Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Campervan: Day Two - Osoyoos ->Nelson

We all woke up at different times and went on short walks around the area. There didn't seem that much to see other than the closed-down campsite but Gabby and Ryan were gone for about an hour longer than the rest of us. While we were flirting with the idea of being worried or annoyed they appeared after getting stuck at the bottom of a waterfall. Classic.

The View on our dirt road
Paul made sure we were on the road the second they got in the door and we drove to the town of Greenwood which was recommended to us by the tourist office back in Princeton. Greenwood was a small western town with colourful houses but also BC's smallest city and the best tasting tap water in the world (officially). Whenever a tourist information was closed we always resorted to the nearest bar or gas stations and actually turned out to be more useful to us. Here we found out about a mysterious dirt track through the mountains- the first of many unadivisable routes we'd take and not tell the tour company. We asked at the gas station if they thought we could take the camper up there  and it was a hesitant "mmmm maybe."

Grand Forks

It was at least an hour winding up dirt tracks that passed a disused mine, ski centre and several viewpoints of trees. This route was miles more interesting than taking the highway and dropped us off near the town of Grand Forks which my guidebook described as being "not very grand at all." It was right. We stopped at their modest Tourist Information and followed a trail in town and I, at least, was under the impression that we were heading to some waterfalls. However the trail finished abruptly after about ten minutes of walking at a small beach by the river which was at least a perfect place to have lunch. On the way back the camper we were rewarded for the strenuous walk with a sighting of deer a few meters of the trail.

Cascade Falls
Back on the road again we were actually on the lookout of "Cascade Falls"  which were a stone's throw away from the US border. The falls were a short walk up(hill) from the highway and as impressive as it was just to look at them from there we continued on along the side of the falls on a mini adventure. Our scrambling through the forest took us to a popular beach site as we realised there was a path next to our own trail. The beach provided a nice spot for the sunbathers but a pasty person such as myself would rather dip her toes in the glacial streams. On the walk back to the campervan we had some close encounters with marmots and deer before heading straight to Nelson.

Wild sunbathing

Nelson was highly praised in our guidebooks as a nice little town full of hippies in a picturesque background. However according to a local it only appears to be full of hippies as they are left unemployed while fairly right-wing conservatives get all the jobs. Nelson was mainly  just a wifi/charging spot for us but the hip café's from the guidebook were all closed by the time we arrived so we resorted to the mall. It's terrible how although leaving at separate times we all found ourselves flocking to the wifi at the mall. It wouldn't be a stop on the map without having a look in the tourist information and collecting more maps - most of which ended up as fire kindling. We parked the camper two minutes down the road at the lakeside in front of the Prestige hotel in the innocent belief we'd be there just for dinner. A posh Kraft Dinner and four hours later we were falling asleep .

Friday, May 24, 2013

When In Zanzibar...

Nine o' clock felt like a lie in compared to the past few days but I could have happily stayed in bed much longer. After a fancy breakfast I showered which was entirely pointless as I ran straight into the sea. The weather wasn't cooperating much but even with clouds the water was tantalisingly warm and often warmer than the surrounding air.

Some of the group were heading off to go on a fishing trip with local fisherman but since I could do that anyday back home I decided to take some time for myself and write my arsenal of 21 postcards. For lunch, a group of us headed to a bar next door where we realised that the prices in Zanzibar were triple those on the mainland but the food was ten times better. Zanzibar cuisine is very seafood based and lobster makes a regular appearance on menus, and is not just crabsticks, cooked in curries with a coconut milk sauce. Back to the beach and I found a hammock to write my postcards while nursing a tia maria and coke. Ahhh Paradise...

In the evening there was a Full Moon Party - despite the moon not being full - and we were used to seeing everyone looking rather dishevelled and unwashed so it was fun to dress up a bit. Some people were already tipsy at dinner but my Scottish liver was resilient as ever. For dinner we headed down to the hotel restaurant which was on the beach and luckily we got a nice waitress who turned a blind eye to our not-so-subtle swigging of "water" and "coke". Even after pizza the majority of our group were in full "drunk-Brit-abroad" mode and some were even escorted to bed *cough* Jill (no surprises there).
Thomas' moves

Back at the restaurant there were fire breathers and some phenomenal dancers and strange Michael Jackson tribute act. Then they opened the floor up to us, probably not their best move, but Thomas' alcohol infused moves got everyone else in the bar on the dancefloor. The night was spent dancing to "Waka-waka" which seemed to be on loop, spotting a wild Cougar Kyra (if you get what I mean), crashing on - and off- of hammocks before finishing with a midnight swim. Well that wasn't strictly speaking the end of the night as it took until about 4am before I got Emma dressed and Kyra into a bed -be it hers or mine. Snorkelling should be fun tomorrow!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Campervan: Vancouver - Osoyoos

The first shop...
So as I said before, I was sent on a wild-goose chase around Vancouver to find five exchange students and a campervan. It was harder than I initially thought as even after finding one, we went several miles in the wrong direction before having to hitch-hike our way to this Walmart (yes Mum, I hitchhiked). The group were scared of going anywhere beyond the carpark after the traumatic experience driving a mile of Vancouver's suburbs so they didn't want to pick us up and looked terribly stressed about it after we arrived. After the food shopping we convinced them to continue on as even two weeks at Walmart would soon lose it's charm.

Me, Ryan, Anne, Paul and Gabby after the first night...
So the campervan crew to start with was made up of Gabby (Dutch - fuelled by coffee and a love of life), Paul (Austrian - Can go from child to grandpa in two seconds), Anne (Danish - she grabs life by the balls - well when she isn't asleep) and Ryan (Aussie - says it all). So our plan was to tour through British Columbia but I didn't really know the route when I arrived and to be fair either did the rest of them. However the general idea was to drive down along near the US border and then drive up ending in Jasper near the end of my two weeks.

So we drove out of Vancouver heading south east towards the town of Hope but went past and hopelessly (coudn't help myself) drove on working out where to camp as it was dark even before we left Vancouver. We just parked at the side of the road which turned out to be a popular meeting point for truckers during the night.

Lightening Lake
We woke up freezing cold - similar to my single-glazed house in Dundee during winter - which was probably something to do with parking in a valley shaded by rather large mountains. After breakfast we drove to Lightening Lake and ignored the first of many 'Closed' signs. The lake was entirely snowed over and we enjoyed the first taste of the Rockies.

Eager to see more we headed to Princeton where we stopped at our first Tourist Information - the first of a inter-province tour or Tourist Information Offices. It was also only the first day when we experienced our first key-loss scare. We were advised of several nice little towns along the ways with attractions from gold mines to mountain goats - both of which were very elusive.

Headley - Mountain goats and gold mines.
As we drove on we moved from an icy mountainous landscape to wine country in the middle of Tuscany. The Mediterranean mindset was also there as we fell asleep on a lake-shore reaping the benefits of the boiling temperatures. We had arrived at Osoyoos which is known as Canada's desert but didn't look or feel like Canada at all but more like the US. However that might have had something to do with us having to stay in the near vicinity of a MacDonalds to steal wifi while Ryan sorted his banking issues. We parked up at a beautiful lakeside campsite for dinner and went for a "swim" in the lake. The contrast between the temperatures that woke us up was incredible it was nearing 30 degrees now. Our dinner was just spagetti bolognaise but -as with all camping food - it tasted amazing! With the italian dinner and sunshine we definitely felt miles away from Canada.

Again, to avoid campsite fees, we drove on and parked at the side of the road alongside some deer. The days were surprisingly tiring and so we fell asleep ridiculously early (for me anyway) but only to be woken up by the carbon monoxide alarm through the night, the first of many appearances.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tofino, Vancouver Island

Being from Stromness -a small seaside town on an island in Scotland - I couldn't help but make comparisons between Tofino, a small seaside town on Vancouver Island in Canada. Other than the location near a major ocean an the population size, there was little similarity between these two towns.

Tofino is on the west coast of Vancouver Island that has taxi's equipted with surfboard racks and more places offering whale-watching tours than offering coffee. I started my morning by smashing my phone after dropping it on the bus (it can last anything usually but a bus floor? No!) and I was reunited with the rain. After what could have been a scenic ferry from Horseshoe Bay in North Vancouver to Nanaimo there was a four hour bus to endure. The bus driver tried his best to be entertaining but the crowd was dampened in more ways than one. There was a break in Port Alberni which was a fairly uninspiring town between Nanaimo and Tofino, but that might have had something to do with the weather. Although the town was tiny I still managed to get lost but even when I found my hostel the reception was closed for an hour. You may have noticed that most things weren’t in my favour but I decided by changing that by heading straight for a surf school to book myself in for a lesson tomorrow morning.

After a rejuvenating shower I got outside and the sun was shining and Tofino was showing me why people keep finding themselves back here. Every person I spoke to in Tofino had visited on a holiday and either never returned or made their way back as soon as possible. Tofino itself appears small but stretches out far along the highway, however just wandering through the main town gives you stunning views reminiscent of Norway’s fjords.

My surf lesson was with a company called Surf Sisters which was run entirely by women (but doesn't exclude men from their lessons) and is the only surf school in Canada to be certified by the National Surf Schools and Surf Instructors Association 
. Tofino is littered with offerings of surf schools and it’s very much a case of finding one that makes you feel instantly comfortable - especially as a beginner. I was booked in a group booking which consisted of me and a seven piece hen party. Thankfully though the type of women who go on hen-parties to learn how to surf are not as intimidating as your standard hen party guzzling champagne on the train with tight PVC costumes.

We were directed to Cox Beach where we squeezed into our wetsuits feeling like we’d just finished Christmas dinner. After the laborious process of peeling on our wetsuits we then had to carry the boards down to the beach to get some lessons on land where we were taught the basics of surf safety and etiquette. For example there is only one rider per wave and the boarder to the right of you always has right of way so if they start riding a wave you can’t just jump in. The pop-up technique is - unsurprisingly- easier on land that the water but the theory is so simple it shouldn’t be. As soon as you see a good wave - one that hasn’t broken yet- you should paddle hard until you feel the wave take you, then allow yourself three more strokes before trying the pop up. While paddling you should have your chin high off the board and feet together (Cobra yoga position) and after the wave has caught you, you put your feet under your shoulders and pop your front foot forward. It’s at this point where you have to find the courage to stand up fully and then try to not panic about what to do now you are standing up.

Surfing takes a lot of practice but instead of getting frustrated about not getting it right you want to get back out and try again. After three hours of close contact with sea water I had managed to stand up on my board for all of about three seconds but at the time it felt like long enough to look like a pro.

That evening it was raining like I have never seen rain before - you couldn’t see where they sky ended and the sea began. An evening in the hostel was still used for sightseeing though -from the common room window I saw both a Bald Eagle and some Sea Otters frolicking in the rain.

Tofino does have it’s fair share of trendy little cafés 
filled with organic coffees, fairtrade homebakes and lost souls looking for an epiphany “out west.” The following day I toured the town collecting baked goods for my packed lunch as I was heading out to some natural hotsprings for the day at Maquinna Marine Park. The trip involved a three hour boat trip winding through the islands surrounding Tofino which was a chance to spot whales or even bears. The company I was with was called Ocean Outfitters which, coincidentally, has a super trendy and super expensive clothing store inside. Our skipper was called Rob ad seemed very young in jeans and a snap-back - very different to the skippers I was used to- and I assumed that licencing must be a bit more lenient here.

First we headed out around Vargas Island as another tour had called over the radio that there were the Vagras sub-species if Grey Wolf by the coast. These wolves looked a lot more like German Shepherds than wolves and were pretty camouflaged in the sand and forests but came onto the shore to eat from seal carcasses

One of the boards later on had 'No' on it. Unrelated of course.
The boat we travelled in was very small and the ride was more than rough but I inherited my fathers stomach so managed to keep breakfast inside. The trail to the hotsprings began at a small tranquil jetty  in the middle of Nowhere - well more accurately Manquinna National Park. The half-hour board walk led you through dense temperate rainforest where almost every board had been engraved with a ships name, a saying or even a proposal.

You could smell the springs before you saw the steam bubbling up through the ground. As you got closer to the shore the water - thankfully- got cooler as the sea splashed into the lower pools. There were rocks that caught the water flowing down from a hot shower-like waterfall to form three pools. Hot springs are very much like a hot bath that never cools down and after two hours of soaking I have no idea how I did not turn into a cooked lobster.

I got back to Tofino at around 8pm and thought I would head to the (only) pub in town. One of the girls that had moved into my room was from Edmonton but had studied Vet-med at Edinburgh and knew people from my school and I also met a girl who studied in Stirling after returning from the pub! I love small world moments! The pub had an open mic night but I must have been spoilt  with the Open Mic’s in Guelph as I was not very impressed. I was ,however, impressed with Tofino Brewing Company’s beer - it’s blonde was tastier than Scarlett Johansson.

It was blue skies and sunshine for my bus ride back to Nanaimo and ultimately Vancouver. I am yet to find a time to read or watch a film while on the move because the view out the window has been much more exciting. After a perfect crossing to Horseshoe bay I was back in the city and had to make my way to a random Walmart somewhere on the outskirts of Vancouver to meet up with a group of four other international students to tour British Columbia. However that is a whole other story...

Ahh Scotland, if you could see me now!