A Brazilian, a Canadian and a Mexican walk onto the ice...

The Canadian has done this many times before. The Brazilian learned to skate only a month ago. The Mexican has not been on skates since he was a small boy.  They've all come down to the Rideau Canal Skateway to enjoy the world's largest skating rink.

"After you've put on your skates," asks the Mexican, "where do you put your boots?"

"Leave them under the bench," says the Canadian. "We'll pick them up again when we've finished skating."

"Not me," says the Brazilian. "I don't want someone to steal my boots." And he packs them away in his backpack.

But soon he's removing his backpack.

He's removing his overcoat and his sweater.

"Hold my camera," he tells the Mexican. "Hold my selfie stick.  Now," he tells the Canadian, "take a picture for my friends back home!"

And they do that, but they don't dawdle. The temperature's -10 degrees, which counts as a perfect winter day in these parts. And it's true that the Brazilian's blood has thickened because he's been in this climate now for five months, but you don't want to stand out too long on the ice in your soccer jersey.

They take their time getting to the main channel where scores of Sunday skaters have come out for day 2 of the Rideau Canal skating season. The Mexican is hesitant and uncertain. This early in the season, canal ice can be treacherous, with its cracks and lumps, but the Mexican is determined to forge ahead. Actually, he's doing very well for a guy who hasn't strapped on the skates since he was a kid.

"Bend your knees," says the Canadian. "Keep your bum down."

"I'll do much better after I stop thinking about it," says the Mexican. "That's just a matter of time and practice."

We're making our way toward the Fifth Avenue fire pits and concession stands, and we stop for the obligatory photo shoot:  Sk8 #11 for the Canadian this year -- he keeps track of each one on facebook.  Last year, he skated 42 times before the warm weather put an end to the season.

"You two go on ahead," says the Mexican. "I don't want to slow you down when you want to enjoy your skate."

And the Canadian and Brazilian know that the Mexican will probably get along much better if he rediscovers how to skate without the two of them watching his every move.

"Try to get as far as Fifth Avenue," says the Canadian. "It's just around the next bend. We'll look for you there on our way back."

And so off they go, the Brazilian and the Canadian. The Brazilian is something of a natural skater. He's only been doing it for a matter of weeks, but already he can make good speed down the ice.

"I think I'd like to take skating lessons," says the Canadian.

"You!  Why would you take skating lessons? You're a great skater."

"I'm a great canal skater," says the Canadian. "Before I came to Ottawa, I hardly skated at all. Now I try to skate the Rideau Canal at least once a day during the season and, sure, I can go forward like I was born on skates. But watch those hockey players over there. Look at that figure skater. I wish I could turn like that. I wish I could skate backwards that fast. Watch how the parents teach their kids. When my son was three years old, he took skating lessons. By the time he was five, he was playing hockey and when he was nine he was on a competitive team.  Now he can skate!"

The Brazilian has a video cam on his selfie stick. When the two of them reach the Somerset Bridge, which is as far as the Skateway is opened right now, he records the moment.

At Somerset Bridge, many families who live in the downtown neighbourhoods are coming down to the ice. It's a great day on the canal.

And back south on the Skateway they go, the Brazilian and the Canadian.  They take turns holding the video cam. They're making good time with smooth ice and no wind. They unzip their coats.

But at the Fifth Avenue fire pits and concession stands, there's no sign of the Mexican.

"I wonder if he made it this far?"

As they approach the entrance at Pig Island, they see him up ahead. The Mexican is skating much better than he was 20 minutes before. His legs look much more relaxed. He's got his bum down and his knees bent.

And of course, that's the very moment that the Mexican catches a bump on the ice, loses balance, and falls -- for the first time that day.

He had made it as far as Fifth Avenue without mishap. He had rested for awhile by the fire pits, watching the people eat BeaverTails and drink cider and hot chocolate. He enjoyed watching parents teaching their kids how to skate -- especially how they didn't need to be afraid of the ice.  "Nice fall!" they'd say. "Now get yourself back up. Remember how to do it? Both hands on the ice. Now bring one foot forward. Now up you go..."

And these were the lessons he applied himself.

The Mexican and the Canadian retrieved their boots from beneath the changing bench -- no one had stolen them. The Mexican put his boots back on and went back home, but the Canadian carried his in his hands while he continued with the Brazilian to the end of the skateway.

They touched the fence that marked the end of the groomed area. The ice on the other side looked pretty good -- like it would be open soon, and they'd be able to go all the way to Dow's Lake and to Carleton University.

"There's 3.8 kms of skateway now opened," remarked the Canadian. "We've gone nearly end-to-end, back and forth. That's 7.6 kms of skating. We did it last night, and again this morning. That's 15 kms of skating in less than 18 hours. You're becoming a natural!"

"I'm King of the Rideau Canal -- the Brazilian King!