A July 2005 trip
to Montreal by 80 Ways Tim
Quote: I'm travelling around the world raising money for charity by using eighty different methods of transport. The near-final leg of my journey was provided free of charge by a CP Ships freighter from Montreal across the Atlantic!
The crew was almost entirely Indian, and so meals were almost entirely Indian as well. It was all good food and never repetitive (you'd be amazed how many different curries there are!).
Otherwise, I don't really remember all the best times because I was asleep. Lie-ins and power naps were definitely one of the trip's highlights. Rest and recuperation were the priority after our global mission, and I can think of no better place to get it. There were no distractions, no responsibilities or things to do, and we were completely cut off from the outside world--bliss.
Standing out on deck at the bow was brilliant--miles of ocean as far as the eye could see and a great feeling of isolation and peace.
Docking was also exciting. We were allowed up on the bridge anytime, and it was quite an education to watch the pilot, captain, and crew coordinating our freighter's parallel park.
The accommodations were great. We knew nothing about the ship before we left, so everything was new to us. Our cabin had two large beds, a sofa, and plenty of storage (a real luxury after 6 weeks living out of a 45-litre rucksack).
There was also a gymnasium on the upper deck with a treadmill, exercise bikes, a dart board, and a table-tennis table.
Alternatively, I found plenty of appropriately positioned bars out on deck that were suitable for chin-ups, press-ups, and the like.
I eventually ascertain that Karl is German, although when I ask, he simply shrugs and says, "It's complicated." He's in his fifties, with a tanned face and temperament that Thom summed up perfectly with the word 'jolly'. When he smiles, he reveals slightly crooked teeth. One in particular, in the front row, protrudes noticeably beyond the others and gives him this brilliant childish grin. It fits perfectly with the way in which he talks to us, constantly whispering things in a devilish way, glancing slyly to one side, then erupting in laughter.
Tom is an easy image to conjure because he is Jack Nicholson's brother. Or, at least, I think he is. You see, he is the spitting image of what Jack Nicholson's brother looks like (well, how I picture he would look like). He is clearly not Jack Nicholson, but he bears an absolutely uncanny resemblance to him, so you can just think of him as that.
Tom is on his way to meet his brother in the south of France. I don't know where Jack resides these days, but I can think of less likely places than southern France. He is from just outside Berkeley in California and decided that a boat across the Atlantic would be a good way to travel.
It's harder to get a straight answer from Karl. He's also going down to the lower regions of France, but when I ask him if he lives there, he glances over his shoulder, leans in conspiratorially, and whispers, "It's complicated." We're seated in the Officer's Mess Room, aka the dining room, being served dinner. Karl once again gives a shifty look to one side, in the direction of the crew members who are coming in and out of the room, and says, "I vill tell you about it after ve get to through customs." Thom and I share a look of bewilderment—do we have another smuggler in our midst?
Outside the dining room window, as there are outside most windows on this ship, are stacks of boxes. Only these boxes are different. They have air-conditioning units on the side and digital read-outs displaying the inside air temperature. They read "-18C". "What do you think's in them?" I ask Thom, but the obvious answer dawns on me at the same time it does on him. Bodies.
We were only made aware of this boat's existence some two weeks earlier in Beijing and thus didn't have the first idea of what to expect. Now that I'm onboard, I still don't have answers to half my questions. I know that it is a huge freighter travelling from Montreal to Hamburg that takes only four passengers for a fee of some $1,500. I know that Thom and I occupy the only passenger double room on the boat and that it is a very comfortable arrangement, not at all cramped, with room for two large beds, cupboards, and a sofa. I also know that there is a lounge room with a stereo, TV, and books that has half a dozen couches in it. And now I know that we have meals at 7am, 12pm, and 6pm in the Officer's Mess Room, that they are typically of Indian origin (since the crew is largely from there), and that those meals are notably better than the roadside food that kept us sustained for the duration of our stay in North America. Beyond that are many unanswered questions.
Something else I have come to find out is that the life onboard this boat is good. You have seen the sum of my duties for the day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), and the rest of the roster is divided evenly among reading, sleeping, and idle banter. After the prolonged on-the-move mentality of our trip, the luxury of this laid-back lifestyle could not have been better timed. Even the Trans-Siberian was hard work compared to this. There we didn't have food provided, we had to share a tiny cabin with two other people, and there wasn't anywhere to go. Here we have both freedom and privacy, space and shelter.
Our exhaustion is self-evident. When I sleep, I like my room to be cold. Our cabin is hot and humid, but before I have time to worry about the temperature, I’m out cold. I was awoken one day after 11 hours of sleep by a breakfast call, after which I had a two-hour nap. The next night, I slept another 11 hours and split the day between sleeping and trying to stay awake. I was concerned that all the daytime dozing would impede my ability to sleep at night, but I have had no such trouble. Yes, the Canmar Pride is just what the doctor ordered.
Whether it was Gomes' accent, Tom's accent, a combination of the two, or some amusing quirk resulting from something entirely unknown, I don't know, but conversations between the two of them were thoroughly entertaining. They had an unprecedented ability to talk to each other without ever connecting, and Tom would frequently leave such interactions with a look of perplexity far greater than the one he wore when he started to make an inquiry.
On the first day, at breakfast, Tom joined us a little later, and Gomes offered him some cereal. A man who knew his priorities, Tom made a request for coffee.
"Ah, no, sir."
"Oh, okay," Tom said, clearly taken aback by the fact that a boat catering to only a few dozen people for a week had no coffee available on its first day. "No coffee?" he asked, confused. He'd forked over $1,500 dollars for a boat trip that included a gymnasium, TV room, and decent three-course meals, and apparently they didn't stock coffee. "What drinks do you have?"
"Okay, can I get a cup of tea then, please."
"Yes sir, tea or coffee?"
"Tea or coffee??" came Tom's reply, with a look of excruciating confusion.
"Er, okay... can I get a coffee?"
This was the way things went onboard the Canmar Pride. Tom would get one answer—usually the one he didn't want—and then, after a drawn out and largely pointless verbal goose chase, he would receive the actual answer (usually the one he wanted).
Seeing Thom and I tucking into cereal before our fried eggs arrived, Karl's eyes widened as he said, "You guys eat cereal as well as eggs!?" He was like an overexcited kid. After helping himself to some 'Mueslix', he made his usual scan of the room, put his arms onto the table, and brought himself in closer to us. "Okay, now I tell you vhat I couldn't say yesterday." Customs had apparently been and gone during our sleep, and it was now safe to talk. He had apparently outstayed his Canadian visa by three months—"I used a few tricks."
"If they vant to fight terrorism, zey need to get their act together," he continued, "Ze different departments, zey don't talk to each other, you see. If zey did, I wouldn't be here! Ze first thing I would do is get rid of those robes zey vear," he says, gesturing to a Muslim headscarf. "You can't tell if it's a man or a voman!"
Outside the window, the LCD screen showed -16.4C. The bodies were warming.
In the stairwell on the way back to our room, Karl emerged through the fourth deck door, shouting enthusiastically, "Thom! Tim! Come look!" He opened a series of doors for us, and we found ourselves on deck. Karl took the sister ship over to Montreal, so he was a relative veteran and frequently acted as our guide. He informed us that we would be passing Quebec City at 10am, and sure enough, there it was, in the distance.
Standing outside as we sailed along the river, passing by all the waterfront houses, the forests, boats, people, and the castles of Quebec, was quite a powerful experience. I still didn't really have a picture of exactly what the boat looked like, as I only saw it briefly when we boarded, and it was hard to get any idea from inside it, but what I did know was that it was big. Standing by the railings, with the breeze blustering around me, I began to have an appreciation for how Leonardo DiCaprio could deliver such a cheesy line with a straight face—I did feel like the king of the world.
80 Ways Tim
London, United Kingdom