Mar 21 2009
Sometimes it does matter.
Mar 21 2009
After spending two days in Victoria we rent a car to explore the rest of Vancouver Island. It’s raining cats and dogs but halfway on our way to Tofino, in the middle of nowhere, I really have to pee. I pull off at the first parking and luck is with me. It’s not raining as hard anymore and there is even a real composting toilet. But hey, the trees surrounding me are really big… I accidently stopped at a major tourist attraction, one of the few remaining stands of century-old Douglas fir.
I go back to the car and tell A. that even though it is raining she has to put on her shoes and coat and get out of the car. We walk around in the rain in a rainforest and it is great.
Mar 17 2009
It’s our first day in Vancouver and we wander a little around the city. Visit a nice garden in Chinatown, try to avoid the junkies and homeless people on Hastings street, accidently find ourselves in front of the Vancouver office of A.’s company. On our way back to A.’s sister’s house, where we’re staying, we pass long lines in front of all Irish pubs since it’s Saint Patrick’s day.
(Lines also in front of the English pubs which is kind of funny historically speaking; I guess if one wants to make money religion is not important.)
Mar 15 2009
A train trip through the scenic Rockies is considered very romantic. It’s also very expensive. It’s the only part of our journey that I paid and even with a 35% reduction coupon this 18 hour stretch from Jasper to Vancouver cost me 500$. Almost just as much as the 3 day ride from Toronto to Jasper.
Since we were new on the train after or short stay in Jasper, we felt a bit (and were treated) like we were intruders in a closely knit social circle. The dome observation deck in the Park car in the back of the train was completely “reserved” so I went to the other dome, the one used by the Comfort Class passengers. There it wasn’t crowded at all and I had a front row seat and some nice conversations with ordinary people.
I made the following video of travelling through the Rocky Mountains. We lucked out on the weather. The high peak is Mount Robson, one of the highest mountains of Canada. It’s not as high as the mountains in Switzerland, but it comes close.
Here’s another video, to give you an idea of the train interior.
Mar 14 2009
After yesterday’s walk during which we saw the elks Alison wanted to get some crampons because the trail was quite icy at times from melted snow. So we rented very sturdy crampons for her. Of course she didn’t need them at all today because we were walking on firm snow at much higher altitudes near Medicine lake in the Maligne valley, a valley south of Jasper. This lake is called that way because the natives thought it was magic. The lake has no visible outlet yet in the winter it drains completely. Now we know it drains through a underground system of caves and surfaces again 10 kilometres later in the Maligne Canyon.
When we drove back to Jasper after that walk we passed a sign advertising said Maligne Canyon and I had to check it out. We looked at the 50 metre deep canyon from above but the trails here were extremely slippery again. I couldn’t go any further while Alison was happily trotting around on her crampons. I couldn’t stand that so I tackled her, stole the crampons from her feet, and sent her back to the car to read the Internet on my iPhone. And then I descended into the canyon.
Even though the ice in the canyon floor was at places covered with 10 cm of water it was very nice. The canyon was very narrow and in the summer the water must go through it with extreme force and over time it formed very nice rock formations. And there are also a couple of ice pillars that are used for ice climbing. I documented the site by taking a lot of pictures so I could show Alison what she had missed.
Mar 13 2009
When the trains are gone the elk take over.
Jasper is in the middle of a national park and the animals are very tame. A park ranger told us she had bear in the house on numerous occasions, once even over the crib of her baby. She didn’t want to call this a close call though. But the elk apparently are far more dangerous. At least twice a year people are hospitalized because they got attacked by elk. Not only the males with their big antlers can do serious damage, the females like here on this photo can be very aggressive as well. I didn’t know that when I took this picture, we had freshly arrived, so I went quite close. Or more precisely they came close, as they were walking towards us. Curious and not at all wary. We were just humans and not wolves or bears. Nothing to fear here.
Anyway, I survided this close encounter without damage.
Mar 12 2009
We arrived late in Winnipeg so our scheduled 4 hour stop was cut short to one hour. I didn’t care too much since I’ve visited Winnipeg before ( Read here and the next posts about that trip).
We went on a short stroll through the Forks, where we saw the worlds longest skating rink, a cool bridge with ice on it so you could skate over it, and had a chat with a guy that ran a sound recording studio right in the middle of a shopping mall.
When I told people we were going on this trip everybody warned me that the part of the trip through Manitoba and Saskatchewan would be very boring because the landscape was all flat. So I feared the worst, especially because I hate the flat Dutch landscape.
So when we left Winnipeg I prepared myself for some boring hours and even thought of doing some work on my current programming project. But the landscape was actually quite pleasant. We travelled between rolling hills, covered with snow (although in Montreal there was more snow that in Winnipeg) all the way towards Saskatchewan when it got too dark to distinguish much outside our always moving picture window.
So don’t believe people when they say Canada’s prairie provinces are all flat. It’s a big flat lie.
By mare • A., canada, english, movie, outdoors, tmi, travel •
Mar 12 2009
Now I’m officially Canadian we thought it was a good idea for me to find out how big this new country of mine (Mine!) really is. So we waited until a good deal came by and booked a trip on the train to Vancouver.
Alison is used to travelling by train. She does this trip actually for the second time, the first time was when she was a teenager together with her mother. But the last couple of years she has travelled so often between Montreal and Toronto that she collected enough points to almost pay for the train fare of two of us. And our flight back from Vancouver will also be on points. I’ve never travelled on points before and I like it.
Tuesday we left, first with the ‘normal’ train to Toronto where we changed onto the “Canadian“. We are lucky and have a tiny bedroom in the Park car, the special car with a bar and a panoramic observation deck on top that is located at the rear end of the train. Our trip to Vancouver will be more than five thousand kilometre, and it will take more than 4 days. No, that doesn’t make for a good average speed, but the train is old and it runs on tracks that are owned by a freight train company (CN or Canada National) so we have to wait fairly often for the numerous passing and upcoming freight trains, often loaded with hundreds of containers. And it also stops in a couple of places so we can stretch our legs and breath in some fresh air. The photo above is taken in Hornepayne. Google it and you’ll see it is in the middle of nowhere. We’re in general travelling in the middle of nowhere. No mobile phone access for almost 30 hours now, so no twittering and mobile Internet either. I’m having redrawel symptons.
On board are about sixty people (the train is not even half full) of very different backgrounds. We get to meet them when we have breakfast, lunch or supper. So there’s the woman with fear of flying who went to a business trip to Montreal from Vancouver who was now returning home. I didn’t dare to ask if her company was paying for it. And the 14 people from the UK and Ireland that got a “Do Canada in 10 days” package deal including visits to Niagara Falls (with optional helicopter ride), Jasper (dogsledding) and Vancouver. They paid a suprisingly low price, which reminded me of the time I tried to book a flight from Amsterdam to Vancouver with a stop in Montreal. Flights to Vancouver were only 100 euro more than to Montreal, but if you wanted to combine things then the price went up to triple the amount. So I never did it. I might have done a package tour like theirs though since it was quite affordable.
There are also a lot of retirees who, after years of working hard, explore Canada the slow way. Some can hardly bridge the snowy landings between the cars to reach the dining car.
this morning I spoke to a German man who was going to visit his niece in Vancouver and whose command of English was very limited so he was very happy he could speak German with me. In the meantime Alison had a conversation with a native trapper who just got on the train on a whistle stop and was going to the next town to take a plane. But the details of her conversation I unfortunately missed.
As I write this we’re 40 minutes away from Winnipeg, our first civilisation in almost two days. But we’re 3 hours late, caused by those freight trains, so our time in Winnipeg will be cut short to one hour. Not that it matters much, I’ve been there before. After that I’ll be entering new territory. I’ve never been more Western in Canada before. I’ve been to Seattle and the West coast of the US, but never to the Canadian West coast. We’ve another day of rail over the prairies of Manitoba and Saskatchewan and then into the Rocky Mountains. We will be pausing our journey for two days in Jasper and then continue on the next train to Vancouver. More soon.
Feb 6 2009
Today I had to appear in front of a judge. There were 375 of us, from 72 nationalities. The judge went through the whole list of countries, from Afganistan to Zimbabwe. Somewhere in the middle I noticed Iran, Iraq and Israel, bien étonées de se trouver ensemble.
And then we all took the oath, first in French and then in English:
I affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian Citizen.
And then we sang:
And then I shed some tears.
And now I need a beer.
Mar 22 2009
Today we took a float plane to go float in a hot spring.
We’re in Tofino, an old hippy and surfer community, discovered by resort developers and the rich tourists and thus getting too expensive for the original inhabitants. They haven’t all left, a lot of them try to make some money off those tourists when they aren’t surfing and smoking dope. So there are almost ten boat companies that take you on a small boat for a whale watching trip that can also be combined with a visit to some natural hot springs on an island nearby. It sounded all very nice to me, but it was rather expensive and as you might know by now, me and boats don’t go very well together. While we were getting ready to leave the “Budget Bed & Breakfast” where we booked a room, we overheard that the three young Swiss tourists that stay in the other room have missed the last boat and are since they are leaving tomorrow missed out on their last chance to see the whales. Good, so I’m not the only one.
We go visit a parade consisting of all emergency trucks and boats of the village with blaring sirens and a couple of kids dressed up as whales. After that A. and I pass the local float plane airport and A. wants to go inside and enquire for prices. We find out that if we charter a plane and split it in five it is only slightly more expensive than taking the overpriced boats. So I call the Swiss and after some convincing, some frantic running to fetch towels, camera and swim wear, and some shopping for food we are airborne twenty minutes later. The plane is a De Havilland Beaver float plane built in Canada in 1954. Despite its old age it flew perfectly. It didn’t crash but the noise was almost deafening despite our ear protection. It was a rather bumpy flight but I apparently can stand bumpy aircraft better than bumpy ships.
The views from the air were spectacular even though we saw neither whales nor sea otters. After a 20 minute flight we landed near a dock in a small bay and the plane took off and left us there by ourselves. From there it was a 45 minute walk through a very beautiful old growth rainforest to reach the hot springs. A boardwalk with lots of stairs was built to protect the trail from being overgrown and to protect the rainforest from the visitors.
The hot springs were indeed very natural. The hot springs in Jasper had been closed because it was winter but from the pictures I had seen it looked just like a normal swimming pool. This one surely didn’t. At first we couldn’t even find where we could bathe because we only found a stream with very hot water (more than 45 °C), but nowhere was there a place deep enough to immerse ourselves. Then another girl, a passenger from the first boat that had arrived, came and showed us some small puddles around a big boulder, where the stream ran through just before the very hot water mixed with the cold sea water. According to an information panel these hot springs have the biggest flow of hot water in Canada. It was very nice.
After lunch and smoking a cigar overlooking the Pacific Ocean we walked back to the dock and took another bumpy flight back to Tofino, were I now sat next to the pilot. The views were even better this time.
By mare • A., canada, english, outdoors, travel •