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My Favourite Souvenir

snow -10 °C

Upon my recent return from Trinidad, I flew on an Air Canada flight that went to Toronto from Port of Spain, Trinidad via Caracas, Venezuela. We spent a total of 45 minutes on the ground in Caracas, and they didn’t even let us off the plane, so unlike Danny Glover, I didn’t get an opportunity to visit with Hugo Chavez.

After spending the night flying over the Caribbean Ocean and the United States of America, the plane landed in Toronto at 6 in the morning. I sleepily approached the Canadian customs booth with my completed Canadian Customs Form.

After pursuing the form, the pretty, blonde customs agent asked, “Where are you coming from?”

“Port of Spain, Trinidad.”

“That flight comes through Caracas, correct?”

“Yes, it does.”

“Did you disembark in Caracas?”

“No, they didn’t even let us off the plane"

“Hmm,” she said, looking down again, and circling in red marker the area where I had written that I had $0 worth of good coming back with me. “You didn’t buy anything?” she asked.

“No,” I replied.

“Why did you go to Trinidad?” she asked. I said that I had gone down for vacation, and there was a line of questioning regarding why I had chosen Trinidad (because the flights worked out for my week vacation), if I knew anyone there (no), and again if I had bought anything.

“Do you have any checked luggage to pick up?” she asked. I replied that all I had was my backpack. “You went away for a week with just that small bag?” she asked.

“A bathing suit, a towel and a couple pairs of t-shirts and shorts don’t take up much room.”

“Hmm,” she said again, and wrote down some cryptic red numbers on the back of my form. They always write down red numbers on the back of the forms when entering Canada. It is, apparently, some sort of code to indicate if a secondary screening was required, and apparently today it was determined that I should be screened.

A second customs agent questioned me again before I passed by the baggage claim area, where I was waved into a separate room for a check by a third set of agents. They unpacked my bag and looked at all I had which amounted to a bathing suit, a towel, a couple pairs of t-shirts and shorts, some toiletries, a hat, a flashlight (never actually used) and a camera. They asked more questions about why I travelled to Trinidad, how often I travelled and why I travelled. Eventually I was waved on and got to walk outside into the cold of Canada.

I understand completely the suspicion I aroused. A single traveller with no bags and nothing to declare flying through a couple countries where drug and money trafficking is an issue, so I probably would have pulled me aside too. I was treated well, so no hard feelings with the Canadian customs.

All three sets of agents asked me, “You didn’t buy anything?” This of course makes sense because that’s their job, however there was something more in the tone of their voice. The tone suggested that more than just ensuring I was following the rules of Canadian custom laws, they seemed surprised that anyone would go away and return with nothing at all.

I know it’s strange that I tend to return from most of my trips with nothing to declare. Most people seem to return from travelling with stuff they’ve bought. When I was in France in 2005, a few people asked me what I had bought in the great shopping city of Paris. “Umm, nothing,” I replied. Frankly, I can’t stand crowds in malls and most everything in Paris was pricier than back home, mostly due to the exchange rate between the Euro and the Canadian Dollar. Returning from Beijing, China, I brought back no knock-off bags, pirated DVDs or works of Chinese art.

I don’t return empty handed, exactly, though. I do bring back something from every trip, and strangely, it’s something that I left home with. It’s my shoes. More than any product purchased abroad, or even photo of a place, just looking at my shoes reminds me of the great trips I’ve taken. The mud dried on my shoes may be free to pick up, but it feels priceless to me.

In 2002, in preparation for my trip down to South America, I went out and purchased a pair of waterproof, Gortex covered day hikers made by Solomon. The next day, it rained, and so I went out and splashed around like a 6 year-old, testing the waterproofness of my boots (they were). Those boots took me throughout South America, trips to the USA, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, France, the Netherlands and three-quarters of the way up Mount Kilimanjaro, where my lungs gave out but my shoes were ready to keep going.

I loved those Solomon shoes, and was ready to travel the entire world with them. I had hoped that I would be able to stand on all 7 continents with those shoes on my feet, and managed to stand atop 4 continents with them on. I grew very attached to those shoes. They were like a security blanket. Wearing them made me feel outdoorsy and worldly. However, even the sturdiest shoes aren’t built to last forever, and soon I had worn a hole in the sole, which ruined both the waterproof benefit and any support for my foot.

In 2005, I replaced my Solomons with a pair of Vasque shoes that had many of the same qualities as the Solomons, like being waterproof, and providing both high ankle support and good arch support. Those shoes saw me from France to Hong Kong, a few stops in Central America, a bunch of trips in Canada and the USA. While wearing the shoes in Trinidad however, I could feel the bottoms getting mushy and I could tell it was only a matter of time until the ball of my foot wore a hole in the sole. With the support fading from the shoe, I started to feel pain in the balls of my feet, which after my previous experience with Metatarsalgia (an inflammation of the balls of the feet that comes from over-use, especially if one is wearing shoes without adequate arch support), I knew it was time for some new shoes.


I’m sad to see my old Vasques go. Like the Solomons, I’d grown unusually attached to them. I always felt like a traveller when I put them on. They provided more than just physical comfort. They were emotional comfort as well. I always felt I could face anything that came my way when in a nice comfortable pair of shoes.

So today, I went out and bought myself a new pair of shoes. Unlike the experience of replacing my Solomons in 2005, when I was unable to find any Solomon shoes that were like my old ones, I managed to find the exact same “model” of shoe. The only difference is that instead of yellow stripes on the fabric eyelets for the laces, there are orange stripes.

So I have a new pair of shoes, and after a short period to break them in, I am sure I will feel ready, both emotionally and physically to take on new adventures in this big world.


Posted by GregW 12:10 Archived in Canada Tagged preparation

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