Burning Desire For FIRE

Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Page 3 of 53

Day 11 – Canada/Alaska – Butchart Gardens

Woo hoo! Megan and I got the coveted front seat on the bus! She’s sure it’s because she bumped into Sharon in Whistler yesterday and mentioned that she had here yes shit all the way from Jasper to Whistler because of travel sickness.

Being in the front seat, we were on Wildlife Duty. No wildlife showed themselves, so it was pretty easy.

Or maybe we were just really bad at it…?

This is the second biggest granite outcrop after Gibraltar.

The white patch on the mountain is said to look like a witch flying on a broomstick, but I see a duck looking over its shoulder.

We stopped along the way back into Vancouver for a look at the Shannon Falls. 

It’s 3 times higher than Niagara Falls.

When Sharon said this, I thought I’d heard wrong. Isn’t Niagara Falls supposed to be HUGE? When I asked Sharon about it, she smiled and said, “Niagara Falls is only about 51 metres tall. But it’s wide,” and she spread her arms wide to illustrate what she meant. 

The falls started from way above our heads.

I don’t know what it is about running water, but everyone seems to love it.

Here’s a photo of Megan taking a photo of some of the people from the coach.

There was a path along the side of the falls that wound back towards where the coach was parked. The stream running alongside was very pretty.

Here’s an action shot.

The temperate rainforest reminded me a little of the Dandenongs.

I must take a drive up there when I get back.

There were some wonderful vistas on the drive.

Also, some very pretty number plates.

We saw that in Canada some provinces don’t require front number plates on their cars. That seems bizarre to me, but Sharon said it was the poorer provinces, to save money.

Here’s a tunnel under the Fraser River in Vancouver.

Seems crazy that they don’t have an emergency lane. How would they clear the tunnel if someone had an accident?

We had to take the ferry to Vancouver Island. We grabbed lunch and then we sat by a window.

Megan was following the course of the ferry, on a map on her phone, while I sat and wrote this post, looking out of the window now and then to enjoy the scenery. Once I finished, I took a nap with my head down on the table. People kept coming up and asking Megan if I was all right, which spoiled the nap a little. But I felt rejuvenated once we got back on the coach.

I was worried about Poppy. Georgia had to take her to the vet because she wasn’t eating, which for Poppy is UNTHINKABLE.

This is the photo Georgia sent me as proof of life. She’s now on a course of antibiotics and we’re waiting to hear the results of the blood tests. Our vet is very ‘hands-off’ when it comes to ordering expensive tests, so the fact that Poppy had them is making me even more worried.

She’s my shadow.

Anyway, I can’t do anything about it from here and I trust Georgia implicitly with the dogs so they’re in the best hands. Georgia said that Jeffrey doesn’t have a care in the world, but Scout is sticking closely to Poppy.

We went to Butchart Gardens, where even the rubbish bins are pretty.

This was a fabulous place. A rich family moved here in the mid-1880’s and ran a quarry right near the house that they lived in. When the quarry was empty, there was a great big hole left. What an eyesore!

Mrs Jenny Butchart bet her husband Robert 25c that she could create a beautiful garden there. Safe to say, she won the bet.

It shows what money can do. There’s no denying that she had the vision to see what could be done. But she had the money behind her to make it happen.

She laid rocks around where the garden beds were to be, then had tip trucks full of topsoil come and dump their loads to create the canvas for the garden.

She had guts. When the garden beds were completed, the bare walls of the old quarry looked awful. So she swung from ropes as she went down the sides of the quarry, putting some soil and a vine in every hole and crevice that she could.

It transformed the place.

We bumped into the couple who were chased by the bear yesterday. He showed me a picture of how close the bear got. Mehgan moved away, and I had to listen to his ideas about how much this garden would be worth if the heirs sold it all to create housing.

“I reckon there’d be at least 50 million,” he said. “Imagine getting your hands on all that money?”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” I said. “It seems like there’s it’s a family legacy.”

“But there’s always one grandchild who wants to get their hands on the money,” he argued.

“Yes, but it looks like there’s always one who wants to carry the legacy onwards. Sharon said there’s a great-granddaughter running the place now,” I said.

It was strange. Amid such beauty and obvious dedication to the upkeep, all he could see was dollar signs.

As time went on, the Butcharts expanded the garden by buying more land around them. There was also a formal Italian garden that they put on top of their tennis court.

I think they got a little bit carried away by this stage.

I saw a gardener and went over to have a chat. The garden is full of flowers and the gardeners are committed to making sure that whatever the season, the place will be full of colour and fragrance.

They achieve this by extensive use of annuals, overplanting them around the permanent plants.

They don’t plant anything unless it has at least a couple of flowers out. These plants will last until October, when they’ll be pulled out and something else will take their place.

A Monkey-Puzzle tree! I remember this from the estate we went to in Ireland. The Victorians loved them.

Here’s one that Megan spotted, covered with blossoms.

The gardens were dotted with water features. Here’s Megan, enraptured by the dragon.

I was very excited by this one. My first Redwood!

I liked the line of tiles on the steps here. Maybe I could try this at home?

See how the boar’s snout is gold? You get good luck from touching it. I, of course, am Fortunate Frogdancer so I’m already lucky, but I loaded up on some more luck, just in case.

Megan’s loading up on good luck too.

There was colour everywhere.

And I’m sure you’ve gathered by now that I like a good sculpture.

Here’s the one that was in the background of the previous photo. Hermes was the messenger for the gods of ancient Greece.

It’s a pity that a bird pooed on his shoulder.

Everyone kept talking about the signature Blue Poppies that these gardens are renowned for. When I finally tracked them down after asking if any were blooming, to be honest, I was a little underwhelmed.

I thought they’d be a cornflower blue, instead of this more subtle shade.

I liked how the lanterns were the same shade as the wisteria. I had no idea it came in yellow!

I love azaleas.

These were massive.

I also ran a little mad in the gift shop:

Some silver earrings, and…

… these wonderful ceramic numbers for The Best House in Melbourne.

All I have to do is figure out how to attach them to the fence…

That’s all for today. We have a free day in Victoria, Vancouver Island tomorrow.

(Well, I have a free AFTERNOON. Megan is out whale-watching while I’ve been getting this blog up to date. It’s 11:50 now. I’m going to jump into the shower and then go and explore Victoria!)

Our tour ends tomorrow. Amazing how quickly it’s passed.

Dad joke of the day:

Day 10 Canada/Alaska – Whistler -one of the moments I’ll remember forever.

Today was a free day in Whistler. Both Megan and I had elected to do different activities in the morning. I did zip lining; she did a tree top walk. I raced out to the room first, then realised about an hour later that we hadn’t organised a time to meet up afterwards.

‘Oh well, too late now,’ I thought. ‘If we meet up, we meet up. If not, we’ll just share our adventure stories at the end of the day.’

The zip lining was a series of 4 zip lines, each getting longer. It was fun, but of course the actual time on the lines was all too short.

The scenery was great, though.

Here’s me, just to prove that I actually did it.

The lines all went over this river. As it turned out, Megan was down below one of the lines and saw us all fly merrily by over her.

Now, I know this bird looks like it’s a fake, but I promise you it isn’t. It’s called a Stellar Jay. I’ve read about blue Jays all my life, but I had no idea they were THIS blue!

We all had lunch together at the Irish pub when we got back to town, then I decided to go and see the Lost Lake, a place one of the zip-lining guys told me about.

I took the free shuttle bus from the town, then walked the last little bit.

There were a few other people on the path.

Look up!

Here it is.

Found.

The river that I was zip-lining over this morning drains into this lake.

I stayed here for about fifteen minutes, then headed back into town, walking with a nice American family for a little while.

I waited at the bus stop, but it was taking SO LONG. So I decided to walk back into town beside the golf course.

I’m pretty sure this is bear poo.

I was unconcerned and snapped a picture. The next day, I discovered that the bear near the gold course had charged at a couple from our tour. I should probably have been a bit more cautious about walking alone.

I got back to town and decided that I might as well take a gondola ride up Black Comb Mountain. I was a tiny bit outraged at the cost – $75. But my mantra of “You only have to do it once” kicked in and I paid.

When I asked how to get there, I was told that I needed to take the bus again. I walked up the steps and down the steps (again). I went back to the number 5 bus stop, threw my jumper and drink bottle down on the seat and let out a loud sigh as I sat down.

An American couple walking past laughed and the man said, “ That was heartfelt!”

Yes, I was getting tired.

Black Comb Mountain is named because the top looks like a rooster’s comb.

Another tourist I talked to told me that she had seen a bear from the gondola on the left-hand side. I kept my eyes peeled but saw nothing.

The gondola rose and rose. I could see the snow line slowly getting closer. I saw a building and gathered my things together, ready to get off.

Really? I was happy for this to be the height of the ride.

As we rose higher and higher still, my annoyance at the $75 fee quickly wore off. This was a big gondola. Surely the view would be worth it.

I started to hear wind whistling, so I did up my Antarctica windbreaker. I decided that before I did anything else, I’d duck into the café and buy an icecream, just like I did in Santiago a couple of years earlier, and The Great Wall a few years before that. (I enjoyed reading the Great Wall post. It brought back memories.)

Every time I use a gondola – I must have an icecream!

It’s my new travel tradition.

Fortunate Frogdancer scored a free icecream! This is a new flavour, especially commissioned for the mountain. I was the first tourist to try it – for free in exchange for an honest review. It was nice, but I wouldn’t book a plane trip from Australia just to try it.

I sat next to a window overlooking the mountains, eating the ice cream and staring at the view.

As I was sitting gazing over the Rocky Mountains I had a Moment. I was just really emotional thinking that it was so crazy that I was actually here – just me, Frogdancer Jones. Then as I was looking at the snow glinting on the mountain tops with the blue sky behind them, the Beatles came over the sound system with “Here Comes The Sun.”

It was perfect.

I’m actually dictating this paragraph on my phone and I’m seriously choked up. I nearly didn’t do this gondola ride and I’m very glad that I changed my mind. This is one of those special moments, as I’m gazing across all of these mountains stretched out before me.

It’s one of those moments I’ll never forget. 

And makes me feel so humble and at the same time so glad that I’m here. I really, really don’t understand people who don’t want to travel.

I walked to the side window and chatted with a couple of women from England. The mountains stretching off into the distance were stunning from every angle.

After I’d delivered my honest review, I went outside to see if I could get a better photo. The wind was picking up, so it was a bit chilly, but the views more than made up for it.

When I was out there, an Irish girl asked if I’d take a photo of her and her mum. We got to talking, as you do, and it turns out that her mum also had 4 kids, is divorced and is only now starting to travel.

Her daughter has been living in Calgary for the past 18 months.

She was saying that in Calgary last winter was the coldest she’d ever experienced. It got down to -46C, and she said she went outside with her hair wet. It froze in icicles and you can break it off.

“Nobody warned me that when you go out and your eyes tear up from the cold, your eyes can freeze shut. Snot freezes in your nose and the next day after I went walking around I had all these little tiny red spots on my face which turned out to be frostbite, or frostburn anyway. Nobody warned me!”

They were absolutely lovely. We stood out in the wind talking away until common sense prevailed. We went onto the deck out of the wind and kept nattering away.

Another similarity is that the mother and I both bought ourselves almost the exact same emerald ring. Hers, on the right, is more impressive than mine, but mine was bought in a far more exotic place. Thailand. 🙂

Anyway, we had a lovely chat for about 20 minutes. Travellers are great because we all just have a zest for seeing things and doing things. We’re like kindred spirits. It doesn’t matter what age you are or where you’re from – we’re happy to have a chat and swap experiences.

I’m so glad I took this tour up the mountain on the gondola. I so very nearly didn’t and I would’ve been just wandering around the streets of Whistler looking at shops. I’ve had a Moment and I’ve met some really lovely people.

Again, the photo doesn’t do it justice.

The icecream alone may not be worth jumping on a plane and coming over, but this view certainly is!

I was waiting to get back onto the gondola to go back down. I was savouring every last second of the mountains. I was eye-level with the ring of mountains behind the town and it was beautiful.

Back down the mountain!

My last eye-level view of the mountain tops.

See the flag on top of the fire hydrant? This is so when it’s snowed under, the fireman can see where it is under all the snow.

It’s difficult to imagine everything being covered with snow to that extent.

When I got back to my hotel, there were some people in the vodka room I told you about yesterday. I took a quick snap on my to the lift.

When I got there, Megan was back and we talked about our days and then had dinner with a dull couple from the tour.

Since being in Canada, Megan and I have become invested in ‘Jeopardy Grand Masters’ and tonight was the Grand Final. We made sure we were back in time to see it.

Tomorrow – back towards Vancouver!

Dad joke of the day:

Day 9: Canada/Alaska – more yellow chairs!

As the bus set off from Jasper in the morning, Sharon passed down some maple cookies. We all took one from the pack and passed them down. After we’d all eaten them, she chirpily said, “These aren’t the best cookies. These ones were on sale!”

We drove through the town of Cache Creek. This was named after a guy who was a prospector who was in the tavern and was boasting about the cache of gold that he had hidden in the creek.

That night he was murdered and nobody has ever found his gold.

Hat Creek Ranch was out first stop and is very set up for tourists. It was once a historic place but it now has a very much ‘milk ’em for all they’ve got ‘ kind of vibe. There was a miscommunication between Sharon and the operators of this place, because they obviously weren’t expecting any visitors when the bus rolled up. A woman hurriedly manned the gift shop, while the rest of us milled around, uncomfortably aware that the promised coffees weren’t going to be forthcoming.

I wasn’t happy. The one coffee of the day that I make each morning in the Aeropress has clearly sunk its teeth into me far deeper than I realised!

Of course, I had to go and have a look at the covered wagon that was right at the front of the property, being such a huge Laura Ingalls Wilder fan. I was only there for about 3 minutes and then Sharon called out, “Quick, back to the bus! We’re stopping off for coffee!”

I thought yeah, I want a coffee so I have absolutely no problem with that!

I snapped a quick look at the inside of the wagon and honestly, imagining closing up your house and all your belongings, putting them in a wagon and just going…?

It would’ve been pretty hard.

Horstings Farm was the place we went to after the dude ranch place was a bust. It was fantastic. In fact, I think Sharon should ditch the dude ranch and take people to this place instead.

We were all queued up for coffee, then Mike, our bus driver, wandered over with half a dozen jam jars in his basket.
I always git my jams from here,” he said.

So much fresh produce. Look at this asparagus!

I’ve been trying to grow asparagus for the last 3 or 4 years but it hasn’t taken off. I think I have asparagus envy.

If I lived here, I’d be at this shop all the time.

A while later, we drove beside a river that looked like the Yarra.

An early explorer said it was” too thick to drink and too thin to plough!”

Lillooet is a little mining village where we stopped for lunch.

Sharon told the story about how 3 entrepreneurs thought they could make their fortunes by importing camels to work the trails, rather than horses or donkeys, because they could go much longer distances, survive longer without water and food, and carry more weight for the prospectors. They thought they’d be able to rent out their camels and make their fortune and expected to make about $60,000. That was their projection.

They didn’t realise that camels have soft feet and their soft padded feet were getting torn to shred on the rocks of the trails. Not only that, camels can be awfully ‘ornery’ and they said if they weren’t spitting at the prospectors or everyone else, then they were trying to rip the shirts from their backs.

So this business investment went belly up and the camels were set loose and, unlike Australia’s feral camels, they didn’t survive the harsh conditions. There was one lady camel that lived to about the age of 25 just as a curiosity in somebody’s yard but other than that the other ones just vanished and never reproduced and that was the end of Canada’s camels.

Years, later, when they were thinking of naming their new bridge that goes over the river into the town, they had a contest for someone to find a name for the bridge and the one that was chosen was the ‘Bridge of the 23 Camels.’

Margaret Murray was born in Kansas 1880. She was from a poor family, and she only received a third grade education.

When she and her sister were teenagers, they worked in a saddlery in Kansas City. They were shipping the saddles to Calgary where the Calgary stampede takes place. Both Margaret and her sister wanted to marry a cowboy so they would leave little notes with their contact Information in the packaging of the saddles to titillate the Cowboys who were purchasing them. This didn’t work so well, so they decided If they ever wanted to meet their cowboys, they had to move up to where they were.

They made their way up to Washington state where her sister met and married someone. 

Margaret continued on into Columbia and she was working her way until she made it to Calgary. That’s where she startedworking in the office of the local newspaper.

The owner was a very well-educated man called William Murray. After a year or so she decided to leave because she had to find her cowboy.

Even though she was really rough around the edges, when she gave her notice to leave, William Murray, the educated man, proposed to her. Soon after this,  they left to settle in Lillooet and run the newspaper there.

Margaret, (or ‘Ma Murphy’ as she was known by), in the early 1900’s was well known for her open door policy. At any time, if you wanted to talk to her about what was right or what was wrong with the government you could walk right in.

Margaret was very opinionated. She had her own column and she let fly with whatever she wanted to write about.

Her spelling was atrocious and she never tried to fix it. She also used expressions that were less than polite. Often, after she had given her opinion about whatever she was writing about, she’d finish with the phrase “And that’s for damshur!”

She was a colourful character in this area. Her husband decided to go into politics and become a member of Parliament and she was his strong advocate.

Her campaign slogan for her husband was “Just like underwear, you need to change politicians every once in a while.”

That was her slogan – he did get elected the first time but then they thought because of her roughness she wasn’t really set out to be a politician or member of Parliament’s wife. So he only had the one term as an MP.

She lived a full life in Lillooet, even getting the Order of Canada by the Prime Minister in her later years.

Here’s the frock she was wearing at the time. The local museum has a section devoted to her, which is where I found all of this.

Late in the afternoon, as we drove past Seton Lake, we heard that it has 8 trains in it, as they kept falling in over the edge. To be fair, it’s a glacial lake, so the sides were pretty steep.

“BEAR! LEFT SIDE OF THE BUS!”

Hooray! That was my side and I was sitting by the window.

We were so close!

I love the reflection in the water!

We were listening to Canadian music while we drove through all of this wonderful scenery. It was unexpectedly pleasant.

Naturally, my favourite singer of all time, k.d.lang, was there.

And then in the late afternoon, we arrived in Whistler. Tulips are planted everywhere. It’s delightful.

Our hotel has an ice room, where people get handed warm coats and they go in and drink vodka at -32C.

Apparently, vodka tastes smooth in these temperatures.

Am I a vodka drinker?

No.

So we won’t be doing it. But it’s crazy to think that such a thing is right here in this hotel!

After we unpacked, Megan and I went out to look for dinner.

Whistler looks like a pretty little town.

We walked around both before and after dinner, getting our bearings.

The town seems to fold in on itself. It has a little park in the middle where these trees are.

Also a teepee.

And some smaller yellow chairs than yesterday.

Dad joke of the day:

Day 8 Canada/Alaska – The tallest mountain in the Rockies and a MOOSE!

Here is the tallest mountain in the Rockies – Mt Robson. We were pretty lucky to see as much of it as we did. but the top was shrouded in clouds.

I didn’t mind that. It makes the height of the mountain more mysterious.

Have you noticed the person in blue standing in the field?

Remember how I learned to take panoramas a couple of days ago? Here’s my attempt at Mt Robson. It’s a pity I failed to notice Megan’s water bottle in the bottom left…

This was our longest driving day of the tour, with our destination at the end being a ski lodge called Sun Peaks. Here are a few of the shots I took while we were driving.

Honestly, the scenery is spectacular.

Sharon told us this story as we were driving along:

A man was out hiking when he rounded a corner and came face to face with a bear.

The bear reared up and grunted “Woosh!!”

The man covered his face with his hands. The bear covered his own face with his hands.

The man scratched behind his ear. The bear scratched behind his own ear.

The man lifted a leg.

So did the bear. 

As the man watched the bear in astonishment, the bear turned around and did a bowel movement. 

The guy looked at the bear and said, “Oh, I already did that when you said ‘Woosh!’”

Suddenly, the call went out:

“MOOSE! RIGHT SIDE OF THE BUS!”

Everyone was galvanised into activity. Those of us on the wrong side of the bus leapt to our feet and raced to get to the centre aisle. The people on the right were frantically clicking away.

I didn’t get to take any pictures. Luckily, Bernie shared these ones with me.

Screenshot

And here’s a zoomed-in one. Crazy looking animals, aren’t they?

This is Megan feeling happy that we saw a moose.

A train!

This is a typical view. The forest grows right up to the road, just like the English and Irish lanes, only different.

I love how the road so often goes beside rivers. There’s something about seeing the water rushing by that makes me feel happy.

Also, to an Australian, it’s incredible just how much water is here.

It doesn’t seem so to the Canadians. They keep saying what a dry winter it’s been and how the water levels are so low.

But to my eyes, there’s water everywhere!

This was taken as Megan informed me that she was starting to feel travel-sick…

Thankfully, the bus soon stopped and Megan recovered her equilibrium.

We went to see a waterfall.

I’m glad that they showed us this place. It was so lovely.

This was the first view we saw. The river is so far below us. But we could hear the sound of a waterfall.

It was so long and so spectacular. Again, the photo doesn’t do it justice.

Rona and I stood there for ages, she snapping away on her fancy camera, me on my trusty iPhone6.

Another log jam!

Look at how the trees are so thickly blanketed at the top. I don’t think you could get a single tree more up there.

This is my attempt at trying to show how the water at the top was swirling around near the log jam. I liked the look of it.

This shot shows the action of the river over thousands of years. When you think that once, the river was level with the tops of the canyon and now it’s so far below… it’s incredible, isn’t it?

Sun Peaks is a very isolated, family-style ski resort. There were very few people other than ourselves out and about, as there was a major ice hockey game on so everyone in Canada was at home watching it.

The place reminded me of a movie set.

This was us after I finally managed to get into the chair.

This is us trying to get out of it:

Dad joke of the day:

Day 7 Canada/Alaska: All of the Malignes!

In the morning, on the way to the Jasper Canyon walk we saw another bear!!! It grumpily headed back into the woods when our huge coach pulled up, but see that black splodge in the middle? Definitely a black bear.

The bears’ way of pregnancy is very interesting. Now (May) is the prime time for bears to fatten up over summer before going into hibernation for the winter. It’s also the prime time for them to find a little love.

Once the female is impregnated, the eggs stay in stasis until she goes into the den to hibernate. Her body then does a stress test. Has she eaten enough? Does she have enough body fat?

If so, the eggs will develop. She’ll wake slightly and give birth in January. Black bears stay with their cubs for2 years; grizzlies for 3 years. The mothers have to stay with their cubs, not only to teach them how to survive, but also to protect them from the males.

A male bear will kill any cubs he finds because that brings the female straight back into heat. This, of course, is what he wants – his own genes to go forward another generation. But he doesn’t know which cubs are his. Male bears have been known to kill their own cubs.

When the mother bears are ready to leave their cubs, they just abandon them. Mother bears have been seen to fool their cubs into thinking there’s something scary in the area, so that they all climb up a tree, and then she’ll simply walk away, leaving them to it.

The Jasper Canyon walk was interesting We had a fresh new guide for this one, a guy from South Africa. We got off at the tourist stop and headed to see what we could see, all still fired up after seeing another bear.

We took a quick look at the Maligne River. It was just moseying along, minding its own business, with no idea of what was about to happen to it.

It was about to be squeezed through a narrow gorge. It was so narrow that you could probably jump across it. I guess that’s why they had all the fences, to stop idiots from competing in the Darwin Awards.

The gorge not only goes narrower but also plunges downwards. Our guide said that only 10% of the water stays on the top in the river that flows through the gorge. The rest is flowing underground through massive aquifers.

The canyon was once at the bottom of a shallow sea, which the guide proved by pouring water on some stones in the path. Voila! Seashell fossils were revealed! Unfortunately, my photos weren’t so clear, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. 

The river that’s flowing through the canyon is a dirty river, which means it’s full of sediment that’s continuing the erosion.

In the photo, the green side of the ridge has the canyon plunging down immediately behind it. It was pretty deep.

As we walked along, the canyon grew even narrower, with a log jam happening just before the waterfall on the other side. After our educational beaver movie yesterday, some people asked if it was the work of beavers.

“No,” the guide said. “In nature, trees and branches naturally fall into the river and they’ll flow along the water until they can’t move forward anymore. In this case, it’s the narrow walls of the canyon that’s stopping them.”

The river went from ground level to 37m in the space of a one-minute walk.

I took the chance to nip down some steps to get a closer look. It’s going to take a massive amount of water flowing down the canyon to break up those logs. Still, nature is patient. It’ll happen one day…

Further along, I took this photo. I like it. You can see the river thundering away far below, while near the top a fallen tree is casually lying there, waiting for a chance to topple in.

You can see the washing machine roundness where the rocks have been grinding away at the sides when the water level is higher than it is today.

The waterfall plunges to 78m deep.

I had to zoom in on this one, but can you see the rock suspended between the two sides? It’s been there so long it has vegetation growing on it.

So many little things happening.

It’s just a tiny slit of rock, but you can hear the river racing along below!

The next lake we stopped at was Medicine Lake. A wildfire had gone through there a year or two ago.

It should have felt desolate but it didn’t.

Someone asked Sharon if Parks Canada was going to remove the dead trees.

“No, they’re not going to touch them,” she said. “They’re taking a ‘hands-off’ approach to this. Gradually, the trees will fall and become part of the earth.”

Medicine Lake is like a big bathtub. No rivers or streams flow out from here – all the water drains into the aquifers below.

Here’s a clump of lucky trees. Or maybe they’re not?

The pines that make up so much of Canada’s forests are like some of our gum trees – they need the fires to bring on the new generation.

Also like Australia, the white Canadians have really screwed up this natural design by suppressing fires in the National Parks. By the time wildfires finally get a grip, there’s so much dead growth and tinder that they burn TOO much – and instead of burning the parent trees and leaving the pinecones to regenerate, everything burns to a crisp.

We drove off again, then the bus stopped by the side of the road.

“Here is a bald eagles’ nest,” said Sharon. “If you look, you can see a bunch of twigs on top of a tree, with the white head of the mother or father eagle poking out on top.”

Can you see it?

Here’s a zoomed-in shot in case you couldn’t see it.

There are two Bald Eagle chicks born every year. A competition sparks between them as soon as they’re out of the eggs. Each strives to get the food first, to become the bigger chick. One day, the bigger, stronger chick will push the other one out of the nest.

Only the strongest survive.

Then someone yelled, “Deer!” and sure enough, there was a small herd of deer running away from the bus in all directions directly underneath the eagles nest.

We drove, and soon the bus stopped at a small bridge.

Rainbow trout spawn here. Look at how big they are! I was surprised at the clarity of the water – we could see them so clearly.

Harlequin ducks come through and promptly eat the eggs. The trouts’ strategy is to lay too many eggs for the ducks to eat.

As I was standing on the bridge, suddenly there was a WHOOSH! of water as four Harlequin ducks swept in from under the bridge and started doing exactly as our guide had said. How lucky was that?

They started duck diving and eating invisible things in the water.

They were beautiful.

Then off we drove to what the guide said was “The jewel in the Crown.”

Lake Meligne.

And he was right.

It was utterly beautiful and, to my mind at least, left Lake Louise in the dust. It was far larger than Lake Louise and the isolation and complete lack of a chateau parked in front of it made it the best lake I’ve seen.

It was perfectly framed, with the mountains stretching away behind it.

As we were there, tiny snowflakes began to fall. It was magical.

Look at me in the Antarctica fleecy jacket that was so expensive that I thought I’d never wear it again! It’s been on two more trips now.

🙂

Incidentally, for any Laura Ingalls Wilder fans out there – Lake Melugne was named by a French explorer and priest called De Smet. Yes! The guy that the Ingalls’ town in North Gakota was named after.

He was exploring in the area and he had so much trouble with losing equipment etc on the lake, that he said it had a malign or “meligne’ (in French) presence about it.

Anyway, I got a little excited about that Little House in the Prarie connection.

After a good long while for us to soak in the beauty, we headed back to Jasper

There, we did some laundry, I caught up on the blogging and then we went out to see what Jasper had to offer.

I liked this.

The Rocky Mountains still encircle Jasper, but there’s a feeling of more space in Jasper. It’s decidedly a tourist town, with every second shop being a junky gift shop. I bought a postcard of a black bear – because I’ve seen them now – to put on the fridge.

Other than that, we walked the length and breadth of Jasper, which was a whole two and a half streets, then we came back to the room for dinner.

Leaving on the bus the next day, Sharon asked if we preferred Jasper to Banff.

Everyone said, “NO!”

Dad joke of the day:

Canada/Alaska Day 6: Lake Louise, the glacier walk and the rafting adventure!

Lake Louise is a place that my father has talked about for 40 years. He and Mum came here sometime in the 1970s when the water was blue and the day was perfect.

I came at a time when the weather was a little grey, with tiny flakes of snow dropping and the lake was still frozen over.

But as you can see, it is still beautiful.

Tommy Wilson was the first white person to see Lake Louise. The Native Americans that he was with called it “The lake of little fishes.” The water is cold all year round, only getting as high as 4C at the height of summer. As one wit said, “You fall in a man and come out a boy!”

When we were driving to Lake Louise in the morning, Sharon told us a few pioneer stories. The first was about Georgia Engelhard.

She was an intrepid mountaineer and scandalised the good people of Banff by appearing in pants instead of skirts. One newspaper editor fumed:

“Pants weren’t made for women; pants were made for men. And women were made for men.”

Jimmy Simpson was born “bad to the bone” according to his Scottish family, who sent him to Winnipeg, Canada when he was 16. In those days Winnipeg was a rough and tumble town – and it still is, according to Sharon – and before he knew it, Jimmy had gambled away the money he was given by his family to buy a farm and then he sold his gold watch for a train ticket to Calgary.

He didn’t have enough money to buy a ticket all the way, so he stowed away on a train and was thrown off when he was discovered by the conductor because he was snoring too loudly.

When he reached Banff, he found his place. He found work as an outfitter and soon became very good at it, earning the nickname “Wolverine Go Quickly” by the Native Americans because he was so quick at walking with snowshoes and he was a crack shot and excellent at setting trap lines.

He fell in love with Williamina “Billie” Ross Reid, and together they raised a family in the cabin that he built by the Bow River. It became a massive tourist attraction once the road was built in the 1930’s.

It was built in an octagonal shape because the trees in the area were so small. This gave it a distinctive air and it was wildly popular.

He wasn’t a great businessman and it was Billie, who used to be an ice skater, who engineered the family’s financial security. She taught her daughters to ice skate and when they grew up they joined the Icescapades, earning the money to pay off their father’s debts.

He was called ‘The Old Man of the Mountain” and was a popular figure in Banff. As well as his mountain skills, he was a gifted painter as well,

Jimmy Simpson lived till he was 95, and when he died the Prime Minister of Canada gave the eulogy, saying that he did more for tourism in Canada than anyone else.

Not bad for a boy who was “bad to the bone!”

Bill Peyto was originally christened as Ebenezer William Peyto, so no wonder he went by the name of Bill! He also came out to Canada at a young age from England and found work as an outfitter in Banff.

He reportedly liked horses much more than people, and wealthy customers would sometimes complain that after a long day’s riding, he’d make them wait for him to pitch the camp while he’d bathe, feed and water the horses first. Once he’d pitch camp for them, he’d leave them to their own devices while he’d go off to a lake he liked and he’d unroll his swag there.

He was a beloved character of the area, easily recognisable by the wild west clothes that he wore – A leather jacket with fringes on the sleeve that he had a nervous habit of picking off; two pairs of leather trousers, with the top pair being full of holes; and a perfectly starched white neckcloth that people said was actually napkins that he used to seal from the Banff Springs hotel.

He fought in the Boer war and when he returned he learned that Banff was going to throw a welcome parade in his honour. He jumped off the train the day before it arrived in Banff so the citizens of Banff had to have the parade without the main player.

A typical story about him was one where he wanted to have a quiet drink, but when he got to the bar there were a lot of noisy men in there. He went out, grabbed one of the lynxes that he used to keep as pets, came back and let it out in the bar. The place emptied in a panic, and he was able to enjoy his drink in peace.

He became the first warden of the Banff National Park, and he has a glacier and a lake named after him.

Anyway, back to Lake Louise. I’ve wanted to see this place ever since I was a child.

Rona taught me how to do a panorama shot by taking this shot for me. You can see how winter is still hanging onto the Rockies this year, even in the middle of May.

Lake Louise is perfectly framed by the mountains. When the guy who built the grand hotel in Banff saw it, he very quickly arranged to build another big hotel here.

This hotel was built to resemble a Swiss chateau because there were so many Swiss guides at the time who were working in the area. They no longer let blow-ins like us inside the main part of the hotel, but they’re not stupid. One side of the hotel has a café that was doing a roaring trade in coffee.

I’m sure I spent more time waiting in line for a coffee (and a cheese croissant that I bought for lunch) than I did gazing at the lake.

As I was walking towards the hotel to buy a coffee, I saw a girl doing a photoshoot down by the shore. Rona, Mad and I walked down to get a closer look, but by the time we got there, she was all tugged up in a goosedown jacket.

I don’t blame her. For the first day of this trip, I ditched the grey dress and put on trackie dacks. It was a cold day.

On the bus ride towards the next adventure – A GLACIER WALK that I forgot we were doing until this morning – we heard a couple of stories about bears. In Banff they cut down apple trees if the apples aren’t picked in time, to discourage the bears from coming into town.

One time, there was a bear found spreadeagled on the roof of a house. He’d eaten all the apples from the tree beside the house, then climbed up onto the roof to have a little rest. People were coming from all over town to take photos.

The drive from Banff to Jasper consistently ranks fourth on the list of the world’s best drives. It didn’t disappoint.

Snow on the trees. We were so lucky to see them like this.

This is one side of a lake we drove past.

And here is the other side. Frozen. Yes, it’s the same lake.

The Athabasca Glacier Walk was great. “Athabasca” means “where the reeds grow”, and there’s a mountain, a river, a glacier and about a dozen other things all named Athabasca.

This place is unique in that there are 6 glaciers all in the same area.

We were going to be moved onto the ice by getting into another coach, which drives to the specialised vehicle called an Ice Explorer, which would then take us to the glacier. By the time we got there, we’d have around 30 minutes on the ice.

I tell you, after Antarctica it felt weird being allowed to walk in the ice without snowshoes, and it felt strangely silent not to hear the sound of penguins calling to each other.

The guy driving the ice explorer machine was an English guy called Liam.

He was telling us the history of the ice explorers and then he said this:

“I drive a Mercedes every day worth 1.3 million. I tell my Mum and it keeps her happy. She thinks I’m making something of myself.”

There are 23 of these ice explorer cars in the world and 21 of them are here. Two are permanently in Antarctica and one of them is owned by Australia and the other by America.

Liam said that there are fewer Ice Explorer drivers in the world than there are astronauts, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.

The Ice Explorer can drive on angles up to 36 degrees and the wheels are only 2 inches shorter than I am. It’s a beast.

The truck can move up to a gradient of 36 degrees, which is incredible. It moves at an impressive 25 kms/hour. 

The ice is from the world’s last ice age, and now the experts estimate that there are only 60 – 80 years of its life left.

Here’s me looking excited. I don’t know what I was doing with my hands.

Looking back towards the Ice Explorer.

A close-up of the ice at the top of the glacier.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

After we got back from the glacier I went through the gift shop. Nothing I wanted to buy! I was so proud of myself.

Then I was all on my own. I took the very squashed cheese croissant that I bought from Lake Louise and went outside. I found a nice flat rock to sit on, draped my coat over my knees and ate my lunch in front of a beautiful little glacier. I’ve got no idea which one of the 6 possible glaciers it was, but I didn’t care. It was beautiful.

So there I sat, happily munching away on my croissant and an Aldi nut bar I had in my bag and I had the most peaceful, beautiful lunch.

I put an alarm on my phone so I wouldn’t be late for the bus. Another little adventure that I’d almost forgotten about was the river rafting that I’d signed up to do this afternoon.

What a day!

We were rumbling along, then suddenly the cry went up from the front of the bus, “BEAR!”

omg!

He was intent on eating as much grass as he could. He looked up at us, then went back to filling his mouth with as much grass as he could. He was eating with gusto!

We were all thrilled. One of the big ones has been crossed off the list!

Then it was time to go on a gentle rafting trip. At the last minute, Megan decided to come too. Why not? We’re only here once.

We were split into two groups. My rafter guy was called Brad. He’s been doing this for 11 years and was very skilful. He managed to splash every single one of us during the 8km river ride.

All the peaks in this part of the mountain range are named for Victoria Cross recipients. Not just Canadians, but also British and Australian.

One of the guys asked Brad what were the best animal encounters he’d had in his 11 years of doing this. He said the best one was when they rounded a curve on the river and they saw two grizzlies fighting on the bank.

“They weren’t at all interested in us, and the river was flowing slowly, so we all got a great view of it.”

Another time a group of elk burst out of the woods right near where we assembled to get onto the rafts, and they swam to a little island. One of them had huge claw marks down his back, so they were escaping from something!

Lightning hit this tree and the top half fell into the river. After a couple of years, Brad noticed two holes at the top. Something had decided to make the stump its home. He guesses that it’s a woodpecker but he hasn’t seen anything coming or going.

By the time he told this story, we’d gone past the tree, so you can only see one hole at the top, but trust me, there were two.

Remember how I said that Brad splashed everyone? This woman was sitting opposite me. She was NOT AMUSED.

“These ponchos do NOTHING to protect you!” she kept saying.

There were tourists on the banks of the river and we’d all wave.

It’s an interesting thought to realise that when the explorers and the Native Americans first came through here, the only clear and reliable way to get around was by river travel.

I don’t know how they did it. Life in those times must have been brutal.

Anyway, I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. The sound of the water, the beautiful scenery and the fresh air were all very pleasant. There were no white water bits to scare the living daylights out of you, but that’s ok. I’ll save that for another trip.

We ended the day in Jasper. Our hotel has a laundry room, so everyone is very excited about doing laundry.

It’s the little things…

Dad joke of the day:

Canada/Alaska Day 5: Banff.

Today was a free day in Banff. We woke up at around 7:30 and Megan swept open the blinds and exclaimed, “It’s snowing!”

I don’t think I’ve ever gotten out of bed faster! 

The snowflakes were almost as big as my head. They floated down so lightly. It almost made the car park that we were looking down on seem picturesque.

We set out for breakfast and ended up talking with a local woman called Barb, who was lovely.

She gave Megan the tip to log in to the camera on top of the mountain to see what we’d see if we went up on the gondola for the view overlooking Banff. She saved us a lot of time, as well as $120 each!

Every time Megan checked it was cloudy and raining, so we didn’t bother trying.

Instead, we walked every square inch of the town. There’s no way that we can say that we don’t know Banff.

We went into every gallery we saw. I’m keen to find a painting/drawing/photograph that I can put in my room of travel. I don’t know what it’ll be, but I’m starting to get a feel for Canadian art.

I didn’t find anything, but I was fairly tempted with these whimsical prints. Luckily, I brought some paint chips of my duck egg blue walls in my lounge room. The decision was made instantly. It would look awful!

So the hunt continues…

Speaking of hunting, the first major stop we made was to the taxidermy museum. 

The first big exhibit is from 1914 and so is the glass. The curators were very anxious that no one would touch it. These are mountain goats. I felt very sorry for the baby ones in the right-hand corner.

This place was two floors jam-packed with stuffed animals and birds. I mean – jam-packed. Case after case full of taxidermy.

Not content with putting the animals in the cases, they also put them on top. On every single case.

It was extraordinary.

Sad bison communing over the staircase.

I don’t know what this beaver was having before it died, but it was clearly having an effect.

Even way back in the early 1900s, they were trying to educate people about the environment the animals lived in. This case had bison, with tiny birds perched on them. In the front corner, they had this:

Coyotes catching birds!

After viewing all of the animals and birds, we headed towards the Banff Springs Hotel. It’s very grand. Barb, the woman we spoke to over breakfast, said that she had a gym membership there, and would people-watch, wondering what these people earned, if they were able to afford to stay there.

Here’s a view from the bridge as we were walking towards the hotel. The clouds are totally hiding the hills that surround the town. It gave the place a moody, mysterious feel.

Here’s a more elevated look back at the town. You can see the lower part of the mountains, but the clouds were still very low.

Mountains totally encircle this place. There’s no clear view of the horizon at all. I wondered what effect that would have on a child growing up here. The place is so isolated – it’s not as if you’d be leaving town every day for another place, just to see the horizon.

Anyone living here would have a feeling of being contained, almost cocooned.

After the animals and birds, we headed off towards the Banff Springs Hotel. This is the view from the bridge.

The hotel itself is very swish.

We drove up yesterday in the bus and I was sure I’d be catching a bus or something to get up here, but I’m proud to say that Megan and I made it up there by foot. Good on us!

It was a consciously opulent place. You could tell the people who were paying to be there from the blow-ins like Megan and me.

The shops were on the lobby level and were filled with beautiful things. We looked but didn’t touch.

We wandered around. Megan had mentioned that she wouldn’t mind a cuppa, and I was intent on finding the view that a couple of backpackers had told us about.

I saw this in the café in the lobby. I liked how they grow their own garnishes. That’s something I’d do if I ran a café.

We made a wrong turn and saw a wedding reception being set up, before we found the bar with the view.

It was spectacular. The photo doesn’t do it justice at all. Legend had it that when the first version of the hotel was built, the builders turned the plan around the wrong way and the servants had the great view and not the guests!

When the first, wooden, version burned down, the owner made sure that the permanent stone version was facing the correct way.

The best part of the day for me was when we were going down the hill on the way back to the town. I heard a loud chirping sound that I thought was birds. Then I noticed a motionless ground squirrel standing upright beside its hole.

I squeaked and grabbed my camera, while Megan was asking, “What?? Where? “

There were a lot of them. They were all there in plain sight, but their coats blended in with the lawn so well that people were walking past on the footpath only a few metres from them, oblivious.

Megan and I quietly sat down on a couple of benches and watched them for about 10 minutes. The chirping noise abated the longer we stayed, but they were definitely on alert the whole time. They were ducking in and out of their holes, eating and scampering around, just being themselves.

It was lovely.

There was a trapping and trade place that we had a look at, full of moccasins, mittens and furs.

Then we had an “interesting “ conversation as we wandered through the park. There was a pavilion where bands could play and people could eat a picnic or shelter from rain. I managed to get a shot of the full Canadian flag that was flying from the top.

I said something about the pavilion, and Megan said, “It’s called a rotunda.”

“Huh. I’ve always called it a pavilion,” I said, and I thought the conversation would stop there.

But Megan likes to dig deeper into things, in order to prove that she’s right.

“It’s definitely called a rotunda. Every band camp I’ve been to, I’ve always told the kids to go to the rotunda,” she said.

I still didn’t grasp how much she wanted me to say that she was correct. I’m a bit slow on the uptake, but I was starting to feel pushed into a corner.

“Oh really?” I said, angling my way towards an interesting-looking sculpture in the park. “ We’ve always called it a pavilion.” 

The conversation went on like that. It was such a stupid thing to talk about, because who cares what you call it as long as people understand what you’re talking about? But Megan wouldn’t let it go.

“ You know, it’s interesting that you call it a pavilion when rotunda is …”

I snapped. 

“Oh please stop!” I said.

Megan turned and walked towards the bridge in silence, while I snapped a photo of the sculpture.

It’s nice, isn’t it?

I joined Megan on the bridge and the conversation was a little stilted for a couple of minutes.

As we turned back through the park, Megan suddenly turned and walked towards the pavilion. There was a sign in front of it. I walked a couple of steps behind her, praying that the sign didn’t describe it as a rotunda…

A GAZEBO!!!!

We looked at each other and started laughing our heads off. Megan, no joke, was doubled over with her hands on her thighs, she was laughing so hard.

After that, harmony was restored.

Megan found this in a gift shop. I don’t know who needs this, but good luck to them! A bendable, poseable Jesus doesn’t fit with my decor.

The rest of the day was spent just walking around Banff, looking at the shops and gazing at the mountains encircling the town.

Just an ordinary street, until you look up and see the beauty that surrounds it.

Just incredible.

Megan pointed out this sign while we were walking along. We all know I have a fondness for a pun.

In a gift shop I found the perfect gifts for both Megan and myself.

Mine is a magnet that says, “ I only like 3 people and my dogs.”

Here’s Megan’s magnet:

Fortunately, she saw the funny side!

Dad joke of the day: 

I’m going to start a music group named Tarpaulin.

We will be a cover band.

Canada/Alaska Day 4: The long drive day.

Today was a long driving day to get from Kelowna to Banff. It was my turn to sit by the window, so most of the photos you’re going to see of the scenery will have a moody, almost impressionistic feel about them.

Sharon, our tour guide, was telling us about how she survives the cold, particularly in the Canadian winter. “I feel the cold, but I know how to dress,” she said. “I have 4 levels of winter clothing and even when the temperature reaches -40C, I rarely have to wear Level 4.”

She has a Gortex parka which is too warm even in -40C. That must be some parka!

She has 3 levels of boots and she mentioned that even if mothers wrap their kids up with long scarves wrapped around their heads to keep them warm, the kids’ eyelashes will freeze.

She rides horses in the winter (indoors) to keep them exercised, and uses electric socks wired from a battery pack under the knees to keep herself warm.

“I have a friend who is totally wired up from head to toe in the winter,” she said. “I’ve told her not to fall in a puddle or she’ll die!”

I’m going to look at Sharon each morning to determine which coat/jumper/raincoat I should wear that day. I didn’t unpack my raincoat and I needed it in the afternoon. It poured!

As we were driving along, I saw several small signs for a roadside stall, stuck on a fence beside the road.

Apples. 

Toys. 

Fruit. 

Fishing gear.  

Did I say cold beer?

One of the other people on the tour, a retired teacher, said that it takes 40 litres of maple sap to make 1 litre of maple syrup . Wow.

We stopped at a place where the last spike of the overland railway was struck. Here’s a little red caboose for your viewing pleasure.

Sharon was talking for miles about the railways and blah blah blah but I fell asleep. Apparently the railways were important for important reasons that blah blah..

What’s also important is money. I was starting to wonder why I bothered to buy some Canadian and American money, but the gift shop here had no internet, so it was cash only sales.

I bought some Maple Laef coasters (useful souvenir!) and a moose for my Christmas tree. I got my purchases to reach exactly $20, but I forgot that over here, they ass the tax on AFTER the price. How stupid. I had to fish out an extra fiver, but now I have a looney and tooney.

We were driving through the Selkirk mountain range.

Lord Selkirk from Scotland in the mid 1800’s was upset at the displacement of thousands of peasant farmers from the UK, which happened when the landowners discovered that they could make more money from their land by mining coal rather than renting it out to farmers, which they’d done for centuries. He brought a ton of people over to Canada and helped settle them on their own farms. In gratitude, Canada named a mountain range after him.

This blurry photograph was taken just as the bus went into an avalanche tunnel. These are built over the road and protect traffic from any unexpected falls. Sharon said they work well and that deaths have decreased dramatically since these went in.

Good to know, especially when you’re hearing about it from inside a bus driving along that road.

Our first “comfort break” after lunch was in a visitor information centre at the top of Roger’s Pass.

They offered a video about what to do if you come across a bear in the wild. Apparently, the key is to work out if it’s defensive or aggressive. You’d better get it right because the correct way to behave towards the bear is completely opposite for each situation.

Play dead or go bananas.

Sharon was telling a couple of us that there was a couple walking their dog out in the woods near here and they messaged a friend that they were getting concerned about a bear that was following them. A search party was sent out when they didn’t return and sure enough – all three bodies were found the next day.

On the other hand, a woman was being threatened by a bear so she turned the volume up on her phone and played Metallica at it at full volume. The bear fled, the story went viral and the lead singer called her to thank her for the publicity!

Sharon put on a DVD about beavers. I kept falling asleep, but I learned that beavers fell over 400 trees in a single year to build a new dam. I also woke in time to see beaver sex. Despite the romantic music playing over the footage, it looked more like rape to me…

The Rocky Mountains can be seen from space. The whole range is 700 miles long.

I learned this when I woke up for a bit.

I also surfaced to hear about the Kicking Horse river.

It was named during the Palliser expedition, which had a Dr Hector in it. They were out mapping the area and they decided to cross this river Unknown to them, the bottom of the river was deep clay and a packing horse got stuck. Dr Hector went to free it was the horse kicked out and got him square in the chest.

He was knocked out cold for hours. The other men in the expedition thought he was dead and dug him a grave. As they were preparing to throw him in it, he managed to blink a couple of times to let them know that he was still alive. Hence the name – Kicking Horse River. 45 years later, Dr Hector came back with his son Doudlas to show him the place where he almost died.

Doudlas then promptly dropped dead from appendicitis. Dr Hector never returned to the Rickies after that.

We also passed under several animal highways, which were built to allow the wild animals to cross safely from one side of the highway to the other. The sides are built up with trees so the animals can’t even see the road so they have no idea they’re crossing a bridge. They’ve done DNA testing on bears a few years after they’d installed them, and they found that sure enough – bears were looking for love on both sides of the highway, so they’ve been a great success.

Sharon also mentioned the wolves really like the underground wild animal crossings. They hang around at the end, knowing that sooner or later an elk will walk out and BAM!

Dinner.

Just outside of Banff, we got very excited when we saw our first wild animal sighting – a group of elk in the middle of the road.

I hope they all made it off the road ok when they were finished eating.

Later, right in the centre of Banff, we saw a group of elk in the middle of the river, but I couldn’t get a shot in time.

Imagine living with a mountain in your backyard!

I decided to take a close-up of the snow on the top of one of the mountains.

Looks pretty, doesn’t it?

What doesn’t look pretty is this abomination. It’s poutine. A Canadian delicacy, comprising of fries, cheese curds and gravy. I thought I’d do the right thing and give it a go at dinner.

IT WAS AWFUL.

We have a free day in Banff tomorrow. Let’s see what we find!

Dad joke of the day:

Canada/Alaska Day 3: Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again.

Look at this! You know how when you read about neighbourhoods in American lit and they talk about people hanging out on the “stoop”?

I think this is a stoop!

Anyway, on with the day.

Sharon, our tour director, handed out these chocolate lollies of Canadian money. Their $1 coins are called ‘Loonies’ because when the Prime Minister of the day ruled that $1 notes would be replaced by coins, the people thought he was crazy.

When the $2 notes went the same way, “Toonies” just fit.

The toonies have the Queen (now the King) on one side, with a bear on the other. So Canadians have a coin with the Queen with a bear bottom…

We had a long day of driving planned, with a winery visit at the end. I was looking forward to this until Sharon confidentially told us that the organic wines at this winery were shit, but the sparkling wine was good. I began planning how to swap my wine tastings for extra sparkling. Still, a winery visit is always nice.

Our first coffee break was in a town called ‘Hope.’ It’s famous for being where ‘Rambo’ was filmed, as well as being the place where chainsaw-wielding lumberjacks create street art.

While everyone else got off the bus and queued for the loo, or raced to get coffee, I power-walked down the street to see as many wood carvings as I could.

This is one side:

… and here’s the other.

Here’s Harry the Sasquatch.

When we were driving here, Sharon said that she believes in the Sasquatch, because she dated a few of them in her younger years.

When I got back to the bus I told her that I’d found a former boyfriend of hers. She said, “Oh yes. His name is Harry.”

“He said to contact him if things don’t work out with you and your husband. He’s here, living in Hope,” I said.

Well, I wasn’t wrong.

There were all sorts of sculptures dotted around the town. It was fun to walk around and see what can be done with creativity and a chainsaw.

Rambo was filmed here. Sylvester Stallone is very short, so when the call went out for local extras, all of the local lumberjacks showed up. Most of them were big, burly men who towered over Sly.

So then the call went out in Vancouver for small extras.

This is my first sight of a bear-proof rubbish bin. Sturdy, isn’t it? It looks like a WWI tank.

We set off again. Look at this – it’s the last month of Spring and there’s still snow on the mountains.

All was good until suddenly the bus driver pulled over to the side of the road. There was something wrong with the bus. We were out of mobile phone range. Lovely.

After a few minutes, we set off again. Phew!

Ten minutes later, there we were again.

Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again. This time, they could call out and get help. Even though we were in the middle of nowhere, a mechanic and a replacement bus were coming to save us.

In two and a half hours.

So the bus sat by the side of the road, buffeted by every logging truck and heavy vehicle that passed. Another tour bus stopped to offer help, but we’re pretty much a full bus so they couldn’t help us.

The people at the back started complaining about heat and lack of fresh air. Sharon allowed them to get out and sit by the side of the road. Megan went out with them, while I stayed back on the bus and talked about the Royal Family with Pam from Liverpool.

(TLDR: We love the Queen; on the fence about Charles; Harry is lovely but shouldn’t have spilled the family secrets.)

We stopped right by an animal highway. It’s a tunnel under the road, so animals can cross without being skittled.

Finally, the cavalry arrived. We had to move onto the new bus. It was an old model which Mike, the driver, HATED.

“How does the bus feel, Mike?” Sharon asked after a few miles.

“Weird.”

“Maybe that’s because this bus is moving!” she said.

I tell you what – it wasn’t moving very fast. We didn’t get to the winery, though from what Sharon had said, it wasn’t much of a loss. We crawled up the highway beside a river which suddenly became a lake.

It was majestic.

The beaches are very precious to the people of the town of Kelowna. The Canadian Geese come along each year and try and mess up the place. To solve this, they hire people with trained dogs to chase the geese (but not hurt them) so that the geese fly away and leave the place in peace.

Cost? 45K/dog.

Look at our room. Twin queen beds. We both lost our minds when we saw them.

Luxury!

Dad joke for the day:

Canada/Alaska Day 2: The Exciting River trip!

Today was the day we met our tour guide and our group. The plan was to have a whistle-stop tour of Vancouver before we leave the next day.

The first thing of interest that we saw was a very narrow building.

It was built out of spite, when the city decided to widen the road and appropriated most of this guy’s land. The building is 11 feet deep, which you’d think would make it unusable. It’s been occupied ever since.

We drove through Chinatown, mainly filled by older residents who have been there for decades. The younger people want better housing and more affordable rent, so they’re moving outwards.

Gas Town has a dream clock, that Andrew from the comments asked about in my last post. We got to the clock just in time to walk to it and take some photos.

Then this happened:

Megs took this video. Notice the steam coming out from the top!

I turned around and saw this building with a crash-landed UFO on top.

These wild and whacky Canadians!

Gas Town has these fake gaslights, probably put in for the tourists.

Gas Town was established when a guy called Jack sailed in with a boat with a big barrel of whiskey. And he said, “If you help build me a tavern here, you’ll drink free for a day!” 

A day later, the tavern was built. They must have been very thirsty.

The steam clock was built by a man who saw a solution to the problems that steam was causing. The steam was created in great underwater boiler works and it was venting out on the footpath and burning passersby. He designed this clock to put over that vent to protect people. Steam was working the clock but it didn’t do it accurately so it’s now all driven electronically.

Here is the official Olympic Flame, installed when Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics at some stage. The citizens wanted the flame burning the whole time these next Olympics were going, but the mayor said that he’d only light the flame for an hour IF a Canadian won a gold medal. The flame costs $50K/hour to run.

Fair enough.

I noticed this building as we drove away from the airport to our hotel. It is covered with grass. This turned out to be the Olympic stadium. The grass provides excellent insulation, gives worms for the birds and has 3 different bee colonies on it. This was taken from the Stanley Park part of our tour.

Yes, we were here yesterday.

Speaking of Stanley Park, remember the ‘Girl in a Wetsuit’ sculpture from yesterday? This was supposed to be an identical replica of the little mermaid in Copenhagen Denmark and the ladies of Vancouver said, “You can’t put naked breasts on her in our harbour!!” So she’s now decently clad in a  wetsuit and flippers. When it’s high tide the water comes up to the bottom of her flippers.

After a half hour with the totem poles, which I spent getting to know Mad and Rhona from Phoenix, we set off for Granville Island.

This created a dilemma, because we’ve settled with Blogless Martha that we’ll be spending Sunday on Granville Island with her. So we stuck purely to the produce part, completely ignoring all of the art, jewellery, pottery and everything else interesting parts.

We still had a good time.

The first thing I saw when I entered the produce shed were these enormous, shiny capsicums. I’ve never seen capsicums like them.

Look at these insane cherries!

I’m not a foodie, but even I was mesmerised by these stalls.

They’re almost glowing with pride.

Or chemicals.

I had to take this photo. These could be nowhere else but in Canada.

THESE ARE NOT SCONES!!!!!

omg.

I was standing in the food hall, trying to decide what to get for lunch when I thought I heard, “Frogdancer!”

That can’t be for me, I thought. I don’t know anyone here.

“Frogdancer!”

Megan touched my arm. “I think she wants to save you a seat.”

It was Rhona and Mad.

We had a fun lunch, then we all jumped aboard the bus back to the hotel.

Megan and I wanted to see an exhibition by Emily Carr that Blogless Martha told us about, so we walked off to find the Old Law Courts. When we got there we were a bit cast down to find that the gallery was closed on Tuesdays.

Not to be deterred, Megan asked the receptionist what she would do if she had an afternoon to fill.

“Well, you could take the ferry to North Vancouver, walk around the market and have afternoon tea on the dock. Or you could take the Skyrail to cross the Fraser River. That’s always exciting – to cross the river.”

We looked at the time, realised we could do both, so off we went to the station.

When we emerged at the ferry terminal, look what was parked nearby:

Yep. The PLAGUE SHIP!!

We set out on a sedate trip across the water, then wandered onto the dock.

I don’t know if I’d like to be so rich as to own a yacht like this. Every time you tie up at a dock, you’d have to leave the shop because everyone who walks past peers in.

This reminded me of that bridge in Paris.

We headed towards these yellow umbrellas. I thought it was the market. Megan, however, knew that it was the pun. She wanted a beer.

I was reminded of that time in Beijing when I was with Helen, Rick and Matt and we ordered a cocktail in the middle of the day at a tiny bar.

Why not? I ordered a Shochu Sour. It was bloody beautiful!

I liked this.

We found the market, but most of the stalls were shut. We took the next ferry back to Granville station, then we took the line to cross the exciting river.

It was a subway station. So was the next one. And the next.

The carriage grew crowded. I leaned over to Megan and said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if this line went under this amazing river?”

Megan just looked at me and raised an eyebrow.

Suddenly, after 9 stations where we were crushed against the citizens of Vancouver, the train rose to the surface. We were about to see the river!!!!

Unknown to me, Megan took this video.

Yeah.

She felt the same.

Megan’s the navigator on this holiday. I’m experimenting with only using wifi. She worked out the closest station to our hotel, so we walked to our local supermarket, bought our meals for the night and crashed at the hotel.

But I wanted to leave you with this.

These are ordinary-sized pigeons.

Look at the size of Canadian seagulls!!!! They’re giants!!!

And they have a different cry to ours. Canadian seagulls sound mournful. Seriously, they sound depressed. If we had these guys in Australia, I’d give them all of my fish and chips, just to try and make them happier.

Dad Joke of the Day:

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