Thursday, October 7, 2010

O Canada!

I returned from South America August 13, 2010 with a real mix of emotions. I was super excited to be reunited with Dalene, yet after a night layover in Miami and then being back in Calgary, I was overwhelmed with North American culture. Thankfully, we did not stay in Calgary for long and we whisked away to the Crowsnest Pass to enjoy a weekend alone together in the wilderness.

This was the start of our road trip in Western Canada. A friend of ours mentioned that we probably know more about South American countries then we do about our own country. She was right. Traveling in South America for a year has opened our eyes to beauty around us, and it has also gave us a new appreciation for the beauty in our own country. We were very excited to explore it.

For those who don't know Crowsnest Pass (CNP) is situated about 180km south-west of Calgary. A series of small towns situated at the base of the Rocky Mountains is a little haven for hiking, fishing, mountain climbing, golfing, rafting and pretty much any outdoor activity you can think of. All of this without the tourist influx of Banff and Jasper, and much more reasonably priced. We think this little known secret won't be a secret too much longer.

Also, the CNP is known for the Frank Slide. In 1903 the small mining town of Frank was obliterated by a mountain collapsing and the rock covering the whole town in the middle of the night. The slide killed 90 people and it is now a national historic site.

Remnants of Frank's Slide

After the few days of unwinding in the Crowsnest and a quick family visit in Lethbridge, we made our way up north to Grimshaw to visit Dalene's extended family. We stayed for 6 days with Dalene's Gram and enjoyed what Northern Alberta had to offer. In fact, one day trip to visit a cousin in Hawk Hills was the furthest north in Alberta that I have ever been. We were only a few hundred kilometers to the border of the Northwest Territories.

We were lucky that one of Dalene's uncles wanted to get out on the lake with his new boat and do some fishing. So off to Lake Atikameg we went for a day full of fishing. What a day it was! The rookies (me and Dalene) out-caught Uncle Ken and Uncle Calvin, but lucky for us they did the dirty work of cleaning the fish after. We (less Dalene) enjoyed our feast of fresh pike and pickerel the next evening with the family.

One of Dalene's big catches


After northern Alberta we ventured to Edmonton for my brother's wedding (the main reason we came home from South America). A great week topped off with a beautiful wedding in nearby Wetaskawin. We left Wetaskawin and headed for Vancouver Island.

This was not a quick little drive by any means, but the drive alone through the Rocky Mountains, the Okanagan, and then finally to the coast was stunning. After stops with friends in Bragg Creek, Kelowna, and Abbotsford, we got enough great advice (while indulging in countless glasses of wine) about what to do once we got to the Island.

The 2 hour ferry ride from Vancouver to Nanaimo was the first leg, and on the way we were treated to a pod of killer whales swimming just in front of the ferry - first time we had ever seen them!
We got to shore and headed for our first camp. Just outside of Parksville is Rathtrevor Provincial Park. We were treated to great walks on the beach, admired the jelly fish and birds, and enjoyed a stunning sunset. A good start I'd say! The next day we went over to Qualicum Beach to check out the beaches because the tides seem to go out for killometers. Some truly remarkable sights.

Tide out, humans in


We spent 2 nights here at Rathtrevor, and unfortunately the weather was highly uncooperative and we got soaked. Seeing as it rains on Vancouver Island about 200 days a year, this was no surprise. But as we were tenting it, it was very frustrating to be so wet, cold, and to have to put away a wet tent - we decided to put the camping gear away and splurge a little and get a bed and breakfast for the remaining nights on the island.

Off to Tofino we went for 3 nights and days exploring the Pacific Rim National Park. Along the way we stopped at one of our favourite spots on the whole Island - Cathedral Grove. It is an old forest of trees up to 800 years old. The trees are covered in green moss, giving the forest a very mystical and enchanting quality. Not to mention, some of them are really huge, one is even bigger then the leaning tower of Pisa in Italy.

Tofino is on the southwest part of the island, and is known for its surf and laid back lifestyle in a stunning locale. Lucky for us we came at the end of tourist season and so didn't have to combat the large crowds that exist during the summer months. In Tofino we took in many hikes in the National Park, watched the surfers from the beach while enjoying some good books, and also got to do some great sea kayaking to enjoy the sights of wildlife that this area had to offer.

Surfers on Chesterman Beach

Long Beach



Victoria was our next destination. We packed up the car and drove the 5 hours to meet Dalene's famous hairstyling cousin for a few days. David was a very generous host, he was our guide in this beautiful city. We took a walk down to the harbour, a stroll through China town, and of course found some time to sit and have a pint. And one of the best things about the city is how environmentally conscious it is - a nice breath of fresh air (literally) in comparison with that of truck saturated Alberta.

After Victoria we had to start making our way back to Alberta first for an Arcade Fire concert, and for a short 10 day house/cat sitting stint for Dalene's Mom. We quickly stopped back in Abbotsford to surprise a friend for her birthday, and then the next morning we were back to being eastward bound.
A long drive again, but we took our time through the Crowsnest Pass highway. We were treated to many different terrains of geography. The coast, to tall tree forests, the desert of Osoyoos, back to pine forest in the Rocky Mountains, and then back to the Plains in Alberta. We made it to the concert (barely after a flat tire), but it was a great way to cap off our road trip in Western Canada.

What lies next?
Dalene answers that in the next blog, as we have *just* answered that question ourselves. I keep seeing a savings plan commercial on TV that has someone singing "If I only had a plan..." So far, our life of non-planning has been working out quite well. What do they know??? =)

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