Canadian Adventures 8: Westward Bound

On leaving the national parks, we went to find somewhere where we could make dinner. We found a regional park on the map called James Chabot, so we made a beeline for it.

The park was actually very beautiful, next to a lovely big lake. We parked in the car park and brought our things out to a picnic bench by the shore to make our dinner.

A big raven strutted by as we cooked and ate. It seemed like a really pretty park, with loads of dogs running around enjoying the evening sun.

After dinner, we headed for a campsite in a small place called Yahk. When we arrived, the campsite was completely full, and the day area looked spooky in the dark, so we drove around for ages hoping to find a space.

We didn’t.

We gave up and parked in the day area and settled in for the night. Yahk is a tiny place, but we realised that the full campsite was due to it being Canada Day weekend on Canada’s 150th anniversary.

We got ready for bed and turfed out/ killed several absolutely massive mosquitos. Essentially, they were almost as big as my face.

It was then that we realised we needed the loo and we were too scared to walk there in the dark.

If you’ve ever driven a car with the seats completely tipped back, luggage piled on the back seats blocking the view out of the back, in the dark, on a campsite in Canada, with your sister giggling in a sleeping bag next to you, then you’ll know that it felt a bit odd.

We reached the safety of the toilet and then returned to our spot in the day area to sleep.

The drive the next day began early. As we had stayed in the day area again, we hadn’t paid, so left at maybe 7:30 to avoid the campsite staff.

Coming in late and leaving early without paying was a process we called “Swan Laking” as we first did it at a campsite called “Swan Lake” early on in our car life portion of the trip. And before you say it’s immoral, if the campsite is full anyway, they get all their money and we get a safer place to sleep than a random lay-by.

It was Canada Day and we were heading for the small city of Kelowna. The drive was long, but like any drive we had done in British Columbia, it was beautiful.

We had not slept much and I was the only driver, so after several hours, I began to get very sleepy.

We stopped in a place called Christina Lake and found a lovely cafe called Lisa’s Lakeside Bistro, where we get tasty wraps and I fuelled up with cherry coke.

We drove on and on and on until we reached Kelowna. We drove around for a while until we found somewhere to park, then wandered through the big park, admiring everyone’s patriotic Canada Day costumes.

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Lake Kelowna

We wanted a drink but you aren’t allowed to drink alcohol in the park, so we found a bar that had a happy hour going on.

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Canada Day drinks

After drinks, we headed back to the car, stopping on the way to pick up some more rum for the evening.

We went to Safeway first, and couldn’t find the alcohol aisle, so I asked someone:

“Which alcohol is the alcohol in?”

Shockingly, they didn’t sell alcohol, but they directed us to an off-licence.

We then drove on to find a place to stay for the night. We had three possible campsites to choose from nearby to each other. But it was Canada Day, so the chance of there being space at short notice was slim.

The driving had been a very tiring, so by the time we arrived at the third campsite and found it was full too, we just gave up and parked just outside of it and cooked our dinner. A pair of pretty California Quail wandered around nearby.

We sorted ourselves out for the night and set up the car, we were just about to begin Canada Day rum drinks, when a regional park van pulled up and a man got out.

He came up to the car, so I opened the window.

“Are you planning on staying here tonight?” he said.

“Yes, is that a problem?” I replied.

At this point he could have said “we’d rather you didn’t” and then I would have explained that we’d been driving all day and we’d be gone early and it was Canada Day.

Instead he plumped for: “It’s a campsite, so normally you go in and find a space and pay for it.”

Wow. I was totally unaware about how campsites worked, thank you for explaining to poor little me in nice short words.

Arsehole.

“It’s full.”

He seemed genuinely surprised that the campsite with SEVEN PITCHES was full on CANADA DAY.

Eventually we persuaded him to let us stay and he said we had to pay, despite not being in the campsite. We said we would (spoiler alert: we didn’t).

We settled down to rum drinks and slept, waking very early to begin our drive to Chilliwack, where we had decided to stay because it was near to Vancouver and had a cool name.

We spent the day driving down more lovely roads and eating in various rest areas. The route we took brought us very close to the USA border, and we kept seeing signs for it. I imaged the border would have a massive sign with an American flag and a bald eagle on it, with a big crowd of rowdy Americans with guns and foam fingers shouting “USA! USA!” while cheerleaders danced. I would find out in a few days.

I am aware that image is much like imagining that one is welcomed into the UK by the cast of Downton Abbey, a complimentary cream tea and never-ending drizzle, and you’d only be partially right.

When we arrived in Chilliwack, we had the same issue with campsites as we drove along Chilliwack lake road and it became clear that they were all full.

Eventually we noticed that lots of people had set up camp in the various lay-bys along the road, so we decided to join them.

The lay-by we chose was actually a user maintained area which people often stayed in as they walked a particular trail.

We parked up and began to use our leftover tinfoil to block some of the sunlight coming into the car. As we were taping it to the windows, a man in a campervan ahead of us came over to gift is a foil blanket, which we thanked him for and attached.

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Our foil-encrusted car

We chilled out in the car, chatting until it was time for dinner. We made another adequate meal and then began to set up for the night.

The kind man came over again and brought us some grapes. Friendliest lay-by ever!

We had some more rum, because drinking in the car was the main point of this holiday and then settled in to sleep.

Eva needed a wee, so we had to climb out of our foil encrusted nest so she could attempt to go, but she couldn’t because there were too many cars driving past.

The next morning, we were awakened by a dazzling light, striving around the car. The foil blanket was wafting in the morning breeze and attempting to blind us when the sun hit it.

We got up and rearranged the car for one last time. Just before we drove away, we spotted a little snake in the grass next to the car, another wonderful piece of Canadian wildlife.

We drove back along the Chilliwack Lake Road, down towards Vancouver. The drive was short and smooth.

We drive in and found the accommodation we would be sharing with our parents for the next few days. It was lovely! A far far cry from sleeping in a car for three weeks.

We ate a snack, unpacked, showered and put some washing on, then headed out to the airport to return the car. Our journey had taken us 4100kms or just over 2500 miles.

It had been an incredible adventure. Driving in Canada had proved to be so much fun, despite some irritating motorists who refused to do the speed limit and overtook me on the inside (pickup drivers, I’m looking at you).

I love driving and the roads were an absolute pleasure to drive on – keeping your eyes on the road is the only problem!

The National Parks were just phenomenal and I will never forget the things we saw and did on our journey through them.

I can’t recommend this part of the world enough and I would urge anyone who can go, to go!

 

Canadian Adventures 7: Yoho and Kootenay

We had not originally planned to leave Banff so early, but it was such a busy place to stay and we had seen most of the main sites, so we headed into neighbouring Yoho national park for the night.

The campsite we had chosen to stay at was completely full, so we parked in the day area and made some food.

It was a lovely little spot, nestled between dramatic mountains with the occasional long train trundling by.

As we had been parked in the day area, we left very early to avoid another incident like the one in Castle Mountain and went and found a lay-by to have breakfast in. It was meant to be a viewpoint, but the trees had grown up in the way.

We were very used to living in the car by now, so cooking breakfast, changing and washing our hair in a bowl of cold water in a lay-by as people drove up to see if there was a view was becoming really normal. I have never been particularly shy about such things, but even less so since the trip.

We carried on up the windy little road we were on, admiring the mountain views in the little valley.

After a while we came to a section of road that had had an avalanche fall across it. The road had been cleared but the snow still remained on either side, higher than a car. The snow was full of rocks, trees and other debris from its destructive journey down the mountain. This really hit home how powerful and terrifying nature can be.

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The remains of the avalanche

 

At the end of the road was a car park for Takkakaw falls. The altitude was higher again here, so it was very cold, but the falls were stunning and the views were lovely too. There were lots of longer walks in the area, but we still had a lot to see and not much time to see it all in.

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The Takkakaw Falls

We drove back along the road and back in the direction on Banff, where we stopped at a viewpoint for the spiral tunnel.

Basically, the trains that came through the mountains here originally had to go up and down a very steep slope, which caused accidents and derailments.

In Switzerland they had a similar problem, but, being the Swiss, they found a way to solve it. They cut into the mountains and put in a sweeping curve so the train could go up (or down) a far shallower gradient.

The spiral tunnel viewpoint overlooks one of these systems. The spiral tunnel has two spirals – the one we could see was the lower tunnel.

The trains through this area are erratic and have no set timetable, so we thought we would wait a little while, not expecting to see anything much.

We had lunch and read all the signs about the tunnel and its history.

After about 20mins, we heard a train approaching. We then watched as the train climbed its shallow track and disappeared into the tunnel. After a minute or two, the front of the train appeared out of the tunnel, with the back of the train still heading into the other end of it. Wow.

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A train heading through the spiral tunnel

We watched the whole train go past, which took quite a while as trains in this area are hundreds of carriages long.

After viewing the incredible train, we drove into the main town of Yoho: Field.

Field’s visitor centre houses some of the famous Burgess Shale fossils, which were found in Yoho national park. These are fossils of complete soft-bodied organisms, which is very exciting. Eva, the biologist, was especially excited.

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Touching some kind of Trilobite

Her favourite is Anomalocaris.

After viewing the fossils, we headed into Field itself.

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Field is pretty

Field, unlike Jasper town or Banff town, is TINY. It has lots of lovely historic buildings which we saw as we wandered around. There were also so very beautiful flowers.

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The river next to Field

After Field, we drove out to the Emerald lake, which is another beautiful turquoise lake. On the way we stopped at the pretty incredible natural bridge, that was formed due to the different densities of rock that blocked the river.

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Eva on the Natural Bridge

There were lots of people visiting the Emerald lake, so we had to park quite far away. It was very beautiful and would have been lovely to swim in if we had had the time.

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The Emerald Lake

I got an ice cream, but there were no vegan options, which upset Eva, who was getting fed up of not being able to have things. We were meant to write a poem at the Emerald Lake, so we wrote a Vegan saga, explaining her struggles with there being no ice cream for her.

Yoho national park is very small, so we only had one more site to see before we left and headed into Kootenay national park, another small one just south of Banff.

The final site was Wapta Falls, which is quite near the exit to the park.

We drove out towards the falls, not a particularly long drive. Somehow, we missed it and apparently there was no place to turn around for MILES AND MILES.

Eventually we got all the way to a town called Golden which is nearly 23 miles, 23 MILES, from the falls. Eva was very hungry at this point and I was too, so we went into a IGA supermarket and found very little vegetarian food and no vegan food except gum. Yay.

There was a giant red chair there though, which was a bit of a silver lining.

We drove back to Yoho and ended up back in the day area of same campsite as the previous night.

And we were out of rum.

Why is the rum always gone?

The next morning the universe rebalanced itself by giving us a gift, in the from of a lovely lady at the Field visitor centre, who gave us our tags for completing our Yoho Xplorers booklet, but not after reading everything first and making us swear a full oath to protect Canada and the world.

She also gave us Canada 150 badges and temporary tattoos!

We drove back to Lake Louise town to buy food and get coffee.

Eva brought her own mug and was very annoyed to find she had been charged for a medium coffee instead of a small, just because she had her own mug.

I stole lots of sugars and creamers in avengement.

The drive from Lake Louise into Kootenay National Park was lovely and we were excited to explore yet another park.

Our first stop was Marble Canyon, but not before I had borrowed another campground sink to wash my greasy greasy hair.

The canyon was really lovely and very hot. The trees surrounding it weren’t particularly tall as there had been a forest fire in 2003. Trees take a long time to grow back.

The next stop was the paint pots. A short walk from the car park are some large yellow ochre beds.

The ochre is a natural clay pigment formed of iron oxide and varying amounts of clay and sand. The local tribes used to clean the ochre, knead it into balls, flatten them and bake them. They could then grind the cakes and mix the powder with fish oil or animal grease to use as a paint for art on their bodies, tipis or clothing.

Eva put some of the raw ochre on her face. It looked good.

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Eva and the ochre 

We had another lovely walk on part of the Floe Lake trail, which goes through forest destroyed by a fire in 2001. The regrowth is stunning. The new trees are beginning to get tall and the under growth of beautiful flowers is just gorgeous, proving that while forest fires can be devastating in the short term, they increase diversity and forest health in the long term.

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On the Floe Lake trail

As we drove round to Radium Hot Springs to complete our last Xplorers booklet, we drove past a wonderful herd of big horn sheep – a load of mums and babies – so cute, but no way of stopping for photos.

We finished our booklet tasks and got our prize at the Radium visitor centre, then headed back to visit the Radium Hot Springs. They were only around $6 and it meant we could both have a proper warm shower!

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Radium Hot Springs

We soaked in the lovely springs in the sun and discussed our national park adventures. The national parks are just incredible and they are still amazingly wild places. We absolutely adored exploring them, especially with the help of our age-appropriate booklets!

We got way more tags than most of the kids, so who’s really winning?

 

Canadian Adventures 6: Beers, Booklets and Banff

We got up early to head to Calgary as the drive was longer than we had thought. We grabbed some very strong (and free) coffee from the hostel before we left.

The drive was over the same flat roads as before, with long straight sections at the unreasonably low speed limit of 100km per hour. I don’t condone speeding, but when the road is basically empty and just one long straight stretch for miles and miles, it is easy to let your foot get heavy…

We stopped at a lovely place called extreme pitta for lunch – they do pittas filled subway-style with lots and lots of fillings. We also had tasty pitta chips.

We drove on to a brewery called Big Rock, just outside of Calgary. We had booked the brewery tour only a few days previously. We went in and were greeted with a bar set up for tasting. We sampled one beer each before heading out on the tour. Eva had one called Citrodelic and I tried a maple lager.

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Ready to tour!

The tour was really interesting and went fully though the whole brewing process, from choosing the malts and hops – the room they were in smelt like a pet shop – to cooking everything up, to the fermentation and then the bottling.

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Inside the brewery

After the tour we had a full tasting, then got free glasses and visited the gift shop. We bought a case of special beers brewed for Canada’s 150th anniversary and some cute tasting glasses.

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The taps at Big Rock Brewery

Although I hadn’t had much to drink, we waited around in the car park for a while before driving to our hostel, with Eva tipsily navigating.

We got there and found that there were some beautiful hares hanging out in the car park – it seemed odd, but why not?

We tried to go to this cool market over the road, but it was shut. So we headed out to a lovely park on St Patrick’s Island.

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Beautiful Mosaic

We passed some lovely murals with mosaics on our walk there. The park was gorgeous, with loads of cute dogs running around. We watched the clouds for a while, then headed off on a walk.

We found a hill where there were lots of cute birds swooping around. Eva and I both had a go at rolling down the hill, but it was easier when we were little!

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Eva having rolled down the hill

As we were in a messing about kind of mood, Eva decided to walk through a temporary ford that went across part of the island. This of course resulted in her having very wet jeans!

We slept well in Calgary and enjoyed the free breakfast they provided including maple syrup porridge for Eva and maple syrup waffles for me.

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Cool market in Calgary

We went back to the market that had been closed the previous day and bought some cute but quite expensive nut/ seed butters from a hipster stall in one of the shipping container shops, complete with geometric/ landscape photo artwork!

We drove back to the rockies, watching them grow as we sped nearer – the view of the mountains from the flat plain we were on was absolutely incredible!

We were so happy to be venturing back into the stunning area again – this time heading for Banff – the most visited national park in the area. This was evident by how busy the town was when we arrived.

Eventually we found a free car park and wandered around in search of lunch. We found a tasty veggie cafe called Nourish, which was mostly great, but had some odd flavour combinations. The puddings were wonderful though.

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Tasty desserts

We went to the information centre and then picked up the Banff Xplorers booklet, which had a lot of activities in it that didn’t require us to visit anywhere – this seemed like a shame.

We drove along a scenic road called the Bow Valley Parkway to find a campsite by Castle Mountain. Castle Mountain is another spectacular natural sight and honestly, I am running out of new words to describe them all!

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Castle Mountain

We found a spot to camp (the last available one) and made dinner. We needed more ice for our cooler, so I went on a short solo drive down the road to see if I could get some from a nearby shop, but it was closed.

The next morning, after being given a friendly reminder to pay for our night at the campsite, we drove up to Lake Louise town. Here we discovered the reason why the Banff Xplorers booklet was not so exciting – there were several sub-booklets for Banff: Lake Louise, Cave and Basin and Banff Park Museum, three of the main sites of Banff.

We decided to visit lake Louise first, but it was so unbelievably busy that the parking was completely full. We had lunch nearby, then tried again, but still no sucess. We then noticed that the road to Moraine Lake was open – so we followed its windy way to the lake.

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Moraine Lake selfie

Moraine Lake had a surprisingly small car park, but we drove around it a few times and eventually found a space.

Moraine Lake is something special. The fist thing we did was walk up a hill to a viewing area at the one end of the lake. The views were incredible and we also met some very friendly (highly habituated) chipmunks who were begging for food.

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Beautiful chipmunk

The clouds were wafting in and out as we stood there and took a few hundred photos each. We made our way back down the hill and walked along the side of the lake. It was cold, and you could tell we were at high altitude because there was snow on the opposite bank!

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Stunning Moraine Lake

After a few minutes, it decided to rain. Heavily. We took shelter under an information board and pondered about our lack of hiking. We had only done short hikes and the main reason was a lack of suitable equipment. Next time we would bring things so we could hike properly.

The rain cleared up, so we carried on walking around the bank. I decided to paddle in and stand on a partially submerged log – turns out that the water was incredibly cold! I balanced on the log, but after the wind tried to push me off several times, I returned to shore.

We enjoyed our time at Lake Moraine and didn’t really want to leave. In all my travels this year, this was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen.

Out next stop was the Lake Louise gondola, which we had picked up a voucher for earlier in the day and was apparently a great place to view bears from. We arrived in the late afternoon, which also gave us a further discount – we ended up getting tickets for less than half price!

The gondola had two options: enclosed and open. Despite the cold, we went for the open gondola, for best bear viewing potential.

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The gondola

The gondola was a very relaxed ride, with grassy slopes below us and the mountains towering above. We wondered how high we would end up. After a while, people on the other side, coming down the mountain, told us to look out for the bears.

As we glided slowly along, we reached a clearing to our right and inside it were three bears! A mummy bear and two baby bears! They were quite far below us and seemingly unaware of our presence as we made lots of excited noises.

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The first bear family

All too soon, we had drifted past them. We carried on, getting closer to the top of the gondola. As we got close, we spotted a second family of bears chilling out directly below us. This was very close to our destination!

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The second bear family

We got to the top, got off and admired the view. You could see all the way back to Lake Louise and the lake was visible as a sparkling turquoise puddle in the distance.

We headed back down pretty quickly as we wanted to see the bears again. The bears near the top had moved further down and were only just visible through the trees, with both cubs climbing up and the mummy watching from below.

The lower set of bears were still there and after we went past them, we made it out duty to alert others to their presence.

We reached the bottom and bought a couple of coffees to drink with some Oreo’s in the car before making our way back to Lake Louise, praying that the car park would finally have space.

The one disadvantage of travelling in a car.

We arrived and, likely due to the time, found there was space. We wandered over to the lake, which is also stunning and has an incredible glacial mountain backdrop – which at this point in the day, looked like it was painted onto the sky.

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Lake Louise

We both agreed that we preferred Lake Moraine though, in part due to the massive, quite ugly hotel that stands on Lake Louise’s shore. A prettier building used to stand in its place, until it burnt down in 1924.

There was a lovely boathouse with quaint little canoes, which turned out to be extortionately expensive.

We dipped our feet in the cold water instead, then had a little walk around the lake shore.

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Enjoying the cooling waters of Lake Louise

We drove back down the road a bit and made dinner in the rest area we had had lunch in earlier. It was a decent place to cook and eat, but there was a lot of wind, at one point nearly ruining dinner by threatening to knock the pan off our tiny stove. We saved the dinner, but the piece of foil we were using as a lid blew across the road and out of reach.

Cute ground squirrels entertained us as we ate.

We drove on to our campsite for the night, the well-named mosquito creek, where we parked up next to the creek in the last available space and battled off the mosquitoes every time we ventured out to the toilet. Once again, we pacified ourselves with some Kracken rum and slept.

The next morning revealed beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. We drive out and stopped at a wonderful lookout by bow lake. We wanted to make coffee but there were lots of Asian tourists and it was incredibly windy and cold! After a few minutes of admiring the view, we drove round to a car park at the end of the lake, where we managed to make coffee and get dressed.

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Bow Lake

We had a little walk by the freezing lake shore and touched the lake (this was one of our Xplorers challenges). The lake was cold.

We did a nice walk, with random patches of snow alongside it, up to a wonderful viewpoint for Peyto lake, which is shaped a bit like a coyote.

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Peyto Lake

We headed on to touch another lake, waterfowl lake, which was only accessible through a campsite. We decided to make full use of their flushing toilets and wash our hair in the sinks. Sadly there was no hot water.

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Waterfowl lake

We carried on driving up to Saskatchewan crossing, which has amazing mountain views. We ate lunch, then headed into a pub for a drink. The ‘pub’ was a sorry excuse, only having a meagre selection of drinks, hardly any food, no snacks and bad country music. The views were stunning though.

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The view from the “pub”

After we finished our drinks, we walked down the hill to a cafeteria that we hadn’t seen before and got chips. Nom.

On the way back to Lake Louise town we stopped at Mistaya canyon which was absolutely stunning and you could get right up close to the water which was pretty awesome.

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Mistaya Canyon

We went back to Lake Louise town and handed in the Xplorer booklet to get our prize and picked up some more booklets for the nearby Kootenay and Yoho national parks.

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So close to the water

We around trying to find a campsite that was suitable and encountered yet another bear family, a black bear mum and two cubs, with the two cubs climbing a tree. The bears are so beautiful, but you see too many of them near the roads. We also spotted three white tailed deer.

We ended up back at Castle Mountain, which was very full and so we parked up in the day area and made camp. After some food and more rum, we settled in to sleep.

It was about 11:30 and we were just falling asleep when there was a knock on the window of the car.

Maybe I watch too many crime dramas but my immediate reaction in my half-asleep state was fear.

“Eva! Eva! There’s someone there!” I whispered urgently, before coming to my senses.

The friendly Parcs Canada man waited until I wound down my window to speak to him.

He told us that we were in the day area and we should move to another campsite down the road.

It was 11:30pm.

The car was rearranged for sleeping, which included fully tilting the seats back, rearranging our luggage and getting into our sleeping bags.

I was very tired.

So I said “What, now?”

For some reason, he decided that it would be better if we put up our tent, but I couldn’t be arsed, as I began to explain to the man, but then Eva sleepily piped up that we didn’t want to sleep in tent because of bears.

Eventually he said we could stay there if we paid, so we did.

Anyway, the next day we headed to Cave and Basin, which is a site near Banff town with a famous cave and sulphur hot spring.

Cave and Basin has its own Xplorers booklet and by this point, we were getting quite addicted.

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Cave and Basin site

The site was very interesting and had a lovely cave and some tiny rare snails. There were also fluffy beanbags and cute stuffed animals.

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Chilling on the fluffy bean bags

There were also some boardwalks through the marshland where you could see fish and birds and supposedly moose. We saw no moose. They are so elusive. The elusive mooses.

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The marshland

We then tried to go to tunnel mountain but we couldn’t find the car park and then walked around until we found some sort of power sub-station, at which point we gave up and went to see the Vermilion lakes, just outside of Banff town, where we had to find some brass plaques for out Xplorers booklet. We then went back to went to the Banff visitor centre to hand it in.

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At the Vermilion lakes

We had a bit of time left, so we explored Banff Park Museum, which is quite small and full of stuffed animals as well as some interactive elements. We had a lot of fun completing the booklet that went with that venue – and it was the hardest yet!

So concludes our Banff adventures!

I will write the next chapter soon, so get ready to hear about the small, but perfectly formed Yoho and Kootenay national parks.

 

Canadian Adventures 4: Jasper National Park Glaciers and Bears

We drove into Jasper town, arriving in the afternoon. We parked in a back road, then walked back to the main high street to go to Tim Hortons for coffee and wifi. We visited the information centre and picked up loads of leaflets, including one called “Xplorers” which was full of fun activities (this would become our main way of exploring the national parks – you get tags when you complete the booklets).

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Our first national park!

We drove south towards the ice-field parkway – a wonderful road that runs through most of Jasper and Banff National Parks. I had a sore throat and felt a bit tired, so we didn’t want to drive too far. We stopped at the Athabasca Falls on route. They are very powerful and beautiful and lead down a twisty canyon to a pretty lake.

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The Athabasca Falls
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Where the Athabasca river exits the canyon
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The beautiful canyon

We went on until we found a campsite called honeymoon lake, which is by a pretty lake with dramatic mountains.

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Honeymoon Lake

We had been having trouble with can openers. We bought one in Vancouver for cheap, but it was rubbish and flaked off fragments of metal every time we used it. We tried to but some more, but they seemed to be bottle openers, which was strange because the packet said can openers. They were completely useless anyway. We had to borrow one from the Germans in the next pitch across.

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Buck Lake – our breakfast spot

The next morning I felt a lot better we drove to the next lake along to have breakfast, which is where I had an unfortunate incident with a pit loo. Pit loos are basically a long drop to a tank full of waste – they smell bad and they often have flies in them. This loo was probably rarely used because it was by a tiny lake that hardly anyone visited. I needed to go for a longer visit, which is fine, I don’t need luxury toilets for this, but what happened was truely traumatic. I received a large amount of splash-back. Splash-back not just of water, like in the toilet at home, but of waste filled water. Shudder.

After the incident and a suitable chance to get over it, we drove on to see the Sunwapta Falls, another falls inside a canyon. They were also very pretty. We began a walk in the forest, which was lovely, but increasingly scary as we hadn’t brought our bear spray. We eventually turned back and returned to the car park for lunch.

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The Sunwapta Falls

The drive on from there became more and more scenic as we neared the ice-field parkway. More mountains rose up between the trees, now sporting glaciers. There were open glacial plains, with thin turquoise waters flowing through in winding ribbons.

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Distant Glaciers

We stopped at yet another waterfall, that cascaded down the mountain and was guided under the road. It is called Tangle Creek. Everyone was parking on the roadside just past it because, like us, they drove past, saw it and had to stop because it was surprisingly spectacular.

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The break-pounding beauty of Tangle Creek

We expected the ice-field parkway to be covered in ice and snow. Apparently this is just in winter. In summer the snow has melted and the ice is reduced to just the glaciers high up on the mountains. When you reach the visitor centre there, you are at quite a high altitude already, but still below the glaciers.

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The view from the visitor centre

We decided at this point that we wanted to walk on one of the glaciers. The Athabasca glacier, we found out, is the same one our Grandma visited quite a few years previously on her trip to Canada. We had booked to walk on the glacier and had to wait for our bus up the mountain. After an hour of browsing the gift shop, we queued up and got on the bus that took us into the alpine zone of the mountain.

We transferred onto a special vehicle called an “Ice Explorer” driven by a very young guy called Jack. The ice explorers cost 1.3 million dollars each and there are only 23 of them in existence, with one in Antarctica and the other 22 serving the tourists on the Athabasca glacier! The drive up was really cool, especially when the very large and very HEAVY ice explorer went down a 32% gradient slope – scary, but these vehicles are built to cope with it without rolling or sliding.

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That slope.

When we reached the top, we were allowed out onto a small, safe section on the ice. It was very cold. We had 30 minutes to enjoy the experience, which Eva and I made full use of – tentatively wandering around, taking photos and enjoying the view. Eva borrowed a bottle off a random man to drink some of the fast flowing glacial-melt water and I decided to lie down on the glacier. This was quite chilly.

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These are big vehicles!

Eventually we had to return to the not-so-icey ground. We got back to our car and drove to a lovely big campsite for the night. We had dinner, then Eva went on a mission to find a bin and took so long that I went to find her, thinking she’d been eaten by a bear. Of course, she got back to the car before I did and thought I’d been eaten by a bear. I had not.

We settled down in the car and slept. It was one of the colder nights, likely due to the increased altitude.

The next morning, Eva experienced the joys of being poor and living in a car, by washing her hair in cold water!

When she had defrosted, we began to pack the car, when I scared her by shouting “behind you!”. This was because there was a ground squirrel behind her, not a bear! Cue Eva whipping out her camera and taking several hundred photos – see her instagram for the result!

We also had a minor incident where I was filling our large water container from a tap that suggested you didn’t take too much water and a campervan came, causing Eva to shout “campervan”, for some reason, I heard this as “rangers” and panicked, thinking I would get in trouble and ran back towards the car with the now very heavy water container and overbalanced and fell over. Well done me.

Once I had gotten over my embarrassment, we decided to tackle one of the challenges in our Xplorers booklet – find the red chairs. The national parks of Canada have wonderful scattering of red chairs throughout them, at various viewpoints. The first one that Eva and I chose to find was on Wilcox Pass, a popular hiking route starting directly by our campsite.

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We hiked up the hill, as the trees thinned out and the wind ripped by. We met several much fitter hikers on our route up, but the views were pretty stunning by the time we emerged from the trees. The red chairs weren’t all that much further. We took a few photos on the chairs then headed out of the howling wind.

We drove back up towards Jasper village. The drive was lovely as the roads were clear and the views were good. We eventually reached our second red chair destination: the valley of the five lakes! This valley is creatively named after the number of lakes it has in it. The lakes are given the vastly imaginative names of first lake, second lake, third lake, fourth lake and fifth lake. Eva and I theorised a man must have named them.

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One of the five lakes

The lakes were lovely – all different shades of blue. Sadly it began to rain while we were hiking, but we found the chairs and began to make our way back to the car.

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The weather turned…

On our way back, I was walking maybe 5m ahead of Eva and we weren’t talking as it was raining quite heavily. As we walked along the empty path, around 5m in front of me a BEAR ran across! It was an adult black bear, going very quickly. I immediately stopped and went “There’s a bear, there’s a bear, that’s a bear, oh my god Eva a bear!”

Eva got ready to use the bear spray as she couldn’t see due to rainy glasses. The bear had luckily already ran on through the trees and out of sight.

The adrenaline rush was like nothing I had felt before and I jumped out of a plane and off a bridge earlier this year. This was a positive bear sighting – safe but also stunning. Being so close to such an incredible animal in the wild is a truely awesome experience.

Once we had recovered from our bear encounter, we headed back into Jasper and found a cute vegan cafe and got hot chocolates and a ginger cookie. We managed to get some wifi at Tim Hortons to talk to mum and dad and stocked up on some more food.

Our next destination was Pyramid Lake, another of the many beautiful lakes in Jasper National Park. I saw an elk on the drive in and there were warnings about dangerous elk as it is the time of year when they have calves. We found another red chair, which was not too long a walk, with nice views back over the lake.

 

We headed back down and walked onto the very pretty Pyramid Island which was accessible by a long foot-bridge. We hoped to see loons there, but no such luck.

Loons, for those who don’t know, are a lovely Canadian bird that is featured on the $1 coin. Not Eva and myself.

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The view from Pyramid Island

The second installment of our adventures in Jasper National Park will eventually get written, hopefully before the end of 2017!

 

 

 

 

Canadian Adventures 3: Eastward Bound

The first place that Eva and I visited with the car was Capilano Suspension Bridge. We had heard about the bridge from our lovely Grandma, who had visited quite a few years previously.

Capilano is a very cool site in the North of Vancouver, with the massive suspension bridge, a cliff walk, a treetop walk and various informative exhibits, all inside a beautiful area of Canadian rainforest.

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Capilano Suspension Bridge

We spent quite a long time there, we walked over the laden, swaying bridge, had lunch and wandered around between the beautiful trees. There were lovely signs with quotes on about trees and forests. There were tiny red squirrels running around, trying to steal food.

We climbed the treetop walkway and collected a booklet that went through some of the features of the forest. We ran around, enjoying finding things and completing the activities. Once we had completed it, we got a badge for our trouble – we are now official rain forest explorers!

Eventually, we crossed the bridge again and walked round the cliff walk, which has a large curved section that hangs over a sheer drop – pretty scary stuff! We also braved the glass platform.

We loved our day at Capilano, despite the quite high entrance fee. It was a great introduction to the natural areas of Canada, which we would see many more of along our journey east, to the national parks and beyond.

After Capilano, we drove up to Whistler. This was my first long drive, along a wonderful road called the sea to sky highway. This road has absolutely stunning views, both by the sea and further inland, where mountains suddenly loom in front of you, dressed in snow. It was a hard road to drive quickly on, partially due to its twists and turns, but also due to my amazement at my surroundings.

We arrived quite late into Whistler and found some wifi at a closing Starbucks. We opted to drive to a nearby Regional Park campground, instead of staying illegally in one of the large carparks. The road back to the campsite was mainly dual carriageway, so we had to find a suitable place to turn round to find the campsite.

It was very dark when we got to the campsite. We found a pitch and nervously set up for the night, keeping an eye out for sudden murderous bears. We even peed at the edge of the campsite, rather than risk attempting to find the toilets.

We woke in the morning, unharmed by bears discovered that there was a toilet less than 100m from our pitch. We made lukewarm coffee using our tiny stove, packed up and drove back into Whistler. It was raining, so after a quick play on the very cool playground, we retreated into Starbucks for a drink, a snack and some more free wifi to research where to stay that night.

We headed out towards Kamloops, the approximate halfway point between Vancouver and Jasper National Park. The drive was better that day, with my confidence building and less twisty roads, our average speed increased. The scenery became barer and dryer. There were fewer trees and more railway lines. Massive long trains trundled by slowly.

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View from our pitch at Juniper Beach

We stopped for a break at a place called Lilooet and had a quick walk around the tiny mineral museum and shop there, before continuing on to our campground. It was called Juniper Beach and it sat off the main road, with a railway and a river on one side and another railway on the other side. We saw and heard a lot of trains go by that evening. We also saw an absolutely stunning sunset!

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The sky looked like it was on fire!

We drove on into Kamloops the next day, just in time for lunch in a sunny park. The weather was getting warmer at this point, enough to put the air con on.

We had decided to do a wine tasting while in the Kamloops area, so headed to a vegan approved vineyard called Privato. We were welcomed by a lovely lady who gave us many wines to taste, which were all very nice. We decided to buy the surprisingly dry and very excellent rosé and the most expensive and also most delicious pinot noir. We saved the latter for when we were reunited with Mum and Dad.

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Grapes at Privato

After the wine tasting, and a suitably long sit down, we drove on to a place called Enderby. On the way we stopped to get dinner from an asian restaurant and coffee from Tim Hortons in rainy Salmon Arm, whose name always made my giggle. Enderby is home to the Starlight Drive In Movie Theatre, which was showing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2!

We arrived and queued up to pay for our tickets. Apparently, my card was being a problem again, because it was ‘foreign’, and we didn’t have enough cash to pay. We didn’t know what we should do, but the friendly man on the box office let us in for free!

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Parked up!

We settled our car in to a spot near the front, then ran to the concession stand to spend all the cash we had on some popcorn. We then nested for a while, pulling out the sleeping bags and softies ready to watch.

The film was fantastic! I can thoroughly recommend it. It is badass, heartbreaking and hilarious, with an incredible soundtrack to take you through it. The experience of seeing it in such a cool cinema was so much fun! I wish we had drive-in movies in the UK, but I guess that the weather can be fickle.

After the film, we also could have waited and seen Beauty and the Beast too. But it was late and we had both already seen it, so we quickly rejigged the car into driving mode and left Starlight behind us.

Sadly, we did not have a plan for where to sleep. After a brief stop in Enderby itself, where we were accosted by a homeless man asking for money, we drove around sleepily, for about an hour on the dark Canadian roads. We found a very full and slightly creepy caravan park that wasn’t going to work and eventually ended up at a rather nice, but completely full campsite called Swan Lake.

It was very late at this point, and I really didn’t want to drive anymore, so we parked on the edge of someone’s pitch and set up to sleep. As it was such a nice campsite, and looked expensive, we decided to set an alarm for 6am and be out by 6:30 to avoid paying. Rude, I know, but we had been stung by our $500 young persons’ fee on the car.

The next morning, we got up and left as quickly as we possibly could. We were out by 6:15 and we’d gotten away with it!

We drove to a nearby village to try to get breakfast, but nowhere was open/ vegan. We carried on along the quiet road until we got back to the main highway, where we found a Denny’s diner to have breakfast – a much more worthy recipient of our money!

The rest of the journey that day seemed to go quickly. We stopped once for a break in a layby near a river as I was quite tired from my lack of sleep, but arrived in a place called Valemount nice and early. We got some coffee at a cool cafe/ giftshop, then found a campsite called Canoe Creek. It was sunny and we were both feeling slightly under the weather, so we decided to pitch our tent and lie flat for a night!

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In the campsite in Valemount

We made food, while fighting off what seemed like thousands of massive mosquitoes! They were approximately the size of my face. I killed quite a few, maybe forty or fifty over the course of us cooking. Mmmm, mosquito corpses everywhere!

We had a little walk around with our cameras – it was a big campsite with lots of odd things to see like old machinery, wooden carved animals by the reception building, an old car and, especially strangely, a tree with a face.

We also got some washing done and hung it out all inside the car to dry. We slept pretty well in the little tent and packed up easily in the morning as the good weather continued.

Eva wanted to go back to the little gift shop to buy some minerals, but it was a Sunday, so it was closed. We managed to get some food before heading out excitedly towards Jasper National Park.

 

Canadian Adventures 2: Carlife Begins

The time had come for us to pick up our car from Vancouver airport. We had a lot of luggage (two big suitcases, one big rucksack, three small rucksacks and myriad camping equipment), so we left it at our accommodation and took public transport out to the airport. At this point, I was excited. I had no idea what was to come.

We had booked the car online ages ago via Expedia. It was booked for three weeks, giving us enough time to drive over to Alberta and visit Jasper and Banff National Parks before heading back to Vancouver in time to meet Mum and Dad at the airport.

We arrived at the Avis check-in desk and queued to get the car. When we were called up to the desk, we hit our first problem. For some reason, the deposit for the car could only be taken on a credit card. I don’t own a credit card.

Now, annoyingly, the debit card that I was using for our travels often counted as a credit card as it was a ‘foreign’ card, which wasn’t always useful – like I literally couldn’t use it in some places. But for the purposes of Avis car rental, it was a debit.

Obviously they can’t rent the car out without the deposit, so I began to feel a bit worried, all our plans revolved around us having a car. I hurriedly handed over all three of my cards for the man to check with his manager: my UK debit card, my New Zealand debit card and my Travelex currency card.

The man went away for a while, I began to get a little paranoid that he was stealing all my card details, but no strange transactions as of yet. He came back and explained that he couldn’t use the currency card, he couldn’t use the New Zealand card as it doesn’t have my name on it (I got it at the bank, so it just says ‘cardholder’), but he could try my UK card. Not ideal, but that’s okay.

He put the card through. Then our second problem occurred. An automatic charge of $500 went through. FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS.

From this experience, I have learned two very crucial things about hiring cars:

  1. If you are under 25, don’t even think about it.
  2. Always read the small print.

I am 23. This means that that $500 was a $25 a day surcharge for being a young person. Obviously, if you are under 25, you aren’t allowed cars. Probably because you are a reckless mess who will deliberately crash and try to sue everybody. Young people don’t even need cars, they have everything anyway: mobile phones, the internet, crippling mental heath issues. The one thing we don’t have is money. So they make nice things, like houses, cars, university degrees, too expensive for us. Then we’re told it’s our fault that we don’t save our imaginary pounds.

I’m not bitter about this at all.

This brings me to my second point. The online car hire gave me a price along with a lovely sentence: “The total price includes all mandatory taxes and fees”. I thought that meant I’d paid for everything. But no.

Expedia has a very tiny little clause in its small print that says “Additional charges or restrictions may apply for drivers under 25 or over 70”. Sneaky sneaky. Read it, if you ever hire from Expedia. And then expect the worst.

Thankfully our car hire experience did end in us getting a car to drive around Canada. We also got upgraded from our pre-ordered “Chevrolet Spark or similar” to a beautiful VW Golf TSi with more power and most importantly, more space! We were able to fit all our bags in and rearrange our stuff to fully recline the seats to sleep at night.

We, rather organically, named the car “the expensive bitch” and set off to explore this beautiful bit of Canada.