Yep, we’re still in Hamilton… [archive 04/06/2007]

So far it’s been a mare here- a week into our trip across Canada and we still haven’t left the city we flew into! We arrived late Monday night and were grilled by customs and immigration, although got off lightly compared to the 2 year old girl with the curly golden locks and pink pyjamas who was getting the good cop bad cop treatment in the room next door. After being gypped by the taxi driver we booked ourselves in to a motel by the airport and spent most of Tuesday trying to get money out of the bank and a Canadian SIM card for my phone… Really, that took us until 4 o’clock and we were not even remotely successful! We ended up using paypal to buy the motorhome (and picking up the $276 that paypal charged him) as HSBC, the worlds local bank, has no electronic connection between its Canadian branches and its UK ones. Local bank my R’s. I then found out that it would take $100 and 5 days to take my phone off Vodafone’s network so I could put a Canadian sim card in it. Naively I thought I’d be outta here the next day so bought a PAYG mobile for $90 with $25 credit on it. This is good because local calls are meant to be cheap on it, but what exactly constitutes a local call is unclear. From what I can figure out local calls seem to be anywhere within hollering distance of whatever company you set your mobile up with. Thinking that I might eventually get to Nova Scotia I took the only NS code they could offer me, Halifax, which is about 2 hours or so south of where we’ll end up. I see trouble ahead with that one but have enough on my plate to carry on with for now.

Having made contact with the motorhome dude and arranged payment we jumped on a bus down to Niagara, 2 hours south of Hamilton . Once there we were picked up and shown the motorhome and how it works. We do the deal and he signs it over to us, giving us the paperwork and directions on how to get back to the QEW motorway. We then sit outside his house for 30 minutes trying to arrange insurance, but in reality just being passed round the call centre until they all go home and we get the ‘opening hours are from 8am until 8pm’ message. MoFo’s! We head back into Niagara and pull up at a Canadian Tire (a bit like B&Q) to get some essentials. It’s been a long day so we camp out in the car park (but next to their gardening section!) until the next morning, when we get up early to beat the rushhour traffic back into Hamilton . And we haven’t seen the town limits since.

I’ll spare you the gory details of Ontarion bureaucracy but we couldn’t get the plates for the van without insurance, we couldn’t get insurance without a license and we couldn’t get a license without a permanent address. Set all this against the ticking clock of a safety certificate which was due to expire that day and you can guess that I was getting a little stressed. Just some background – a Safety is the equivalent to an MoT, but valid for 36 days from issue and required before you can get your cars number plates… or insurance. So lots of long distance phone calls, taxi rides between government buildings, and just the tiniest amount of fraudulent statements and at 17:10 on Wednesday I’m $900 lighter, we have my Ontario license and the plates for the van. ‘Excellent,’ I thought. ‘We’ll be outta here tomorrow’. Sort of become my catch phrase and hasn’t quite come true yet.

Thursday dawns and we’re still in the Motel, but check out in the full knowledge that, having an Ontario license and an Ontario address (the Super8 Motel in case you were wondering) that insurance will be as easy to arrange as it is in the UK . One call, pay a few hundred quid and Jellystone Campsite here we come. Thursday evening and we’re still sitting in the motel car park leaching their wifi connection but by now at least we have a broker who must be new in the job because she’s actually being helpful and reckons she can get us insurance by noon the next day. Laura can’t face another night in the motel so we head up the road to a B&B that’s just been bought by a Swiss couple. It’s a top idea and we have a great night eating tuna sandwiches, trying to figure out how to set up the backgammon board and chatting to our hosts and their son, who is at uni in Halifax . They love Cape Breton and will send us customers and even come up themselves before Marco finishes his course. The next day we’re packed, we’re ready to go and we’re waiting for a call from Lily at the insurance brokers. We manage to get hold of her after lunch and confirm with her that yes, we want the insurance even though it is £1000… at the end of the day it’s cheaper than getting pulled, fined $5000-$30000 and slung in prison for 30 days. Now I just need to find a fax machine and fax her the safety, which expired two days ago. Damn. After briefly considering the forgery route I set off to find a garage to get another safety on the motorhome. I mean, it’s just had one so it shouldn’t need any work right?

It’s Friday afternoon and every garage just smiles at us and says ‘it’s Friday afternoon, try this guy down the road, otherwise I’ll do it on Monday for ya’. We’re destined never to leave Hamilton ! We decide to head to the nearest campground and get ‘campworthy’, flush out the tanks & lines, get the propane, cooling and heating working and see what we can do on Monday. On a whim I pull into a garage on the way and after being passed down the chain to the breakers at the back of the yard they can do it! Unfortunately it’s half four and Lily’s gone home but we get them to safety it anyway so we’ve got everything ready for Monday morning. Except that it fails on the front brake pads & callipers, and it needs a new coil and some plugs if we’re doing any distance on it. I drop it back in on Saturday morning, pay the nice man $460 and arrange to bring it in for the coil and plugs (it is running rough, plus the alternator belt needs tightening) on Monday. We are now dangerously close to being skint and haven’t quite managed to leave Hamilton yet. And at some point in this adventure I manage to sit on Laura’s glasses… that’ll be another $400 please. Or 99c for some electrical tape, which we could use for the van too… I convince her of the impending worldwide rise of GeekChic and get taping.

Oh, I haven’t told you about our poo-tube experience! Our first go at dumping the full to the rim when we bought it chemical toilet. With what turned out to be a broken sewage pipe, which of course we didn’t find out until we connected it and started the whole mucky malarkey into motion. Do I need to explain this or can you guess? Needless to say it wasn’t very pleasant…

But it’s now Sunday lunchtime and we’re sitting in the Confederation Park at the tip of Lake Ontario , just over a stones throw from the airport that we flew into. Toronto is just visible on the other side of the lake through the smog and the haze but for the first day in a week the sun hasn’t managed to break through the clouds, so it’s actually a comfortable temperature and not anywhere near the thirty degrees that we’ve been hammered with so far this week. It looks a lot cooler on the East Coast so I’m all up for heading straight there, but as we’re only 200km from where I grew up it would be a shame not to pop in and see how it’s changed. Also Laura has been inspired by all the coyote warnings posted around the park and wants to head up north where we run the risk of a serious bear mauling too.

Hopefully this is the hard work that makes the rest of the trip seem easy. It’s not as if we’re heading towards a dilapidated farmhouse in the middle of Arcadia that some semi-frenchman will claim as his as soon as we make a business out of it! Tomorrow I’m going to find a Tim Horton’s or a Wendy’s with wifi to send this off to you lot, then hopefully we’ll get insurance, a new coil and get the hell out of Hamilton . For the rest of the afternoon though I have half a crate of Molson chilling in the fridge and nothing else to do but make it mine. Except rather typically on our one ‘day off’ it’s just started to rain… I guess now we’ll find out if there are any leaks!

Love, hugs, kisses etc

Jamie, Laura and The Expanding Belly

PS It’s taken me an hour to find all your addresses and put them in so you’re now collectively known as ‘The Europeans’ on my laptop. If you don’t want to hear all about our exciting travels round Canada and our eventual settling in Nova Scotia then let me know. I can’t promise not to hold it against you forever but will try not to be too upset by it… JJ

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