Originally I was going to do it as a roadtrip but due to organisational problems (like not organsing anything) I decided to take the easy option and buy a train ticket. This was a really good deal though - 30 days for a ticket across Canada and the USA for around 280 pounds. The first leg of the journey was a 3 day trip from Toronto to Vancouver. At first I thought 3 days on a train was a bit much but it ended up being a great way to travel across Canada. Especially since I was sitting amongst some nice Canadian folk. Canadians are probably some of the friendliest people I have met. Which made the train journey alot more bearable. On the first day I was taught how to play Gin Rumy and other card games which would help pass most of the time. During the first leg we travelled through the forests and icy lakes of Ontario - winter was arriving
. As we travelled through Ontario my travel companions Paul and Kat informed me of a moose sighting. I was still keen to see this elusive creature - in fact this was one of my main objectives while travelling across Canada. But unfortunately I wasn't to see one (apart from a dead one on the back of a truck). To get through Ontario alone took around one day. The second day took us through the flat prairies of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. This was the boring part of the trip. And it didn't help that the only movie they would play was Glitter. One of the train officials seemed to have a fixation with Mariah Carey ...."it was even nominated for an academy award!" didn't really raise the already very low levels of enthusiasm. Later we found out he only put it on because he knew no one would be able to sit through it and therefore he could have an early night! But we had our card games and puzzles. The third day we started to head into the Rockies and the scenery dramatically improved. Great towering slabs of grey granite capped with white against a cool blue sky. And with the trees and lakes surrounding it was quite breathtaking. This was the main reason for taking the train - the route through the Rockies. After stopping off in Jasper, a small town hidden amongst the Rockies, we continued for one more night until we hit Vancouver.
Finally after 3 days of broken sleep, card games and watching Canada pass by I made it to Vancouver
. So everyone I'd ever spoken to about Vancouver had always sung its praises. Well all i can say is what a BIG disappointment it really was. Just kidding. Vancouver has the best of both worlds - beaches and skiing. It sits right on the Pacific and has some great parks - notably Stanley Park. 2 hours away and you can be skiing/snowboarding. And this is more for non-smokers, but it is prohibited to smoke in bars! I could never figure out why some of our friends kept leaving the bar until someone pointed out they were going outside for a fag (smoke). My first night in Vancouver went off with a bang - literally. Sitting in the hostal minding my own business and some girl asks me to read a telephone number from the board i am sitting next to. She wants to get tickets to a concert. It turns out Nickelback (big Canadian rock band - Dad) are playing in their hometown - the last show of the tour. A group of us head down to the colleseum and get tickets and a night of pyrotechnic mania commences. I think we all had about 10 heart attacks during the concert and I am surprised the drummer never caught fire. I have never heard so many bangs, seen flames as high or felt as toasted when going to a concert. Although i'm not a big fan, it was a great concert. And to end on a high we got a limo back to downtown and hit the bars. So after a quiet intro to the nightlife I set about exploring the rest of the city. Also known as the City of Glass (because the majority of residential buildings are mainly glass), Vancouver has a relaxed and open feel to it
. A few of us decided to hire some bikes and tour the city. We cycled along the beaches and through Stanley Park to see the totem poles. These huge wooden sculptures were created by the Aboriginal tribes and they were like coats of arms. Each telling a different story. They were very impressive and colourful. They would carve out all sorts of creatures: bears, orcas, thunderbrids, wolves, frogs and man. Some 30-40 foot high. In fact I really found their art very striking and it reminded me alot of the Aztec and Mayan art. There is alot of similarity. Especially in the bold colours and the exagerrated shapes they use.
After a few days in Vancouver I decided to visit Vancouver island and the provincial capital Victoria. To get there you have to ferry it across from Vancouver. Victoria has a very English feel to it which you can see in the architecture. The parliament building itself is very grand. I also noticed quite a few Scottish accents - so there must be a Scottish community here too. I originally intended to visit the famous rainforests up north, however it wasn't really the right season to go and it was several hours away. Instead I spent a few days in Victoria and cycled up Mount Douglas to get a better view of the town and surrounding area. The highlight of the trip was a visit to Goldstream Provincial Park
. I went to see the salmon spawning. During this period salmon swim up stream from the Pacific back to where they were born and copulate with the females after which they die. They call it the Cradle and the Grave. It was amazing to see their instinct driving them forward, fighting and jumping to get as far upstream as possible. Within the park is also dense forest which you can hike around. After a short hike marvelling at the size of the cedars and the fall colours I ventured over to Thetis lake before heading back to Victoria. The other main attraction for visiting Victoria is it was the birth place of one of Canada's famous artists Emily Carr. You can see some of her originals at the Victoria Art Gallery. Most of her artworks are of trees, forests and aboriginal subjects. Her style is a little like Van Gogh but not as dramatic.
After 4 days on Vancouver Island I headed back to Vancouver for my last weekend before heading into the States. I returned to the original hostal (Global Village Backpackers) which I recommend, and spent my first night back with Dave at a drummers symposium. Watching someone just drum for about 1 hour seems pretty dull - you may think. However it turned out to be most entertaining. The guy used to drum for Extreme and still drums for John Mellencamp. And he currently holds the world record for the fastest taps with one hand (19 taps a second). I think he has an abnormal nervous system - or he is just very nervous. To end the weekend myself and another fellow traveller headed up Grouse Mountain for a hike and to see the sun set over Vancouver.
So my Canadian chapter has come to an end. Canada is a great country to visit especially if you like the open outdoors. And there is so much to see. My only regret is I didn't get a chance to spend more time here - especially in British Columbia. Maybe one day I'll venture back.....
Next stop .....Seattle.
After spending 4 weeks in Toronto I decided the time had come to go West. Vancouver was calling. And so was Mexico, and Guatemala .....and Rio...