Day 67-69: Calgary

After the massive 48 hour train journey, a mere 20 hour one seemed like nothing. Someone has since told us that after working on the train lines, he would never get a train across Canada, so now I’m glad we only have one more night to go before our last Canadian destination – Vancouver.

We arrived in Edmonton and went to get our hired car straight away. The plan was to head straight to Calgary before Banff and Jasper and spend our last night in Edmonton so we didn’t miss it completely. I know that I’ve just thrown out a load of West-Canada cities here, and it probably doesn’t make sense. That’s because we spent so much time going back and forth to Toronto at the beginning of our Canadian stint, that we now have to squeeze as much out of our time in the west as possible.
We quickly learnt that our car had cruise control which could be adjusted. Dan went for ten minutes at a time without using his feet to control the car at all! In fact, the car had such nice steering, that I could take over for a little while, while he looked around and did no driving what-so-ever. Before you think we’re stupidly reckless, let me justify ourselves by saying that a lot of the roads would have speed limits as low as approximately 30mph in the middle of nowhere. We weren’t going to cause an accident.

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It cost us $383 to hire this car for six days with insurance from Enterprise. We did get a free upgrade, so don’t necessarily expect such a great car for so cheap.

It was Thanksgiving Sunday and we weren’t holding out any hope of finding a host when, at the eleventh hour, someone accepted our request on CouchSurfing. Our host was called Matt and was in his thirties. He just happened to be working the next day, and was the type of Canadian person we’d become accustomed to; the kind that cares about people he’s never met. He didn’t want to leave travellers out in the cold, so he accepted both us and a French girl called Sonia into his flat.

It makes me feel sad and hollow to think about it, but all of our amazing experiences on CouchSurfing may not be the same once we leave Canada. We’ve been treated like old friends and family, and experiencing that level of acceptance in a place so far away from home has been wonderful. We’ve been given lifts, gifts and home cooked meals without any expectations of us. Looking at California, I’m already seeing profiles full of “will only host gay men” and “nothing in life is free, so bring a gift”. I have not been through every CouchSurfing host, so I might be (hopefully) wrong!

Matt was extremely laid back, yet was very quick to suggest making us food and getting us settled in. Four of us fitted into his living room fairly cosily, so it was funny to imagine Matt hosting seven people there at the same time. Apparently the weather was stormy outside and he didn’t want to turn anyone down so, with a big grin on his face, he told us about how he made food for seven people, all from different countries. One of his most common sayings was “I know that when you’re on the road you just want some sleep/a cooked meal/time to chill out”. It wasn’t long before he was outside, putting on the BBQ. I thought he was joking as it looked like this outside:

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He wasn’t joking and he didn’t even put on a jumper.

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A few Canadians have proudly told us that they would BBQ on Christmas Day, and don’t seem to understand why we think they’re mad. They have ovens indoors where its nice and warm!

After our food (which was actually hot and really good), we played Mario Party for a few hours and talked. He told us about how he went travelling around Europe at 33 and slept on the street in Russia in sub-zero temperatures. He’s had things stolen from him (which I know is common, but hasn’t happened to us yet) and was deported somewhere he didn’t know for having the wrong Visa –  in the middle of winter, with no English signs. Most travellers (us included) we’ve met haven’t had to deal with half of that, let alone dealing with it on their own. He batted away the idea that he did anything extraordinary, and put those scary situations down to experience. As with anyone who goes outside of their comfort zone like that, I quickly got the impression that finding his limits was important to him; that he needed to know what he was capable of, even if he didn’t plan to be in so many sticky situations. Most people (myself included) don’t really ever seek an opportunity like that and would happily live our lives not knowing how we’d react when facing a seriously bleak situation. Maybe Matt now has an advantage over the rest of us, knowing that he can handle seriously shitty situations without crumbling. I don’t know who he was before he did these crazy things, but I was glad of the opportunity to get to know post-travel Matt for an evening.

Because of Matt’a charming stories and how comfortable we felt in his flat, we never got round to seeing anything in Calgary, so this post should probably be called “Matt’s apartment and going to get a milkshake”, because that is literally all we did here. The milkshake was amazing though – if you are ever in the area, you have to go to ‘Peter’s Drive-In’. They had those milkshakes that would take forever to drink because of how thick they are, and burgers that would make McDonalds cry!

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