It is that time of year again! Carnaval!
I am always amazed at the number of people that come to Quebec for Carnaval. I was on the train last week, on my way home from Montréal. There was a group of girls from Ontario heading to Quebec city for the festivities. Their discussion intrigued me. Yes, I was listening in but it was not like they were whispering. All of their voices were loud and joyous....they were heading off to the land of under-age drinking and partying all night long!! Of course in Quebec they were possibly of age but I doubt that was the case in their home province of Ontario. They discussed the various places they would be going, what they would wear and which song would be the most memorable song of the trip. (girls love to determine one song that they will use as the signature song for a particular event or time in their lives)
Between myself and these girls sat a very confused-looking young man. He was obviously from a South American country and I suspected on his summer holidays. He was fretting over a map that provided directions to his hotel. I could make out from his conversation with the woman sitting next to him (broken english matched with even worse broken english) that he was debating between getting off in Ste. Foy or waiting for the downtown station. She instructed that he should wait for downtown.
When the train pulled out from Ste. Foy station he seemed even more agitated that perhaps he made the wrong decision. Sooooooo..... I decided that perhaps I needed to jump in and see how I could help ease his worries. You see, my own daughter, recently travelled to Peru (second trip) and to Chili (first trip) at the young age of 18, so I was feeling like this might be a good time to help out one of her fellow travelers.
I offered to study his map and determine how he should proceed. As I had predicted, he was 19 and from Chili on his first trip to North America. Actually, this was his first trip away from home and since it was his summer holidays he was taking advantage of this holiday to see a bit of the world before attending university. He looked excited, nervous and curious all at the same time. Of course my attempt to hide my dismay with his hotel selection did not go un-noticed and he laughed when I asked how he found his motel. As a resident of la belle ville we all know that the strip next to the airport offers it own special services... such as... rooms rented on the hour.
It also meant that he was a good $30-40 taxi ride from the carnaval activities. The city bus would also be a challenge since this would require at least one transfer.
I suggested to this young man that perhaps my daughter and her friends would be willing to take them around the carnaval at some point on the weekend. I figured since she spoke Spanish he would have an excellent tour guide and she would have a great opportunity to practice her Spanish. (something she loves to do) We agreed that upon arrival at the train station I would phone my daughter and they would talk. We also agreed that if he was not feeling good about the motel to let us know and he was welcome to sleep on the spare bed in our basement.
We parted ways, him by taxi and me in my car. (my spa date with girlfriends was waiting!)
By the time the next day rolled around it turned out that he had sent a text to my daughter (2 a.m.) saying that the motel was quite noisy....lots of action going on in the rooms on either side of him! He wondered if he could take us up on his offer and spend the following night with us.
So, the next night, home he came....and then the next night he stayed again. I had to wonder at how we have become so nervous about trusting people that when we offered him to use a computer to Skype his family he admitted that he did not want them to know he was staying with us for two nights. He said that one night would have them worried but two nights would be upsetting. His mother, he claimed, would think he was crazy in trusting us and certainly she would not approve.
He did Skype his parents and we did say hello and show our faces in hope that they would see some trace of assurance in the faces smiling back at them from the other side of their screen. I think it helped a bit but in the end he still did not divulge that the motel was a stop-over for prostitutes and their clients and that perhaps staying with us was a good alternative. Certainly finding a hotel at the last minute during Carnaval would not be easy given his limited budget. We offered to take him back to his motel if he preferred but he quickly declined and admitted that once home he would indeed reveal all to his parents. I found myself feeling strangely uncomfortable with the idea that we were part of some deception.
by Sunday night he had spent his second evening with a couple of teenage girls, eating chocolate fondue while listening to the girls sing and play guitar. The next morning he quite obviously enjoyed a breakfast of crepes and Quebec lamb merguez sausages topped with local maple syrup. That day he visited the carnaval with two beautiful 18 year old girls as his escort. He tasted caribou (an alcoholic drink which is a must-try at Carnaval) by an outdoor fire. That evening he enjoyed a meat fondue in the company of our two children (18 and 16) along with two girlfriends that joined in for the fun. And then the night ended with the sharing of salsa moves in the living room (rug rolled back) and and our new found appreciation for Chilean music.
On Monday we drove him to the train station and parted ways. As we said goodbye and saw him head off to his next adventure we wondered whether he would ever share the weekend with his parents. It doesn't change anything for us. We enjoyed our weekend and determined that we had possibly scored points with the Karma gods that look after all traveling souls while away from their homes. We actually know one such soul traveling around China.
So if the Karma Gods are listening (they must exist!) then please send any possible points forward to her as she travels along her way in an unknown land where hopefully there is another family waiting to take her in for a dinner or two.