Wednesday, September 29

Going Coastal

I've finished my little tour through the Okanagan Valley [in the south of B.C.] As near as I can tell, the main appeal of the valley is the weather, which includes more sunshine than almost anywhere else in the country, and mild winters to boot. I've had a week of summer, which was a welcome surprise, since I didn't see too much of it in July and August.

My first stop was Vernon, the highlight of which was a bike trip that I did with a German girl from the town hostel. It's been a while since I did any long bike trips, and this one was a few hours long, so I was a little worried. The concern was my quad. I tore it in the same place four or five times, the last being late last year. As might be expected, each time it healed more and more slowly. And for some reason, going up hill on a bike doesn't make it happy. I've been going as lightly as possible on it all year, and it hasn't bothered me in a few months, but going on the bike trip was probably not the brightest idea.

In the end it held up okay, but the day after I was feeling the tiniest of tingles, which probably mean that I pushed it about as far as it could go - ie I was damn lucky that it didn't end up tearing _again_. Hobbling up stairs for a month is never fun. I've been trying to avoid going under any sort of knife, but I think it should be okay eventually.

The trip itself was a good time, though. We were able to see the back roads, which are much nicer than the highway. The Okanagan is one of the major berry and fruit growing centers in Canada, and seeing fields and fields of apple trees was a nice change from the barley and wheat of Saskatchewan. There are also alot of people that come out here to pick the fruit, which is some of the hardest work I've ever seen. You're hunched over a berry bush for ten hours a day, getting paid by the barrel of berries - which usually works out to less than minimum wage.

In the end, we ended up at a museum. It was a converted ranch, one of the first settlements in the area. The highlight - or at the very least most memorable - part of the visit were the animals. The weirdest of the lot were the sheep. Not only did they seem completely attention deprived, acting like lap dogs following me around wanting to be petted, but they also had five horns... this is even weirder because there were two on the one side, and three on the other. I have no idea what the point of five horns IS exactly...

Kelowna is the 'capital' of the valley, but just seemed to be another run-of-the mill smallish city. The one thing that stuck out was that the place was completely overrun with Australians. The were more of them in the hostel than all other nationalities combined, by a factor of three to one. And that includes Canadians. Most of them were there to snowboard in the winter, as there are two big resorts near by. I'm not sure if it's being Australian, a snowboarder, or some combination of the two, but it felt like being back in highschool again. At times I thought I could cut the machismo with a knife. Don't get me wrong, some were nice enough. It's hard to explain, but somehow things weren't relaxed unless you're throwing back shots of whatever hard liquor is handy. The conversations tended to be a little boring, about previous nights' puke-fests, so I ended up watching movies and going to bed early most of the time I was there.

The last stop was Penticton, where the receptionist at the hostel mentioned a friend who was driving to Vancouver. Since I was going that way anyway, I offered gas money, and off we went. Coincidently enough, she had also just graduated from McGill [the university where I went to school in Montreal], and was heading off to Vancouver to find some work. All well and good, as it gave us something to talk about for the four hour trip. She was a nice enough girl, but beyond McGill, we didn't have much in common. Sometimes she seemed downright uncomfortable. But it got me back out to the coast, and into a big city for the first time in nearly two months. Small towns are all well and good, but in many ways, the anonymity of big cities can feel good. Or then again, maybe I'm just getting tired of being on the road... I'll probably stay here for two weeks, to give myself a chance to catch my breath.

Tuesday, September 21

Mountains To Valleys

Today I got into the Okanagan Valley, which is in the Southern Mainland of B.C. Banff was a lot of fun, and I definitely would have enjoyed staying longer, but I've been falling a little behind schedule, and considering that I should be back in Halifax in a month or so, it was time to move on.

On Wednesday, I took a bus from Banff to a town called Golden, which is still in the Rockies, but on the B.C. side. Before taking the bus, I had lunch with a girl that I met at the hostel the night before, who had just gotten to Banff, and was planning on staying for a few months. It was interesting because she was from Quebec, but not Montreal. It seems like almost all of the Quebecors that I meet out here are from Montreal Island or it's south shore, but she was from way up around Lac Saint Jean. Also, while getting on the bus, I bumped into two Scottish guys that I'd seen at the hostel, which made for some company and conversation on the ride to B.C. Golden itself was boring, a depressed town with a really fancy sign on the way in that said, oddly enough, 'The Town of Opportunity.' Maybe the opportunity to get bored....

After just one night there, I took off for Revelstoke, which is a few hours farther west. The bus station in Golden was connected to a truck stop, and being an hour early for the bus, I couldn't help myself but ask a few of the truckers for rides. In the end, I got a lift from a trucker from Montanta. The conversation went back and forth from road stories to politics. After seeing so much of the American presidential campaign on television, it was interesting to talk to someone who was totally sold by the 'don't vote for Kerry, he's too flip-floppy' ads. I don't understand the appeal at all, but I wasn't about to argue given the circumstances. [I'm not sure if that qualifies as hitch-hiking or not, but I really have been trying to avoid it, at least in terms of standing on the road...]

After five days there, I got a ride to Vernon, the first stop in the Okanagan, with a German couple that I met in the hostel in Revelstoke. Although I've only been here for a few hours, it seems like a nice enough town. It also feels a lot less touristic than any of the towns that I've been to in the last few weeks - a welcome change. As an added plus, the weather is the warmest that I've felt in about two months. Ever since I hit Manitoba, I've been followed by cold weather (yes, I am that important. The weather follows me, not vice-versa), and of course being in the Rockies didn't help matters any. Now, given the change in elevation between here and Revelstoke (which is still in the mountains), it almost feels like summer again.

The pace is much slower in these towns than I'm used to, especially after being in Alberta for the last month. Considering that I didn't care so much for the place in general, it's a little ironic that I was there for so long. A week stuck in Edmonton [waiting for the weather to get nice enough to camp out in the parks], a week in Jasper, a week in the back country, and a week in Banff. On a bit of a (long winded) side rant, one thing that's been in the news a lot lately (at least here) is how Alberta will soon be debt free, and all of the bitching over having any of that money taken out of the province. It seemed like every day the headline in the news was some puff piece. 'How are we going to spend all of our new-found wealth, especially after the spike in oil prices?' I know I sound a little bitter, but after hearing the same thing every day for a month, it started to get a bit irritating. Last week, though, I read an article that got me thinking about something else that might be ironic, besides my staying there so long. Cars in Japan are now being designed to run electrically in combination with gasoline, which drastically cuts down on the amount of gas they use. All of that means that the demand for gas is likely to drop significantly in the next 50 to 75 years. But what will be in really high demand by the time we're heading towards the next century? The one thing that Alberta doesn't seem to have too much of - at least to the best of my knowledge - is water, and what they do have is fast being lost as their glaciers melt (due to global warming). So perhaps down the line, the eastern half of the country will become the so called 'have' provinces, as the demand for water rises. But then again, if Quebec becomes a 'have' province, the odds of confederation lasting will probably go down the toilet... [sigh] I think I'll stop thinking about the future for a while, before I give myself a headache.

Monday, September 13

Back to Basics

Well, back to basics for a little while, anyway. I've been in the Banff National Parks for the last week and a half, and for about half that time, in rustic hostels. That's just a poetic way of saying a hostel with no running water or electricity. Before I left Jasper, I was planning on camping out for a bit, but the combination of rainy and cold weather changed my mind. Doing the rustic thang was a nice way to get back to nature, though not quite as extreme as tenting it. And of course, using an outhouse is always an adventure in it's own right. I won't go into too many details, but suffice to say, people back in the day must have been good at holding their breath.

I actually left Jasper a little earlier than I thought. One of the guys that I was staying with while I was there brought some buddies over. I mentioned the show Trailor Park Boys earlier, and these guys were straight from it. Complete with lots of (really) racist slurs. And yes, they were from the Maritimes. Don't get me wrong, the guy that lives there is both super nice and super cool, but why he hangs out with those guys I do not understand. No doubt I'm too touchy for my own good, but after having to say for the 15th time that I didn't feel like getting plastered with them, I was ready to scream. Again, I know I'm way too touchy for my own good, but I just wasn't feeling comfortable there. So I made my exit as swiftly as possible the next day.

The hostel was a nice way to get my marbles back in order. In order to save a couple of bucks (the price doubled in the 3 years since my last time there), I made a deal with the manager where I chopped wood for two hours a day and stayed free of charge. And believe me when I say that a few hours of swinging an axe is a much more intense workout then you get on any machines. Most of the nights were spent playing cards by candle light, which again made me think of what life was like a hundred years ago. On my last trip out west I spent three weeks straight in these sort of hostels (there are quite a few of them in the parks here), and I've always had good times while I'm at it.

I got a ride a bit farther south with a german guy that was staying at the hostel. We ended up doing a hike together later that day. The trail was very popular (and pretty), and we ended up joining a couple from California that we met in the parking lot. They were extremely nice, and had a really great sense of humor, but every time the husband spoke, I had a hard time to keep a straight face. To understand why, you'd have to have watched a bit of South Park. He was raised in Iowa, and (aside from having a bit of a deeper pitch) he sounded very much like Mr. Hanky the Christman Pooh. Again, very nice guy, but alot of the time I was having a hard time to keep a grin off my face. And seeing as how our hike together lasted for about five hours, I couldn't help but slip up and giggle once or twice. Don't get me wrong, the accent isn't really bad, it's just that I'd never heard it in person before. But if all Americans were as nice as them, the country wouldn't have a bad rep at all.

Afterwards, I got dropped off in Banff, where I've been for almost a week now. To be honest, I'm having the same problem here that I had the first time I went to Jasper. That being, I still want to travel, but part of me wants to stick around. When I first got here, I signed up for a program where I do four hours of cleaning a day and stay at the hostel for free. Not a bad deal when the rate for a bed is $35 a night (the most expensive hostel that I've ever seen). They put me in the staff accomodation for as long as I do this, and as a result, I got to know the people that work here very quickly. They're all very nice, and I've been having a great time here hanging out with all of them. All of this is starting out exactly as things went in Jasper, but the difference is that that time I ended up taking the job offered to me, and staying for 4 months. But no matter how tempting it is, there's no way that I'm going to do the same thing here. If I'm going to settle down anywhere for more than a week or two, it's going to be in Europe. Staying here would be more like rehacking the past.

On a bit of an aside, I was out hiking a few days ago, for what I thought was just a few kilometers. It was getting late, but the hike that I was planning wasn't very far at all, so I didn't expect any problems. At one point, I was passing a lake that was a bit further down the cliff, so I climbed down to walk along the water for a bit before going back up to what I thought was the same path. Needless to say, it wasn't the right one, and ended up being much longer. Before long, I was wandering around the woods with no light what-so-ever. Luckily I managed to stick to a path (I'm not even sure which one it was) by feel more than anything else, and somehow ended up on an old paved road. I managed to flag down a car and got a ride back to town. And yes, for a while there (I was in the dark for about an hour and a half) I was very scared. The reason that I'm mentioning this is that quite a few of you have asked me how in hell I don't get scared out of my wits, given some of the shit that's happened from time to time on this trip. First off, I know that I'm more than just slighted touched in the head to be doing this sort of thing in the first place, but more importantly, yes, sometimes I do get scared. I just don't talk about it much. One other time that I was scared this trip was hitch hiking back from the N.W.T. last month, when I was stuck in the middle of nowhere for seven hours straight, being eaten alive by black flies (which is, incedentally, the main reason that I've been trying to avoid hitch hiking ever since). And yes, I've resolved to more careful in the future.

I was considering going to Calgary after I leave here, but certainly not for the sake of the city itself. Calgary is, now officially, my least favorite city in Canada (I've now been to all of them). I really don't like that place at all. It's the ultimate cowboy town, a mini Texas in every way minus the guns. On top of that, for a city it's size (about one million people), the locals act more like it's a town of ten million. Everyone's in a rush to get nowhere. A mad rush. As well, it's growing faster than any other place in Canada. I heard somewhere that the population grows by 3000 people a month. As a result, it's piss poor planned - urban sprawl at it's best. The reason that I planned on going was that my uncle lives there (it would be rude to be this close without stopping in to say hello), as well as an old friend. However, up until now, I still havn't tracked down said friend, and no offense to my uncle, but I just don't feel up to going there for one reason alone. So I'll likely just catch a bus (yes, a bus) to B.C., probably just across the border to a town called Golden. I'm thinking that I'll leave Wednesday.

On a closing note, I know that this is a long post, but I havn't posted in a while (the whole no-electricity thing), and got a few emails asking where I was. To be honest, due to the lack of comments, I was wondering if anyone was still reading this :) I know the entries are long, but I can type fast, so I usually don't even notice how much I've written. And also, most of the people who complained are freakin' university graduates, for crying out loud! Cripes! When did we all get so lazy? =P

Wednesday, September 1


It's been a bit of a slow week. Aside from a two day trip to Prince George, I've been pretty much just resting up in Jasper. Prince George was alright, but I'd already been there once before, and the town itself is a bit depressing. Most of the people that you pass on the street seem down, and the locals that I talked to weren't exactly crazy about living there. But I did manage to find my friend Dave, who I met on Denman Island during my last trip out west, three years ago (lord, has it been that long?). I had a great time hanging out with him for the day. He's still running his tattoo parlor, but plans on moving to Vancouver in the next year or so. Dave's not entirely sure how he ended up in Prince George. His then-girlfriend managed to talk him into staying ten years ago, and he stayed till now. Since he's planning on doing a sabbatical in October he was pretty booked up for the next month , but offered to squeeze me in after closing that night. He's very talented, and I ended up getting a blend of the sun/yin yang/peace symbol on my leg, about eight cm. in diameter. Afterwards, we went back to his apprentice's place, and after watching a movie there, saw the new Jet Li movie at a theatre. Interesting film, but sometimes I had a hard time following it. The fight scenes were very much exaggerated, but it was intentional (people would jump ten feet into the air to deliver a big kick).

Beyond that, I've spent most of the last week watching television at my friend Jason's place. I'd like to be able to get out more, but it's been pretty consistently cold and wet. Unfortunately, the Olympics are over, so most of my entertainment has come from the Republican National Convention. I don't think that I'll ever understand politics. How these speakers can keep a straight face is beyond me. It's so easy to tear apart their arguments, from how 'justified' the war in Iraq was, to the 'booming economy', to how much less terror there is in the world thanks to Dubya. But for some reason, the Democrats can't seem to get off their arses and pipe up. Maybe they're afraid of sounding rude or something. And how the Republicans manage to make three hour speeches based solely around Kerry's flip-floppiness is amazing. Apparently it's better to elect a liar than someone who can't stick to a particular point of view. I should really stop watching it, but there's nothing else on (seriously! when did TV get so bad?). Everyone that lives at the house where I'm staying works at least twelve hours a day, so TV seems to be the only way to pass the time.

One show that I did find funny was something on Showcase. It's called Trailer Park Boys. Ten minutes of watching it reminded me why I left Nova Scotia. The show is based in Halifax, and though it is exaggerated, the characters aren't that far removed from some of the people that I grew up with. If you haven't seen it, definitely check it out.

Speaking of the Maritimes, it's strange how many Maritimers are here in Jasper, and how we all end up clustering. Back when I lived here, most all of my friends that weren't from work were from the east, and I didn't even realize it until I was ready to leave. And now, all of the people that I've been around since I got here are either from Ontario or the Maritimes, but mostly all from the latter. I have no idea why things went this way, but it seems like most of the people from B.C. that I've talked to tend to hang out with other people from the west, and though they're all very nice, somehow it's never gone to actually hanging out.

After I leave Jasper, which will likely be either tomorrow or the day after, I'd like to spend some time camping out while slowly making my way to Banff, which is about four hours south of here. After that, I'm not sure whether I'll take a mini-trip to Calgary and back, or just head straight for the Okanogan (spelling on that) Valley, which is in the south of B.C. Lately, I've felt less like planning things than ever, which is saying something.