goes the beach day. The lake is huge though, easily mistaken for the sea when you’re next to it. We promptly decided to call it a day, heading to our next Couchsurfing hosts, Martin and Karyne and their three children in La Baie, a borough of the sparsely-populated but sprawling city of Saguenay (not to be confused with the region, fjord, national park, or river).

I can’t forget to mention that La Baie is so named because it sits at the mouth of la Baie des Ha! Ha! — or Ha! Ha! Bay in English, if you prefer. That is indeed its actual name, exclamation marks included.

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Stairmaster

Quebec City, Quebec

It’s odd how long it’s taken for me to backpack in my own country. I’ve always imagined it as being hard to travel without a car.

Well, it is. A bus from Montreal to Quebec City costs about $60 one way, for a 2.5 hour ride — uhh, no thanks. We skirted that one with a rideshare, but getting a bus into town from a gas station on the outskirts of town was as much of a doozy as in some of my more obscure destinations. (You know the drill — questionable directions, haphazardly marked bus routes, exact change required, no stop announcements…) At least it’s comfy and with plenty of leg room.

Anyway, backtracking a little. A year ago, I met Conni on the street in Nicaragua, travelled with her for a week, and had a great time. Now, she and her boyfriend Xavi have moved from Costa Rica to Montreal, we’ve visited each other a few times, and we decided to do a short little road trip together around the province! It’s been quite some time since I’ve done a non-solo trip, and this is also the first time I’ve ever done a road trip.

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