The Sky Is Falling!

Trip Start Jan 30, 2011
Trip End Nov 16, 2011

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Flag of Canada  , Ontario,
Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I went back to school today, well really I went to High School for the first time, but the feelings of inadequacy, paranoia, and fear plagued me just as they did back at school in Telford, except today I was at the front of the class talking rather than one of the masses. Marion, my Couchsurfing host, is a teacher at a local prison and used to teach at the local High School where her friend Hando currently works and is teaching a 'Travel and Tourism' class.  What better way to exemplify travelling and tourism than to bring in two girls who have travelled the world and experienced these new initiatives called Wwoofing and Couchsurfing?

Seeing my name up on the blackboard was a little odd, as were the sweaty palms that stayed throughout my time at the front of the class looking back at twenty young faces, the front row of which was unresponsive and laid their heads in their hands through most of our talk.  I later found out they’d been in school a few more years than most people so shouldn’t take their reactions personally.  I did, but that’s just one more reason why I shouldn’t be a teacher. 

Once the national anthem had been played over the tannoy and I’d marvelled that we didn’t even learn the English national anthem at school, Marion and I talked about how we met and what Couchsurfing was all about.  We compared travelling stories and experiences as though we’d travelled together, but my time in Africa was a solo effort, and I struggled to remember my route down the eastern countries of the continent. 

I was also ashamed to say I didn’t realise Hong Kong was so close to Vietnam, even though I visited there last year, but as I explained to the class my trip was organised by where Air Asia flew, not by my geographical knowledge.  The geography teacher running the class can’t have been impressed with me, especially when I couldn’t answer if the mountain I’d climbed in Kota Kinabalu was a volcano or not.  My job was to climb it, not study it, and it wasn’t flowing when I was up there so I could neither confirm nor deny his assumption.  Nevertheless, I got a few laughs and squeals out of the awake members of the class as I told stories of being electrocuted on the cattle farm in Alberta, eating tarantula and ants in Cambodia, and having a stick as my only protection against the lions in Zambia

Seventy minutes soon passed and I finally relaxed, giving my fearful palms a chance to dry.  To reward our efforts we jumped across to the Town Hall for a coffee at Oliver’s and a look around the building that was improved for the G8 summit last year; vast expanses of unused space showed government money being put to bad use happens in every country.  There was a painting in the entrance hall where each leader had painted a ‘finishing touch’ brush stroke, but they ruined the image as you can easily spot the random crude stripes smack bang in the middle.  Luckily the British stroke was blue so it blends a little better than the Chinese’s yellow.

With a tour of Huntsville under my belt Marion took me to the lake by her brother’s house so I could finally have my first attempt at canoeing; after ten months in the country famous for canoeing and portage (carrying the canoe overhead whilst walking to get over obstacles) I was yet to set foot in the infamous boats.  Whilst I may have been a rower back home, I didn’t have a clue about the etiquette of canoeing; Marion talked me through the process of getting into one, which may have kept me dry as I leant on the paddle, mustn’t call it an oar, to stabilise myself, but still resulted in my unknowingly daring stance.  I simply wanted to pull my trousers up so Marion wasn’t faced with anything unsightly from the back of the canoe, but as I stood up I was told that move could flip the boat, so I took a mental note not to repeat it in the middle of the lake. 

I thought I was quickly getting into the swing of canoeing, but apparently my paddle had to be kept nearer to the boat rather than making semi-circles as I would with the twelve-foot oar I was used to.  Undeterred by my strokes Marion let me steer the canoe for the return paddle, but my strokes were still reminiscent of the twelve-footers and I was reminded to make gentle movements rather than making the boat zigzag from one side of the water to the other.  Whilst I may not be a pro just yet, I certainly enjoyed my outing on the water, and the scenery more than made up for any of my inadequacies.  The trees reflected on every surface, lake-houses peppered the banks, and we had our own nature in the boat in the form of Marion’s dog Buca, who of course chose to move sides at the most inopportune moments. 

Once back on solid ground we set off to Pam and Hando’s house, of course Hando was still working in school but the three of us had a busy afternoon eating soup, playing on rock walls and zip-lines, and attempting to shoot blanket-covered hay bales in an archery lesson.  I may not have been a pro at archery or rock-climbing either, but I did manage to hit a blanket, even if the aim was to hit the large target in the middle of the barn rather than the mass of white sheets behind it. 

Fear of the rock wall they’d built on the back of their barn left me hoping for more archery, but I needn’t have worried as we were soon greeted by Pam’s friends Jim and heavily pregnant Steph.  We all walked through the acres of land Pam and Hando own to find their personal zip line; I opted to go last, but when I finally sat on the chair, the chair that was all of four feet from the ground, I chewed the inside of my cheek with worry and got back off it.  I’d thought too much about jumping from the bank and what might happen once I had nothing to hold onto, which might have been a metaphor for something in my life.  I’ve just no idea what though.

Once Steph had gone on the line twice and put me to shame I realised I’d only regret it if I wimped out, and so I got back on, let go, and screamed like the girl that I am as I watched the tree come daringly close to my face, but rather than smack into a la a comedic cartoon I kicked off and slid back down the rope: no skill, but lots of fun.

With adrenaline pumping and the afternoon drawing to a close Marion, Pam, and I took a walk over to the local ski hill, or at least it will be when the snow comes; I walked through some dog muck before being warned people in the country don’t scoop the poop, but a short walk through the leaves later my shoes were clean again.  Ignoring the various calls of nature surrounding me we plodded back onto Pam’s land and did a circuit of their beaver pond, the pond that was a field and is now more like a lake due to a few beavers damming it up. We saw two beaver lodges in the middle of the water, followed by two beavers who were scared off by the quacking ducks, all whilst standing on the banks with Buca and Pam’s dog, Pete.  We watched the lake for any movement, in awe of the stillness of the water and its astonishing reflection of the evening sunshine’s glow, before a cheeky beaver appeared and lived up to its adjective when it slapped its tail to warn us off its territory.  He continued swimming near the bank to get to a cherry tree he’d started gnawing on earlier; I didn’t realise quite how destructive they were until I was told the huge pond had been created in just eighteen months.

Pam was also in awe of their architectural abilities, but as it was affecting her trees and fields she hadn’t been quite so happy to see one of the little nibblers up close; apparently one was taking supplies from the area she was standing in and delivering it to his lodge, as well as gnawing on one of her trees in plain sight.  She watched him silently take his goodies before seeing his friend waddle over for his stash, which must have been the straw that broke the camel’s back as she picked up a stick and whacked the cheeky beaver over the head.  Fear not, he wasn’t hurt, just a little confused as to why the sky was falling, and on trying to stun him once more Pam received comeuppance for her bad karma-inducing act by falling backwards into the mud.  If beavers could laugh I’m sure they would have, but they probably just grabbed an extra branch and skedaddled. 

Once again I bid farewell to a newfound friend who I’d never have met without Couchsurfing before we were accompanied by a beautiful sunset heading into Huntsville for another of those obligatory souvenir t-shirts.  Marion and I discussed travelling as we pottered, and how she was also scared of going alone.  She stated she’d had to force herself to go too; I was so glad to hear it wasn’t just me who found the whole prospect of travelling alone terrifying, before I went out and actually experienced it of course.  It is scary, but just like the zip line it’s worth taking the plunge.    

After a lovely dinner with Marion and her parents we did something not many backpackers get to do too often, we sat down and watched some cheesy television, in the form of American ‘X Factor’ presented by Welshman Steve Jones.  Unfortunately he’d americanised his strong Welsh accent so much that he sounded unrecognisable, or at least he did until he said ‘review’ and it sounded like ‘revue.’  You can take the boy out of the valley but you can’t take the valley out of the boy. 

The day was topped off by Marion and her dad making caramel corn, a popular treat at Halloween that consists of a brown sugar concoction poured over popcorn and baked. It’s extremely tasty, but I’m sure it’d rot your teeth if it was eaten more than once a year. 
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Dad on

Ouch b....y humans , get me some birch bark my head hurts.

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