Picking up a 150-pound 9-foot piece of wood and hurling it end over end should make men worthy of wonderful booty and women. This is nothing new to the Scots, who have been throwing this wood, known as cabers, in games for centuries. But where can a lowly Texas boy find Scottish games somewhere on his round-the-world trip other than Scotland itself? The answer, my friends, is Canada.
Until this trip, all I had known of our neighbor to the north was limited to South Park references (Blame Canada) and stereotypes sometimes upheld by Canadian friends:
- Canadians are friendly to a fault
- Everything goes well with maple syrup
- Tim Horton’s is to Canada what DQ is to Texas: there’s always going to be one in every small town as the local hangout.
- Guns are left outside Canada’s borders and reserved for Americans… especially Texans
- Curling is life
- What other currency has hockey on it?
I had considered flights to Vancouver when I lived in San Francisco, but with my friends on the other side of the country, and Toronto being a good departure point for Europe, I opted for the latter. After a 13-hour 18-dollar Megabus ride to Toronto, I greeted my fellow Uljiners, a great Canadian couple with whom I had the fortune of teaching in South Korea. Although I was eager for food and rest, they had one plan for our brief stint in Toronto: MEC.
Any Canadian who has done any kind of traveling or outdoor activity has bought something from Mountain Equipment Coop at some point. Americans buy REI, Canadians MEC; I guess we’re both consumer slaves to three-letter corporations.
Outside of MEC, at first glance, much is the same as any major US city: McD’s, Home Depot, English spoken spoken… though the measurements did change to kilometers as soon as I crossed the border. And the ATMS seem to be programmed to be as incessantly nice as the people:
“It was a pleasure serving you. Have an excellent day.”
I’m really glad I chose to fly out of Toronto instead of Newark. Although many expats have little in common when they’re abroad other than shared language, that wasn’t the case with me and my friends. We were able to enjoy each other’s company and I was able to gain a fulfilling travel experience, hearing stories of growing up in rural Elora, learning of poutine, and discovering the role of the Scots in Canadian history. Hence, the caber toss.
My Canadian list was rather short: eat some maple cookies; catch up with my friends; hang out at Timmy’s; learn the rules of the caber. I had never heard of a more unique game than one such as that performed at the Scottish games. And, fortunately for me, the Fergus Scottish Festival, considered the largest Scottish games’ gathering outside of Scotland, would be held during my visit.
Some of you may be unfamiliar with Scottish displays of strength and agility. Well, wise up: these guys are strong. Only two other people at the festival were able to curl the weight the heavy event guys throw like it’s nothing at all.
The caber toss itself is rather interesting. Pick up the caber. Run with the caber (while keeping it upright). Sudden stop. Toss so as to flip the caber end over end. Line it up. Contestants are judged not by the length of the throw, but the accuracy according to the direction the caber falls relative to the throw.
That is, if someone throws the caber and it lands in the same direction as the throw, it’s considered a perfect 12:00. Most throws are between 10-2, but there may be a few wild ones out there (and some that don’t even tip over). Three throws to a player. Best of three. I believe there’s a tie-breaker caber if a tie arises.
Final thoughts on travel: Canada was the first leg of my trip and the first time abroad in months. I still question myself. Maybe it’s because my friends are making a go of things with their Korea savings and school. Then again, they have student loans to deal with. I shouldn’t worry so much. Either way, I’m going to be able to return home next month. It’s worth it to solidify these relationships across distances. After Canada, I’m officially out of my comfort zone. Out of North American, away from family situations with stable spacious homes. Let’s see how the next leg works out. I leave for Paris in three hours. Then, on to Bangkok.