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100 hours in the train

learn to canoe and tracking up rapids
The Northern Forest Canoe Trail
February 13, 2020
 

Sunday December 15th - Toronto


"Good morning ladies and gentlemen. My name is David and I am responsible for your wellbeing on this train. We will make sure you are comfortable and enjoy your ride. From now on your are one big family in the train, and you can't choose that family" the enthusiastic train attendant says almost prophetically. His experience as a train attendant predicts that it won’t be different this time. One by one he passes all the seats, chats with the passenger, asks what the destination is and writes it on a sticker that he sticks above the seats. We have a four-seater with fold-out footstools that form a kind of bed in the evening. There was a paper 'reserved for groups of 3 or 4', but because almost everyone travels alone, two people is the largest group and we can stay here. We look at the seats around us and can't complain. To our left is a young German journalist, behind her us a student from Sweden, and behind us a boy who looks calm and normal at first glance.

"Hey, that homeless guy also gets on the train," says Zoë in surprise. A man with a pale-white face, a large white beard and wild hair stumbles down the aisle. He talks to himself loudly, but we don't understand a word of his mumbling. He could be a confused professor in a comic book. He walks to our side of the wagon and sits down two seats behind us. After two seconds he stands up already, walking to the back of the wagon and back to his place, not once, but twenty times. David, the enthusiastic train attendant comes to him and asks if the black sports bag on the platform belongs to him. It’s his friend bag and he will come to pick up the bag later, he says convincingly. It would be more credible if he would say that he is Santa's brother. David does not believe much of it, but pretends that it is all right.
"Maybe it's his own bag and he doesn't remember?" Says Zoë, a bit worried. He seems so confused and has no luggage at all.
“The only thing he lost, is his memory" laughs Olivier.
A few minutes later a young student gets on the train, carrying the black sports bag. He sits behind us next to the young Swedish student and thanks the absent-minded professor. That's his mysterious friend. David also sticks a note with Vancouver above the head of the absent-minded professor and we look at each other in surprise.

The train from Toronto to Vancouver takes four full days. We soon discover that the absent-minded professor is not our only special company in the coming days. On the other side of the wagon are two stout, Afro American ladies. They barely fit in their seats and one of the two has strange yellow hair that looks like a large bird's nest. On top of her lap sits a baby less than one year old. Next to the ladies, a man in a comatose state is lying in his chair. With his piercings and black, greasy hair, he might be a member of a Mexican drug cartel. He seems drunk and stinks. A few chairs away is another drunk guy asleep. His face is weathered with red spots and he misses half of his teeth, as if he's been living on the street a couple of years. The price of the beer on the train is very expensive and we cannot imagine that they can keep their alcohol consumption at their normal level in the coming days. Perhaps the train is a kind of rehab for these people. Later David tells us that the Greyhound bus service between Toronto and Vancouver stopped last year. The whole group of homeless people and alcoholics now travels by train, often financially supported by local authorities to move to other provinces. The train seems like a sort of shelter and temporary therapy, psychologically supervised by a number of train attendants.

We travel in economy class, the cheapest option where we only have a seat. No bed, no shower, no meals. In the sleeper class, which is more than twice as expensive, people have a bed, a shower and they get three meals a day. This is not an option on our sparse world travel budget, but we don’t care. We have been in a bus in Brazil for 60 hours and four days in a truck in Argentina. Experience shows that time flies, regardless of comfort. A bonus, of course debatable, is the colorful company on the train. Fortunately, like the more expensive options, economy class has a restaurant car with a panorama section above the restaurant with seats and curved glass windows for a perfect 360-degree view. We move quickly to this wagon because we take the train to see Canada. There is a young man sitting wearing large aviator glasses with a thick black frame. In front of him is exactly the same camera as we have and we quickly start talking. He was born in India and immigrated to Canada when he was fourteen. He lives in Toronto and two days ago he decided very impulsively to take the train to Vancouver. His name is Shashank. "Like the movie," he says, which he probably has to say every time he introduces himself.

On the other side sits a thicker man crammed between the bench and the chair. "A lot of strange people on the train today" is the first thing he says. Patrick has been travelling on trains since he was seven years old. This is his 50th train journey in Canada and he knows everything about the trains. He is also a farmer and knows everything about agriculture. For the next two hours, he points to hundreds of objects in the landscape. "In Canada we call this ..." he says again and again and tells something about the train or about agriculture. With each passing train he raises his hand and waves to the engineer of the other train. He feels like the engineer he could never be because of an eye defect. Racism it was at that time, at least that’s what he thinks. If there is finally nothing new to show, he dozes off. Another man comes up the stairs and immediately points to the large mine on the left. "Potash" he says. They make fertiliser out of it and it is the largest economy in this province of Saskatchewan. "Fortunately, they are so smart not to sell it to the Chinese, as they do with the rest of Canada” he says. The man is a pastor of a Baptist church and then we know enough. We have often met these types in the US and we know what they stand for. He starts a long monologue about the loss of freedom in the US and Canada. The desire for a Canadian Trump lurks through his argument. Patrick shakes his head repeatedly in the background and, like us, is relieved when the pastor thinks it time to order his dinner.

We go back to our seats in the coach wagon and see that the sporty young man two seats in front of us has changed clothes. He is wearing a colorful jumpsuit, cowboy boots, a thick gold chain and green sunglasses. He continues to search in his sports bag that contains a whole selection of other fashionable clothes. Lack of attention, we think as he proudly parades up and down the whole wagon. When he came in the train he took a seat next to a German exchange student. She is less and less impressed by her neighbour and regrets her decision to offer the seat. In the meantime, the selection of drunk men has found its way to the bar and they drink their eight dollar expensive beer individually, although connected with the beer The absent-minded professor has also found the bar, but he opts for a bowl of breakfast cereals. He is so distracted by the Afro American woman with her bird's nest hairstyle that half of the breakfast cereals disappear into his white beard. A little later he opens his wallet which, to our surprise, is full of twenty dollars bills, and decides that beer tastes better than milk.

We go back to the glass wagon where two new characters have appeared on the scene. A thicker man is crammed between the bench and the chair. "A lot of strange people on the train today" is the first thing he says. Patrick has been travelling on trains since he was seven years old. This is his 50th train journey in Canada and he knows everything about the trains. He is also a farmer and he knows everything about agriculture. For the next two hours he points to unceasing objects in the landscape. "In Canada we call this ..." he says again and again and tells something about the train or about agriculture. With each passing train he raises his hand and waves to the engineer of the other train. He feels like the engineer he could never be because of an eye defect. It was racism at the time, he thinks so. If there is ultimately nothing new to see in the landscape, he falls asleep. Another man comes up the stairs and immediately points us to the large mine on the left. "Potash" he says. They make fertiliser out of it and it is the largest economy in this province. Fortunately, they are so smart not to sell it to the Chinese, as they do with the rest of Canada. The man is a pastor of a Baptist church and then we know enough. We have often met these types in the US and we know what they stand for.

He starts a long monologue about the loss of freedom in the US and Canada. The desire for a Canadian Trump lurks in between his argument. Patrick shakes his head repeatedly in the background and, like us, is relieved when the pastor finds it time to order his dinner.

At eight o'clock in the evening we settle on our semi-comfortable seats and look for an position that we can hold for at least an hour. Shashank is now snoring, while the absent-minded professor talks aloud to his chair and conjures a sheet from his pocket. In the front, the dark woman's baby screams the entire wagon awake, while one of the two women swears aloud and without shame to the Mexican drunk guy that she doesn't want to sit next to such a smelly man. Our playboy in his jumpsuit has put on a set of new cowboy boots and tries to convince the German student to drink beer together, without succes. One of the drunk guys is charmed by the proposal and together they disappear to the bar. We say goodnight to our back-neighbour, an exchange student from Ecuador and are already looking forward to the next three days of the family party with our colourful train company.

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