Monday, July 16, 2012

climbing trees in Val-des-Monts

There is a drought going on in my hometown right now and everyone is either excited about yet another sunny day or bothered by the heat, but nobody seems to be alarmed about it as me. This is the first time I can remember there ever being a drought in these regions, and having emerged from the Sub-Saharan desert, I fear the future if this continues. I've seen what will happen. Soon we'll all be reduced to one minute showers and watering our lawns with reused untreated sewage water.

For now, my hair turns to straw and my skin turns into crocodile scales, and brush fires rage in the woods near my home, blocking half of the roads in my neighbourhood. It was when a CTV truck hit traffic light poles cutting off access to the other half of the roads in my neighbourhood that I decided to leave my stomping grounds for a little bit and escape to Quebec for the weekend, sort of as a displaced refugee.

One of the benefits of living in Ottawa is that being right on the provincial border, it's easier to go to Quebec on any given day. After work on Friday, I walked by foot across the Alexandra Bridge and had a lovely glass of white wine by myself on the patio at the Bistro Boreal before meeting up with some folks for dinner at La Papaye Verte across the street. Ottawa residents tend to think of Gatineau as an extension of Ottawa, albeit an area that they prefer not to go to very much. But it's got its own attractions to explore. After dinner, we decided to take a leisurely stroll back over the bridge to Ottawa. The greenspace behind the Museum of Civilization is one of the loveliest spots in the downtown area, but these days the lawns are all yellow. Lean adolescent Canadian geese squatted over the pavement, glaring at us with teen angst. Some of the girls ran through the sprinkler in an effort to cool down in the summer heat. I wondered how long we're going to keep doing this, watering our lawns, before we give up. Thirst reminds me of Namibia. I decided to come back to Quebec the next day.

Saturday morning, I left the house at seven in the morning to go ziplining in Val-des-Monts. The drive took me an hour deep into Quebec, past little towns all along the gorgeous river, until it spat me out at Lafleche, where we would be embarking on our aerial adventure.

Lafleche is more or less a playground for adults with no sense of death or injury, or desire to grow up. You spend the day hanging out in the tops of trees, learning to embrace your vertigo like the way I learned to embrace thirst in the desert.

looking sexy in my safety gear

When you're not climbing the trees, you're swinging between them on ziplines.

that's pretty high

I loved this experience. I love challenging my fear of heights by swimming on the edges of waterfalls, and there's something very zen-like and therapeutic about sitting high atop the trees of Quebec's finest boreal forest

Julie peers down at me from the treetops

Martin, hanging out

Martin, attempting gymnastic stunts mid-air

Plus sometimes you could pretend you were Tarzan, or Spiderman.

This guide was apparently going to save us whenever we did anything too stupid, but I fail to see how, seeing that she was on the ground and we were up in the air, full of freedom and disdain for gravity.

yep, that's pretty high.

Christine decided at one point that she would do better crawling across.

Dan, making his way

Martin, below my feet, just where I like him.


by the time we were through, we were exhausted, famished, and as thirsty as ever. The sun was hot with no hints of rain, and so we decided to set off in search for a river to swim in.

Somewhere along the way, we ended up finding an abandoned building instead. Martin pulled a U-Turn and parked right in front of it. Without a word, he disappeared inside.

For a moment, I felt like I was back in the ghost town of kolmonskop It was an old building that had once been a bar, and what appeared to be a karaoke bar at that. Inside the building were broke glass, mirrors, dusty pool tables, toilets, and a bunch of dusty nails.

(Incidentally, the last time I'd heard from Martin before that day was when he had send Christine a message along the lines of "I am lying on the road with a nail through my foot." I told him that unless he sent photos, I would not believe it had happened. He sent me photos of the X-ray. Because I am a lady, I won't reproduce those photos here.)

Outside, the words "LACE UP" had been mysteriously scrawled on the front wall. It felt, at once, very Quebec (with its hockey reference) and very un-Quebec (with its English). It was a neat place to stop and listen to the ghosts of karaoke singers past.

Still, although we had satisfied our curiosity, there was still our post-tree climb hunger to attend to. We found a roadside shack by the river, the kind of food stop you find all over Quebec, and bought some poutine, because really, it's these kinds of places where you will find the best poutine in the entire country. I also got myself a Slushie, because swinging from trees all day made me feel like I was twelve.

yes, in addition to a beef patty, this burger also contains smoked meat and tartar sauce. God bless the Quebecois and their genius cuisine.

As we finished our delicious poutine, someone noticed that Martin was missing.

"Where did Martin go?"
"Probably in the bathroom."
"Say, who's that guy waving at us from the other side of the river?"
"That looks like Martin."
"It does! We should tell Martin we saw a guy that looks like Martin when Martin comes back."
" that Martin?"
" it?"

That's when we discovered the hole in the fence, revealing a trail of Martin's clothes leading into the river.

I am of the opinion that there is never really a bad time for a midday underwear party, not when you're in the middle of a drought, and you've spent the day climbing trees, and even your African desert-trained resilience is starting to melt under the afternoon sun, and you've come across a river so refreshing, Joni Mitchell could have mended a broken heart swimming in it. So we girls crawled into the river, some with all of our clothes, and others in other varying stages of (un)dress.

When the guys found us, they weren't going to be left out.

midday underwear party

Martin, a true man of the land, fashions a handmade fishing rod out of a branch, reeds, and someone's abandoned lure, in hunt of the elusive river shark.

When I was in Namibia, I began to really miss water, especially when I was in Windhoek, the first city I'd lived in that had not been built near a body of water. I felt grateful to be where I was right then, wherever we were in rural Quebec, swimming in the river on someone's private property in the middle of a drought. I was happy to be near the water everywhere I went.

the adventure crew

On Sunday, it was still hot and muggy and it still had not rained in many days. I was still dreaming about alien invasions and other adventures. I decided to go back to the Quebec side for one more party: Piknik Electronik.

Piknik Electronik is one of those weird concepts that make me love the Quebecois. It's a weekly midday outdoor electronic music party that originated in Montreal, but spread to Gatineau and, of all places, Barcelona. The beats start at 2PM every Sunday, and the dancing goes on until 9PM at night. Basically, somebody decided, "You know what would be a big success? Throwing a dance party in the middle of the day, outside, on a Sunday." And, because French people are awesome, it WAS a success. It serves as the perfect after-after-after party, or, alternatively, a fun place to bring your kids while you dance. If you like dancing in broad daylight.

entrance by the Museum of Civilization

Matt and I showed up with a picnic blanket, a cooler, and some snacks (almost as good as a foghorn and a drum and a hammer that's rockin') and had ourselves a lovely picnic in the middle of what was basically a midday rave. It was neat to watch the women dance in the middle of the circle of speakers while the deejay played beats punctuated by 8-bit Nintendo synth sounds, with the magnificent backdrop of Parliament across the river. Once again, I found myself not minding the sweat that was forming on my upper lip from the heat, and just feeling grateful that, despite what everyone's been warning me about being a grown up, life is still exciting and fun and full of adventure.

And then it began to rain.