A rival for affection

Initially I wasn’t too fussed about spending time in Vancouver, my appetite instead skewed towards the forests and mountains, inlets and meadows of super natural British Columbia. This feeling was elevated as a week travelling in such environments was drawing to a close, a trip that I could have quite happily continued. But as the final greyhound drew into the quite uninspiring Vancouver terminus, I resigned myself to a couple of days in a big city.

Happily, Vancouver has a magical gift that justifies its frequent position in all those different lists of the best cities in the world to live. It is often vying for the title alongside places like Melbourne, Sydney, Copenhagen, and even a little country town called Canberra. Indeed, I sensed a bit of a Melbourne vibe, a touch of Sydney waterfront, the smell of Danish-like bacon, and, err, a backdrop of rugged, open ranges.

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Thus, in the space of a laundry washing and drying cycle, I had managed to readjust to the idea of being in a city, and embracing everything that entailed. Things like pedestrian crossings, in which the Canadian version appears to involve the traffic light receiving a flurry of tweets. @RobsonandGranville #crossnowhumans #tensecondsleft. The emergence of coffee shops, many of them dire, many of them Starbucks, on every street corner, though luckily the outside temperate was conducive to far more favourable iced coffee options. And something I embraced more wholeheartedly was the plethora of good quality, low cost, always welcoming Asian eateries, all too conscious that such choices will practically disappear in Europe.

van02Probably a good reason I ended up loving Vancouver so – apart from the chicken karaage and spicy udon ramen – was the sumptuous weather. Crucially there was no smoke accompanying an ambient temperature somewhere around the mid twenties. What this means is a happy, healthy, blissed out and mostly beautiful populace, invariably strolling, cycling, rollerblading, or volleyballing their way into the light evenings beside the waterside paths and parks of False Creek.

Such spirit is infectious, and the next day I joined the many hiring a bike near Yaletown dock. The freedom and joy of two wheels again, made all the easier by Vancouver’s generous allotment of cycling paths and priority lanes. Here, it became clear the city rivals Canberra, and it was quite possible to cycle something heading towards forty kilometres without jostling with vehicles.

The first task was to head up False Creek and into Stanley Park. This is essentially where everyone on a bike goes and you can see why. A rounded peninsula of spruce, cedars, firs and totem poles, occasional ponds and meadows, cafes and beaches, all encased within a sea wall. It is the sea wall that provides a thoroughfare for the bikes, so that there are eternal city, mountain, harbour and ocean views with every pedal. The parade of bikes is incessant, sometimes requiring adept manoeuvring, but it is simple to stop and go for a stroll in an empty forest.

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van03The park easily filled a morning, meaning that I handily reached Granville Island around lunchtime. This spot is cluttered with wooden shacks selling handmade jewellery and boating slacks and things like paperweights and incense sticks. But mostly there is food, centred around the Public Market and coming in a variety of forms. Fresh and healthy, processed and gluttonous, and everything in between.

Given I veered towards the gluttonous I was happy to pedal all the way to Point Grey and the University of British Columbia. Passing several beaches – Kitsilano, Jericho, and Spanish Banks – the views back to the city and its mountainous backdrop progressively opened up. Climbing up a long, steady hill – the kind that seems like an impressive feat only when you come back down – the university campus strikes you as a quite magnificent place to study. The challenge though would be to concentrate on a lecture, rather than stare out of the window all of the time.

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van05I came here to visit the Museum of Anthropology and while this contains numerous worldly artefacts, the predominant focus is on that of the First Nations. A huge hall houses an array of impressive totems, canoes, boxes, archways, tools, and utensils. Displays tell of the meaning, the stories, the legends, and the inevitable intrusion of the white man. Outside, a Haida village is recreated in the Vancouver sun, and the cafe next door sells Nanaimo bars. Two cakes in one day but I am, I think, working it off.

van06Back downhill, I paused numerous times beside the beaches to take in the view, as the westerly sun incrementally illuminates the city skyline and the mountains stretching north. The beaches are no Broulee or even Bondi, but it is warm and the city folk are a-flocking. I reflect on what has been a truly magnificent day, one which continues with still another ten kilometres back to the bike shop. Ten kilometres to join the healthy and happy populace, continuing to elevate their endorphin levels. A fabulous day, inevitably topped off with Asian food for dinner.

I had such a good time with a bike I almost considered doing it again the next day – my last in Vancouver. In the end I took the public transport option, crossing by ferry to North Vancouver and trundling by bus through the leafy suburbs climbing up to the base of Grouse Mountain. From here a far more expensive gondola transports you up to a world of mountain meadows and pines, fancy restaurants, ziplines and kitsch lumberjack shows. There are few longer trails on which to escape, but the views are there to be had. I can see the United States of America, most prominently in the form of Mount Baker, and my proximity to a previous travel adventure hits home. Meanwhile to the north and west, the mountains roll on, a reminder of the sparseness of this land, while the city of Vancouver shimmers many hundreds of metres below behind my back.

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van10This is bear country, and it so happened that I came face to face with a grizzly up here. Mercifully, two of them who were orphaned and are now cared for in captivity. No doubt softened by a life being pampered, they are nonetheless fearsome and overwhelmingly gargantuan. Despite being orphaned and this being the best option for them (the other likely being death as cubs), I cannot help but feel that I should be seeing such an incredible beast out in the wild, ruling its pristine domain. But, looking at the force and scale of such a creature, I am mostly glad I am not.

van11After Grouse Mountain, I should have headed back, rested, and readied myself for a staggered transatlantic voyage. But I was starting to not want to leave this city. My final trundle on a bus therefore took me to Lynn Canyon, where a suspension bridge offers a little bit of wow amongst the beautiful forests and riverside pools, increasingly populated by youngsters and families seeking a cool down towards the end of the day.

While others settled in this utopia for the evening, I had to drag myself away and – annoyingly – transport myself and belongings from the place I was staying to an airport hotel. There was, however, a good prompt to do so. One Direction were performing in BC Place, literally across the road from my hotel. This explains why they had no vacancy for my last night there and also why I seem to find myself having to increasingly negotiate a pathway through gawky teenage legs.

As adolescent screams echoed through the warm evening sky, I lamentably turned my back on Vancouver. But after gliding twenty minutes by train and dragging a suitcase along the concrete sidewalk of a grimy highway, Vancouver said goodbye to me from an upper floor of a Travelodge. A sky as fiery as the flame in my heart and the chilli in my laksa. A final, luminous ocean of evidence that the lists are not wrong, and this truly is one of the best cities in the world.

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Food & Drink Green Bogey Photography USA & Canada Walking

British Columbian

One week…one week of finishing work, packing up a white flat, jamming in flat whites, lingering in the bush and avoiding the fog. A week successfully navigated, with the generous bonus of a grating cough and snotty nose from the city of Canberra to see me on my way. Something to make an interminable fourteen hour flight even cheerier. But one week and fourteen hours later, I descended through a cloud of smoke and a sinus of pain into the city of Vancouver, and then beyond, out into the grizzly wilds…

In Whistler while you work

Skipping through Vancouver I had decided to head straight to the hills, for some post-journey restitution and mountain air. What sounded good on paper was challenged in practice, as huge forest fires courtesy of a severe drought had enshrouded most of BC in a layer of smoke. Whistler, it seems, was quite probably the worst place to be, with an air quality rating akin to bad days in Beijing. Oh to live in Beijing.

bc01There was little for it than to venture out in short bursts, around the shops and maze of pedestrian streets that make navigating Canberra suburbs seem a breeze. Oh for a breeze, to lift this constant eau-de-campfire. It came eventually, and there was minor visibility later in the day. Enough to see a red sun above the pines, encounter a moose, and stumble across a black bear.

The black bear sighting was a definitive highlight of the day, even more for the fact that I had probably already passed it once without noticing. Just munching on some berries beside a shared cycle and walking path, possibly waiting for some hapless campers with a picnic basket. Or people like me lost and doing an about turn. I passed, I saw, I lingered for a few seconds to weigh up the pros of making the most of a picture opportunity and the cons of being eaten. I carried on and the bear carried on regardless.

So one day in and I had already ticked off a few Canadian clichés. The next day I had a Canadian coffee, which was still relatively awful despite it being called a flat white and despite at least one Australian working in the coffee shop at the time. Never fear, British coffee awaits! Oh wait. On the plus side, while there was still a distinctive campfire smell, the smoke haze had lifted a little, meaning some bigger lumps of terrain could be spotted, down which numerous mountain bikers hurtled themselves faithfully like lemmings off a cliff.

bc03What goes down must go up and there is a generous lift system in Whistler for the intrepid explorer. This includes the Peak to Peak, a seemingly endless high wire linking Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, its small red cabins dangling over a gigantic precipice in between. Turns out the Swiss don’t have a monopoly on gravity defiance after all. Thanks to such engineering feats I was able to walk in a high alpine environment, and while the views were naturally hazy and the going a challenge (think jetlag, chest infection, altitude, smoke, heat, bad coffee) I made it to a small tarn on the Blackcomb side of the world.

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The trails stretch on to glacial views and craggy ridges and summit peaks and hidden valleys and – in another time, in other conditions – I could have gone on and on. But Whistler proved hard work and there was some relief at coming down from the mountains, away from the smoke and into brief Vancouver sea-level summertime ambience.

Clearer and coola

Not that there was much time for recovery. Early Friday and I was off to the airport to hop on a twelve-seater to the Bella Coola Valley. Where I hear you ask? Exactly. I am not sure myself how I first found out about this place and how I came to be here. But, after an hour flying over an astonishing wilderness of glacial river valleys, high ridges and gigantic icefields, I emerged in clear blue skies, uplifted to arrive in a momentously attractive spot.

A short boat ride took me across to the ever-photogenic and sublimely blissful Tallheo Cannery. Here stand the remnants of a once bustling enterprise, in which the plentiful salmon – sockeye, pink, and the highly prized spring – were netted, off-loaded, canned and shipped away to Vancouver and beyond. Nowadays, it is preserved in a ramshackle kind of way by a young family who have taken on with passion and gusto the task of maintaining and sharing this magical place with those lucky enough to find their way here.

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Making landfall again upon the small jetty I knew I had stumbled across what would be the undoubted highlight of my time in Canada. A pathway meandered through a small pocket of forest towards a rocky beach, next to which the remains of the cannery building protruded upon a series of weathered stilts, stained by the constant ebb and flow of the tide. Elsewhere, various other wooden structures – the old general store, bunkhouse, outhouse, and two or three more buildings for the important people – offered testament to the thriving place this once was, with up to 300 souls living and working here during peak seasons. Throughout, there are enough trinkets and relics – from fishing nets and boats to paperwork for credit accounts and old cans of soda – to keep anyone with curiosity and a camera happy for several hours.

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In what must be a labour of love, more and more bits and pieces appear to be unearthed in cupboards and drawers on an almost daily basis, while any inclement spell can reveal a new leak, another piece of rotting timber, an additional piece of roof sheeting down. But you can likely forgive all these quirks – embrace them even – given the setting, best appreciated from the veranda or, better still, the hammock of the bunkhouse, which is now a charming guest house for people like me.

It was a house I ended up having all to myself, though I was thankful for the company of the owners in a building nearby and their dogs who were accomplished at keeping the bears and wolves at bay. There was little to do here other than relax in that hammock, broken by occasional wanderings onto the beach or out to a point to sight eagles and gaze at the changing light on the mountains, or head over behind the buildings to explore the clear waters of the back creek into which salmon spawn. Not a bad way to pass the remainder of the day, not bad at all.

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bc10After the best night’s sleep so far, a new day emerged in which the weather gradually turned and cast a new mood upon the scene. Because even I could not potter around taking pictures of the same things over and over again, I caught a lift by boat into the township of Bella Coola and explored its buzzing downtown metropolis, something which took all of twenty minutes. The town is a mixed settlement, with vital services and stores, more ramshackle wooden houses, and a significant First Nations population, the local Nuxalk people, whose land provides several totem pole and traditional craft viewing opportunities.

After a lunch here involving a quite delicious burger with a Poutine topping (yes, a meat patty topped with chips, gravy and cheese!) the greying skies finally delivered some rain. This was marvellous news for the locals, who had endured weeks on end of uncharacteristic searing dry heat; however, tourists like me were somewhat less enthused. Nonetheless, the smell of fresh rain on dry earth, the droplets forming upon ferns and pine needles, the mists and grey clouds hovering upon mountainsides, offered a new perspective, a new angle, a new opportunity to potter about the cannery and soak up its serene, wood-soaked ambience.

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It was an ‘ambience’ that was to persist into the next day, shrouding scenery alongside the pristine inlets and channels of the Great Bear Rainforest as the journey moved on…

A damp inside passage   

If there was one day in Canada that I was hoping would be clear and calm this was it. Bella Coola to Port Hardy, via the fjord-like waters of the Dean Channel, Inside Passage and Queen Charlotte Sound. As it turned out, it was the wettest day of my whole trip but when you are going via a place called Ocean Falls which prides itself on receiving 173 inches of rain in an average year, I guess it’s to be expected. I was, alas, viewing the area in its natural state, rather than this surreal drought of the past month.

bc12In the end, the scheduled stop at the place where half the Ocean Falls was cancelled due to the late departure of the BC ferry from Bella Coola. The harbour was positively buzzing as cars, motorbikes and the odd foot passenger crammed onto a boat a third of the size of the Torpoint ferry. Oh, and there was a coach as well, transporting a delightful assortment of seniors on something called an Ageless tour. A coach that became stuck half on and half off the ferry for a good hour, grounded due to the incline. It was a fascinating drama for passengers and locals alike, whose intense gaze upon crew armed with a plethora of jacks and ramps and pulleys and increasing exasperation was only made all the better by the friendly advice shouted down from above.

Thankfully once again the Americans saved the day. Some smartass from Colorado with a monumental RV possessing incredible torque and a gas-guzzling capacity the size of Texas managed to use his diamond reinforced tow rope to budge the bus a few inches, getting it off the ground and on to the ferry. The whole episode meant that the Ageless people had aged a few more years and I feared some of them might not make the trip. But almost two hours late, we sailed out of port and passed the red maple leaf flying above the Tallheo Cannery, bound for Bella Bella.

bc13The delay at least meant that the rain had stopped and there was a sense that the cloud might even lift. Every time the odd ray of sunshine filtered through, the outside decks became laden by a hubbub of grey hair and long lenses. However, the weather worsened as we approached the area of Ocean Falls, where the people were no doubt dancing with joy in the rain and wondering where on earth the ferry had got to.

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So, around eight hours after leaving port, the boat arrived in Bella Bella, having failed to encounter any whales or bears or much of note at all along the way. But at least the Ageless posse were invariably entertaining, and the glimpses of scenery were serenely beautiful. Indeed, the change of boats at Bella Bella was a little sad, the intimacy and camaraderie lost with the transfer to a much larger vessel sailing the main Inside Passage between Prince Rupert and Port Hardy.

bc15With every dark cloud there is a silver lining, and the bigger ferry was far more luxurious – padded and reclining seats, cafes, even an all-you-can-eat buffet that proved ferry tempting but one I avoided in anticipation of what might happen in the open waters of Queen Charlotte Sound. The dark clouds outside also yielded silver, in the form of a marriage equality rainbow (now featuring everywhere but Australia), as the sun lowered through the heavy clouds and shimmered off a gently rolling tin foil sea.

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The long day finally turned dark and the lights of Port Hardy twinkled as if some New York City in a sea of nothingness. Everyone from Ageless and the coach had made it, something that was not always inevitable. And I stepped off with many more foot passengers who had come down the entire passage, dumped onto land towards a school bus onwards to the hotels and motels of town.

The islands

bc18Port Hardy – from what I saw during a couple of early morning hours – appeared a charming, even cosmopolitan place. It’s all relative I suppose, from the isolation of the cannery and the minimalism of Bella Coola to at least three cafes and possibly even a shopping mall. While there remains enough in the way of grizzled looking locals smelling of fish and sufficient remoteness to offer a frontier feel, the continuous transit of ferry passengers has also fostered an air of gentility and rustic comfort. Bears may still invade the campgrounds and giant trucks may still trawl the streets, but you can also buy an almond croissant and city-style substandard coffee.

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Meandering south and east, a half empty greyhound bus trundled leisurely beside the forests and lakes of Vancouver Island, with fleeting glances of gentle mountains and occasional snatches of the Johnstone Strait. The sun became more familiar and was amply bathing the wharf three hours down the road in Campbell River. Fish and chips for lunch proved a good use of time while waiting for another ferry, though this one just the fifteen minutes, across to Quadra Island.

bc19Like Bella Coola, I had no strong idea of what this place would be like or exactly what I would do here – the main reason for stopping being its position as an approximate halfway point between Port Hardy and Vancouver. A sunny, moderately-sized holiday island, with rocky shores, forests and a penchant for ageing hippies who have done far too many drugs in their lifetime. I did not know this before, but it became patently clear at any visit to the local shopping area.

bc21The tie-dyed highlight here was a day with a bike, which allowed me to truly explore the flatter, southern half of the island. I say flatter, but there were a few, sustained uphill workouts made all the more arduous by a lack of gears. Who would have thought getting high here would have been so difficult? But I loved being on a bike again, exploring the thin stretch of Rebecca Spit, meandering through a forest trail, cycling and then hiking down to the water, and resting up for an afternoon doze in the sun.

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Departing from Quadra and onto Vancouver meant another two ferry journeys. First it was the short hop back across to Campbell River, where I feasted on a delicious breakfast wrap before getting back on another half empty greyhound. And then, there was the longer crossing from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay, back on the mainland. A final chance to look for elusive whales which – if this was a perfectly crafted travel story – would have launched into the sky off starboard in a climatic ecstatic finale.

bc22Alas, this is clearly not a perfectly crafted travel story but there is a happy ending of sorts. My first and best Nanaimo bar, a gooey, creamy, chocolaty concoction from this incredibly beautiful part of the world. Like this jaunt, a touch earthy and rustic but providing a heady buzz. Smoke free, devoid of whales (I assume no whales were used in the making of this bar), and useful to temper the bitterness of the local coffee. Indeed it seems to me life here is like a local bar of chocolate. Deliciously sweet.

Food & Drink Green Bogey Photography USA & Canada

Icefields

Despite being composed of perishing frozen particles there seems to be an inherent allure to the presence of snow and ice. I wonder if Eskimos feel the same way.

Maybe this romantic view is nourished in temperate climes, where snow falls are but an irregular memory of childhood. Something scarce is prized, and I can sombrely recall that when winter rain sweeps in to Plymouth, turning to snow pretty much everywhere but Plymouth, it delivers a fresh pile of disappointment. In Australia, no such disappointment because there really is no such expectation, with only the tiniest, highest pockets of land periodically subject to frozen weather. Still, at least they are generally reliable.

Away from Australia (and Plymouth) I have had the fortune to brace myself for arctic conditions, ghost through flurries of snow, and marvel at sweeping icefields, like a crow from atop a very big wall. Even just across the ditch, in New Zealand, one can appreciate the aesthetic value added by the white stuff, which has carved out its valleys and shaped its lofty mountain spires; peaks on which snow and ice still perches precariously and sweeps down graciously until it feeds into crystal clear rivers of melt water. Ninety-nine percent water and one percent fish, so it is said.

Such attractions are not without peril however, particularly if you decide to sled bungee flying fox BASE jump black raft off them. And because of their allure, they are incredibly popular, the two west coast glaciers – Fox and Franz Josef – a mandatory stop for coach tours, campervans and Apex International drivers everywhere. Indeed, in high season the walk to see the crumbly, dirty dust-coated moraine of Fox Glacier is an orderly procession of ages and nations. The old and overweight defy impending heart attack. Chinese and Japanese and Korean visitors dutifully file their way along for picture stops, wrapped up against the cold. British visitors do the same, basking in shorts. Youngsters scramble without fear over rocks and creeks, and Aussies stride nonchalantly along in thongs. Somehow here the grandeur and spectacle of the landscape becomes a little diminished.

Crowds bustle about just as much on a beautifully clear summer’s morning in Chamonix, France. Here, in an ever narrowing valley at the foot of Mont Blanc, glaciers creep down towards the pine forests bordering the town. The mechanic shrills of souvenir marmots cut through the Gallic hubbub, as people wait for lifts to take them to precipitous heights. Indeed, the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi takes them up some 2,807 metres in 20 minutes. It’s an alarming rise that leaves you a little breathless, literally and then metaphorically once you are confronted with the dazzling ice world around. Up here the crowds seem less intrusive, limited as they are through access, muted by an oxygen depleted sense of drunkenness, and made minuscule by the perspective of being near four kilometres above sea level; most of the Alps seem to be on view, stretching across three countries in a series of rocky turrets and icy hollows. A rare, and staggering, European wilderness.

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Anyone would think I don’t like people given my desire to experience such places without being part of an inevitable tourist procession. Well, let me say that first I quite like some people and secondly I cherish the chance to share some of these places with them. In fact, some of the more memorable moments of life are the random conversations you have with random strangers in random places. Like waiting with like-minded photo seekers for cloud to never clear from mountain tops in the Cascade Mountains, or trying to translate the feverish sighting of marmots from Italian to French to English to a Japanese visitor heading down a mountain railway in Switzerland. It turns out most people are just like you and me, the common bond of the experience overshadowing any differences at that point in time. A smile is a smile in any language.

In fact I’m not immune to being part of a bigger tour group…sometimes it is nice to let someone else take control and just go with the flow, especially when having decisions to make equals indecisiveness. Plus longer tours over days and weeks provide a fascinating ethnographic experience [1]. At the start individuals unbeknown to one another mutter polite greetings and eye one another with caution. A few break the ice with time-honoured inquisitions of where do you come from and where have you been. Barriers break on the first good walk or, more likely, the first few beers. By the end of the night you are BFFs with Darlo from Wonthaggi and within a week you cannot imagine not being with this same group of people, getting on this same bus, stopping at viewpoints, eating meals and sharing a beer or two practically every day. Yeah, cliques may form and these may or may not include the rejection of people initially embraced as BFFs, but the group dynamic remains in a fluidly socially cohesive melting pot of fluctuating hormones and alcohol.

And this, my friends, is an encapsulation of a Contiki tour, albeit a description that is unlikely to be used by their marketing department. For those not in the know, a Contiki tour is a particularly popular way to see the world for 18-35 year olds, especially Australians who have 14 days to see every country in Europe [2]. With a core populace of 18-35 year old Australians there tends to be a significant emphasis on end-of-day drinking, but not without a range of energetic activities and processional sightseeing stops in the day. The relevance of a Contiki tour, and justification for my written meandering, is that I did one once. It was in Canada, with the blue and white bus traversing an incredible stretch of road called the Icefields Parkway. Finally, back on topic.

The Icefields Parkway links the Canadian Rocky Mountain towns of Jasper and Banff. I would love to go back since I cannot recall every instant and every stop, this before the days of blogging and digital photography. And I would love to have my own wheels and take my own time this time around. I seem to remember that along this road, around every corner, there is a panoramic view which you wouldn’t find out of place in a Rocky Mountains 2002 calendar. Bulky grey mountains laced with white rise up from all angles, as glaciers stream downwards, melting into rapids and falls and filling the most incredible blue green lakes. Huge swathes of fragrant pine forest fringe the lakes and valleys, a dark cover for elk and moose and bear.

It turns out the easiest way to spot a bear is to look for the cars and caravans parked beside the side of the road and the coaches slowing to a crawl. Once closer, a telltale sign is the sight of someone with a very big lens snooping around the undergrowth, fringed by other enthusiastic amateurs decorated with silver compact zoom cameras and, I guess now, iPads and iPhones and Surfaces and Robots. No-one seems to figure that the bear might just be interested in the hands and arms and torsos holding these devices, so long as you can get a good shot to post on your wall [3]. The other approach to spotting bears is to have a really nice picnic in a wicker basket and hang about in a national park with an uptight ranger. By contrast, moose spotting is much easier given they are generally roaming loose aboot hooses.

Apart from bears, other highlights of the Icefields Parkway are fluid, from the glaciers to waterfalls and rapids and lakes. During my trip, a ride on the Athabasca Glacier on some huge wheeled contraption afforded an opportunity to walk on ice and clear the head. The wonder of glacial till (or flour) culminates at Peyto Lake, with its incredible colour and picture postcard viewpoint. More subdued but serene is Lake Louise, with a fine grand hotel and gardens at one end, and wilderness beyond, with the seemingly impenetrable Lefroy Glacier a barrier to further exploration. And dotted along the road, at turn-ins and parking stops, are any number of rivers and falls and forests for bears to lurk within.

 Canadian Rockies

(Picture credits here go to my brother. I think I had an old film camera and do not have any pictures in electronic format)

The end of the spectacular Icefields Parkway trip came at Banff, another well-kept resort kind of town. Here, the Contiki tour pulled out all the stops, with a three night layover in some rather charming mountain style lodges. Of course these provided a good opportunity for house parties and sleepovers, but it was nice to wander a little down the street and run into random elk crossing the road. There were also some optional extras – probably sky diving and white water slaloming but I just went on the day trip to Calgary. My abiding memory of Calgary was the raised walkways linking buildings and malls so that people can avoid the metres of snow piled up below over the long winter months. You see snow may be alluring, but I guess it would be a real pain in the arse to live with for half of the year.

The Icefields Parkway was just one part of the trip in Western Canada but probably the most spectacular. I came to realise that Canada and Canadians were rather special and this endures today in friendships, a love of maple syrup and fondness for movies starring John Candy. I wish I could remember more about it, but time hazes memories and written records are scarce. I think back to Canada and it was the first time, apart from those snows that only seem to entrance childhood, that I witnessed the astounding impression that ice can make. It’s perhaps no wonder I have been drawn back, to the Alps of France and Switzerland and peaks and lakes of Slovenia, the High Sierras of California and Cascade Mountains of Washington, the upside down Alps of New Zealand and even the rounded Snowy Mountains of Australia. I am quite happy to enjoy the pleasures of a beach and the proximity of the coast, but what invigorates me, what takes my breath away, are mountains. Mountains that are even better served with ice.


[1] Excuse my sociologically geographical anthropological research terminology that I used once when I did some stuff like about something

[2] Today: breakfast in Paris with a coffee and chocolate stop in Belgium, before reaching Amsterdam for some lunch / clogs / drugs / rooting, and then onto Berlin to buy some wall and drink oversize tankards of frothy beer with serving wenches. Optional sky dive over Denmark.

[3] I’m entirely culpable of this, though I tend to favour pictures of cakes which are typically a lot safer.

Links

NZ glacier country: http://www.glaciercountry.co.nz/

New Zealand highs: http://neiliogb.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/on-high-ground-te-anau-to-franz-josef.html

Aiguille du Midi: http://www.chamonix.net/english/sightseeing/aiguille_du_midi.htm

Le Massif Massif: http://neiliogb.blogspot.com.au/2008/08/fromage-foray.html

Life is a Highway: http://www.contiki.com/

Entrancing on ice: http://www.icefieldsparkway.ca/

Smarter than average: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPbLJnbRTF8

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