VietnAm Motorbike Trip: Day Three

Day 3
Fairy Stream – no reason for the name other than a direct translation. It is a sandy stream great for walking in simply because. I also found it was like a foot exfoliation from the fine sand. The depth rarely went past my ankles and had few strong currents. The brown is due to the constant movement of the sand. Stand in one spot too long and you will slowly sink. A pleasant beginning to a full morning of sights. 

Fairy Stream. The water is brown due to the sand that constantly shifting. The stream rarely goes above the ankles and then only to mid-calf.

Next was a quick stop at a fish dock minus the dock. The fishing boats remain moored further out while the fish are brought in on coracles and supplies taken back aboard. It was quite amusing to watch a few men, one woman who gave up on the ineptness, trying to get over the surf while a fellow next to them had no difficulty. Once away from the beach these craft move swiftly.

Did I worry about polluted water, of course; however, I did not see anything actually floating in it.

Launching a Coracle is not easy
It was all smiles and laughs the whole time


The stench was not as bad as when the sun beats down but the miasma as a whole was still quite unpleasant.
Much of the area is built on or out of the red sand hills and the sand dunes made me wonder how much the shifting sand will have everything sliding into the ocean. I am glad Toan convinced me to check out the dunes – more exfoliation, great views and how often will I get to play in a dessert like space without the sun beating down in me?

Sand castles anyone?
Random person shows a bit of the scale of the dunes.

Before lunch we made two more stops. A Hindu Temple and a handicapped facility that specializes in sand art. I still have a problem with such places although it appeared the ‘staff’ are all 14+ – not that I saw many. 
The temple, there are three, all quite small ,built in the 9th c. was the highlight of the morning. Seems the followers of the faith had a method of building with brick by using a secret mortar – such a secret the knowledge had been lost to antiquity!

No visible mortar gives the temples cleaner lines

The largest is undergoing extensive work which had meant that, in the process of some excavations more artifacts have been discovered.
A baby shrine – none of the three are very high.

By the time we left the clouds became ominous and the first big raindrops hit us with resounding bursts. We threw on our rain gear before heading to a roadside place for lunch. This generally meant donning rain pants, rain coat &/or poncho, and for me plastic booties. Then everything had to come off when we would stop for breaks unless we wanted to have a steam bath. One such stop had hammocks, common in the south of Vietnam. Heaven. 

I do not think I have ever sat or lain down on a hammock in all my 60 years! I could get used to them.
The rain stayed with all the way to the start of the mountain road we would take – up, up, up. We still had three hours of riding to go. I worried about dark falling. Slow going with two people and all our gear. It reminded me of some nasty off roads on the northwest coast of BC in Canada. It was like crossing a border. The people have much darker complexions, corn became more prevalent than rice and for the first time I saw large pigs. The cows were also going home, along with goats, rather hazardous driving avoiding potholes, potbellied pigs and huge cattle! 
I wondered about the raised thatched homes sitting next door to cookie cutter cement homes that appeared to be in better shape. The government built the new homes for the people to live in; however, they did not like the homes, preferring to live in their traditional structures. So many houses remain unlived in. 

Suddenly, just shy of 4:00pm a loud bang – I was dropped at a roadside place and my intrepid driver went to find a mechanic. 20 mins later he returned. Once again he had to do the repairs himself. Good to know he can! We still had at least two hours to travel and the light was rapidly waning. I did not want to be stuck in a mountain village with the cows, pigs and chickens!

Coffee, peppers, cashews, bananas abound around the canal created by the hydro dam far below us at a rather perilous spot to have a view and take some photos. I do not believe there was really anywhere safe to pull over and when the road narrowed to a cow path, with broken stones, deep potholes and mud, I was convinced we had to have taken a wrong turn. I was flabbergasted when I saw four wheel vehicles rounding corners – usually barreling towards us on a path barely wide enough for our Motorbike. 

The water diverted by the Hydro dam provided much need water for new crops to be planted and provided more than subsistence farming for the people living on the mountain.

By the time we arrived in Bao Loc I understood the word and feeling of being knackered. My room was changed for one with a view – I wanted something rewarding for having survived the ride. Dinner was at a nearby hole in the wall. One man was happily getting sloshed, I was the first foreigner he had ever seen in his 75 years. He could say thank you, and shook my hand – strong grip.

Total Expenses 145,000VND = 8.00CAD

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Vietnam: Saigon 3 nights

Vietnam
I was dealing with four currencies in one day – very confusing. The VND is in ridiculously high notes – 500.000VND = 30CAD. At least my just shy of 500CNY can be put away for 20 days. I will have to be vigilant about spending, too easy to get confused and end up paying too much for something. The fact USD/CAD/EUROS & even CNY could be used at the airport – besides exchanging – surprised me. I squirrelled my money to brave the streets of Saigon to find dinner. I hoped to do some tours while in Saigon as there was no way I had enough time to work out how to get anywhere on my own.

When I first went to China in 1996 I could not believe how many bicycles there were, to be replaced by motor scooters then cars over two decades – all making for some crazy driving. Move forward 21 years to Vietnam and it is motor scooters – except the streets are insane! The noise is deafening, people jostle for a foot or wheel hold, horns toot, people shout out to passing riders to stop for a bite, parents are fetching children from school, the after school vendors are on their scooters (ready to push off if any authority shows up – happens in China too). Everyone has a place to with pedestrians at the bottom of priorities. Perhaps simply because they must not be going far if walking?

 
I somehow managed to walk to the wet market several blocks down – I had no idea where I was heading – and even tried out some street food. The French influence means some pretty tasty, crusty bread is found at many stalls. One place drew my attention when a crust had just been opened and was being filled with something interesting. The fellow holding it was also quite entertaining while he tried to entice me to try some. It worked. For 20,000VND I had dinner – bread filled with nicely done tofu, a long slice of cucumber marinating in something (most likely to keep it fresh), some pickled goodies, slightly cooked sprouts and a dash of hot sauce. No pictures, no pandas allowed out to share, too dangerous with all those scooters. Probably some fumes mixed in the meal. Picked up some milk to make coffee, then called it a night other than arranging for a full day City tour the next day. 

View from my room.

War Museum, how the hell does humanity still get so entangled to maim, torture, wrest away freedom, deny basic rights, fault religious and political beliefs, enough to kill each other? As my fellow morning seat mate said, I was crying on the inside. We did not have enough time for thoroughly learning about the atrocities of yet another crime against humanity.

Made from shrapnel this sculpture depicts the anguish of the mother’s of Vietnam.

Reconciliation Palace (not the War Museum) ignore the date – itvreally wasx taken in 2017!

While there My youngest daughter tried to call me. Her closest sister let me know then connected us with FB – seems she wishes she had met me in Saigon after all. I said to just come. Logistically it will most likely mean she will be a day behind me on the motorcycle tour. We are waiting on flights and an available driver and bike. (Update – it took a couple of days for her to organize everything so she would meet me in Hoi An after my tour)

Chinatown – sort of the same as any wet market, and wholesale goods in China. No idea why we were brought there other than perhaps to keep us amused for an hour. I think most of the participants were just confused and not too happy at the prospect of hanging around a maze of shops selling everything from spices, chili sauces, dried everything to whatever one might need in the home or office- plus items never even considered, let alone knowing what they were for, this form someone who has shopped in Chinese markets.

Incense cones – individuals buy these to be hung from the rafters. They tend to burn longer than the sticks.
Two deities in full glory – so brilliant behind glass. Note the pink seat next to it – in some cultures a most venerated monk would sit here, I am unsure if that was its purpose as I did not see such seats in Chinese Buddhist temples.

Pit stop for civet coffee. Of course this was the inevitable sales pitch to buy, buy, buy. At least the coffee served was free. 
A short stop, about 20 minutes at the Chinese Temple to the goddess of the sea. Built in the 17th c. The idols were beautifully draped in finery. I was beginning to feel rushed. Lunch stop, I finally had Pho! Naturally this was an extra charge. It worked out because everyone could order what they wanted or go to one of many other small restaurants. They all seem to work together when it comes to large tour groups.



Another Pit stop, this time at one of several (I discovered this the next day)Handicapped Handicrafts tour/sales pitch. The sign says 100% of the proceeds goes to the care of the individuals doing the lacquer work but how do we know? The Reunification Museum – where the tanks crashed through the gates in 1975 which basically ended the war – has about 100 rooms but we only had an hour to rush through maybe half of them. I know it sounds crazy for someone interested in history but I chose to give it a miss and headed to Highland Coffee outside the gates where I had an iced coffee and stayed cool. The gardens did look lovely, but I could see hem from outside the wrought iron fence. When I asked a fellow passenger what she thought she said it was only alright and they were rushed. Happy with my decision. Perhaps I will return to Vietnam.

Notes Dame Cathedral, built in the 1880s, was on the list of places included in the tour – too bad they did not bother to mention, until we were there – that it has been closed past three years for major renovations. All we could do was peer through the fence and take photos from a distance. I would have loved to see inside. However, with the Central Saigon Post Office right across the street I might have managed some interesting pictures. The post office was built in 1886, busy times back then, with a definite French architectural influence from the time. This is a favourite stop for tourists to buy a postcard, buy a stamp and have it postmarked from Ho Chih Minh – I wonder if they mail the postcard to their address. 

The arched, high ceiling of the post office.

That ended my first full day. I foolishly booked a 5:30am early morning tour plus the Cu Chi Tunnels for the next day. It was time for bed.

Day Two

Time for my early morning tour. I opened the door to don my sturdy, comfortable, Clarke’s sandals that used to be my mother’s….to discover they were not there. I looked inside, I checked my room, I checked all the rooms, although I knew full well I had left them on the door sill. Someone had stolen my shoes. So much for trying to live like the locals. I thought I was doing what everyone does by removing my shoes before entering a home. Seems they also bring in their footwear before retiring, I was furious and angry. I hoped the shoes would bring him nothing but misery – perhaps trip and break a leg; a possibility considering they were a size 8 whereas most women in Vietnam wear a couple of sizes smaller. Perhaps it was a man. So, that place will not be recommended.The poor guide who met me was unsure what to do with a sobbing woman the age of his grandmother when I informed him I did not know if I was up to a tour. All I wanted to do was pack and go home. 

I persevered, we headed out to see the sun rising, feel a cooling breeze and watch the city wake up. Although my guide, whose name has now escaped me, suggested I turn around to watch the sunrise I chose to watch the reflection on the river and buildings in the centre of the city . Much prettier than the garbage and rat I saw scurrying nearby.


Saigon has a massive population of over 20 million, very little space and few tall buildings to put them in. They do however have the Saigon River and many people live on the water selling a variety of goods. Most of these people come from further north, only going home during major holidays. Their children stay with grandparents to attend school. The one boat we were hoping to visit was not yet pulled into shore so we chatted about the lives of the people and some of the goods they sell. This one appeared to sell plants and, like nearly every other boat, coconuts. Each boat has living quarters and a small kitchen at the bow and lots of space for goods. They all had large, stylized eyes painted on the prow looking down to frighten away any evil spirits lurking in the water. Unlike many fishermen off the westcoast of BC when I was young up boat dwellers know how to swim – we discussed this and came to the conclusion that it is easier to climb out of a river than an ocean if you fall in. I should note that nowadays fishermen in Canada tend to know how to swim and have all sorts of flotation equipment. 

My guide was sweet, he asked if I felt any better and could he give me a hug. He was an awkward 22 year old so I thought it was alright. I did indeed feel better. Our next stop was the wholesale flower market. Flowers, flowers and more flowers. Made the me think of the musical My Fair Lady where everyone is preparing to sell and buy flowers for the day. The market never closes, 24 hour flower power. Deliveries of flowers from the delta arrive in the early morning – usually by 4:00am – and flower shops from all over the city pick up their choices starting around 6:00am. Not only were there flowers to sell in large quantities though; some stalls had astonishingly large arrangements prepared, others were preparing fancy arrangements and everywhere was busy. I learned that a display including purple and white flowers are for funerals whereas ones with red flowers are for good luck. We stopped at a stall where roses and orchids are sold where my guide presented me with a red rose. I knew it was a gimmick but his sincerity washed that thought away. 



The next stop was to a park for breakfast where people gather to hang their bird cages, sip coffee and eat breakfast while visiting. Hundreds of bamboo cages were hanging above the low tables where the birds could have fresh air and provide some rather pleasant birdsong. I would have though so many varieties of birds would create a cacophony of noise. It was actually rather pleasant. Of course we had coffee. I am becoming good at saying absolutely no sugar although I do get some stares of horror. Thick, heavily sweetened, condensed milk added to a Espresso shot is practically a national drink in Vietnam. In addition, a glass of iced green tea is often provided to help cut the bitterness. Coffee and Pho, not a bad was to end my early morning tour. We went past the two hours so had to hustle to my next tour – the Cu Chi tunnels outside of Ho Chih Minh.


The war in Vietnam was a tragedy, as is, in my opinion, any war. The politicians do not suffer the indignities or war. So, again, how often do we need reminding?  The tunnels are about a 1 1/2 – 2 hour drive from the city centre. We made one stop at yet another Handicapped Handicrafts site – a chance to stretch my legs while avoiding the sales pitch. 

The Cu Chi Tunnels were built and used by the Viet Cong from the 1940s, hidden in the jungle, as a way to escape the French during the Indochine war and eventually from American soldiers into the 1970s. The Viet Cong lived in the tunnels when absolutely necessary but otherwise had camps above ground also. Rather gruesome traps were built to prevent discovery, hidden air holes were drilled and hidden for staying underground for several days. Quick escapes into and out of the tunnels were built and camouflaged. I did try one of the tunnels, these are nasty places even now with low lights to guide visitors. I am only 5’2″ but had to stoop to pass through. It is impossible to carry a bag on your back and in some spots it is necessary to nearly crawl forward close to the ground – I did not make that attempt. Not a place to visit if claustrophobic.

Like an enemy soldier, it is possible to stand on one of the escape hatches without knowing it is there.

When I finally made it back to my room there was still no sign of my sandals. They were truly gone. I went in search of dinner, got turned around at one point – not a good idea in a city maze – finally made it to my corner, bought my dinner then was stuck where I was when a major rainstorm hit. An hour passed, I ate my dinner, sat on a chair provided by a shopkeeper and watched as water poured from the sky, down the road and into ditches. We were nearly inundated. I finally made a dash for my corner again to be stopped by water that would most likely go half way to my knees. So I did the only sensible thing – I bought a pair of pink thongs (flip-flops).
Fast food in Vietnam.

Exciting last night in Saigon. I would be heading out in the morning on a ten day motorbike tour – I hoped for sun.

Vietnam visa 25USD; SIM 15CAD;Taxi 165,000VND;Room 1.9 mill (106CAD) includes brkfst; Lunch 51,000; Entrance fees 15,000; Tour 9USD; TAXI 62,000; Iced coffee 49,000; Dinner, water, milk 42,500; Morning tour 25USD; Tunnels 125,000? + 110,000+ lunch 70,000 Pho & bottle water; Dinner: bought two eggs 6000VND; one orange 12,000!; donair because caught in a rainstorm 17,000; thongs 39,000

Or, to make things easier, I spent about 75.00CAD per day. 

Suzhou

Suzhou, the Vienna of China, a place for scholars, artists and gardens. This is where Marco Polo was said to have spent much of his time in China. I was returning for one reason only – I wanted to visit the relatively new Suzhou Museum. However, I need to backtrack a little to my departure from Shanghai and my arrival in Suzhou. Many visitors can now make this a day trip but I chose to stay in Suzhou for two nights. With good intentions I headed to the subway to catch my train. 

I made it down the first set of stairs (stairs play a major role for anyone travelling in China) before I turned around to take the escalator up and flag down a taxi. That fare, to the nearest train station – there are three stations – was 21.00CNY. My train ticket to Suzhou was 39.50 plus 6.00 processing fee. The cost of  visiting any of the major world cities can eat up a budget just in taxi fare. However, saving my back and knees from injury caused by a heavy backpack made it worth the expense. I made the decision to try to keep taxi travel for when I am heading in or out of a city with my bags. It also helps that food is still very inexpensive if eating like the locals. 

The view outside from within the tearoom.

Being the well prepared individual I like to think I am I had the address and phone number for my next accommodation to give to a taxi driver. I am now fully convinced taxi drivers in China just do not like me. It is as though I have a radar that sends out a message to give me a difficult time. They invariably have to pull over, point with exaggerated gestures at the address (and map if there is one) asking if I know where the place is, sigh out loud with an exclaimed aiya, then head off muttering away about cray foreigners. This driver was not too bad, he did get me to the place in one piece and I kept my thoughts quiet. There it was, a blue door. (Actually a tempered glass door with a blue metal frame)

Then the following happened.

                     Darkened forbidding hallway – Doorbell unanswered – Modern technology call.

I have no idea why I am wanting to think in a simplified haiku form – perhaps a need for less chaos? I had the number for the hostel, I had my new Chinese number – no real need to panic. Finally divested of my bags and unable to check in for 3-4 hrs I walked, in a drizzle, to the Suzhou Museum. There is more to this tale. I had forgotten how grossly people here underestimate distance – plus the fact I thought the man at the hostel was stressing blocks, not km. However, although it felt like 5km a look at my tracker showed it was indeed about 3km. So this time it was not out of range. 

Mainly taken for my scholar daughter – a scholar’s study.
This is an exquisite porcelain dish – either for decorative use only or possibly fruit.

I wanted to see this museum after watching a documentary about the architect and his dream for the museum. It is a simple design, fits into the area and invites the outdoor & indoor environments to be enjoyed. Designed by I.M. Pei, (he designed the Pyramide du Louvre) and opened in 2006, the museum is a simple design that blends in with its ancient neighbours. Although it was drizzling, then pouring, the outdoor elements – small areas with rockery and bamboo, pomegranate and other trees – make viewing the artifacts a pleasant pastime. Adding the Lotus Pond was a stroke of genius. There is a giant wisteria where visitors can sit outside the nearby tearoom. It was too wet the day I was there. I did not make it to the Lotus Pond until the following day, soothes the soul. As did the small thatched scholar’s studio, a Song Dynasty pavilion that had me wondering if I could hide out in such a place for a while. The standard artifacts abound along with ‘local finds’. I even found sustenance at the tea shop – if a thick slice of sweetened, cold, cheese ‘toast’ can be called a good choice. Weird stuff served in China. The coffee was decent. I was also able to recharge my phone battery to 40% – it seems to be sapped far too rapidly. It was a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon despite many others having the same idea. It is also free and accesses the various structures of the Humble Administrator’s Garden. Not exactly a walk in the park day so this a perfect way to finish up my visit. 

My idea of a perfect place for reflection.
One of the wisteria winding around the outdoor area. It must be stunning when the flowers are in bloom. The trunks of some of these twine round and up eaves.
Cheese toast Chinese style.

Although I could have walked back it was still raining quite heavily so I flagged down a taxi to head back to the hostel. I had been given a key card for access – I certainly would not have left all my bags otherwise – so I headed up the stairs to meet the owner who had said she would be three hours or so. Claire, her English name, is a very nice person, her English is very good, her rapport with guests is great. So what was the problem? It seemed that when I called her she was st the Public Securoty Bureau where she was informed she could not have foreign guests for probably a month. (Every five years the PRC holds a National Congress during which delegates gather, posts are made, as are various decisions. I have no idea how this affects a small hostel in Suzhou, particularly when the most important date is not until October 18.) Was I willing to let her find another place for me or wait until late evening in the hope I could just remain. I found out the next day that other guests had to be moved. I stayed. I stayed two nights, nothing like inadvertently thwarting the government – certainly not my intention! 

The hostel is not great, it actually has some pretty significant problems, but I really did not want to be dragging my stuff about. When we heard the next day that some other places were completely shut down for the duration it is just as well I did not. So I stayed. I had a tour arranged for the following day and eventually headed to bed. Day two was very full, very noisy, completely out of my sphere of language skills, and fabulous most of the time. When the Chinese go on a tour they make sure they get their money’s worth. 

Aesthetics?
Uh oh, look what is opening up near the museum and gardens.

We first visited one of the gardens close to the museum, all I can recall is that it was not the Humble Administrator’s Garden. We spent about 1 1/2 hours there. For such a relatively small space it had pools, pagodas, grottoes, a small version of the stone boat in the Summer Palace of Beijing, many varieties of plants, small structures serving as places of reflection, a library, and similar uses. I spent the whole time scrambling over rockery, viewing plants, enjoying the care taken to preserve the garden and just being in the moment.

After this everyone in my group visited the Humble Administor’s Garden while I headed back to the museum to view the Lotus Pond from outside. I was not aware there were extras to the tour package if anyone wanted them; this was fine by me because I had wanted to go back to the museum. (I also knew there were Western style toilets in the washroom) I revisited the pavilion – seems many others had decided to go that day also. The Lotus Pond is wonderful, calming, aesthetically pleasing. 

Noodles, a boiled egg, some sort of mushroom, vegetables and little spongy cakes – green tea, Lotus, and two others I did not like. They were not meant as a dessert.

And then we were off to have lunch. Another package extra I was not aware of until I was asked to pay 30CNY. Considering I had nothing else to eat I paid up. After lunch, a bit of a walk outside then to the bus I was suddenly dragged off by the tour guide who insisted I go with her. No explanation. I was rather worried until she brought me into a store that sells wearable and bedding silk. I said I really did not want to go shopping. This time I was not expected to – there was a gift of a silk scarf for each lady. No idea what I will do with it, it is not raw silk so I cannot even wear it when on the motorcycle.

When I was a teenager we lived in a house painted these colours!
Once renovations are complete visitors will be allowed inside again although most likely not to upper floors.
Capturing a good image was difficult with no easy access.

A quick trip to the nearby , under major renovations, Beisi Temple, a confection of a pink and chocolate brown pagoda, this Buddhist temple was first built 1700 years ago. We could not see much with so much construction. Then we were then off to catch a canal ride because why go to Suzhou if you do not intend to get on the canal? It is at times like these that I see where planning anything in China is not easy – even for tour companies. We all dutifully lined up like lemmings heading to the precipice, single file with very little opportunity to turn back unless climbing over. It would be expected that a tour travels together – not when catching a boat up to Tiger Hill. Three of us, plus the guide, had to wait while everyone else piled on a canal boat to be gently lead upstream. Fortunately our extra, hot 15+ minutes wait was washed by a light rain, this after probably 20-30 minutes with everyone else.


While not exactly Star quality it was a chance to sit and enjoy the views while gently meandering up to our destination. We had one very close call when another boat did not give the right of way to our pilot which resulted in some angry shouting, shoving against the wall with a long pole against the wall of the canal and commiseration between passengers, poleman and pilot. I was expecting we would be caught in the low swells – we felt nothing, these boats are widebodied enough for waves to roll under without causing any rocking.

Like the history of China, time may have clawed at the pagoda yet it remains.
Trying to capture the beauty in a photo.
A final look back from the bottom of the steps.

A pleasant half hour later and we were docking near the base of Tiger Hill. Tickets collected, numbers counted, we climbed into open, safari style vehicles to drive to the top of the hill. An amazing leaning, ancient pagoda greeted us. Rarely do I experience silence in China, a spare 2-3 seconds of collective breath of appreciation). Built during the Northern Song Dynasty (959-961) the pagoda has stood the test of time. All of my photos appear as though my camera was slightly tilted; however, the pagoda leans 3.59 degrees. A famous Song Dynasty (960-1279) poet, Su Shi said, ‘It is a lifelong pity if having visited Suzhou you did not visit Tiger Hill.’ Which I never had until now. We spent enough time admiring the pagoda – I will just share photos here although they do not do justice – before heading down the stairs to catch our bus back to the city.

Pomegranate tree at the Suzhou Museum – until that day I had never seen them growing.

I was displeased when asked to take a taxi from the main stop rather than being dropped off where I had been picked up. So goes travel in China. Thank goodness I still had a bed despite there still being a ban on foreigners. I packed my bags, had a taxi ordered and turned in early for my 7:00am train to Nanjing.

Expenses: Brkfst 25; Day one lunch 40; Tour 198; Room (eventually) 100; Xiao bao 10 (I will never grow tired of these); Water 2; Lunch 30; Random fee 20; Taxi 22; no recollection of dinner the second night. Some expenses seem to have disappeared – too bad it did not show up in what I had left! 

Day of Reckoning 

Two days of blurred memories plus two more in relative non-action ended my 40 day trip to Ontario and Manitoba. There was a time when going anywhere had seemed unlikely with a sick kitty and so many changes to my itinerary. So, I did not make it to Churchill, New York or Newfoundland this summer; instead I had a great time getting to know Kingston without freezing, and visiting the one museum in WinnipegI had been wanting to see. I even put in a two night train trip.

Which is where I will start this last Canada 2017 entry. The day I was to leave started with a question mark. Just how late would my train from Toronto be? I departed Kingston without an answer. All I knew was that the smoke and fires in BC had caused a delay of at least three hours. It ended up being close to six. I had arrived at Union Station early enough to know I would most likely have a comfortable wait before the original departure time. That ended up being an excruciating time standing in line for three hours – after sitting for the first few I finally moved to where a line was beginning. I did not want to be at the end of a shifting line. A line that seemed to be in the wrong place. It was. Fortunately, I kept an eye on signs and eventually asked if all the relatively young passengers waiting were Canada 150 ticket holders. They were. Those of us who paid higher fares shifted over to a new line. I was 7th in line.


Back to the excruciating part. I choose to not sit on floors because it is difficult for me to easily jump up if necessary. This time I also had increasing swelling and pain caused by three very nasty mosquito bites from the previous night of sitting on the dock of the bay for dinner. Closer inspection showed another three bites on my foot with one not looking great. I did finally cave in and sat at a nearby seat where I could see my bags. Not that I was worried, by this time we were all looking out for each other. On more than one occasion it was suggested I really should take a rest. By 10:00pm the lines had become two writhing lines of humanity. The Canada 150 youth in one much longer line, and the rest of us. (Canada 150 was a one month $150.00 pass available to 1867 youth only for the month of July – crashed the system when offered, sold out in minutes) Via fed us sandwiches, cookies and bottles of water. Hurray Via! I was only still standing with that sustenance and sheer willpower by this time. 


Much of the actual trip was blurred with pain and probably an infection at the bite sites. I later found out that staph infections are common when bites are bad. I did have the Rx cream with an antibiotic in it that I carefully applied. When the commissary was open I also bagged ice. My leg looked so bad I ended up have two seats to myself the whole trip to Winnipeg. Also the corner seat in the small lounge area most of the time where I could rest my leg. I dozed a lot. First time I have not been very interested in the landscape slipping by. Of course, leaving Toronto at 2:00am did mean everyone was ready for sleep.
18 days later these three bites are still visible

This is the only note I wrote. Passed lovely Malachi – better known as Lake of the Woods, northern ON. Soon after the trees were scrubbier and many in stages of bareness or grey. Looked marshy out there and hot at 8:30am. Blue sky. Despite the AC it was time to leave the dome car as the sun beat down. 

The photos behind the fence were at a stop somewhere along the line, the paintings had seen better days. A sad tale of many rail stops now barely noticed.


We arrived in Winnipeg only three hours late, picked up time somewhere. I have never given Winnipeg a positive review. This time I can. I hopped on a bus, backtracked when I got off too late, found my hostel at the university and dumped my bags in the office – check in would not be until 4:00 (despite an email saying 3:00). I decided to head to the Forks for lunch and coffee. An email to my 90+ year old aunt ensured I would see her and my cousin the following day.  Still in pain I was checked in and in bed by 8:00. The next day my only plan was to visit the museum.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Opened in 2014, (to the best of my recollection it had been delayed) mere months after I had been in Winnipeg on a cross Canada trip, the admission was $18.00 for a full day with the option to leave and return is desired. I had to wait about an hour – they did not open until 10:00. That gave me the opportunity to take photos without people wandering into my view and makecsome observations. The entrance, especially once leaving when I discovered locked doors, made me think of a birth canal. The red sandstone, high wall that leads to the lower entrance was curved and seemed like a place of temporary comfort (versus what a birth canal is really like) before being expelled onto the walkway or into the museum itself. I doubt that was the intention. Inside did not make me imagine a womb.


There are eight levels. I opted to start at the Tower of Hope. They are not kidding when they say you “may not be comfortable…on the indoor viewing platform. Even the glass elevator ride was rather heart pumping. The 100 metre (23 storeys) tower and view was worth the slight vertigo I had. I quickly headed for the stairs. Each level widens slightly.


As I walked down to each level it became clear that I could not effectively describe each gallery without finding fault with who we, people of all walks, are. However, I did see promise for the future, not in the galleries, but in the people working and visiting.  As I watched one short clip in the Our Canada, My Story my eyes were drawn to a lower scrim hanging from a screen of information where I was sure I could see dancing feet. Peeping between the TV screen and the divider I saw a lone security guard moving with the fluidity of a dancer – he was practicing the Argentinian Tango. I was asked. He explained that dance is so much a part of his life he is sometimes unaware he does this. I forget where he was from, perhaps he did not say – his accent told me English is probably not his first language. Nor French. The juxtaposition was so perfect it had to be happenstance.

The architecture is impressive. The museum is a stunning building, despite it appearing to be the helmet worn by the little alien from Bugs Bunny. Inside is beautiful. Visitors generally start on the ground floor with the intentional focus of “a journey from darkness to light.” Only once was I ‘chastised’ for beginning at the top. I am sure the person meant well by telling there is so much more to see on the first three floors. I however think it is just as important to look back from the light to recall the darkness. Otherwise it can become too easy to be bogged down in what cannot be changed. That is the only problem I had, there were biases, there were many representations of dreadful lack of human rights, but there did not appear to be enough balance of that changing. Therefore, I focussed on the light – as seen in photos of the ramps I took.


I took a two hour break to visit with my aunt and cousin at the nearby Forks, I hope I am still as active at 92! Then admired some artists working on a piece slated for a parking lot of all things. It was time to repack for an early morning taxi. This was the end of my Canada 150. Ahead of me China and Vietnam were waiting.

10,000 , 11,000, 17,000, 6000 steps over the four days going home.
Day of reckoning – crunching the numbers.

Steps: 400,000 = 305km = 7.5km avg per day. I can live with that.

I took an extra $400..00 to cover Winnipeg expenses and beyond. I did not take careful records for about the last five days. The UWin Hostel was $160.00; I bought lunch at the Taj – a reasonably priced place downtown I like to visit whenever in Kingston, 40.00; food for the train trip (and a loaf of focaccia for my Daughter) maybe $20.00; a final Crave coffee because I wanted plastic cutlery, 2.50. Of course all of these numbers were figured out while on the train so I then had time to worry! All I needed was money for two days of meals, the sky train, bus and ferry and then fare for a bus home. I decided there was not much I could do until the station and so long as I had $100 left after the hostel I would be fine. Quick calculation indicates I spent on average $50.00 based on $2000 for expenses. I also had a direct flight to Victoria so only a bus ride home where my daughter met me at the stop to help carry things.

Kingston Penitentiary Tour

The Pen never got less intimidating as we made our way. Birds soaring free – unintentional taunting.
Main entrance centre of building. Everywhere there is fencing. This is where a messenger was shot and killed by a trusted inmate.

If all the paperwork we had to sign was any indication it would seem some clever person had the brainstorm to make a visit to the decommissioned Pen as real as possible. Once our tickets were paid, no discount for youth 14 and up, we then had to print several pages each to sign our lives away. With initials indicating we had read each section. Which I managed to do in the wrong place. They are thorough, came back to me to initial in the marked spots. Tours are blocked by time and people must arrive 20minutes ahead of their block if they do not want to be left behind. There are no refunds for rescheduling. Not a problem when I need to be somewhere – we were so early I asked if we could join an earlier tour. Fortunately the well oiled machinery that makes the tours work run somewhat in an old fashioned order – much is on paper. A quick look, count, and check with a guide and we were in. We were officially in the blue group.

Grilled, bars, fences everywhere. No sections were opened in simultaneously.
The Hub. No glass until after the 1971 riot. Guards controlled all the levels, individual cells and movement from here.
 

Some reminders before we started: bags subject to search, no AC or heat, no recordings (photos allowed), do not leave your designated group for any reason. We sat passively in a section of what was once a Family Visit area. My first thought was if we all seemed rather shellshocked what must it have been like for new prisoners? Of course we knew we would be leaving and the inmates who had been incarcerated were there because they had been found guilty of a major crime. Kingston Pen had been a maximum security prison. 

Cells we were not allowed to view. Open and closed doors – unsettling.

It was made very clear to not ask about any of the well-known, notorious names, by law no information could be divulged. Of course one idiot did indeed ask about one prisoner. Yes, any Canadian in the group knew about him, but I certainly did not need to be reminded. Our guide managed to not roll her eyes, took a noticeable breath and reiterated that prisoners who had been incarcerated at Kingston Pen could not be discussed – and shut down the conversation.

The Hole – solitary confinement. Probably where guides want to shove those with stupid questions.
‘Private’ cells for all inmates by the time the Pen closed. Meals were taken at anchored McDonald’s style tables in across from the cells. Less fuss, no integration.

The original Pen was built between 1833-1834, 154 cells in 5 tiers plus various outbuildings and residences for the administration. Any person working at the Pen had to be within hearing range of the bell that rang every day, if it rang out any time other than to announce the beginning and end of the day that was the signal that all staff were to come running. The cells were miserable, the museum across the street has a model of what they were like – step inside for size – a mere 27″ wide, 8′ deep and 6’7″ high. A man or woman would not be able to stretch from side to side, nor up. Cells remained this size until renovations between 1895-1906. For the first 99 years women were also sent to Kingston Pen although segregated from the men. Even children as young as 8 were imprisoned for petty theft.  By the time the Penitentiary closed there were 431 cells and 120 rehab beds and had expanded to include shops, an education program, a palliative care unit, and various programs or services ranging from health care to religious.

All mail was read before going on to various departments and outside.

Some of the shops, and eventually classes for credit, included carpentry, tailoring, mattress making and barbering. As we passed each sector we were greeted by former corrections staff who had at one time been employed at the Pen. One story about the barbers was that staff and prisoners could use the services provided for $2.00 per year! I still wonder if I misheard that. Cuts, perms and colours were all offered as this was a skill that could be used outside prison. Although wages were horrendously low, shop work up to $8.00 per day, general work 6.90 per day, skills learned could lead to outside work after terms were served. Half the wages were placed into a bank account and half could be used for purchases at the commissary; however, nothing was less expensive than outside the walls – a coke inside was a luxury.

There were three major riots, 1932, 1954, 1971. There were also several escapes and attempted escapes. One story we heard was about John Kennedy, born, lived, worked and died in the Pen. His father had been a messenger and raised his family within the walls of the Penitentiary. In 1948 John Kennedy, also a messenger, was shot by a prisoner, who had smuggled a gun into the car Kennedy was driving. As Kennedy was leaving the prison on an errand he was jumped – an excellent personal account can be found at thewhig.com/remembering uncle johnny – that prisoner was the last to be hanged at the Frontenac County Jail.

The tables and seats were removed. No recollection why.

I have no idea if there was a Scared Straight program that might have allowed for schools to visit the prison, it sure would have had me walk the straight and narrow. Perhaps it was the very real feeling of being caged or trapped so far removed from the outside.   Although not enclosed prior to the 1971 the Hub, where we were provided with a fascinating history and insight of its purpose, was where each cell corridor ran from, commonly known as a ‘range’. This was where guards kept control of all the coming and going of prisoners top to bottom. Looking down one corridor was a row of doors held sharply at even angles – I had a vision of men just gone with barely a whispered protest. Another range of heavy cell doors shutting out all hope. After the riot the Hub was enclosed with glass and an armoury 15′ deep was built (dug?) in the 1990s. Sort of closing the gate after the horse got out.

Some interesting facts: inmates were allowed up to $1500 in their cell. Foreign national inmates were subject to deportation upon release. In 1990 the complex was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada, 13 years before it was shut down. To date, being an Historic Site, along with the Women’s Prison, there has not been any decisions made for using the prime space. 

This brought to mind, Like sheep to the slaughter. It was the main trades shop. The only person looking up is my grandson. At least he was being aware of his environment.
Photo does not do the brickwork of the ceiling justice. Beautiful, sharp curves.
Although built as a prison it has some aesthetic architecture.

As the years advanced and programs were instituted to improve the quality of life for prisoners, particularly as the population was aging, facilities also had a bit of a facelift. The Eagle and the Phoenix mural, done in the Regional Treatment Centre – repurposed from the gym as a offender-patient space – was painted by urban artists in 2003 as a gift to the inmates and staff. It certainly looks much nicer than bare brick walls.  I found here, listening to a former nurse, talk about his time at the prison, a staff member with less of the hard edge presented by all the other former corrections staff. There was no question that they would never have been on friendly terms with any prisoner – they were guilty as charged. When the reasonable question about prisoners whose sentences were overturned was asked one member said until that time the inmates were always guilty. It was an interesting tour I was happy to leave.
My interpretation was a fiery Phoenix entering, a mute swan emerging.

40.00 Kingston Pen; 15.00 lunch for two; 13000 steps