The journey down
Finally on Canadian soil, we set off, for the 220 km drive to our base at Bear River. Panic! I’d only ever driven on the wrong side of the road (the Canadians claim they drive on the right side!) for ten days, and that was years ago. Strange country, strange road signs, strange ways. Mother luck played another good hand of fate. It was motorways all the way from the hotel to within a kilometre of our new temporary home, and so gingerly, with the team help of my wife, I gained the necessary experience on the hoof (so to speak) to adapt my driving.
Make sure that you hire an automatic, with cruise control and a/c (air-conditioning). Having only ever driven around in old bangers, I’d never used cruise before but what it does is retain your vehicle’s speed at a set limit. To disengage the system simply touch the brake or accelerator and control is passed back to the driver. You need it here because of the long distances between anywhere, and the fact that the top speed limit is just 100 km/h – about 60 mph. To avoid foot cramp and the constant necessity to keep watching the speedo, choose cruise.
As far as a/c goes, this only happened in the UK whenever I opened the car window. Just in case you, like me, have no idea of what it is, it’s a small refrigerator under the bonnet (sorry – hood) that ice cools the incoming air. Feels like the blast when you open the freezer door at home. Nice and essential. Whilst writing this, it’s 82 degrees Fahrenheit (28°C) in the shade and it’s September. The news just reported that someone had baked cookies (biscuits) outside using just the heat of the sun.
The main highways in Nova Scotia do a giant loop that run parallel to the coast line, so, say, you can go down the north coast from Halifax and return along the south shore. The further west you drive, the fewer vehicles there are on the road and you will be shocked by the fact that sometimes you can look in both directions and not see a living soul, and this is a motorway. Weird!!
Again, the more you journey out, the fewer the options to play I-Spy with the kids. There’s “r” for road, “s” for sky and “t” for … you guessed it.
You will however spot a wide variety of flattened Canadian wildlife, mainly poor old racoons and porcupines that didn’t make it across the road. Having said that, the odd live beaver, black mink and deer will make an appearance. We’re still waiting for a bear or moose though.
Unlike the UK, there are no cameras on the highways, either traffic or police. No Big Brother watching. Again unlike the UK, virtually no one does excessive mph (sorry, km/h) over the limit. Something strange for a Brit to observe. The Nova Scotians appear to drive at a maximum of 110 km/h, the highest limit around here would be 100 km/h. To go at 115 km/h would thought to be rude and flouting the law. Also when overtaking another vehicle, unlike the UK where you hit the floorboards and give as much welly as possible, not the Scotians. Again that would be considered ill-mannered and abusing the law and therefore it’s done in slow motion so as not to offend. It’s rare to be pulled over by a cop, but everyone, including the truckers on time constraints, drives like you’d find in the UK when there’s a radar trap or police car around. You know the scene – pious, upright, eyes straight forward and dead on 29 mph!
I have to say at this point that the Nova Scotians are the sweetest people we’ve ever met – any comments I make are only with the greatest respect and love. They are fantastic, honest, caring, generous, and always ready to help.
Be careful when pulling off any road onto the hard shoulder as alongside it you will find a large deep “V” shaped ditch. These are on all highways and are the provision to take snow from the plough when it goes by in winter. Also you’ll notice that there’s no “cats-eyes” or reflective particles used in the road lining. Plus, if you see a huge locomotive coming down the middle of the highway at you, I suggest you clear the way quick as it’s painting the road, and at a fast rate of knots. Whatever happened to the little guy with the push along liner?
Word of warning for Brits. We discovered what a Big Mack really was early on in our Canadian driving experience. In a lapse of awareness, we reverted back to British driving and went round the corner on the wrong side of the road, only to be faced with a truck radiator the size of a three-storey house, and MACK emblazoned across its width. Apparently the RCMP (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) allow Brits three weeks amnesty for non-serious driving errors, after which they book you. If you have been here for three months, you have to take a simple Canadian driving test to assure the authorities that you are capable and have learned the contents of their version of the Highway Code.
On to the base
Heading towards the rented house near Digby, we encountered our first Canadian dirt road. Back in the UK, a dirt road would have been a muddy track. Not here – these are laid for logging truck use, as wide as three lanes and resemble a motorway that’s awaiting the final tarmac surface. This sums up Canada – everything is big here, solid, built like brick toilet houses and very, very, practical. Even moths and mosquitos are the size of jumbo jets, robins the size of turkeys (well, a wee bit of an exaggeration…). Nothing here is small.
© 2002 Klondike Pete