Many people ask what I have learned or how I have changed after six weeks on the Camino de Santiago. I’ll write about that at some point but a better question right now might be whether I’ve learned anything or changed in any way after nearly two years of round-the-world travel. Today, after all, is Saturday #100.
I don’t know if I’m any wiser than when I left Toronto on July 1, 2014, but I have developed at least one new skill. It’s not something that will be of much use when I return to Canada but while traveling the world it’s a pretty good conversation starter.
So what is this quirky little skill and when did I first notice that I have it? It’s the ability to detect accents, or more specifically, the lack of an accent. When I’m in a crowd of English-speaking people and I hear a voice that sounds just like me, the speaker almost always turns out to be Canadian and often from Toronto.
Last August I was sitting in the lobby of the Grand Orzu Hotel in Tashkent, Uzbekistan when I overheard a brief conversation between a guest and the desk clerk. The guest didn’t divulge any specific information but when I failed to detect an accent I was fairly certain that he was from my neck of the woods.
Later that night I was at a meeting of people joining our Dragoman expedition and the guy was there. He introduced himself as “Tim from Canada” and he said that he would be writing an article about the trip for a national newspaper.
“The Globe And Mail?” I asked.
“Why, yes,” he said.
“So what part of Toronto are you from?”
“Cabbagetown,” he said.
I once lived very close to Cabbagetown so I pressed him further.
“Well, not really Cabbagetown,” he admitted. “More like Moss Park.”
“Hey, I lived near Moss Park throughout the 1990s and again for a year after selling my house in 2013,” I told him.
It turned out that for the better part of a decade we had lived on the same street – me at #90 and Tim at #190. Our addresses were almost identical, right down to the unit numbers and Tim thinks that he once received some of my mail by mistake.
I was in a restaurant in Cambodia last winter when I overheard a restaurant owner talking to customers. Although the owner was Asian, I couldn’t detect an accent. He sounded just like me! That’s pretty rare in Cambodia so I got his attention and asked if he had lived in Cambodia all his life. He said that he was born in China and his parents sent him to Toronto at age 13. He graduated from U of T, worked as an engineer in Sudbury for many years, and later in advertising in Toronto. We didn’t get into specifics but I’m pretty sure that we’ve frequented some of the same Church Street bars and restaurants.
Today I was strolling the streets of Santiago de Compostela when I heard a couple discussing their options for lunch. They had their backs to me so I didn’t initially see the logo on the man’s jacket, but the more I listened the more I was convinced they were from Toronto and possibly even my neighbourhood.
When I asked where they were from, the reply was no surprise. “But where in Toronto?” I asked.
“Actually we’re not from Toronto but a small town just north of Toronto,” said Jim.
I knew I was onto something as I grew up in a small town just north of Toronto. Pressed a little further, Darlene said they were from “Holland Landing.”
I told them I was born in Stouffville, which is about 35 km southeast of Holland Landing, so we weren’t actually neighbours but pretty close! They looked at each other for a few seconds before Jim said: “I worked at the CIBC (bank) in Stouffville for 10 years.”
My mother banked at the CIBC for 50 years. Jim was familiar with her name.
We chatted on the sidewalk for a while before Jim and Darlene invited me to join them for lunch. They had just finished doing the ‘Camino Light’ (their words) which involved two weeks of walking, some bus travel, decent hotels, and staff that transported their bags from one town to the next. They were eager to hear about my experiences on a 36-stage Camino as well as two years of round-the-world travel.
After two hours of story-telling and reminiscing about all the great experiences we’ve had, I realized that I’m not quite ready to end this adventure. I don’t know what the future holds but I do know that I will be walking to Finistere. It’s only 89 km, after all.
A few years ago the thought of walking 89 km to see a lighthouse would seem absurd to me. Perhaps that’s how I’ve changed. After two years of travel, I’m definitely in a different space. I no longer need to be in control of the situtation and I’m happy to let things unfold as they may. Spontaneity is my new middle name.
So what comes after Saturday #100? I dunno! Let’s get to Saturday #101 (Finistere) and take it from there.