I ring the Pentax warranty repair centre in Vancouver and arrange to drop my camera off. They are located near Broadway, just around the corner from the 'Nik-Nak' shop. After dropping the camera off I call round to the Nik-Nak shop which is still closed. The big brass elephant is gone however. There are four little feet marks in the dust on the red velvet covered plinth.
Geoff's cousin Kevin lives in Calgary and the Calgary Stampede is on until this coming Sunday. I decide that it is too good an opportunity to miss. I ring Kevin who kindly offers to put me up. I book the Greyhound bus to Calgary for this Thursday. The rest of the week is spent saying goodbyes to the gang at The Quay. I pick up my camera on Wednesday afternoon which has had the lens barrel replaced
. Nik-Nak shop still closed. On the bus on the way home I discover that the camera lens does not focus on wide angle. Too late to go back now.
Day 310 - Thursday 15 July
I get a taxi from Beckside at 5.45 to the bus station, downtown. The trip is scheduled to take 16 hours. There are only 14 of us on the bus when it leaves Vancouver but after several stops out of town the bus is eventually jammed. A young chap from near Winnipeg sits beside me. He has a 34 hour journey ahead. The bus winds through The Rockies. The scenery is of course beautiful. As we approach a town called Merritt the bus gets a blowout. This means an extended stay in Merritt for over an hour. There isn't much to do but stay out of the blazing sun. All other stops are reduced to ten minutes from here on. Enough time for a couple of smokes and a packet of crisps. After the last stop in Banff before Calgary we head off on the final leg of my journey. We pass through the bus driver's heaviest ever hail storm just before our decent into Calgary. We arrive an hour late. 17 hours after leaving Vancouver. Kevin picks me up and drives me to his house. It is a lovely new house on the outskirts of the city. My quarters are in the basement where I have a bathroom, pool table, and giant screen TV
. We have a beer then retire to bed.
Day 311 - Friday 16 July
Kevin's partner, (unforgivably, I have forgotten her name - she is from Scotland and looks like Lulu - until I remember her real name I shall call her Lulu), has managed to procure a ticket for me for The Stampede. Otherwise I would have missed 'The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth'. Kevin has gone to work so I help myself to breakfast and watch some of The Open Golf Championship on TV. I walk to the bus stop and meet Lulu in the centre of town. Lulu has very distinguishable hair (see photos) so finding her in the crowds is dead easy. Despite living in Canada for years she still has her Scottish brogue. We take the train two stops to the Stampede grounds and meet up with Kevin. Around the main showground (ticket access only) there are stalls and rides. We make our way to the arena. My seat is on the other side of the stadium from Kevin and Lulu so we arrange to meet up at 5pm. My seat is on the top stand in the middle. I have resisted the temptation to buy a cowboy hat. Two reasons. One - I haven't the space to carry it home. Two - I look like an idiot in any form of headwear (see photos). The show is well under way. In between cowboy type activities on the showground are acts on the stage below me
. Comedians, bands, Indian hoop twirlers - that sort of thing. This is all fine and dandy but the show stealers are the cowboys. These rubber spined honchos are one tough bunch. As I understand it, they draw for an animal to ride - be it a horse or a bull - and have 8 seconds to stay aboard. They are then marked by judges. Quite how they are marked over 8 seconds is anybody's guess although the ability to keep ones hat on seems to be scored rather highly. If the beast on which they are drawn fails to do the biz (e.g. decides to have a good crap instead) the rider has the option to mount another. And so it goes on. It is all played out in front of an adoring audience. The winner picks up a cheque for $50 000 or so and then the carnival moves on to the next town. Calgary is just the biggest of its type. It is thrilling and seems to be very well marshalled. I really enjoyed the show but left feeling a little sorry for the poor beasts forced to do something they plainly didn't enjoy. We meet up at five, missing the evening 'chuck-wagon racing', and queue to get into a large marquee beside the arena. The venue is called Nashville North and is one of the hotspots during the Stampede. The tent holds a lot of people and has live country bands playing throughout the day and night. We find space to stand at a barrel beside an English and American girl who turn out to be good fun. The music fits the place perfectly and despite not being a C&W fan, I find myself tapping along to the music. We have a great night and leave around twoish
Day 312 - Saturday 17 July
Lulu and I go for some grocery and beer shopping while Kevin cuts a hole in his garage. We then head out to a lake (something-mere) where Kevin is a member of the Calgary Yacht Club. It is a fine and sunny day. We sit around reading, drinking and chatting. Around sundown Kevin lights the barbeque and we have steak and salad washed down with some wine. After dinner we light a fire and sit by the lakeside chatting until 11pm. We drive back to Kevin's place. I book a flight with 'Westjet' to Toronto on Monday morning. $450.
Day 313 - Sunday 18 July
The three of us drive up to Banff. It takes about an hour through stunning mountain scenery. Lulu's son is doing a 12 hour mountain bike relay and we first call up to the site for a look. It is very busy and we don't spot him. Next into Banff itself for lunch and a walk about. It is a beautiful town although very touristy. We drive around The Banff Springs Hotel, the springs themselves and have a pint before driving back to Calgary.
I decide that I should really check out some of the famous bars in town before I leave and Kevin runs me into town. First call is 'Cowboys', the most famous bar in town. There is a lengthy queue outside which I join and enjoy the view of the waitresses getting the place ready for opening at seven. Rumour has it that the owner willingly pays to have his female staff 'augmented'. Whilst queuing, a ticket tout tries to sell me a VIP pass for tonight. The girls behind me warn me not to buy the pass. Apparently 'Shaggy' is playing tonight and tickets are about $50. As I only wanted to stay for half an hour I leave the queue and head up to 'The Roadhouse'. It is a typical 'cowboy' bar with about six different bars set up. I am the only one in the place and after chatting to the bouncer (heading to 'Derry to meet relations in September) I head next to Coyote. Here also things have yet to get busy. Consolation arrives in the form of the girls in the finals of 'Miss Stampede' practicing there sachets up and down the catwalk. That is enough. I jump in a taxi and head back up to Kevin's. We have a beer and retire around eleven.
Day 314 - Monday 19 July
Kevin kindly drives me to the airport for the 7am flight to Toronto. I check in electronically and book an aisle seat
. At my departure gate there is no mention of my flight number to Toronto, nor on the departures screens. Ten minutes before my flight is due to leave I go up and ask the attendant about my flight. She tells me that they have almost completed boarding. She apologises when I point out the lack of information on the screens. When she checks my boarding pass she informs me that my seat has been cancelled. Luckily there is a single seat left. It is a middle seat so she says that she will get the person who took my seat, after I had confirmed it, to move to the middle seat. On board there is a hullabaloo going on at seat 19D. The occupier is refusing to move as he is sitting with his wife. He scowls at me for trying to break up his marriage. I offer to take the middle seat. The steward asks the young girl in the aisle seat if she would mind moving into the middle seat. 'I am not moving', she says. I therefore shoehorn myself into the middle seat, 14E. As we push off for the runway the stewardess announces that the lucky winner of the video is seat 14E. I am presented with a copy of the new Peter Pan video, the very one which I couldn't be bothered watching on my flight from Auckland. Some compensation. I give the video to the family in front of me. I chat with the elderly gentleman to my right for most of the flight. He is big in sand, and supplies the sand for the Olympic volleyball courts amongst other things. I childishly ignore the petulant young girl on my left. Just before we begin our decent, the chief stewardess takes the details from my boarding pass to make a complaint on my behalf. I haven't heard anything yet. Aunt Marylyn picks me up from the airport and drives me out to their house in Caledon, North West of Toronto. To say that their house is large is an understatement. It is somewhere in the region of 15 000 sq ft. It is not only large, it is beautiful also. It sits in over a hundred acres of rolling hills. There are stables, barns and a farmhouse on the land. My quarters are on the ground floor with my own bathroom, TV lounge, kitchen, bedroom and changing room - all located beside the swimming pool. I go for a doze then Marylyn makes pasta for dinner. I have an early night.