Of a Flight Back Home

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Pearson Airport, Waiting for the Ottawa Flight

We do the craziest things when we are in post-traveling limbo. Last year, we ended up at Tim Horton’s at 5 a.m. because we were jetlagged. This time, we walked to the supermarket even though it was – 10°C and we had quite a few bags to carry to restock the fridge. “I don’t think we will be able to take a taxi back,” I joked. “And street food isn’t an option either.”

The trip back home was tiring. It always is. I sometimes dream of flying door-to-door but it’s not going to happen as long as we live in Ottawa. Our airport sucks: it is barely bigger than a Wal-Mart and it has very few direct international flights. We always have to transfer in the U.S. or in Toronto.

We left Playa Del Carmen under the rain at noon, bused to Cancún and waited for a few hours at the airport. We were lucky to fly Air Canada, which has a nice on-board entertainment system (yes American airlines, you suck!). We got to Toronto Pearson around 9 p.m. and happily jumped the immigration queue because of our connecting flight.

That’s when I realized it’s been ten years that I set foot in Canada.

In February 2002, after our first crazy trip in Latin America, we ended up in Ottawa. We bought the return ticket in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I made Feng a fake student card so that we could buy the cheap flight to Toronto. I was supposed to fly back to Paris but I couldn’t stand the thought of it. From Rio to Paris in a few hours—it was too brutal.

So I followed Feng to Canada.

We had a stopover in Houston, Texas. My first time ever on American soil. I couldn’t stop staring at the cops—there were the biggest meanest-looking and cops I had ever seen. No match to the French police, for sure.

We weren’t exactly prepared for Canada. I wasn’t, obviously—I hadn’t planned to come to Canada in the first place. We had no winter clothes but “Peruvian jackets” (thick wool jackets we had bought in Cuzco, before going to the Macchu Picchu) and a scarf, bought in Guatemala. Feng had warned me: it was going to be cold. February in Canada, what do you expect?

As soon as we were through immigration, I hurried outside, both scared and eager to experience the famous Canadian cold. I’m not sure what I was expecting—to freeze right there, at the airport door? To turn into an instant snowman?

I breathed in deeply. It felt cold, it felt dry. It smelled of winter, of wooden houses.

I loved it, even though I usually don’t like the cold.

It was unusually chilly that day for Toronto and temperatures were in the – 20°C. But I didn’t complain. We walked downtown Toronto, headed to Chapters (“heaven,” I proclaimed) and had a burger in a sports bar later. Canada was nice, I thought. Cold but comfortable.

This time, when I walked out, I remember my first time there ten years ago. This time, the night we arrived wasn’t that cold in Toronto—around 5°C I think. But it smelled the same as it did when I first landed, this unique mix of salt, dry air, wood, exhaust and coffee.

We stayed at Pearson for a few hours and finally took a red eye to Ottawa. The plane was late and we only made it home around 2 a.m. It was strange to be in an airport that late. Everything was closed and all the passengers were sleepy, in a hurry to get back home. In a world where a lot of stores open 24/7, airports still close at night. Funny.

You know what are the strangest things of being back home? Scratching my last few mosquito bites, and putting cream on the little sunburn I got the last day in Playa del Carmen—looking back, going topless the last day was not a good idea.

P.S.: Sorry about the blog mess, I had to update my theme and WordPress and I’m working on fixing the last bugs!

Landing in Toronto

Waiting at Pearson


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Haha, you’re lucky, this winter isn’t that bad. In fact, there isn’t any snow sticking on the ground in Buffalo right now, so I wonder how your winter up there in Ottawa is. On the other hand, my body is undergoing some sort of weather shock. After spending 3 weeks in Guatemala, then a week in mild Buffalo winter, I am now in Stuttgart, Germany. And it is super cold here, cold enough that the inside of my nose feels super dry and breathing is actually a feat.

  2. wow 10 yrs in canada! it doesn’t feel that long, does it?

    i cant even imagine what it’s like to live with a temp of -20 or more. even 5 degrees got me shivering like crazy!

    kinda strange that being the national capital, ottawa’s flight routes are so limited!

    • I never understood why Ottawa airport is so small but I guess most people do like we do, they go through Toronto or Montreal, both very close.

  3. Two things I will never understand: The mile-long queues immigration at airports (it’s not like they don’t know who’s flying or if they haven’t x-rayed our luggage) and why airports close at night.

    I remember having to wait until 5AM at Chicago O’Hare for the food shops to open!

    • I think planes can’t land/depart past a certain time because of the noise. Still, I thought shops and the food court closed early in Pearson, especially for such a busy airport.

      • Most (?) airports are unionized (not just in Canada), so the ground operations are regulated by set shifts, union hours, collective bargaining agreements and all that. There’s a separate union for baggage handlers, a separate union for flight attendants, another union for airline pilots, Air Traffic Controllers, aviation mechanics, et cetera. Ground operation crews who fuel airplanes and direct planes are employees of the airport authority but everyone else, including security people and immigration officials and drug screeners, are outsourced or under separate authority.

        Airport management is complicated, there are so many groups of people with different supervision to coordinate.

        It’s difficult to get crews in on short notice for this reason, which is why when there are freaky weather changes which require de-icing or planes are grounded for mechanical problems or a large-scale logistical nightmare like 9/11 where all planes had to be diverted elsewhere it creates situations that cause chain reactions in the system which are difficult to respond to quickly.

        • I can imagine!

          I didn’t think of unions but you are right, that makes sense. Actually, I don’t mind that airports close at night and all, it was just a strange feeling being there in an empty airport because so many stores and businesses in Canada open late at night.

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