When you fall in love with a destination, and re-visit it after many years, there is often a slight risk that it won’t live up to the reputation your rosy memories have bestowed upon it.
For starters, has it changed much since you were there? Are you even the same person you were then, or have your life experiences altered the way you see things? Will you wish you’d never gone back, and left those magical memories intact?
I have no such fears of that last point as I prepare to return to one of my favourite countries in the world – Canada.
I’m about get that RV motor running, and head out on the highway, road-tripping my way around British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast & Vancouver Island with my good friend Kathryn from Travel With Kat
There are new memories to be made. But what of the existing ones from previous visits to this spectacular country? There are so many to choose from, but as a taster, here are just 3 of my unforgettable Canadian experiences.
1.The Quirky Vibes of Vancouver
Nestled between the western edge of the Rockies and the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver’s coastal frontline of docks and shipping containers reminds us that it’s a major player in many industries. But look around you, and you’ll see that it’s cradled in a wealth of natural splendour, with pristine peaks and swathes of lush forests a stone’s throw from the commercial hub. It’s a fabulous location, and the ultimate urban ‘best of both worlds’ setting.
The city itself is fascinating. On the surface it’s conventional, modern and a little mainstream.
Delve a little deeper, and you’ll find several surprises, such as the Sam Kee Building, arguably the ‘thinnest commercial building in the world’. An odd sight, especially with the overhanging bay windows from the 2nd floor up, easily missed if it’s not pointed out to you.
Or the Gastown steam clock, attracting endless pockets of tourists to its quarter-hourly whistle chimes.
Officially built as a city monument, there’s a less savoury alternative explanation for its existence. Allegedly, homeless locals would gather where the clock now stands, because underneath the pavement is a steam vent, resulting in a warm spot. This was deemed undesirable and a ‘timely’ cover-up was devised. The irony is that even more people congregate there now.
But the most surprising discovery in Vancouver was, for me, the existence of marijuana dispensaries, or ‘pot shops’, which at first glance look like any other shop front.
I remember passing one of these outlets and doing a double-take. I wasn’t even sure what it was at first, there were marijuana leaf signs everywhere and yet a note on the door stating ‘Sorry, we don’t sell pot’. I stealthily tried to take a picture, worried that the very act of doing so constituted a crime.
I since learned that in the last few years, many of these so-called dispensaries have opened, but the law has recently changed, sort of. Back then (11 years ago), despite the city being relatively tolerant of recreational cannabis use, there were no official business licenses for dispensing cannabis. The first one was granted just this week. Whatever your views on this, it’s another reason why Vancouver can never be labelled ‘ordinary’.
2.Being Abandoned in Yoho National Park
For a couple of days we’d been resting and recharging at the Kicking Horse campsite. The four of us (myself, my partner and our 2 friends, another couple) had lived in each other’s pockets for days and a couple of disagreements about our itinerary had left the group a little tense. But it was to get much worse. On the morning of our departure, my partner and I had a blistering argument. A festering humdinger of a barney that ended in stony silence. When we left the campsite, the mood was sullen. We were nearing the main road, and I can’t even recall the trigger point, but suddenly, my partner screeched the hire car to a halt and told me to get out.
Without batting an eyelid, I defiantly gathered my backpack and walked out, although inside I was trembling. A mad revving of the engine, and the other 3 were gone. I wandered around for a few minutes, found a small clearing, and sat down on a rock.
I had water and snacks with me. I felt reasonably safe because I knew the campsite wasn’t more than a mile or so away. But I still felt isolated, and knew it would only take one rogue passer-by to put me in real danger. I was so stunned, and to begin with, really rather frightened.
Eventually, I calmed down. As I looked around me and absorbed my environment I began to realise what a privilege it was to just sit there and take it all in. I vividly remember the cries of the eagles soaring high above me, and the intense whooshing of the mountain winds as they swept down through the pine trees. It was divine, and introduced me to a mindful way of thinking, long before mindfulness was even a thing.
Hours passed and the sunset drew near, so I began to walk back to the campsite. I was about half way there when my partner, having had time to reflect on his actions, drew alongside me in the car and said we should talk. I did the sensible thing of course, but not without some reservations. It was quite a day, and one I’ll never forget.
We split a long time ago, and I hold no grudge as he’s a decent chap really. Besides, I’m a silver-lining kind of person, and I know I got far more out of than he did!
3. Discovering Peyto Lake
Most of the most popular glacial lakes in the Rockies can be reached by car or coach. Moraine, Maligne, Medicine, Louise – we’d seen them all, and marvelled at the immense, stark landscapes before us, whilst trying to ignore the occasional hotel sitting incongruously to one side. Even if one of those hotels was the spectacular Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
But there was no getting away from the proximity of civilisation. Then someone, somewhere, suggested we visit Peyto Lake. We hadn’t even heard of it.
‘It’s a 10-15 minute uphill walk off the Icefield Parkway to the viewing platform at Bow Summit’, we were told. ‘Not too steep or challenging, and definitely worth the effort.’
The Icefield Parkway is the main thoroughfare that runs north-west from Banff up to Jasper. So, off we went to see what the fuss was about. In all honesty, the walk itself is a total blur. What has stayed with me, is the moment I stepped onto that viewing platform on the brow of the final slope, and the star-shaped lake came into view. Peyto Lake is a revelation, a pristine turquoise jewel, stunningly set into a carpet of rich green pines, all framed by the majestic Rockies. I felt as if I’d stumbled across a lost world, kept secret to all but a select few. Tearing myself away afterwards was ridiculously hard, as I knew it was possibly the one and only time I’d be there.
When I speak about it and show people internet images of the lake, they assume the real thing is far less impressive. It’s not. ‘No, it’s not a painting, it really does look like that’ I’ve had to repeat over the years. I remain ever spellbound by Peyto Lake, and to this day, it remains the most beautiful glacial lake I’ve seen.
Disclosure: I visited Canada on a couple of trips, one of them private and one work-related. My love for the country has not only endured, but grown, unlike the relationship mentioned!