Thursday, July 18, 2013

5 day canoe journey into remote BC

I spent four days this week doing my first out trip with work. I work with young people who get in trouble with the law; at a camp in the wilderness where they live for four months. In the summer we take them on hiking and canoe trips. This week was my first canoe trip with the group. We planned a four night, 5 day trip, a six hour drive near Alexis Creek in the Chilkooten area of British Columbia. This is an area I have not spent much time in, and only once went through passing through Bella Cola on the coast when I went commercial fishing when I was 17. I didn't even know we were doing the trip with work until I showed up to work 30 minutes late driving back from the Rockies. Luckily that I am homeless now and had all my outdoor gear in my car.

The first three hours we drove on paved highway, and then three more hours on a dirt road. We were delayed quite a bit by cows sitting in the middle of the road. Some of the kids were from Vancouver and hadn't spent much time out of the city, and were quite amused by the fact that there were cows just out on the road hanging out. We never ran into anyone else for the next 5 days other than one canoe we saw way in the distance who never approached us. Each day we would set up camp, sleep, take it down the next morning and move on to the next camp spot by canoe. We had 6 canoes and one kayak. When we would get to the end of one lake we would either have to canoe down creeks to the next lake, or carry are canoes and gear on are heads and walk down trails until we got to the next lake. We saw some deer, a bunch of white pelicans, but the best part was defiantly the fishing. There were a few spots on the lakes where there were always fish jumping, and everyone on the trip caught at least one fish (25 in two hours), even the kids who hadn't ever fished before. We would cook the trout up over the fire and then eat them with are hands :) It reminded me of my 16 months in Nunavut, eating seals, whale and fish straight out of the ocean! There wasn't much fruit and veggies packed on the trip, so I learned about these small red berries that were everywhere, and had a high vitamin C content. I loved the berries, but few others shared my tastes because of the sourness of them.

One side trip we did was to a water fall on the ridge of the lake that took us a while to hike up to. Water was shooting off the cliff and into the ground. Me and a bunch of others hiked to the bottom of it and had fun playing around and cooling down.

Unfortunately I can not share pictures of the youth from the trip for confidentiality reasons, but I can assure you most of them had a blast, we we were all very tired when on Friday we got back to main camp. This was one week where I am super happy that I work where I do, and I feel the connections you can gain with people in these types of experiences are unlike those you can develop by just sitting around! I suggest doing trips like this if you can at least once a year, as they are tough work, but very peaceful and can bring out your inner wild man or woman!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Cowboy hats and Grizzly bears in the Canadian Rockies

I decided to head to the Calgary Stampede (Canada's largest festival) leaving from the farm I was previously staying at in Mcbride. Kunal (a friend) met me in Mcbride, and together we headed towards Calgary, via the scenic, bear territory of Jasper and Lake Louise. I have seen every type of bear in North America including the polar bear in the wild; with the exception of the famous grizzly bear. I really want to see one, but they have avoided me out of fear of my good looks, even though I have spent lots of time in Northern BC. For this trip I made sure to keep my eye out for Grizzlies as there are tons around here in the Canadian Rockies.

I left Mcbride at about noon. About two hours into the road trip there were a bunch of cars parked out on the side of the road and I almost hit one because they stopped so suddenly. I was about to get mad (or as mad as I can really be...) but I couldn't, because about 8 meters from the road, in the grassy field, was a big grizzly bear! I got out of the car and watched it eat dandelions in the grass. Almost all of the other people watching the bear from their cars were from other places as I over heard British, German and Indian accents talking about the bear. Jasper/Banff National park definitely has the most foreign tourists for a park in Canada, and for good reason as it is stunningly gorgeous! That grizzly was a really good luck omen to start to the trip with my new travel buddy for the next two days!
The first Griz I have seen in the wild!

About 20 minutes later we stopped off in the town of Jasper to grab some food quick. I wanted to go to Pizza Hut and eat quick, but Kunal wanted to be more adventurous and try some other restaurant that served pizza. It took about 20 minutes, and 20 bucks later for their largest pizza at this cafe on main street. We got the smallest “biggest” pizza with nothing really on it. That is a mistake I will avoid in the future, and should have realized. Most restaurants in a tourist town like Jasper (or most other tourist towns throughout the world) are sure to have crappy food at over priced rates, and you would be better off packing a lunch and eating it somewhere nice, or taking time to look around and see where the best food is served and for the right price!

Heading out of Jasper we stopped off at this lake we saw through the trees with crystal clear blue water to swim in. A sign said that there were lots of cliffs to “fall off of” and use the park at your own risk. We had come to a cliff jumping haven with no-one else there. After checking to make sure I wouldn't splatter my brains by jumping I threw rocks off the cliffs and counted how long it took the rocks to sink before I couldn't see them anymore: 6 seconds so I assumed we were good to go. I flung off the highest cliff I could find (my second favorite thing in the world to do), about 7 meters, and hit the crystal clear blue water, which surprisingly was not that cold. Climbing back up the cliff I did it about four more times. Across the lake we saw a mother black bear with her cub.

Further down the road we checked out the Athabasca Falls which I am sure I would die on if I tried to kayak off of; but were quite spectacular to look at even for Canadian standards. Later in the evening driving towards Banff I saw for the first time a black wolf chilling on the side of the road. We got to the Columbia Ice Fields at about 8pm and there was nobody else there which was cool (this is ranked the number one place to see in a lot of guidebooks for Canada). We walked on the glacier a bit. I wanted to camp there for the night, but Kunal wanted to hit Lake Louise, and traveling with someone you have to sometimes compromise... so we continued on. The scenery from Jasper through to Lake Louise was really, really cool, with jagged rocky mountains, glaciers, crystal clear blue water and a lot of wild life everywhere. That being said there were a lot of tourists which can take away from the rugged feeling, but is to be expected with a place as seriously beautiful as this, and my advice is to just embrace it!
Ice fields
Athabasca Falls

In Lake Louise the hostel was full, so we hit a overnight camping spot just out of town, where you're allowed to have a trailer... but no tent? To me that's just ignorant. Why would the government encourage you to sleep in a metal can out in the middle of nature? Unless they want you to spend money and get entrenched in a system that keeps you working for things you don't need; or maybe I am just crazy?! Anyways, we found a camping spot behind some trees where some other tents were pitched. Unfortunately there wasn't much space and we pitched the tent on an incline, and had a horrible sleep. Oh well, it's part of learning I guess. Lesson: When camping in a national park, find your spot at least two hours before dark, make sure its in a flat area that won't get covered in water if it rains, and away from the eyes of unwanted visitors! Overall a great day, and I got to see an amazing part of Canada that I hadn't really explored before!

The next afternoon we arrived in Calgary where I met an old friend from school who had a hotel downtown through his work and allowed us to stay in it overnight. Calgary Stampede is a massive outdoor festival, and was created to celebrate the ranching lifestyle that is present in the Prairies, although over the last decade or more, the Prairies has been transformed into an oil based economy.

I honestly was disappointed with the stampede, as in my head I envisioned a bunch of real cowboys and cowgirls, doing crazy cowboy things like riding horses through town, shooting stuff with their pistols, spitting in spittoons, bull riding on the streets, etc. What it actually was was a huge outdoor market selling mostly useless things and overpriced tickets for parties, shows, events, etc. This is nothing new, and I should have known this, as I found a similar experience when I spent Saint Patrick’s Day in Dublin, Ireland. It seems all the famous festivals around the world have been taken over by business interests and personally, I can't really unwind and have a good time when people are looking at you with dollar signs in their eyes instead of genuinely wanting to welcome you to their event and home. Anyways I stayed there for the night, watched some chuck wagon races (old school horse wagons, four horses, and a race around a track), ate some really good ribs at a cool bar in town, and went out with my two buddies for the night. The next day I basically spent driving back through the National Park to get back in time for work on Monday.

It seems like the less money that is involved in life, the more enjoyment and fulfillment I get out of it. Two of my most memorable trips were volunteering in Zambia, and couch surfing/ hitch hiking around Iceland. Both trips cost me little outside of plane tickets, but both places I made real connections, learned a lot, and was able to enjoy myself. When I end up touring around famous places like London, the Stampede, Dublin on Saint Patty's day, etc and don't have specific plans, I find I get caught in tourist traps, overspending, and not really meeting people and learning about the true environment I am in. This is a point I want to make to those who always wonder how I can afford to travel so much: You don't need to spend much to travel, and often when you end up spending a lot, especially in cities, you don't experience much as you will end up in a hotel, eating at nice or overpriced restaurants (where the population doesn't go often), and it is hard to make genuine connections with people as often they see you as a customer, instead of as a companion. For me when I travel or even stay at home, I need real adventure, dealing with people who are genuine and want to be around me, and I am able to accomplish things by doing, rather then paying!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Private waterfalls and cheese making!

My week getting off of work started with Canada Day (Canada's national holiday), and me moving the last few things out of my old place. I got off work from the bush at about 2pm and it was 34 degrees Celsius outside, so me and my friend rushed to town and picked up his boat and we headed to the Nechako river (a river that goes through parts of town and the bush that is popular for people to float down on boats and floaties, with or without beers. When we started out floating there were surprisingly not many people around, and no one swimming. Some kids passing by on a canoe with their dad and looked at me funny as I was swimming beside my boat down the river. We would soon find out why no one else was on the the river: A thunderstorm started and rain came down so hard it hurt wearing nothing but a swim suit. It only lasted 20 minutes, and the rest of the cruise was nice, with jumping off the 10 meter bridge (my second favorite thing to do in Prince George) being the highlight.

Tuesday morning I headed out of town in my car through one of the most isolated major Highways in Canada (Highway 16), 220 km east of Prince George towards the rocky mountains, to a town called McBride. The 220km between Prince George and McBride has absolutely nothing in between it except forest, rivers and mountains, and once driving through I had seen 10 bears in 2 hours. I went to McBride to Wwoof with a German family who lived on a farm outside of town (Wwoofing is where you work and learn about farming in exchange for free lodging and food). McBride is a small small town, surrounded by very tall mountains on all sides of it. I came to this town partly because it's on the way to Calgary to get to the Stampede, and also because I wanted to know what life is like in this area of BC, as it has always been one of my favorite areas due to the natural beauty and outdoor potential, and I want to know how viable it is to be able to run a self sustaining farm this far north.

I got to the farm, and only two of the four residents were there, the daughter Lena who also attends UNBC and her father who had come from Germany in the late 70's and started the farm with his wife. The other two members of the family were on a trip in Germany. On the farm they had two goats, a bunch of chickens and Guineas (sort of like chickens, and native to Africa), two donkeys, a bunch of ducks, and a dog. My favorite animals were the two goats, because they have the goofiest looks, walked around like curious dogs, and loved attention. I would definitely have goats on my farm, as they produce a lot of milk, eat everything, and most importantly make you laugh. The ducks would walk around the farm in a big group, following you from a distance, but then would run away when you try to get near which is hilarious because they all run in unison together. I realize now where the new duck butt high fade hair cut comes from :p  The ducks anti social behavior aside, I still love them because duck is my favorite dish to eat, and the Ducks are my favorite hockey team! I stayed for three nights on the farm, helping garden, milk the goats, take down some fencing, transport the donkeys down the road to the neighbors farm and many other things. The most interesting thing I did was make cheese (Lena showed me how) because I never actually knew how it was made. You make it by taking milk from the goat, heating it up, putting some fermenting stuff in it, let it sit for six hours, then drain it in a cheese cloth. Then you compress the cheese into a block, and let it sit in cold storage for a few months. Another thing on the farm I really liked doing was milking the goats, and the best part about it was drinking the warm milk straight from the tit...... just joking, drinking it from the bucket! One thing I realize about farms is that they really bring a family together, and the children that live there often do well academically and are hard workers because it is easier to concentrate on homework in your room when the alternative is pulling weeds in the garden. The reason for families being close on farms I feel is because they must all come together for a common purpose (running the farm) and at the end of the day they can often relate to each other a lot more because they have been doing the same thing all day. Growing up in the city, most parents have two separate jobs, and the children go to school. After school, kids go to after school care, and when everyone gets home, often we go out to hang with friends from school or go to extra curricular activities such as sports. When most families are home together, they are usually on the TV or computer, although there also good social times in the city and every family is different, and I know some very close families from the city as well.

Lena took me on a short trip outside of town to go see rainbow falls, a huge water fall that exists on private property. I couldn't believe how big it was, and there was nobody there! I went under the falls and got soaked, then we climbed to the top of the falls (literally) and you could see the whole city of McBride and all the mountains around it. I was pretty nervous sitting on a ledge at the end of the falls as it was at least a 25 meter drop below, but Lena had no problem! I would recommend visiting McBride, but make sure you stay on a farm, because I am sure if you just went to the town you would die of boredom! 

I don't know if I would start a farm in the area though, because it seems like there is a ton of snow and cold in the winter, and it would make it a ton of work to keep up. I want to check out farms farther south and in other countries such as in Africa, Australia, and especially New Zealand. 
Straight from the tit!


How a homeless man showers!