Apart from being my wife, Ann and I are mates and over the years we have had some fantastic times and a lot of great laughs. When we decided to take a year off to go around the world in 2006 I knew we would have a fantastic time and neither of us was disappointed.
We started at the end of June (26th) and our first stop was in Vancouver, (I’ve got some stories to tell about that place which I will do another time.) and after staying there for ten days we caught the train to Calgary on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. After a long weekend there we hired a car and drove nearly three thousand miles across and around Canada. We had to be in Toronto on the 9th of August to get a plane to Chicago for the next leg of our trip.
This is a story (true) of the last two days in Canada.
We drove into towards Toronto on the 7th of August and after a frightful drive in which we got lost several times I had to pull off the Highway and drive into a side street in a town called Missisauga, which is on the outskirts of Toronto in order to ask directions.
Poor Ann was stricken with a stomach complaint and was lolling about in the passenger seat like a Zombie on sick leave. To top it all, when I did stop to ask directions only I could have picked a Canadian who only spoke French. I managed to get through to him that we wanted Pierson airport in Toronto and he spent the next ten minutes trying to show me the way on an inadequate hotel map, which was all I had for directions. The conversation went something like this:-
“At ze lights you must keep er, er, right, I theenk.”
“Yes, I’ve got that, right at the lights.”
“But eet must be the lights er, er, er, not to count zis first light numbere two light you must turn to the right yes I theenk so right”
“Yes, I’ve got that, right at the lights”
“Yes, I theenk zo..”
“Then where do I go?”
“Follow ze signs for ze airpot and keep right I theenk..”
“Thank you, I just keep right?.”
“I theenk zo. Thank you.”
“No, thank you!”
“I theenk so, keep to ze right.”
So I kept to the right all the way back to Toronto and promptly got lost again, fortunately luck played her hand when, in desperation, I once again turned off the Highway, this time near to the airport, and landed on the correct road. The hotel was just five minutes away and a very relieved Ann was pleased to be allowed into our room straight away whereupon she got into bed and had a good two hours sleep which seemed to do her some good.
Later that evening we found an Italian restaurant called ‘Graffitis’ which was just down the road from the hotel; the food was quite good and we decided to go back the following evening. Later, I went out for a pint at a bar five minutes walk from the hotel and learned most of the rules of baseball. I returned to the hotel where I found Ann fully clothed and wrapped in her dressing gown and shivering whilst playing on the computer. Of all the hotels that we have stayed in whilst travelling Canada, this one is the only one with an ultra efficient air conditioning system. We couldnít turn it down and so we both sat there, Ann wrapped in her dressing gown and me with my fleece on and zipped up to the throat. The temperature outside was about seventy F and inside our room it was just above freezing.
The next day we had to part with the hire car, we had agreed to return the car to the car-hire lot at the airport and luckily this was well signposted. We got a shuttle bus back to the hotel and sorted ourselves out for the following day.
Next morning, bright and exceptionally early we checked out of the hotel and boarded a shuttle (minibus), supplied by the hotel which was going to take us all to the airport. The bus was old, I mean really old. I wondered whether it had been a present from General Wolfe. The hotel was in the style of a Spanish villa, complete with courtyard and arched entrance. This led onto a short drive which wound down to the highway.
We got as far as the highway when there was an almighty bang and the mini bus came to a grinding halt half way across the inside lane. The driver; we think that he was Afghan, eventually got out after several unsuccessful attempts to restart the engine and lifted the bonnet (hood) to see what had caused the bang. Obviously he was no mechanic because his mobile phone was glued to his ear the whole time and he was trying to relay to his boss what the problem was. His boss however was not sympathetic, to the driver’s problem (or could not speak Pashto),and obviously told him to get the van started. After spending what seemed like ten minutes staring at his phone in disgust he then got back into the bus and proceeded to try and restart the engine; first there was a horrible and expensive noise as the starter motor refused to disengage but, undeterred, our valiant driver tried again.
Success; the engine roared into life and the jubilant man was revving it for all he was worth; alas, he put it in gear and it died but, not before we witnessed clouds of thick black smoke emitting from the back and obscuring not only the hotel but the bus as well.
Another phone call as he tried again; once again success! His boss was obviously telling him to rev the engine once more because he put his foot hard to the floor and the rev counter nearly went off the clock. The bus was now vibrating madly and belching smoke like a tortured tramp steamer. He revved the engine for all it was worth several times (no doubt under instruction to show this mere piece of mechanical chicanery who was boss), when; bang! Another horribly expensive and very loud noise came from the beleaguered engine compartment, this time accompanied by the smell of burning and more acrid smoke from the exhaust before the engine died once more.
“Did you hear that?” said the driver down the phone, more in hope than certainty. His boss was having none of it there was a brief exchange on the cell phone, which was then slammed down onto the dash board and the now perplexed driver tried once more to start the engine; first turn of the key – whirrrrrrrr, whirrrrrrrr, whirrrrrrrr – and then the engine exploded into life once again; the driver had learned his lesson from before and he put his foot down to the floor, the mini bus shook like an active volcano but the driver was determined and slammed the gear stick into drive. The poor mini bus didn’t like this at all and immediately shot forward, emitted another loud bang and died, we were all thrown forward and swung precariously on our seat belts before inertia took over and slammed us back . – whirrrrrrrr, whirrrrrrrr, whirrrrrrrr – the driver was off again, teeth gritted, he put all his weight on the ignition key; whirrrrrrrr, whirrrrrrrr, whirrrrrrrr – once again the engine roared into life and once again the driver took it upon himself to thrash the living daylights out of it, – vroom, vroom, vroooom, vroooooooom, by now we were all beginning to feel sorry for the poor mini bus and were about to vote on a spokes person to act on its behalf when the driver pushed the gear selector to drive one and roared off down the road in first gear. There were five of us in the van and all of us were feeling the effects of the sudden G-Force acting on our poor unsuspecting bodies; I thought that Ann was grinning but on closer inspection I saw her cheeks had been pulled back so far by the G-Force that her lips were caressing her ear lobes.
Next to the driver sat an airline pilot who somehow remained calm throughout the whole episode; he’d obviously done some training at NASA. The only signs of concern were that he constantly kept looking at his wristwatch; I think that we had all decided on him as our spokesperson. Behind us sat two very nervous homosexuals who kept up a running commentary and used Ann as their go between. You could hear their seat belts tightening with every whirrrrrrrr of the engine as they frantically cuddled each other in their endeavor to seek succor.
Their squeals were soon lost in the rising crescendo of the engine noise. By now though we were literally screaming down the road, the drivers foot glued to the accelerator, black smoke billowing in our wake and at least four pairs of hands scratching at the windows trying to seek an escape route; red lights became a none entity as we rocked and roared on towards the bus depot; we knew this because the driver managed to shriek the words out to the pilot as he desperately fought with the wheel as we shot yet another red light. “We’re going to chaaange cooaches, in it?”
“He’s going to change coaches,” repeated the pilot, calmly.
“Oh pltheeeese!” lisped one of the gay men in the back as he pulled his seat belt even tighter.
“We’re all going to die!”
By now we were invisible to those behind us because of the smoke coming from the engine and the exhaust, any vehicles in front were quick to slew aside to let us pass as the driver’s hand was constantly on the horn and the site of a madly swaying mini bus in their rear view mirrors with smoke poring out of it and with a nodding mullah on the dashboard must have frightened them nearly as much as it did us.
By now the bus was vibrating so much that none of us could either see properly or talk. I almost converted to Catholicism as there were so many Hail Marys’ and signs of the cross being made; one of the gays even asked the other to marry him before it was too late; the level of panic was still rising. We rounded what was to be the last bend on two wheels and after another tortuous hundred yards the driver made a sharp right turn into an industrial estate, the two in the back got even closer and I was almost sitting on Ann’s lap; in front of us four JCB’s were digging up the road; this alarmingly changed to six and then eight before I realised that it was the vibration playing tricks with my eyesight. There were in fact only two. I confess to a slight panic attack at this point, there seemed no way around the two behemoths in front of us, fortunately the driver saw a gap and squeezed through it.
He eventually brought the now smoking wreck to a halt in front of a brick wall. We scrambled off as quickly as we could. The driver ran down the yard and came back minutes later in an older bus, a small older bus!
“We be all right now,” said the driver, smiling through gapped teeth. He wrongly mistook the frozen expressions on our faces to be smiles; in fact we were all suffering from shock! After retrieving his nodding Mullah from the wreck of the original mini bus he escorted us on board the new relic, something we did with much trepidation; not least because we had to negotiate the JCB’s again, fortunately this time the operators would be alerted to our approach. This proved to be the case and after some more driving straight from the Kabul School of Motoring we miraculously made the airport with time to spare.