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Published: November 26th 2009
I have always been curious about our friendly neighbor to the north, and after visiting 31 other countries, it was finally time for me to make the trip … to … CANaDA! I am educated about their ways and customs through a litany of Canadian friends accumulated over the years. My mom’s friend Jennifer is a hockey pusher, Jodie and Erin tease my stomach with tales of poutine (French fries with gravy and cheese curds on top!?!? Yeah baby, I said cheese CURDS!), and Angela from Newfoundland schooled me on the duties of a Canada National Park Warden! Plus, later this year I am to meet two Quebecans, Jeff and David, and learn that Frenchies can be Awesome! But that's in the future and for you to read about later - Oh Geez!
Anytime I tell anyone that I am from Wisconsin, one hour north of Green Bay, they inevitably say, “Isn’t that Canada?” True we share snow and accents, but Wisconsin and Canada don’t even share a border! I always graciously point out that there is a huge lake between us - and it was this Lake Superior that Alyssa and I were to circumnavigate!
The car packed with our
hometown cheese and pretzels, we left at about noon on the familiar Highway 41 North with $500 and a full tank of gas. Our main focus was to get Alyssa’s first passport stamp, so the plan was to drive to the border city, Sault Saint Marie, see some stuff, and get home before the money ran out! I couldn’t believe it - we got to the St. Mary’s River on the border and were crossing the International Bridge in about 4 hours! Had I lived this close to Canada almost my entire life? Heresy! Alyssa and I started chanting “Oh, Canada” when we were halfway over the bridge, and it became our chorus over the next four days of pleasant surprises.
We passed through immigration with barely a head nod and later realized - no passport stamps! And with that I realized; they really don’t care if we visit or shop or drive through their country - it’s only the U.S. government imposing the new passport regulations on our neighbors. We followed my usual travel routine and pulled into the tourist information shack to get maps and Oh Canada activity pamphlets. Since we arrived on a Sunday, most of the
places downtown looked deserted and closed….but I was super excited to see one of my LA favorites - the Pita Pit! We got fresh delicious pita wraps and perused the colorful brochures, quickly realizing that Peshtigo has more going on than this border town. I should have known; border towns aren’t usually known for their culture and national representation! (Tijuana, Mexico? Corozal, Belize?) So we made the decision to march on - let’s keep going North and see what we see!
The first two things we saw provided us with hours of entertainment - and they were both road signs! The first sign warned us of Wawa in 224km, the next of moose crossings at night. Trust me, you can say Wawa 1,749 times and it’s hilarious every time! We looked forward to each Wawa mile marker sign, and took too many pictures of Wawa so-and-so business billboards! We ended up driving all the way to Wawa … hahahaha I’m laughing out loud again! way to Wawa! … because it turned out to be the closest resemblance to civilization seen in the 224km!
That introductory drive into Canada on Hwy 17 was most impressive! We were bordered by Lake Superior
on the left and crossed over innumerous rock formations, rivers, and tiny lakes the entire length of the highway. Lake Superior had awesome pine tree islands and giant boulder islets dotted near the shorelines and the rock formations were colored from white to burnt orange! We had to stop quite a few times for photo opportunities and every time we were chased back into our car by the GIANT mosquitoes! So THAT’S where they come from! We finally pulled into Wawa and drove through town, sizing up the entertainment options. The movie theater was abandoned, the bowling alley was closed, and the one restaurant in town was a bar. Oh, and they had a humongous goose statue, because Wawa actually means Goose in the local Native American language! AHA! We found a reasonably priced Beaver Lodge across the street from a Subway, and caught a gorgeous sunset over the valley and lake horizon. We also fell in love with the local elementary school project recognizing the female elders of the community - there were life size cutouts of grandmas all over town - you have to see the pictures to appreciate it!
The next morning we grabbed some subs and
backtracked South on the Hwy a short mile (I mean, 2 kilometers) to check out the nearby Magpie waterfall. I have to admit my surprise, but this was actually a striking and beautiful waterfall! (And it turned out to be the first of many that day!) Since we had decided to go for it - we were going to follow the Circle Lake Superior Route -we ate quickly and jumped back on the road. From the maps, it looked like there would be no reprieve in the endless wilderness and we would have to drive the rest of the Canadian Lake border to find the next incorporated town! Over the 483km there were a plethora of national parks (with waterfalls!) and scenic views to keep us captivated. And at one point, when we were about 100km from nowhere, I saw a man riding a unicycle down the highway! WHAT?! We stopped and enjoyed two more waterfalls, Rainbow Falls and Aguasaban Falls, both so different and super awesome. In between waterfalls, we spotted two adult moose on the side of the road - and I thought the moose thing was just a cliché! We also stopped at a gas station and
loaded up on unfamiliar snacks - did you know they sell the Kinder chocolate candies in Canada? Why are we the only country adverse to surprise-filled chocolate eggs!?!
We finally rolled into Thunder Bay around dusk, and wandered around the town looking for the right neighborhood for us. We indulged in a fantastic Chinese buffet, and decided to visit the movie theater across the street and see what was playing. But as we pulled in, we were more attracted to the Bingo Hall in the corner of the lot! We walked in the Bingo Hall grinning like idiots and went over to the concession stand to see how we could get in on the action! They told us the next session didn’t start for another 90 minutes, and we were welcome to return then. I looked at the clock - bingo was going to start at 9pm on a Sunday night? OK, Canada! So we set back onut on the town to find ourselves a hotel - and ended up stopping at 5 different places only to find out they all wanted over $100 for the night! What is up with the hotel industry these days - $100 to
sleep and bathe for 12 hours? We finally found a decent place for $85 and breakfast, so we took it, and then sat and counted the minutes to game time!
Now, at 30 years old, I find it exhilarating and refreshing to be doing or learning something completely new. I did not think I was going to be having that experience in a BINGO HALL! I mean, it’s Bingo! But from the minute we walked in, we were confused and amused! First we tried to buy a Bingo card…they had 12 variations of booklets or sheets, and if we wanted to play Bonanza, Twoonies, or Pocket Cards we could buy them at the front of the hall. Which series were we planning on playing tonight? Huh? I wanted to play …. Bingo? All the volunteers laughed and asked us like we were children new to the playground, “Is this your first time here?” I was not afraid to admit, YES! HELP! A super nice volunteer boy took us under his wing and started laying out the basics. He showed us the schedule and potential winnings of each type of game, and explained the basic booklets and cards. Then he gave
us a coupon for a free coffee, tea, or pop! He also offered free Bingo Stamper markers, but in our excitement at our first visit to the concession we had already bought the cheapest two stampers. He looked at our measley excuses for a stamper and giggled - “Oh no, I’m going to get you some of the GOOD ones! What colors do you want?” Whoa! What a welcoming committee - free stampers AND a pop! Oh Canada! We were loving it, and the games didn’t start for another 20 minutes, so we found some seats and staked our area (while observing others around the room - people with Bingo handheld computer things were the most puzzling…people with custom sewn bingo marker carousals and 18 different color markers were the most inspiring!) I went over to the Twoonie/ Bonanza area and asked a million questions trying to figure this all out. But none of the volunteers selling those tickets really understood what the heck was going on - and the people buying them really couldn’t explain the game either. I think they just didn’t want me to buy any of the tickets to keep their odds increased!
Finally they started
calling the bingo numbers, but at a pace so quick we had to struggle to keep up! We were trying to look at 6 cards at once, and Alyssa and I were laughing our heads off, until all the sudden I realized and yelled out “BINGO!!” Everyone in the hall was looking at me funny, including the number calling lady high up on her podium, and a volunteer came over to our table. “I’m sorry, but we are not playing Bingo yet - she’s just calling the blackout numbers for Game 7.” Hahahahahahaha, really? (I would not live this down for the rest of the evening - people in the bathroom, at the concession stand, and the tables around us all had comments throughout the night!)
THEN, finally, Bingo really started. It was 12 different games based on the winning blackout patterns, and the prize winnings ranged from $15 to $500 - Canadian dollars of course! In order to win Game 11, you had to blackout your entire card; imagine my surprise when they called my last clean square, B6!! BINGO!!! Of course, no one believed me, since I already cried Wolf once tonight. But they checked out my numbers
and confirmed - WinNER! Of $68 Canadian Dollars! WHOO HOO! Even though I had won, the bingo lady had already pulled the next call - B11 - which was the last clean square on Alyssa’s card! Game 11 was destined to be a Wandke Sister Victory!
We were high on Bingo and Canada, and reluctant to leave Thunder Bay the next day….but the road trip must march on! Before crossing the border back to the US, we stopped at a Dutch cheese farm to spend the last of our Canadian dollars. They had so many amazing samples it was hard to choose which to buy in masse! And Alyssa was enamored with the shelves of exotic Dutch chocolate candies; enjoying foreign candy is fun for everyone! That day we drove the entire Lake Superior coastline through Minnesota and had a MOST AMAZING lunch at a coffee shop along the way. We also stopped at two more waterfalls and recognized that this is a place we need to revisit someday! We drove all the way to the Apostle Islands of Wisconsin and stayed in Cornucopia that night- the northernmost town of Wisco! The beach was remarkable, but cold! We stayed in
an adorable lodge with a homey living room area full of magazines, books, and a fireplace. The next morning we were determined to get back to P-town, and even though we saw signs for three more waterfall hikes, we drove straight through our home county and arrived back at the Peshtigo Palace via Crivitz and Hwy D. A full circle indeed!
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