Returning to the frozen north

I’m now in Cancun in the same hotel where this adventure started exactly five weeks ago. This afternoon I fly to Chicago and then on to Ottawa, if my plane doesn’t hit geese and try to land on Lake Michigan.

Mid-January is not a great time to return to Canada, but I’ve been blessed with several weeks of great weather while most Canadians suffered in cold. Still, the weather in Ottawa looks to be right now about the worst of the season. And never in my wildest dreams did I think a transit strike in Canada’s capital would be allowed to go on for five weeks. My arrival will be lots of fun, because I left my winter coat at home.

When people down here ask about Canada, they know it’s very cold and there’s lots of snow. But most, except those who’ve been to North America, have no real concept of it. Ice is something you put in drinks, and they’ve seen snow on TV, but here if it goes down to 15C, people say it’s cold. One British expatriate in Belize just shook his head when I said it was minus 20 in Ottawa that day: “Why would anyone live there?” Good question, though I do love those few weeks of tulips and autumn colours.

I’ve met several retired or semi retired people from North America who live down here. At Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, which must have one of the best climates in the world, I met Ron, who retired there and rents a two-bedroom house for less than $100 a month. He says he could never afford to live on his pension in the U.S., but here he lives well. He strikes up conversations with tourists, and he lives with two females — a dog and a cat. The four-legged kind of female, he says, is much more affordable than the two-legged kind.

Another semi-retired man, originally from Alberta and Saskatchewan, who I met yesterday on his way to Belize, lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and does metal art. He was on his way to Belize to look into setting up a store in the tourist zone where the cruise ships arrive. He spends his summers in Ketchican, Alaska.

Returning to Mexico is interesting after Guatemala and Belize. It seems so developed and relatively first world, even outside Cancun. The poverty and crumbling infrastructure in Guatemala and Belize are a sharp contrast to Mexico’s relative prosperity. Of course, traveling the other way, from north to south, Mexico’s poverty compared to Canada and the U.S. is more evident.

Soon it’ll be time to head to the airport. I don’t feel ready.

About Richard McGuire
Richard McGuire is a part-time photographer and photography enthusiast based on Ottawa, Canada.

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