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Monday, 23 October 2017

Rocky Road

When you get a glance, a whiff, a taste of what they call wanderlust, you cannot just stop. As if you could just see the tiniest sliver of a place, have the smallest taster where you can only begin to comprehend what it encompasses, and be satisfied with just that. Like with any other country and New Zealand being the prime example that traveling on the road is the best way to see it, there was an unmissable road trip here: An ultimate ride through five stunning national parks that served as the pinnacle of our Western Canadian travels. The Rocky Mountains were all that I had envisioned Canada for the absolute longest time. Having followed travel vlogs of people who were lucky enough to be immersed in such a wonderland, the majestic pictures of the snow capped mountains to the petit charms of the ski villages around had be me entranced by the idea of visiting these places. I was beyond the point of being thrilled to finally realise this desire to see them for myself and create my own interpretation of this incredible natural wonder as another chapter of my experiences.

But given the interest I had developed which created a subconscious expectation in my mind, it is almost bizarrely amusing how different the many parts of the trip was to this imaginative painting in my mind. On our five-day road trip immersed in the nature’s most decadent and grandiose display showcased right outside our windows, I was constantly surprised, consistently amazed and very much realised that there are so many small details that I would never have known just by seeing it on my screen. Even on the first day, our journey to first town of Kelowna was almost reminiscent of travelling through Arizona. That dry and arid landscape was a complete contrast to the full lushness I had imagined, with summer heat beating off the golden mustard soils. It felt like a true vacation, with the lake coming into view as we pulled up to a winery. It sprawled out in front of us lazily as we sipped and tasted the gleaming glasses of sweet ice wine and gentle breezes would sweep in at just the right times to cool us down. But the heat that held between Dad and I lingered and it started to burn. Perhaps it is a bit disappointing for such a start, but there is no point painting a golden picture when in truth there was no bumpier road for our father-daughter relationship than the beginning of it all. Even as we neared the shimmering lakefront, I realised how unhappy I was in that particular moment. In annoyance for the failures of my expectation, in frustration for all the misunderstandings that were so poorly handled, and in sadness that what was meant to be a bonding experience became so strenuous that not even a bright beautiful day where I had such an exciting adventure ahead of me was enough to stop the tears from falling. And worst of all, the guilt that I felt exploded inside; That perhaps I had ruined not just an experience for me but an experience for my Dad who deep down had never done anything but support me. All I could do was let all that was upsetting take its toll so that it would then ebb away and I restore the enthusiastic energy I knew I had for this long awaited trip before I missed any more of it.

But of course something that trivial could no longer dampen anything beyond that one afternoon because the next day we set out to see something magical, and everything that you could imagine from a storybook began to unfold. Briefly driving past Mount Revelstoke National Park to head into Yoho National Park and into the magnificent views of Alberta, there was anything but slow build up to the idealised, stereotypical nature shot of Canada that I had been expecting to see. It was right there in front of us as we rounded the corner to Emerald lake, like a fairytale setting focusing into sight, hidden in its enchanting spot but the first of many natural gems I could vastly believe I was lucky enough to see. It was a gorgeous sight with the jade green colour of the lake against the deeper hues of the pines behind, fading to the grey of the mountains with a brilliant blue background and fluffy white clouds. The cottage was quaint and charming with its bright pops of yellow sunshade to create one of the most picturesque views I have ever seen in my life. But there was no time for the scene to fool me into thinking that nature was only capable of peaceful tranquillity as we moved on to see the force of a river that carved out a natural bridge from stone. Gushing through and eroding away an entire mass of rock, I couldn’t tell if it was the power left me buzzing or the anticipation of the destination I was most looking forward to. If I could even describe Banff as we approached to settled in for the night with my full effort, it would not do it any justice. What we saw later as we strolled along from late afternoon all the way till the sun dipped under the mountains, the photos only show the barest drop of its essence that made it so special to me. It was the perfect evening: A steakhouse dinner in a cozy grill, watching the bright colours from the flowers fade away as the warm luminosity of the interior lights gently seeped through the sky. Anybody who knows me well would completely understand that engineering geek inside made me walk around with my eyes wide in love. The tall timber structures with magnificent masonry columns and detailing as well as lovely big windows that allowed the glow from within to pour into the night had the exact charm that I adore. The town in all of its breathtaking glory was no longer a figment of imagination for me, but a realised dream that made my heart feel light and airy.

Little did I know that it was only a teaser for the wonders of Banff National Park, because just a while after sunrise when the morning still took its time fading in, we had arrived at Bow Falls. Small it may be, but accompanied with the cute grey pebbles that lined the sides and the dim dawn glow still working its magic, it was somewhat of a special little place for me. Taking that small close up detail still meant we had to see the picture blown up from afar, and once again we took to the skies up the peak of Sulphur Mountain to look back down on the natural contours that pieced Banff together. The mixture of fog and smoke created an ominous filter but was light enough for us to see the prowess with the way the landscape meandered and formed. It was nice to get an overview of the place which harboured several incredible lakes, starting with Moraine Lake with its deep blue hues worthy of the difficult road it took to get there as we took on the challenge. The adventure of climbing rocks and battling winds to get to see the large expanse of the lake was exhilarating, with the true vibrancy of the lake shining through as we were rewarded with splashes of sunlight through the thick clouds. But any reluctance to leave quickly melted away as the chateau on Lake Louise appeared in front of us as if a castle had emerged in some enchanting way, guarding a scene of pure tranquillity and simplistic beauty behind it. I was utterly mesmerised as I stepped near the edge of the lake where the still clear water lapped onto the rocks, glancing left and right seeing trees rim the edge leaving a gap of water to meld into the sky. The perfect contrast to its independent and unruly sister I had just seen before, this lake embodied a feeling of grace and elegance. To complete a flawless trifecta, we ended our afternoon with views of Peyto Lake, stoic and unfazed with a green surface that stretched out to claim its place amongst the scene. All three just simple bodies of water, but each with a distinct vibe that like watching three very different children grow up under the same roof.

And yet as insane as it sounds, our day was still not over. If there was any time say ‘the last but certainly not the least’, it would be to describe the end part of that day where we travelled along the Columbian Icefield Parkway from Banff into Jaspar to approach the Athabasca Glacier. After a much needed but rushed transition from summer to winter in our hotel facing the grand glacier itself, I could feel the tiredness of the day battling to rise up but squelched down by the anticipation of walking on a natural glacier. The volatile changes in temperatures still amazed me, but if that got me the chance to see ice at the end of summer of all times, I couldn't help but be thankful for it. As in awe as I was, part of me was glad the red snow bus that carried us from rock to ice had tyres carved with deep marks, especially as we completed a stretch down a slope angled halfway to vertical to reach the heart of the ice. It’s not as if my Dad and I hadn’t seen ice before, but like any normal adult, we both instantly transformed into kids once again. Stepping out onto the bright platform that had us slipping and sliding all over the place was hilarity and what I could only describe as genuine happiness, making the next half an hour pass by with incredible speed. Chilly winds whipped at our faces but still we shuffled, we jumped, we captured what we could of the beautiful shades of white and grey around us as uninterrupted as it could have been being the last bus to the top. There was not a drop of light wasted that day to become what was possibly the most enlightening day amongst nature that I have ever had.  

The icefield mountains was stunning as the light faded, but we couldn’t deny ourselves a bright daylight viewing of them from a different angle. The glacier skywalk which had us hovering above a chasm might have needed thinner glass to make it more daunting, but to stretch out for an immersive view of the area was a nice way to begin another eventful day. Now in a different national park, there was no doubt there would be another beautiful waterfall to see, and the water which flowed from the glacier we had stood on the previous evening would pour out of a gorge to form the Athabasca Falls. The strength of this magnificent gush of water running off the edge was strangely not the only highlight of these glacial falls, and certainly had competition as the water itself was a wonder. The rock flour within the water had the ability to reflect different wavelengths of light during different seasons to produce water colour ranging from aqua blue to milky white. The frothy but slight green tinged colour on our specific day was still a sight to see, and I could imagine how breathtaking it would be to manage a glimpse of those two extremes. But the rush of activities made me yearn for a lazy afternoon, which was thankfully granted by our visit to the Jaspar township as the sun rose to its peak and shone unrelentingly down on us. In many ways, Jaspar was different to what I had imagined. There was a presence of an olden feel, manifesting from the residual mechanical history that just seemed to create a juxtaposition with what we had experienced so far. The quiet environment lacked a certain charm that I had experienced in Banff, although possessing a completely different feel didn’t deter the enjoyment of a nice Italian meal with a cold drink to soak it all in. It was a nice relaxing way to take a break before heading onwards to Maligne Canyon where an erosion process was able to carve out a feature close to fifty metres deep. It’s almost as if things around here are serene and still but also ever dynamic and moving at the same time, and no doubt spending much more than a couple of days could still leave many treasures undiscovered. All so different, all with such character, all so interesting in its unique way.

Heading back on our last day was indeed one of the longest drives, but with the sights still as gorgeous as ever outside the window, I found myself deep in thought throughout most of that day. This trip hadn’t just induced a feeling of constant excitement, but of inspiration. It unravels a realisation that there was so much more out there than I could ever imagine. As we travelled back and submerged ourselves in a region of smoggy haze from the lingering of forest fire smoke, the outside somehow still managed an eerie and mysterious beauty. Nothing could depict better that there are brilliant days and there are bad days, sometimes if not most of the time, beyond our control. Maybe that was when I finally started to see perfection as being something perceivable, and if I had taken something from this rare opportunity to travel with my Dad in an unreal corner of the world, then it was worth more than any conjured image of perfection. It was a rocky road of learning how to be patient and calm, appreciative and grateful. And above all, to understand that if the slice of the world I had seen these past couple of days could manage to be so amazing and resilient and great, there was no reason to ever let insignificant things get the best of me. Because the rockiest of roads have proven to lead to the most gorgeous of places.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Summer Days, Winter Nights

The warm and gentle start that Vancouver was able to give me for my travels was endearing, but I was completely ready for more. Yearning even, the wash of desire to see what more was out there beyond the city limits, past the vicinity of the man made lights. My mind reeled from the stories and the amazing photographs of previous travels, and excitement coursed through me thinking I would be able to experience it for myself very soon. The beauty and individual charms of Whistler and Victoria couldn’t possibly fail to satiate those cravings, and would surely last me until the world renowned Rocky Mountains finally becomes graspable. There were no bounds to the glorious feeling of seeing everything for myself, so close it felt like I was barely an inch away from reaching out and touching it.

After the shorts and singlets, bicycles and iced lattes of Vancouver, the drive to Whistler in our almost winter attire felt bizarre and almost a little bit silly. Admittedly, it was an easy thing to forget as the sea-to-sky highway, named for its formidable illusion of blending the water into the blue above, took us out to the most reminiscent part of Canada that looked and felt like home. Time seemed to pass by so fast it was beyond possibility, and it was astoundingly quick before we approached Shannon falls. A small hike up and we were rewarded with delicate streams of water that fell like wisps of smoke from the rocks. Whimsical and mysterious, like nature was teasing me with a little hint of what it could do. And approaching the snow dusted mountains of Whistler and Blackcomb a few short moments later, then did I realise what I had seen was undoubtedly only a small slither. I was blown away with the grandiose of these mountains that seemed to expand as we approached, emphasised by the almost half hour gondola journey that took us all the way up to the top. The small blankets of white being now closer in the distance transformed the view into something entirely different, a glimmer of winter through the summer days I had been enjoying down below. I didn’t even need to stand on the Olympic podium to feel on top of the world at that moment as the flags blew in the wind beside us against the stunning backdrop, but how could I pass up that opportunity?

Being the absolute nutters we were, Dad and I waited for that rare glass bottom gondola that ran from peak to peak to try to spot those infamous grizzly bears milling around the pines below. It was almost distracting to step in and have that extra surface to look through as the four walls of glass on the sides already gave a stunning enough display of the nature around us. Even with the help of the nice Irish folk and having no such luck spotting the bears, we decided to stop sulking and treat ourselves to a Canadian favourite, meanwhile enjoying the transformation of the view in front of us as the clouds parted for streams of sunlight to leak through. The rich taste of poutine warmed our tummies and gave us the fuel to further our thrilling journey by sitting on a sky chair hovering stories above the ground to appreciate the lakes and grasslands with no barriers, no obstructions. Even as the winds whipped at us and the snow was nowhere beneath our feet, it was calming that I could spend time enjoying everything with my Dad, as if we were sitting in full gear and our long fumbling skis back in New Zealand after our runs. We made sure we had enough time to do a quick explore of Whistler village to enjoy a nice drink when we reached the bottom again. Even being packed with people from the large mountain biking event happening while we were there, that holiday vibe was not at all lost within the bustling activity. Besides, we were far from exhausted, and that energy of that lively atmosphere only gave us a rush that kept us buzzing even after we turned our backs from the snow capped wonders of the west coast.

It was as if the Earth spun impossibly fast, but summer blasted in for our next day’s adventure to Vancouver Island and its floral enchantment of a capital, Victoria. The ride on the early bus almost simulated a feeling of gliding on the serene blue water around us as it travelled on the pier that approached the bay for docking. It still amazes me that the ferry services are able to take not just passengers but cars and even large vehicles across at the same time. On the dock where a chilly breeze blew through, the motion of the boat was almost undetectable and the sun shone to split the ripples into glimmering shards in the water. A lovely woman even let me use her special glasses to then see the much talked about rare eclipse, with the moon orbiting past to join us in soaking up the warm of the sun. As if it knew that this fresh summer day was not one to shy away from and and instead promised to set the scene for Vancouver Island’s most beautiful display. But after all this time with the clean white of clouds and snow, the miraculous blue of the seas and the sky, I was hopeful to see some other pops of colour. Needless to say, what I instead received was an explosion of it as we entered the city centre of Victoria about an hour later. Flower patches and blossoming bouquets were absolutely everywhere as we strolled along the harbour. The architectural feel of the parliament, hotel and museum structures stood out even more prominently under the summer bloom around. The old vibe resonated through the town even as we reached the edge of the island. There, it was really interesting to see the starting point of the TransCanada highway, Mile Zero and discover some of the historical significances of it. Almost symbolic of my travels in a way: To be at the starting point and know that within the next several months, I’ll be moving through the way the country in the same way the roads were paved.

But the most incredible destination of the day unlike anything that seems humanly possible to maintain and upkeep were the stunning Butchart Gardens. Entering them was like stepping foot into an extravagant florist’s dream: Petals of all sizes, bursts of all colour, arrangements of all sorts no matter where you turned. It was almost hard not to take gorgeous pictures that looked like something like it was taken straight out of a magazine from all the vibrancy around, leaning towards being ostentatious even. There were no complaints though as colours painted themselves on the camera screen with flawless effort, and every new view became more intriguing than the last. It was easy to lose yourself in there and spend hours exploring even just one section of the massive gardens, each with its own distinct flair and layout. But even with such a bright and happy atmosphere, the disagreements began to bubble between Dad and I. Perhaps in the slow building heat, the fatigue of the week had begun to catch up to us. It was in that moment that I had a self realisation where capturing these travel memories on camera was only a very small aspect of it, something that should be secondary to actually living in the moment. Living the experience was worth a thousand times more than spending all my time getting a perfect shot. Everything aside, we were still little children at heart and it was nothing a little ice-cream couldn’t fix. Dwelling on it didn’t seem possible, not when the Dad’s mango sorbet seemed to disappear like it was sucked into a hoover while I licked my honey and lavender one as slowly as possible to make it last. I would be lying if I said the trip didn’t take fair bit out of us and the energy started to seep out slowly. As if I could pretend we didn’t lazily snooze around on the ferry back, the sunshine still lingering beneath our skin even as it faded away from the sky.

Winter one day, summer the next. Without experiencing it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it for a second. It would seem appropriate to mention that I have once been told that people only discuss the weather when there is really nothing much to talk about. In any case, here I am with a million things bursting from my mind that I want to recapture on the page and all I can focus on is the strange but somewhat marvelling changes. That stark but thrilling contrast to give me the most wonderful opportunity to capture some of the gems in British Columbia. Sitting here a few weeks later in a cafĂ© writing this post and reliving the vivid imagery in my mind embodies the entirety of travel blogging for me. The journey that produced a thousand pictures has created an indisputably incredible impression of the country I will call home for the next couple of months, even if it cannot be more different than night and day.