I’ve been Tweeting and Facebook posting about this a lot, but it has to be said. Ontario is big. Like, I can’t get over it. Since we arrived in Ottawa last Monday, it has taken us a total of six days to drive through the province (minus a two-day stopover in Ottawa to see my family).
We left Toronto after a night out celebrating Cailin’s birthday to head towards Sault Ste Marie, a nine-hour drive. Sault Ste Marie to Thunder Bay took another nine hours, and Thunder Bay to Winnipeg took us ANOTHER nine hours…an hour of that actually being in Manitoba. The funny thing is, the drives weren’t terrible at all. In fact, they flew by.
Northern Ontario is a whole different world. Many places reminded me of Cape Breton, with green rolling hills and tiny towns. Leaving Sault Ste Marie, we pulled up at a stop and took pictures of people statues standing around a deck, including one lady decked out with triple-F boobies. Country music blared from a store’s speaker. And then as soon as we hit the highway, our cell phone signal disappeared…and remained lost in space for two days.
Then, somewhere between the Soo and Thunder Bay, we came thisclose to running out of gas. Like, another five minutes without a gas station, and we would have been shit out of luck. We were warned not to do this at LEAST three times, from a number of people. We ended up in Pancake Bay at a hilarious rest stop called The Canadian Carver, where moccasins hung for sale, carvings littered the floor, a wood stove crackled in the corner, and we were handed free coffee upon entrance. People were overwhelmingly friendly, and once again, country music blared from speakers.
We were seriously entertained.
But the REAL adventure started when we arrived in Thunder Bay at 11:30 p.m. in search of our hostel. The highway was completely black. Eerily black. No cell phone service. Our GPS pointed us to a dark, deserted byroad without any streetlights, and finally we ended up at the hostel with no one else in sight. An older man came out to introduce himself and point us in the direction of our rooms.
Did I mention the whole time we were in Thunder Bay, it was THUNDERING? And LIGHTNINGING? Non-stop. CONSTANT flashing.
Him and his wife had been running the hostel for over 40 years, apparently. They’ve literally adopted people from all over the world, and their hostel actually consists of three different buildings to house travellers. And their place is FILLED with stuff, like more stuff than I could ever get through. Statues, carvings, artwork, magazine clippings, funny comics, books, souvenirs. It’s amazing, and insane, and we spent some time browsing through photos and reading material left out for visitors. In our “Mongolia” room, the owners had filled little plastic sleeves with short stories selected for our reading pleasure. We were told there were 15 year old boys camping out in the camp bus, and a dude named Mario who ran the whole show. We originally thought he was imaginary, because the elusive Mario was nowhere to be seen. But the next day as Cailin headed to the car, she found him sitting on a bench feeding a cat.
The next day we just left, casually. That was it, we showed up and then disappeared. Owners were totally casual about it.
Twilight. Zone. Can’t tell you how glad I am that we stopped at that hostel.
Yeah, Northern Ontario is sorta surreal. There’s large-ish cities like Thunder Bay and the Soo scattered about, yet they’re hundreds upon hundreds of kilometres from any other major hub. It’s kinda baffling. You’re just driving through this northern wilderness and BAM! A city! Also, if you go to Thunder Bay, eat at Hoitos for breakfast (get the Finnish pancakes) and head over to The Persian Man for a Persian pastry. And then go run five kilometres.