I was up early this morning – still struggling with time travelling back 8 hours. Still, it’s a good chance to get stuck into Canadian breakfast culture, with a “Good old country breakfast” at the restaurant next to the motel. “How would you like your eggs?” leaves me puzzled, and I have to get the waitress to tell me the possibilities. When I explain you don’t get choice like that in England, she says “That explains a lot” and laughs. Then four sorts of toast . . . I have rye. Why not? The endless top ups with coffee are also a welcome change from the European model.
Then it’s time to confront the mysterious topic of tipping. In France tipping in restaurants is pretty much non-existent. Waiting staff are paid a proper wage and are not dependent on the uncertainty of tips. In the UK, tipping is much more common, and there has been some attention recently on management adding a ‘service charge’ which is not then passed on directly to the staff. I understand that tipping is universally expected in Canada. This was one of the topics on I sought advance guidance from Sumitra, so I am prepared to add a minimum of 15% to the bill. Unfortunately for my first tipping attempt, there is no bill as the breakfast is being paid for with a voucher supplied by the motel. But the menu says “Your server’s gratuity is not included in the coupon”. So what is 15% ofan unspecified amount? I reckon the meal might have been $10 and, as the waitress had been positive and cheerful I give her $2.50. She seems happy. So am I. But I’m not a lot wiser on the subject of tips.
Most of the road today is widely separated dual carriageway cutting across bare grassland or through scrubby pine and birch forest. The towns are not attractive, but there are some hints of more dramatic natural features, especially when descending into the valley of the Peace River. Dawson Creeek, where my aunt and uncle set up home after the second world war, is just as dull and unimpressive as it seemed on Google Streetview – and not at all the place I had fantasised about as a child receiving presents from the exciting and remote land of lumberjacks. Still, it is at least the start of the Alaska Highway, the engineering project that led me to plan this trip in the first place.
Along the highway I’ve seen more than enough bare prairie – and a place called Bear Prairie. There’s also been a surprising number of isolated Bible Camps and churches. Winter is only just gone. Until last week, lorries had to carry snow chains and cars had to have winter tyres (or here, tires) fitted. I’ve seen large lumps of ice floating down creeks. And the local paper in Whitecourt reported that the start of the summer sports season had been postponed for at least a week because the ground was in such poor post-winter condition.
There are several thousand kilometres to go in the next six days. I’m really looking forward to what’s next.