Hello, it’s me again, along with some pics of my recent holiday – any excuse to show them off 🙂 (Guest authors will be back intermittently for the rest of the year, with their takes on various topics.)
Two weeks after getting back from a week travelling across western Canada with my husband, I’m still partly on Vancouver time and getting daily cravings for stacks of fluffy pancakes drooled in maple syrup. Half of me is lingering in the mountains, entranced by pale blue sulphur-laden lakes and listening out for approaching bears.
To ease the pain of separation, I’ve started a short story inspired by the wonders of the Canadian wilderness, not to mention our experiences while cycling beside lakes near Banff and attempting to catch a flight home at Vancouver Airport. It’s probably also influenced by listening to Robert McCrum’s thoughts on how one can prepare for death on Radio 4’s recent Book of the Week, Every Third Thought. (I’ve been in a morbid mood since.)
The holiday was a bit of a splurge, admittedly. We took the Rocky Mountaineer train from Banff to the west coast, which follows the route of the historic Canadian Pacific railroad for two days, chugging through some startling scenery. On the way the staff entertained us with snippets on the history of the railroad, jokes and bear anecdotes while we tried not to nod off. (Meals and copious alcohol are served on the train.) We passed through a haze from distant forest fires but that didn’t detract from the views: vistas of rock above and twisting rivers below. I spent hours leaning out of the vestibule, my face becoming covered in black soot while I gazed longingly at glinting lakes and the houses beside (and occasionally waving back to all the people who waved at the train).
Sadly, we didn’t manage to see a grizzly in the wild. (There was an announcement that someone spotted a bear from the train; it must have had wandered off by the time our bit of the train passed.) But I was thrilled to see a couple of young orphaned grizzly bears in an enclosure on Grouse Mountain in Vancouver. There’s something extraordinary about being a few feet from an animal that could very easily kill you, but looks so cuddly you’d be tempted to go up and hug it. Afterwards in the same area we watched a wild black bear emerge from some trees and run a few yards along the road towards two girls walking below. Black bears tend not to attack people, I believe – no one seemed overly worried, anyway.
In case you’re wondering about the experiences I mentioned earlier… We were cycling on a path beside some lakes near Banff. As we entered a wooded area we spotted a sign:
Don’t proceed unless you are carrying bear spray
It advised us to make as much noise as possible so as not to startle any lurking bears. There were no bells on the bicycles we hired and after some discussion about the speed of a grizzly relative to us, my husband was keen to turn back. (Also, the path was narrow and the trees dense). Reluctantly, I followed. Next day we heard a warning that mother bear and her cub had been spotted in the same area, telling tourists not to visit. So maybe we made the right decision.
The other incident involved some hallucinogenic ‘snacks’ that we found in a beachside stall and tested (for their pain relieving properties, hand on heart) before heading off to the airport. Bad move. Suffice to say, Vancouver must be one of the worst airports for the clarity of its signs, we discovered while attempting to follow the roped-out maze towards the check-in desk.
Now, safely back in grey-skied London with endless streets replacing endless mountains, I can only go to Canada in my imagination… and fantasise about going back to visit. Or live, even. My husband has already started studying campervans.