Challenges

CHALLENGES

( Early July 2017)

Soundtrack: Don’t stop me now – Queen

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By the time I leave Québec City, I am a changed woman, or rather I am who I did not know I was. I made so much progress in so little time that for the next part of my trip, I want to challenge myself even more. I don’t want to put myself in danger or do things that make me uncomfortable but I want to push myself further, get out of my comfort zone, redefine my limits. I feel there is still so much I can discover about myself and now is the best time to do so.

I leave Québec city on a Monday and catch a ride with Agnes who is also driving Sean Olivier. Both are very kind and give me lots of advice and hints on what to visit in their city, Rimouski, but also in the rest of the region and in Gaspésie. At first, I only planned on staying in Rimouski overnight and leave the next morning, but after talking with them I decide to extend my stay. Sean offers for me to stay with him and his roommates. I cannot cancel the night I booked in the local hostel but I agree to stay with them for the next night. On Tuesday I wake up very early to go visit the Parc National du Bic. I take a “taxi-bus” to get there, which is basically a taxi operated by the city that has several possible routes. Quite convenient. The park is almost empty when I get there at 9 am. Once again, the landscapes are truly beautiful. I walk for a while in the morning but decide to rent a bike in the afternoon. The sun is shining and it gets really hot. And even if I am enjoying myself, I feel a bit lonely, feeling I haven’t had in a while. Since I arrived in Québec, I haven’t had a lot of time to read, write or focus on my project and I realize that I am starting to feel tired. There is so much I want to do and see that I am probably exhausting myself a little too quickly. I still have two months to go and if I want to make it I need to slow down.

After the park, Bérengère, Sean’s roommate, picks me up at the hostel and drives me to their apartment. I meet Madeleine, one of their other roommates and we all have a quick dinner and head to their Batoucada class (brazilian percussion). It is really fun to watch and very energetic. On the way back, the girls sing songs in the car and we all dance in the yard before heading home. I decide to take them up on their offer to stay for one more night and the next day I sleep until 11 and decide to take a day to relax, read and catch up on my writing. I share breakfast with Sean and meet Bérengère at 1 pm so she can show me how she works with a bee hive. I spend the rest of the day biking. That evening, Sean and the roommates organize a dinner at their apartment and invite me to join them. We drink wine, eat good food and play a board game called 10.000. We laugh a lot and take silly pictures and before I leave the next morning I promise to come back on my way back to Montreal.

The next day in the afternoon, I leave Rimouski for Sainte-Félicité in another car pool. Emily, the driver, is really nice and she drops me off directly at the hostel. It will be my last car pool for a while because I have decided to do my tour around Gaspésie hitchhiking. The locals have been telling me multiple times that it is the best and cheapest way to do it and somehow, now, I feel up for the challenge. A lot has changed since I first arrived and most of all, I have changed a lot. In Sainte-Félicité I stay in a hostel with an amazing view on the Saint Laurent river. It is charming and peaceful and I decide to stay their for three days, to relax and enjoy the surroundings. The team is very nice and they organize “family” dinners where all the guests from the hostel that want to join just share dinner at the same table. I meet very nice people there too and to challenge myself a bit more, I swim twice in the Saint Laurent. The water is probably between 4 and 8 degrees but it feels good to do it. I practice my hitchhiking skills by going to the supermarket. It is about 10 km away. At first I am really uncomfortable. I feel quite stupid standing there with my thumb up waiting for someone to stop. But after a few minutes, someone does stop and drives me back to the hostel. Not so bad for a first time. When I leave Sainte-Félicité, I am a bit anxious. If hitchhiking doesn’t work out I have no back up plan. After 30 minutes waiting, someone finally stops. Guillaume, his daughter and his uncle drive me most of the way and I catch a second ride within seconds which drops me off at the hostel directly. First stop: check! People truly are really nice around here. I am hopeful the rest of the way will go just as well.

I stay in a “party” hostel for 2 nights near Sainte-Anne-des-Monts but quickly realize that it is not really my scene. People come here with their friends to party and it is harder to meet someone. The crowed is a bit younger as well and on the first night, a girl got so drunk she threw up on her bunk bed. Nothing too bad but not really my preference either.  And that’s fine. Quiet, family style hostels are more my type. I try to use the two days there to hike a bit, the scenery is breathtaking again, the littoral of Gaspésie is probably one of the most beautiful places I have seen. I also work on my project a bit, but when the time comes to leave again, I am quite happy to move on. I exit the hostel with all my belongings and go on the side of the road. I am still a bit nervous when the time to hitchhike comes but after two minutes on the side of the road, an elderly couple picks me up. Eugene 79 and Nicole 75, from Montreal, are also doing a tour around Gaspésie. We drive together for a few hours, talk about our families and share our life stories. As most people I met here, they are both incredibly kind and I love hearing about their lives and everything they have witnessed and experienced. They drop me off at my next hostel near Forillon National Park and we say our goodbyes.

From the moment I set foot at the Auberge Internationale Forillon, I feel at home. The place is nothing really special but the people I meet there are great and I feel comfortable with them instantly. I meet Suzanne who is travelling for a year, Audrey and Margaux who also are doing a tour around the world for 11 months, Rosanne, from Montreal, who is travelling in Gaspésie for a few days and Jocelin and Dum who work at the hostel and play guitar and sing songs in the evening. My personal favorite: la complainte du phoque en Alaska. Audrey, Margaux and I go to the park each day. We hike for about 50 km in 3 days, see seals, beavers and pork epics in the wild. Forillon definitely is one of the highlights of my trip. I see there some of the most beautiful landscapes yet, which is hard to believe given how much beauty I have encountered so far. I feel inspired by the girls’ stories and realize I want to travel even more. I laugh with the team at the hostel and we talk and joke for hours in the evening, sitting on the kitchen counter, drinking tea while they cook their dinner. I feel comfortable, relaxed and happy as if I was in a place I could call home with people I could call friends.

But then comes the time to leave again. I realize how quickly I get attached to these places and the people I meet along the way. But as I reach Gaspé, my next stop and walk around the city, I surprise myself wearing a huge smile on my face. Here I am, all alone, wandering around and smiling from ear to ear. That must be true happiness I suppose. I only spend a day and night in Gaspé and the next morning, Ann picks me up on the side of the road and drives me to Percé. She shares a bit of her story with me and tells me how she founded a leisure fishing company 15 years ago for tourists who come to Gaspé to fish salmons in the rivers there. She explains that she taught herself how to fish when she was young and that she was one of the first woman to enter the fishing industry back then. She tells me that she had to fight to make her mark in a man-dominated environment but that eventually, her talent and persistence allowed her to gain recognition through winning prizes and awards. I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to meet a woman with such an interesting story and I realize how much I would have missed if I did not challenge myself to hitchhike.

I spend three days in Percé, visit the small town but also Bonaventure Island, a marine bird sanctuary where thousands of Fou de Bassan come each year to nest and have their babies. Days are really hot despite the wind, summer is finally here. I have mixed feelings towards Percé. On the one hand the old, typical houses give a very authentic feeling to the place and give me the impression to go back in time and experience what is was to live here back in the days, when singers, artists, poets came here to find inspiration, or before that when people lived from the prosperous fishing industry. On the other hand, the village seems to be artificially stuck in time to attract tourists and the multitude of shops and restaurants in the main street seems to rip apart all authenticity. It feels more like a movie set for tourists than a real life souvenir of older days.

I stay in the Maison Rouge hostel there, which used to be a farm and was later on turned into a youth hostel. The location is perfect, right in the city center, and the view on the ocean and the Percé rock is stunning. It is for sales and me and other visitors there start imagining how it would be buying it and running it ourselves. It is a peaceful, beautiful, old house with a lot of character and so much potential. Something to dream about. Flora, Remi, Corrina, Alex and I, who all stay at the hostel, cook dinner together one evening and eat while drinking wine. I love these type of hostels because for a short while, you feel as if you were living with great roommates, enjoying the best parts of shared living and leaving them too soon to have to face any of the annoying parts of living with someone. For a short moment, you feel like you belong, you feel at home, comfortable, just enjoying good food, good wine and great conversation.

After Percé comes Bonaventure which also brings a new challenge for me: couchsurfing. Audrey is my first host and she is incredibly kind. She picks me up in Percé where she was spending a day with her mom and drives me all the way back. When we arrive in Bonaventure she takes me kayaking on the Bonaventure River, which is one of the most beautiful rivers in North America. The water is so pure you can actually drink it and so clear you can see the bottom from anywhere while kayaking. We stop at a spot to swim and jump from the rocks, there also are little rapids that you can swim into or let yourself be transported by the currents. I am having fun like a kid would and it feels great. When we head back to Audrey’s place we have a great dinner with her parents and I head to bed early to try and prepare a bit for the days to come. I have reached the end of my planning and am not sure where I’ll go next. I spend one more day in Bonaventure, visit the Acadian museum, bike around and Audrey and I go to a concert in the evening. The next morning, after breakfast, her mom offers me a ride South.

Bonaventure marks the end of my Gaspésie tour, I was supposed to stay in Carleton for a few days but couldn’t find an affordable housing solution so I decided to skip it and Audrey’s mum dropped me off in Campbellton, New Brunswick. I have met incredible people here, travelers and locals. I have laughed and loved and shared great moments. I have seen amazing sunsets where the sky colors in pink, purple and gold. I have experienced first end the kindness of strangers that picked me on the side of the road or welcomed me into their homes and shared a little of themselves with me. I have heard amazing life stories and received so much more from everyone that I ever could give back. At the same time, my legs are covered in weird bruises and scratches I didn’t even notice getting. My mosquito bites have turned purple from all the scratching before disappearing. My hair transitioned from chocolate brown to strange shades of red in some places and blond in others, my hair cut looks like nothing and my hair always seems to be dirty, so much I have to wash it every day. I walked so many kilometers that I get leg cramps at night that wake me up, my ankles and feet are painful when I walk barefoot and my knees are getting weak. I forgot my phone charger in a hotel and had to buy two new ones because the first one did not work properly. Yet, none of this matters to me, when I compare it to all the magic I have seen, the memories I am making. I know in my heart that sooner than I can imagine, these little bumps in the road will be forgotten to only leave room for beauty, peace of mind and a sense of accomplishment and bliss I never experienced before.

The road ahead of me is still long and will, I know, be full of many more encounters, challenges and life changing experiences. I should be applying for jobs as I promised myself I would, but the truth is, the more I travel, the less I know what I want to do with my life once the trip is over. The only thing I can think of is how people have inspired me to travel even more. I know now that the most important thing at the moment is not finding out what to do with my life but finding out who I truly am. And this trip is the best way for me to do that. I know it now. Anything else, I can decide later.

So here is to many more adventures in the months to come.

Until next time

Openheartedly

F.

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