Thursday November 27, 2014

The Hitchiker's Guide to...Canadian Hospitality

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My wife is the most compassionate person I know, with the possible exception of my mother. Nevertheless, even after 10 years, I could not imagine her ever picking up a hitchhiker, so I was a little shocked when I answered my phone on June 19 and she said, “I’m bringing home a guest; he’s going to stay the night.”

As we all know—all too painfully well, I might add—the rain in June would simply not let up. She had taken pity on a slightly soggy 19-year-old kid from Germany named Adrian Wezel. She insisted that he get out of the elements and enjoy the comfort of a hot meal and dry bed.

As it turned out, that kind of hospitality was pretty typical of his journey.

On a side note, that was the same day I went on a tour of Yorkton put on by Tourism Yorkton for hospitality industry workers. As the bus was leaving the tourist centre, a woman—coincidentally also German—who was riding her bicycle across the country pulled in. By the time the bus returned two local ladies had taken the cyclist in for a hot meal and bed for the night. Randy Goulden, executive director of Tourism Yorkton, said these are the kind of stories she hears all the time.

As many European and Australian youth do, Wezel, an avid snowboarder, came to Canada to work in the hospitality industry in the Rockies. In October, he landed a job working the front desk at a hotel in Fernie, BC. He spent the winter working and boarding. When the season ended in April, Wezel set off to see as much of North America as he could before catching his return flight to Germany on July 15.

In a rented car, he and some friends tooled around the Lower Mainland and up the Sunshine Coast for a couple of weeks, then he stuck out his thumb and headed for San Francisco. He said it was easy enough to get rides in the States, but nerve-wracking at times. The first person he met advised him he should always have a knife at the ready. Another guy in Oregon  tried to sell him a handgun in a McDonalds restaurant.

“It was crazy,” he said. “In Canada, it was much more open-minded and laid back.”

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Returning to Fernie, Wezel and a buddy headed north making it to Dawson Creek, where they got caught in a snowstorm. Of course, it wouldn’t be summer in Canada without a little winter camping.

After returning to Fernie, Wezel set off on his own again and headed east.

“I really wanted to see the prairies,” he said.

The first few days were easy-going.

“I made it to just before Swift Current,” he said. “That’s when the rain started.”

But, as luck, or Canadian hospitality would have it, he got a ride immediately that would take him all the way to Regina. The man who picked him up was from Saskatoon and convinced him Saskatoon was where he really wanted to be heading. The good samaritan put him up for two nights. Despite the weather, Wezel wanted to make it at least to Winnipeg before heading to Calgary by July 4 for the Stampede.

When he got to Yorkton, the rain had not dampened his appreciation of the prairie and the big sky.

“It was awesome,” he said. “There is nothing like this in Germany.”

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The next day, he made it to Winnipeg just in time for National Aboriginal Day where he took in the Pow Wow.

“It was amazing,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

And, once again, the person who had driven him into the city offered him a bed for a couple of nights.

He continued to push east as I had convinced him if what he wanted experiences and landscapes he had never encountered, he really needed to see the Canadian Shield and Lake Superior.

About an hour outside of Winnipeg, luck shone on Wezel again. He was picked up by a Toronto man, who was on his way home. They spent a couple of nights at the man’s friend’s place in Thunder Bay, then Wezel took the driver up on an offer to continue on to Toronto.

He was not overly impressed by the Big Smoke, but admitted that big cities just really are not his thing.

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He took a train back to Saskatoon, then set off again by thumb for Calgary.

Along the way, he hitched a ride with a farmer who put him up overnight and gave Wezel  a tour of his small operation, a mixed family farm. It really impressed Wezel in an age of factory farms to see an independent operation.

The next day he was in Calgary, where, as I knew accommodations would be hard to come by, had arranged for him to stay with one of my cousins. I was not surprised to hear it was a positive experience.

“It was cool,” he said. “It was really relaxed.”

He had mixed feelings about the Stampede, though. “It was maybe too many people, for me,” he said. “But I loved the rodeo.”

And his luck had not run out, by any means. It just happened my cousin’s boss was driving to Fernie. Wezel had come full circle having rarely had to pitch his tent.

Finally, he arrived home just in time to see his beloved national football (soccer) team win the World Cup.

“The whole trip was just so lucky,” he said. “Canadians are really friendly.”



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