Troi yn Dri Deg Un

Safonol

Maddeuwch yr eitem weddol hunan-bwysig yma – ond oni meddwl baswn i yn rhoi rhyw ychydig eiriau lawr ar drothwy mor arbenig. Wnes i droi yn 31 heddiw, ar ddydd san Padrig – dydd sydd fel arfern yn cael ei ddathlu dan hud Wyddelig, a dan ddylanwad diod du. Ond nid felly eleni mae’n debyg. Na – eleni rydan ni dan ddwrn COVID-19 – neu efallai drwy rhwy dreiglad clyfar, ein GOFID-19.

Dwi’n siwr fod llawer ohonom yn teimlo yr un peth – rhyw ysictod diflas ein bod mewn ail gyfres o raglen deledu llwm, sydd ddim rili mor dda a hynny. Cyfres un – Trump a Brexit (hefo cliffhanger shit o BJ yn dod yn brif weinidog), a rwan mewn twist o bandemig bydol o feirws ofnadwy sydd am heintio bawb, ond dydan ni ddim yn gwybod pryd, na chwaith pa mor ddrwg fydd o. Duw a wyr be fydd finale gyfres yma.

Neithiwr aethon ni i’n bar lleol – y Bottle & Barrel yn Aber – lle hynod o wych hefo ystod eang o gwrw Cymraeg, a chodi peint mewn rhwy gydnabyddiaeth o’r hyn sydd yn mynd ymlaen. Yn ddwys, rhoesom lwnc destun i’r rhai sydd yn sal tra’n cydnabod yn annifyr y byddan ni yn chael hi rhywdro. Yn fwy annifyr byth, dysgom fod y lle am gau am gyfnod penagored. Aeth y newyddion hynny i nghalon. ddim am mod i a cysylltiad afresymol o emosiynol i’r lle, ond yn bennaf am fod y pandemig ‘ma, mwya’ sydyn yn effeithio fy mywyd i, yn uniongyrchol.

Ers mwy nag wythnos, mae’r llen lwyd wedi bod yn ein amgylchynnu, a thrwy’r cyfryngau – cymdeithasol a newyddion – mae’r feirws wedi bod yn don gron gyson yn ein amgylchynnu, ag yn tynhau a cyfyngu o’n hamgylch. Ond dyma ergyd drom, os nad marwol – mae bywyd am newid. Mae’r tafarndai ar gau, mae gwaith wedi ein hel i weithio o adra, a mae’r feirws ar ein trothwy

Felly dyma gychwyn ar flwyddyn newydd mewn bywyd – fy ail flwyddyn yn fy nhri degau, a fy mhrofiad gyntaf o bandemig. Ond er yr uchod, rydw i yn wir meddwl dylen ganolbwyntio ar y positif. Felly rydw i wedi penderfynu fy mod am gael addunedau ar fy mhenblwydd. Addunedau sydd a llai o bwysau na rhai Ionawr cynnar- a fydd, gobeithio, yn fwy cyrraeddadwy. Felly dyma nhw:

  1. Peidio dal y feirws am gyn hired a gallai
  2. Ar ol i mi gael y feirws – os ydi o’n saff, helpu cymaint o bobl sydd angen yr help heb eu peryglu
  3. Gwella Iechyd gyffredinol i oroesi COVID-XX
  4. Dysgu cynganeddu

Efallai fod yna thema “feirws” yn y thema, a mwy na fasa yna mewn amser “normal”, ond pam lai. Rydan ni mewn amser od ar y diawl, a mae’n ddyletswydd arnom i fod yn gymunedol a cheisio helpu ein cyd-ddyn/ddynes.

I gyrraedd pwynt #1 – dwi am drio dilyn canllaw #StayTheFuckHome (https://staythefuckhome.com). Yn syml – Arhosa Ffycin Adra. Mae rhaid i ni gymeryd cyfrifoldeb personol i helpu yr ymdrech gymunedol. Rhaid i ni wneud yn siwr na fydd y feirws yn trechu ein Gwasanaeth Iechyd hynod bwysig trwy rwygo drwy’r boblogaeth yn rhy sydyn, a rhy gynnar. I gyflawni hyn, rydw i wedi cyfieithu eu gwefan a cyfrannu i’r prosiect cod-agored ar GitHub, ag ar hyn o bryd yn arod am gadarnhad iddo gael ei gyhoeddi.

I gyrraedd pwynt #2, rydw i am ymchwilio i weld beth yw cyfrifoldeb hir-dymor unigolion sydd yn “goroesi” – a gweld os gallaf fynd i’r byd yn saff i helpu’r rhai a fyddai yn cael eu effeithio’n fwy trwm gan y feirws.

#3 – typical – colli pwysa, a byta’n iachach.

#4 – Darllen y llyfrau dwi eisioes wedi eu prynu, ag efallai cysylltu efo rhywun sydd yn gallu dysgu cyfrinachau’r gynghanedd. Os ydach chi yn nabod rhywun – gad fi wbod!

Ar ben hyn i gyd, fydd hi’n flwyddyn od. Blwyddyn annifyr, os nad anodd uffernol i lot ohonan ni. Rhaid i ni roi pwyslais ar gymuned, boed ar-lein neu yn gyffredinol – ond plis, plis, bawb, rhaid i ni gymeryd y gyfrifoldeb, ac #ArosFfycinAdra.

Beyond Hope…

Safonol

Last night was a blissfully comfortable stay on a plush bed and warm room. Today we drove to Hope, BC where we’ll be staying in a shed in the forest. What the hell was I thinking.
We got off fairly late – we had a three course breakfast from the ex-chef owner Steve. We started off with local (next doors) cherries on waffles with a side of ice cream, then a medley of fruit with a smattering of peach schnapps, finished off with a cheese and mushroom omelette with ham. Delicious. What was also nice was to have a conversation with the other guests – all were interesting and interested in where we’d been. We even swopped emails with one couple who were very friendly, and even offered a place for us to stay the next time we found ourselves in Vancouver. This is a testament to the friendliness of Canadians, althiuhht the mood nearly turned nasty last night when we mentioned the “T” word (Toronto). “They think they’re the centre of the universe” they moaned, although I am pretty certain that there’ll be similar sentiments the other way around!

Hugs and goodbyes all round, we headed off to the local Farmers’ Market, as per the suggestion of the B&B owners. On the way, we cross the bridge over Lake Kelowna, and bold as brass atop a steel lamppost was an Osprey. We seem to worry in Wales and pamper them, when here in Canada they seem perfectly happy to be sat on a metal construct over a very busy highway. Isn’t wildlife strange.
It’s surprising how similar farmer’s markets are around the world – yet also slightly different. There was a host of different products on offer, from scented candles to cabbage, from loofahs to magnetic bracelets with a host of different characters flogging their wares. We knew we wanted some food for later, so opted for some Maui ribs, two cobs of corn and a turkey thigh. Annoyingly they were frozen which meant we had to hope for them to defrost on our journey to Hope.

Again, the journey today had very little stops, apart from one, but we were looking forward to doing the Coquihalla, also known as Highway 5. Our stop was at a promising sign pointing toward some lakes. We thought what the hell and send down the road which quickly turned into a dirt track that caused numerous worrying sounds from underneath the car. It turned out that the track went on for longer than expected, but eventually we got to a lake of some sort. We were just about to head off when we spotted a large bird swooping and flying very low on the hills. We stayed a while snapping away at the acrobatics, before heading back towards the highway.

About a year ago, we started watching “The Highway Through Hell”, which is a reality TV show about a group of recovery truck drivers in BC, Canada. I would say that watching this was one of the drivers to us booking the holiday, and today we were driving on their home patch – the Coquihalla. The drive was great – steep hill all the way down from the Coquihalla peak to Hope BC, and you can see why trucks would have difficulties in the icy winter. It’s a bit of a thrill passing places you recognise from on TV, and even more of a thrill seeing the scale of the mountains first hand.

After checking in to our AirBnB (more on which in a bit), we drove into Hope to take a look around. It seemed like it had seen better days, with rough looking shops and streets. The people I encountered were all very pleasant though and only too happy to help.
Our AirBnB tonight is a shed. Literally. It’s build up a small hill in someone’s garden – a product of a project he had going on with some kids learning to build. It’s very cosy, but completely different to what we had last night! It’s slightly rickety, and I really hope it can hold together for tonight!! Joe (our host) is an interesting guy, and seems to have made a conscious decision to live out in the sticks a bit – and he has a keen interest in Welsh history! I am pretty sure he was also a web developer. Strange how you come across people with similar interests!

We had a barbecue tonight. Got some charcoal off Joe and after a few ropey starts, got the charcoal burning hot enough to cook our ribs and corn. The turkey thigh was too big for me to want to risk cooking it on the grill though, and as such we’ve secreted it in Joe’s fridge ready to go with us to Vancouver tomorrow. I’m sure it will get eaten! The ribs were delicious, and cooking them on the BBQ was a good call. Splash of Lea & Perrin’s and yum!
I am now sat win the cabin watching the last of the embers in the barbecue to die in the rain, which, sadly, mirrors our road trip. We’ve come to the last stop on this epic trip, and will be returning the car to the rental company tomorrow. As such, the remaining week or so is a couple of city breaks – one in Vancouver, and the last in Toronto (pronounced “Toronno” I was earnestly told!), and I cannot wait.

Long road to Kelowna

Safonol

Today was a tough day driving – down and out of the mountains, and into the Okanagan Valley, and ending up in West Kelowna.

The drive over was fairly uneventful, but we did drive through both Glacier National Park, as well as Revelstoke National Park, but we only stopped a couple of times. First off we stopped at the location where the Trans-Canada highway was officially opened. This was commemorated with two bows and a hanging box underneath that had the story of the opening written on it, which was what caught my eye and caused us to stop. The National Park seems to have chosen this spot to put as many things as possible:- there was a memorial to victims of an avalanche tragedy (which had Buddhist concentric circles raked into the gravel and a bell in the center), and a massive gun to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Glacier National Park. Of course, I rang the ball, (because you have to don’t you) – but it was a stark and haunting way to remember those people that died – the chimes echoed in the valley, and brought to mind the alarm that went up during that fateful day.

Our next stop was at Revelstoke, a small town that was full of friendly people chatting, and overshadowed by the nearby mountain range. We had some brunch at the Main St. Café, where I enjoyed some much recommended eggs Benedict (or “Bennies” as they’re known here). Quick saunter back to the car and we were on the road again.

The road down to Kelowna was very pretty, however not many stops presented themselves to us, and those that did look promising were advertised twice by big blue signs, but then nothing pointing out that the small dirt track was actually the entrance.

The B&B we’d booked was called “View of the Lake Bed and Breakfast”, whose name is descriptive, if not a bit too literal. Pulling into the drive we saw a beautifully kept garden, with plush hanging baskets and beautiful beds. Steve, the owner was cutting the grass when we arrived, and invited us in whilst he finished off. There is a massive lounge with impressive fireplace and great leather couches – but nothing compared to the view from the balcony.

We ended up having a lovely evening chatting with the other, older, guests and one couple even offered to host us next time we were in Vancouver and we swopped email addresses!

Giddy-up to Golden

Safonol

Today was an early start – we needed to get on the road with enough time to get over to Banff, and see the famous lakes in Lake Louise. The day started badly – the problems that we’d had yesterday with the hot water at the place had happened again – so we couldn’t get a hot shower. Great. Kerry knocked the idea on the head, but I braved the icy waters and took an uncomfortable (but quick!) shower, lathering in between gasps of cold.

Calgary was much quieter in the morning, and seeing the sun rise was beautifully golden – imbibing the world with an otherworldly colour. The Bow River that flows through Calgary had a mist laying over it, so you could follow its trail through the landscape from Highway 1. Driving from Banff was a little full last time, but with clearer skies and a different direction, the Rockies took on a totally different character. It’s quite funny how they surprise you at their scale no matter how much you get used to them. From afar, they just up in a defensive line on the horizon, and as you get closer you start to make out individual mountains, before eventually finding yourself within them, with sharp peaks and cliffs high above you.

We arrived in Banff to Blue skies and a fresh crisp breeze:- very different to our last encounter where it was damp and cloudy. We first went to the visitor center to sort out the double payment that they’d done whe I bought the Park Passes – the woman who served me was very understanding and said conspiratorially that this happens fairly often, and said she’d get it refunded. With that sorted, we went for breakfast. Kerry had scoped out a couple of choices, and one stood out from the rest (Coyote’s). I had a Mountain Man Breakfast (there a smaller, more petite option called the Mountain Lady:- I suspect the misogynistic undertone of the names haven’t reached Banff yet) – which was pancakes, eggs, bacon and roast potatoes. Delicious.

Fed, and buzzing on coffee that was continuously topped up (joys of bottomless cups) – we headed up the scenic road to Lake Louise (Highway 1A). On this route was Johnston’s Canyon, a 5km hike we wanted to do, all the reviews were promising, and pictures looked quite impressive. We approached Johnston’s Canyon with a looming sense of disappointment. For a kilometre preceding the entrance, were lines and lines of cars parked on the verge, some at a fairly worrying angle in the camber of the side of the road. We ventured into the car park, but the place was heaving with cars, and there were people everywhere. This was our first encounter with massive crowds – we thought we’d missed them all at this time of the year. We made an executive decision to sod the hike, and off we went to Lake Louise along the scenic route, with the hope of spotting some wildlife (and did we buggery).
Lake Louise village is a gateway to the main attractions of the area:- Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake. In every guidebook, travel writers gush about these places, so we had to go and see them. On getting off the highway, we were directed up the hill towards Lake Louise, which is about 3km up a hill, by several traffic directors (like you get in cheesy American adverts). We dutifully followed their instructions until it became clear that they were just looping us around the area to get us to an auxiliary parking lot 5km outside of Lake Louise Village in the direction of Banff. Luckily, on the way back down the hill, we got to sneak in on the road towards Moraine Lake.

Moraine Lake was spectacular. Coloured by the glacier waters, it seems to glow, and the pictures taken almost look like some Instagrammer has had at it with a particularly offensive filter. It really looks that blue, honest. Not wanting to grumble too much, there were many people there, which ruined the whole ambience. One older Asian woman demanded about 15 photographs of different poses in front of the lake: one gazing into the middle distance to the right, one gazing into the middle distance to the left, one looking forward, one looking up… You get the picture. I went to the top of the rock pile to take some of my pictures, and it was even more impressive from above. Standing by the lake is a grounding experience. At once, I felt a deep quiet come over me, as if the stone itself was trying to suppress the energy of the people there, and swallow up the noise. There’s something special there.
After Lake Moraine, we went in the car and quickly realised that we would have to get the car to the auxiliary car park, and then get the shuttle bus to Lake Louise. Annoyingly, this cost us $4 each – surely this is the type of thing that should be included in the park pass? Someone is making a lot of money out of this. On arriving at Lake Louise, I was a bit disappointed, and regretted not doing this before Lake Moraine. There were even more people, the lake was a shitty-green colour, and there was a massive hotel looming over the lake. I can’t quite make my mind up about whether the hotel fits in, or is an eyesore. This place must be an absolute nightmare in the height of summer.

We made our way back to the car pretty shariah, and got on the road again to our final destination, which is a cabin in the woods, rented out as an AirBnB. En route we stopped by Emerald Lake, and we both fell in love with the place. It had a deeper blue colour than Lake Moraine, and has a cute little bridge over to a restaurant. On the bank there’s a giftshop and a canoe rental place, and if we’d have come earlier then we would likely have gone out on a canoe. We soaked in the relaxing atmosphere, and then popped into the giftshop because, well you have to don’t you. We were greeted merrily by the woman behind the counter who then heard us speak Welsh (discussing whether or not to buy chocolate!). She asked what language it was, and then cheerily asked “Oh that’s the one that’s dying out isn’t it?”. I’m sure she didn’t mean to be rude, but we hopefully educated her on a few things.

The day began in golden rays, and ended just in Golden. The AirBnB is a cool set of cabins in the middle of nowhere, and we met with some fellow travelers – some from Aus, others Alabama, and mostly French. I burnt a marshmallow, and ate it, and went to bed happy.

East, to the wild west…

Safonol

Today’s trip was to take us out of the Rockies, and into the “Wild West” of Canada – into Cowtown itself, and with a little detour thrown in. We started of going a few minutes just outside of Banff, to Vermillion Road, that takes you just past Vermillion Lakes. This is a good spot to see some wildlife according to multiple sources, so off we went to sniff some out. Unfortunately, it was another grim and dreary day, which isn’t *so* bad when you’re in the car:- however I do feel that we’ve missed the best of Banff because of the weather. A slow crawl along the road, with darting glances and sudden steering wheel corrections left us with …. No sightings. However on the way back, we saw what we think to be a young Elk, right by the road! A few snaps later, we were on our way to High River.

High River is a town south of Calgary which is used as a set for loads of TV series and films – including Tin Star, Fargo, Brokeback Mountain, Superman III and Kerry’s favourite series:- Heartland. The latter, of course, is what brought us there. Having seen snippets of the TV show, I was expecting a rural, dusty town, with horses tied up outside bars with swinging doors, and gunshots heard in the distance. It isn’t like that. It’s quite a pretty town, covers a wide area, and has many charming and interesting shops. We first had food at a “modern diner” which was called Evelyn’s Modern Times Diner. I’ll be honest, I was looking forward to a greasy fryup, perhaps a burger or fried chicken, but definitely with chips. What I actually had was a soup and a sandwich – chicken noodle soup, and a sandwich that was so thick with meat that it looked like the chef had just grabbed a chunk of meat straight from a wholesale packet, and lobbed it between bread. It was great. The soup was full of chunky vegetables, and the sandwich was made with fresh bread, and a great mixture of meats – ham, pastrami, salami and turkey. Yum!

After the main, we had to have pudding, and I opted for a cherry pie, with ice cream, which it seems is called “a la mode” in this here parts. For some reason the server had jabbed the fork deep in the side of the slice, which was disconcerting (had we upset her??) but ultimately delicious.

After the feast, we went to the local museum, which was interesting, if not quite enthralling. It was basically a humblebrag of the films and TV shows that had been made there, with posters, set pieces and wardrobe pieces. Kerry, as always, read every sentence written down anywhere, and I read some of the more interesting parts, then went to look at the books in the little shop that always exists in these places. There was a fascinating account of the First Nations’ trouble with the traders that came that way, that tragically ended in a massacre. The white man has a lot of shit in the closet that is hidden away and not spoken about.

We then went in search of Maggie’s Diner – a place that exists in Heartland, but not in real life. We went the wrong way to begin with – we went down the wrong direction down 3rd Ave, but that was a good way to let gravity take care of that monster sandwich and pie. When Maggie’s came into sight, Kerry let out a small squeal. It’s amazing – this is a fully kitted out diner that does NOTHING – in what I presume to be in prime real estate of High River. Seems at once to be a fascinating tourist trap, and a colossal waste! Next door was a cool trinket shop (that loudly proclaimed that they were NOT a set, and we were welcome to peruse), and we pocket up a couple of bits as souvenirs.

We then went on to Calgary, ready for an evening of chill, and beer. First off – refill the car, and I was flabbergasted to see that the price was about 98¢/L(about 60p)!!! Compared to £1.38/L we left in Wales, this felt like an absolute steal. What is weird in Canada is that you have to pay in advanced without knowing how much you need to fill the tank. This results in a weird game of “Guess How Much Fuel You Need!”, hosted by the garage staff. I have so far miserably failed every round, grossly overestimating each time. You have to hand over a card to pre-authorise a guessed amount, and then you fill up. Obviously they only take the amount you actually use but for 3-5 days after, the guessed amount is reserved on your card.

Driving into Calgary, and my wrong-side driving nerved came flaring up again. I hate driving in cities anyway, and doing it on the wrong side of the road added an extra flavour of stress to the experience. Ultimately, we made it, and parked in an NCP-style parking lot, which was part of the building weld booked into as AirBnB guests. Just our fucking luck – we paid for $10 worth of parking until 8am the next day, only to see it change price immediately after we paid to $3 (after 17.00 prices). Typical. Checking into the AirBnB place was fairly painful – why do hosts feel the need to add an element of the Crystal Maze to checking in? We had to first find the correct combination lock on a street bike stand, put the code in to receive the code, then find that the parking lot isn’t *strictly* in the same building as the parking lot, and that lift wouldn’t take us where we needed to go (so we shared a pointless journey with a bemused occupant up to the top of that building, and then back down to ground level), then find the *correct* door and lift, and was propelled to the 40th floor. It was worth it – the views were incredible, and the flat cosy.

After a brief relax watching the Canadian version of Storage Wars, we went off for a pint. Which where, dear reader, I shall leave you, for I have a delicious Citra hopped beer on the go. Cheers 🇨🇦🍻!

Icefield Parkway

Safonol

Today was the big scenic day – the day we drove the famous Icefield Parkway. I woke up early – however was scuppered by Mountain Time (+1 hour) so it was later than I thought.

Nevermind – off we went on our journey, and our first stop were the Athebasca Falls which are another stomach churning waterfall system. This one however was a particularly spectacular one – not from height but by the sheer feeling of power you felt emanating from it. What was particularly impressive was that you could see abandoned channels, and walk through them these are channels abandoned by the water, having found a more efficient, or easier, way on its trajectory downhill. These are testament to the constant, grinding nature of water and its load, being able to erode away the channels in such a way as to leave winding, circular channels into bare rock.

The Icefield Parkway was something quite special. To start off, we were cursed with clouds, but as the morning wore on, the sun started to burn through, and we saw the temperature rise steadily, and the clouds slowly clear to reveal the peaks of some of the lower mountains. On and on we drove through amazing glacial valleys – and seeing the awesome glaciers that give the road its name. Seeing them in the distance, a mere shadow what would have filled the valleys originally, brought to mind the immediate challenges of global warming. Seeing the pictures on information boards from decades ago with much plumper glaciers, reaching further down their valleys showed the change that had happened in such a short amount of time.

Another highlight of the drive was seeing the clear lamination in the geology – some mountains looked like folded bedfing in the light, and the colours varied from a shiny, graphite grey, to a rusty Auburn. What was clear also, was that the reds and yellows of autumn had started to creep into the trees. Winter is coming!

A highlight on the trip was Bow lake. The water was clear for about 6-8feet from the shore, and then turned into this gorgeous azure blue. Add to the equation a burnt ochre mountain rising from the waters, it makes for a stunning vista.

In the evening, we spent some time in Banff – it is cut from the same cloth as Jasper (or should that be the other way around?) – alpine effect, copy/paste buildings, but the people make it. It was lovely with plenty of people around into late evening. There is a great system going on where the hotel you stay in gives you a bus pass to let you go in and around town with ease, and without a car. All the shows were also open until 9pm – which is brilliant for a bit of late night shopping! We had food in the Elk Pub and Restaurant, and had an Elk Burger with Poutine side, and a tomato soup side (weirdest side ever).

Getting into the parks

Safonol

So a bit of a shit night’s sleep last night. First off we had lightning and thunder which shook the hotel and lit up the room – it was scary but I love a good storm so I was glued to the window for a bit longer than I should have been. Way worse though was the train going past every hour honking its horn (which is not very quiet!) at the crossing opposite the hotel. Fun times.

In any case, I was excited for today was the day we were going to Jasper! I’ve been looking forward to getting into the National Parks ever since we started planning this trip – you search for the best images of the earth on the internet, and chances are you’ll see a picture from Jasper. The drive today starts at Valemount, which is essentially on the foot of the mountains that make up the national park, goes through the northernmost part of Jasper National Park and overshoot Jasper to get to Miette Springs, and then back on ourselves to Jasper.

Unfortunately, today was also the first time we saw rain on the trip – and as we drove into the mountains, we drove into the clouds. Thankfully, the weather cleared as the day went on: and we saw some really cool cloud formations hugging the mountains, lending a very moody atmosphere to already dramatic landscapes.

Our first stop was at the Rearguard Falls – when we pulled in we were worried by the sign that estimated a 30 minute walk to the falls. However, it seems the Canadians either over-estimate the walks, or have a low opinion of the visitors’ ability. We managed to do the whole round trip in 20 minutes, without any hurrying. The walk took you through a tall forest (like many walks in BC) – down a fairly steep path. You can almost feel the falls before you see them – and you certainly hear them. When you get to them, there’s a fantastic platform built in so you can make the most of it -the Canadians are great at this – and it almost feels unobtrusive to the environment also. The falls are impressive – although they aren’t a tall waterfall like Spahats – they are more like rapids – but they are awesome.

After Rearguard, we blasted on towards Miette Springs – the weather was against us, and wasn’t particularly conducive to sightseeing landscapes – most of the peaks were in mist. We stopped (very) briefly at Moose Lake for some snaps, and then went on. The entrance to the National Park had a staffed cubicle – similar to a Toll Road, that we duly presented our pass, and on we went. Driving along the road, we saw a few RVs and pickup trucks parked up on the side of the road. Weird – we thought maybe a crash, then Kerry excitedly screamed “ANTLERS!”. Game on. Moose. We went along to the next lay-by, turned right around, and headed back. By the time we got back, there were less people, but there he was, chilling all cool, with a sprig of grass hanging on his antlers:- a MOOSE! Kerry was pitch-side so she took a fair few shots, and we moved on. Turns out there was another moose – either a youngling or a female skillfully ripping leaves off a branch – also as cool as anything. What a moment.

Riding on this high, we went on on our journey – we were going to Miette Springs. Being in Jasper National Park – I had high hopes, which the low cloud and rain scuppered, but all the visible mountains were plain brilliant. Some had a cloud scarf and hat, which gave an interesting take on the landscape. Heading off Highway 16 onto Miette road up into the mountains, however was not so interesting. It progressively became clear that we were driving up into a cloud. When we got to Miette Springs, we were completely in the cloud.

Miette Springs is a geothermal spring – revered and used by the first nation people for centruies, and more commercially since the 20’s and 30’s. For being in the middle of nowhere, it was incredibly busy – a healthy mix of visitors and Canadians taking it in during a trip. I was in bliss – how often can you sit in 36 degree celsius water, in the middle of a cloud? On a normal day, the views are apparently incredible – with panoramic views of the mountains all around you. Not for us!

After a good soak, we went back to Jasper to check in. Arriving at the Motel put my nerves on edge – it looked like a motel, and we’d had a fairly crap experience of motels. After checking in to our room, though I was blown away. Behind what looked like a normal motel door was a whole suite – with 3x King size beds, a huge Kitchen, dining room and lounge – as well as a jacuzzi bath and a sauna! We went to town for a take away Chinese, some groceries for lunch, and some amazing Canadian Beer.

Tomorrow, is our Icefields Parkway drive – another massive highlight to our trip, and I cannot wait. Until tomorrow!

Kamloops to Valemount

Safonol

Another long day driving today – this time from the fairly soulless Kamloops to Valemount. Kamloops hasn’t exactly endeared itself to me – driving through on highway 1 in the night, all I saw were the neon lights of international brands and Casinos, which gave the impression to me of Kamloops being an interstate intersection – catering just for those passing by, be they travellers or lorry drivers. I may be completely wrong, but the TransCanada Motel unfortunately clouds my judgement on Kamloops.

We hit off fairly late in the morning, as we had a booking for a river safari in Blue River at 3pm. The road to Blue River was unfortunately fairly dull – nothing like the amazing scenery of yesterday. It even drove Kerry to sleep (at multiple times!) which was disconcerting without my ever present, living sat nav.

En route we stopped at the first stop of ours to be in a National Park. To gain access to a National Park in Canada, you have to pay. Presumably the money from this goes towards upkeep and investment in the attractions of the area, which is a great idea. Tourism is a destructive sport – and although brings a lot of money to the area, that money is rarely absorbed by the local economy. Too often it is spent in large chain stores, and the money that is much needed to repair and keep things up to scratch (e.g. paths, roads and signage) must come out of the local tax budget. To me it seems like a great idea to pass on those expenses on to those who use the services.

Having said that, due to some technical cock-up on their website, I was charged twice for the National Park pass, so I’m not in the best of moods with them at the moment. In total, for two adults for 5x days, it cost a bit under $100. Sounds like a lot of money, but in the grand scheme of things it isn’t a lot compared to other, private, attractions.

Wells Gray National Park is pretty huge, but we only dipped into the southernmost point by driving north from Clearwater. We were aiming for Spahats Falls – a place we were promised by Lonely Planet to be “spectacular”. And blody hell, wasn’t it just. I think it was one of the most stunning spots so far. And I don’t mean “stunning” in a clichéd, lazy way – when I went round the wooded corner to see the two canyon sides with the powerful echoing fall of water, my mouth fell open. Once we went along the fence to the viewing platform, it was even better. We were on the edge of a sheer, straight-down drop, and you could see the geological ages laid down in layers on the opposite side. In a particular “weak spot”, the river had carved itself a new canyon, before nonchalantly chucking itself off the cliff face to the stony abyss below. Bliss.

We then went on to Spahats Valley viewpoint which was a kilometre down the valley, looking down on the Spahats Creek (river, surely!), and onto its destination. Again, breathtaking, and so worth the short drive up a gravelly forest road (slightly scarred by tracked vehicles) to see.

Then, on we went to our appointment with the River Safari, at Blue River (which is actually located *past* Blue River, as we found out after a hiccup from Ms Google Maps). We had deliberately opted for the eco safari, which was the quiet boat ride, as opposed to an adrenaline fuelled speedboat or jeep safari because we thought it the best bet to see wildlife. We went in a small group of six on a double kayak, with us, two French girls, and two Germans (DO NOT MENTION THE BREXIT), along with our best cameras and longest lenses. Very soon into the ride, I got hit by sudden Lens Envy – the German couple each had an “L class” 10-400mm lens. I immediately wanted one. However, researching the price later on at the hotel scrapped *that* particular idea.

We hoped to see birds of prey, bears and other creatures, but saw sod all. Absolutely nothing. At the end of the trip, the guide even handed us each a free return ticket because of it, and by the state of the tickets (frayed, and slightly damp from pocket sweat), I don’t think they handed them out often. Damn. However the views were spectacular. Being pushed along the water in a slow, calm kayak with these gigantic mountains rising wooded from the water was magnificent. I said to Kerry that this was probably the most spectacular place I had ever been and she retorted with “haven’t you ever canoed at Llyn Bala?”. Guess I haven’t, no.

We then had a short drive to Valemount, population about 1,000 according to Wikipedia, so we didn’t have high hopes. We were checked into the Valemount Hotel brusquely but efficiently by a bar lady, whose raw Canadian charm instantly put you at ease. Our room is immediately next to a railway crossing, where frequently (and, I presume, punctually), a train hurtles past after giving several startling hoots. These trains are huge! One took about four minutes to pass – with what must be hundreds of trailers full of goods in transit.

We sank several beers at the bar downstairs, ate a delicious burger from the restaurant next door (whose patties had come from northern Alberta, apparently), and played cards whilst planning the drives for the days ahead.

Loop round to Kamloops

Safonol

Today was a long day of driving – I think one of the longest in the trip. We drove from Squamish to Kamloops, stopping at a few choice stops.

I am starting to get more used to driving on this side of the road – there are a load of weird rules that are so tough to get used to – turning left and knowing the speed limit are just two. Turning left seems to be a free for all – you get a green light to go the same time as the other lane gets a green light to go forward to, straight across the way you want to go. It seems the rule is to get yourself in the middle of the road, inches from the vehicles hurtling past, and either chance on a break in the traffic, or wait until a red light. The speed limits on the other hand are just crazy – you’ll get a white sign saying “max 70km/h”, them straight after a yellow “max 50km/h”, then another white “max 60km/h” sign. I mean pick a speed, and it would be easier for everyone.

The drive starts off with the famous “Sea to Sky” highway – a thrilling and breathtaking drive that takes you from the azure blue of the sea up into the mountains of Whistler. We stopped at a few places on the way – starting off with the tantalisingly named (albeit not so tantalising in real life) Tantalus Lookout, whcih was basically a car park with a view. The view was amazing – however nothing much more than you could have seen on the drive to be perfectly honest.

We then went on to the Tolkienesqe “Brandywine Falls” which was amazing. From the car park, it was a short walk through a cathedral of tall trees, over a railway (which was pretty exciting in itself!) and then onto a viewing platform that hung precipitously over sheer cliffs, and overlooked a stunning waterfall. Following the fence around you came to another viewing spot, which overlooked a strikingly blue lake. On our way back, we met a cheeky little squirrel that was such a poser.

Onwards, we eventually arrived at Whistler. We drove around a bit longer than intended, trying to find somewhere to park, before finally reaching a car park with spaces. Turns out we chose the furthest car park possible.

Whistler is a strange beast – part sports complex, part Disneyworld, and part retail outlet park. Don’t get me wrong – the attractions, the scenery and landscape is out of this world, but the village was a bit weird. It was full of shops made for rich sons and daughters, in the plastic style of an Alpine village. Not unpleasant, but weird.

We were booked onto the Peak2Peak gondola, which was a pass up the Blackcomb Mountain Gondola, across to the Whistler Mountain on the Peak2Peak Gondola, and then back down on the Whistler Gondola. Queuing up took a while – we were stuck behind a self-entitled bint who demanded to see the manager. She introduced herself as “Lenor Strong”. Honestly. I can’t make up my mind if this makes her sound like a bitchy businesswoman in a shit paperback, or a particularly efficient detergent. Anyway – one we went up the gondola. As you rise up the mountains, it dawns on you the scale of the area. We went up to a height of 2,436m, which is more than twice Snowdon. Bear in mind this was in a glass container hanging on a steel cable – you can’t help but feel a bit short changed with just a steam train. From the top – the view was spectacular, and although the sun was hot, you felt the chill that only comes from being high up. The mountains seemed to line the horizon opposite, and you could see snow had stuck on most peaks. We stayed here a while – had a nice hot coffee, and some chips to keep us going.

The Peak2Peak gondola was terrifying in the best of ways. It looked like the gondola would go down the side of the mountain, and follow the ground to the peak of the next, but in fact the gondola linked the two peaks much higher, dangling a cable between two towers that left you very high over the valley below. In a gondola with a glass floor. It was brilliant.

We took the Whistler gondola straight down – time was getting tight, and we needed to get on the road to Kamloops. The ride down was equally impressive – this time over the mountain bike downhill tracks, and occasionally passing the ski-lifts that took the riders to the top of their trails. These “ski-lifts” seemed to have been retro-fitted to carry bikes, which looked a bit strange the first time you saw it – three bikes 50 feet in the air on a metal frame.

The drive to Kamloops was long and exhilirating. The mountains and canyons and steep valleys we drove through just defied belief and we were driving along at tourist pace with mouths agape. The highlight was coming up to a stretch of road and having to slam the brakes. There, in front of us, waddling across the road was a real, wild BEAR! About 40 feet away from us, and as care-free as it could have been – it was a privilege to see one in the wild.

Many hours later, we dropped into Kamloops – a city much bigger than either of us expected (it even has a casino!). We were mindful of our budget when booking tonight’s accommodation – so we had a motel booked.Now the cliche of a motel is that it’s tatty, old-fashioned and badly in need of re-decoration. There’s a good reason for that. The room seems about 30 years out of date, with an incongruously large TV. There’s a creepy, faded matador dude in an oil painting, and a lamp that is hung up by a chain that then hangs down to the ground for some reason.

Squealing to Squamish

Safonol

Vancouver to Squamish

Another early start today, but not deliberately. I first woke up about 3am, with my brain ready to wake up in the dark of night. Somehow, I managed to get back to sleep and got an extra 3 hours until 6am. Jet lag’s a bitch.

We had breakfast at the hostel we were staying – the Cambie Hostel, presumably named after the street it’s on. The hostel was alright to stay in, typical for a hostel it was full of moody and hungover young-people, and the bathrooms were disgusting. Of the three cubicles on our floor, one was fine, one was blocked and full of water, and the other was blocked and full of shit. Made choosing a toilet easy though. The showers were tiny. Standing up, my shoulders were touching the sides, which made washing a challenge. There was also nowhere to change, so you’d get in fully clothed, undress, hang the clothes over the dirty bar over the shower and then try to shower before dampily putting your clothes back on.

Breakfast at the Cambie was top notch though. I had “The Hash”, which was a load of “tots” (like hash brown nuggets) with BBQ sauce, hollandaise sauce, bell peppers, onion, mushroom and extra sausage, and topped with two poached eggs. Sounds disgusting, but was absolutely delicious. The eggs were orange and tasty, and cooked with the customary Canadian consideration for how you want them cooked (hard, medium, soft). As we stayed at the hostel, we got vouchers for $5 off which made it pretty cheap.

Picking up the rental car

Today was the day that we were to pick up the rental car:- something that absolutely terrified me. I have never driven on the right (wrong!?) side of the road before. I have never driven an automatic before. I have never rented a car before. We got the SkyTrain to Vancouver Airport (YVR) quite early – about 11am, as our car was booked from 1pm. We thought it may take some time to go through paperwork etc., so we chanced it. Turns out timing was absolutely fine – *however* getting to the place was a bit of a weird one. We got to YVR and had a bit of a wander – couldn’t find any clues as to where Enterprise Rentals was. We asked the information desk who cheerily pointed us towards the car rental area, where about 7 different agencies we’re all lined up nicely on one place. Was Enterprise Rentals there? Was it hell. Turns out they have a shuttle bus from a different area that took you the 10 minute drive from the airport to the place. Hey ho – we were early so all good.

Getting the car was a breeze, but paranoia took the better of me and I paid a stupid amount for Damage Waiver – means I can drive the car into a ravine, and not worry a bit about paying a fine. I have heard horror stories about these places absolutely fleecing people for a tiny scratch that probably was there before they took the car, so I like to think that I “erred on the side of caution”, rather than “I was conned”.

We got a black Nissan Elantra. Feels slightly bigger than the focus but the controls feel familiar. Kerry has taken to calling it Bruce. Don’t ask me why.

Well. Before leaving the car park, I made the distinct mistake of using my clutch foot for the brake. I probably don’t need to explain that the clutch foot is used for a solid and often sudden press of a pedal. Not good for the brake. Cue short screetch, and Kerry being flung forward and getting minor whiplash. BEFORE WE LEFT THE RENTAL CAR PARK. Damn. Second cock up came at a crossroad, turning left. The light was green for me but there was still traffic coming from ahead. I thought I was good to go. I wasn’t, so cue car horn, and an angry local motorist. Oops.

The drive out of Vancouver to our first stop, Campilano Suspension Bridge was nervy, panicky and fucking terrifying. After parking up and paying $7.50 for the pleasure at Campilano, it turns out it cost $59 to get in. Probably worth it, but not in our budget, so off we went the two miles further to Grouse Mountain, which we knew cost money. It was brilliant. The first ascent is an exciting (albeit slightly cramped) gondola up, with a few dramatic swaying when the ascent changed angle, made cheerier by a wedding party that was going to a wedding at the top.

At the top was a range of activities. We took a stroll and found you could take a seated open lift to the peak of Grouse Mountain – which we did and found exhilarating. For the trip up we were sat with an Australian couple, who were on a massive worldwide tour – doing loads of trips across the globe:- stringing together coach tours and trips they’d arranged themselves through a travel agent. They’ve got the right idea – and at 71 they looked fantastic. The peak had amazing views, and really emphasized the size of Vancouver – which was only slightly obscured by a haze in the distance. Of course, Kerry wanted a selfie 😛 The trip down, I would say was way better – staring at the views whilst dangling 50ft in the air was pretty exciting.

Also at the top were bears, birds of prey (we missed the show 🙁 ) and, randomly, a deer fawn just chilling by the picnic benches. I have never seen a bear up close before, and although these were “orphaned” and tamed, the fence did NOT look high enough to hold them in.

Onwards to Horseshoe Bay, Shannon Falls and Squamish

Kerry had read that Horseshoe Bay was a great place to stop en-route to Squamish and Whistler, and bloody hell it certainly is! The view across the north Pacific to the mountains of BC was amazing. We picked up some supplies from the local shop for sandwiches etc. for the road, and off we went. The road from Horseshoe Bay to Whistler is called “Sea to Sky Highway”, and the views are just cliche-inducing.

Driving the highway, I was still nervous, and happy when we passed a sign for “Shannon Falls” and Kerry said “Oh I’ve heard of this -it’s meant to be good!”: so we took a small detour to see it. Shannon Falls does a great job of explaining the geology of the area, from the volcano that never erupted, to the smooth granite surfaces that are indicative of this are. The falls themselves are spectacular, you hear them much before you see them, and as you walk along the trail, you are somewhat surprised to see it through a clearing in the canopy of trees. The combination of bare rock, and lush green trees with the clearest water combine to create a lasting impression.

Arriving into Squamish

Squamish is another cool town! From the rainbow pedestrian crossing to the scattered craft beer bars, it is clearly a liberal area. It is flanked by two mountainous ranges, with the main street of downtown facing imposing peaks that look like stiff, whipped cream. We’ll be going there tomorrow! With active building developments, and its proximity to the sea to sky highway, Squamish is a town that is on the up. Hopefully the growth will not impact its charm nor community – we passed a community garden full of cabbages, sunflowers and herbs – with locals still gardening into dusk. We ate at the Howes Sound Brewery Inn at the far end of Squamish’s downtown – awesome pizza and even better beer. I even took a Bomber bottle of a Mango ISA back to the hotel (Indian Session Ale… Don’t get me started – feels like a needless category of ale when all it is in fact is a west coast IP brewed to a more tolerable %age).

It will be sad to leave Squamish tomorrow – but we have a long (5 hour) drive tomorrow to Kamloops, with some exciting stops on the way!