On my way home!

Trip Start Jan 29, 2008
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Trip End Apr 30, 2008


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Flag of Canada  , British Columbia,
Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It's about a three hour drive up to Vancouver and we had a smooth drive the whole way up - no problems at the border or anything. We landed into the mainland and our aunt Hazel had very kindly set up her house to put us all up, even taking an air mattress to sleep on. We certainly appreciated nice beds that night, especially after taking a walk around part of Stanley Park in the fresh air!!!

Our first day in Vancouver I went for a bracing walk along the seafront down to a tiny pier where tiny boats come and shuttle you across the bay to Granville Island. It's a cute little place full of arty shops and a farmer style market. If you know me you know I can't resist these places, my spending spree in San Fran well forgotten. In fairness though, I did spend my money on presents (you'll have to wait and see!) and some food for dinner from the deli's. They sold gorgeous olives and fresh bread and cakes.... I couldn't resist. After dinner Hazel took us for a tour of the local areas and mid-drive we got to experience our first snow shower on the trip!!!

On the Saturday Eamon, Lois's boyfriend was due to fly in and so we had a leisurely morning and headed out to the airport. After a quick bite to eat back at Hazels and when Eamon didn't collapse from jet lag (he seemed remarkably bright - one too many red bulls I think) we decided to head out to Grouse mountain. The sun was out and it was a lovely day. It has to be said that Hazel was very good in volunteering her car for our use, very good and very brave. You get a cable car to the top of the mountain which was covered in snow, although it was clear at the car park level. At the bottom they have a wolf enclosure - they're just like big shaggy dogs and not that scary... and at the top of the mountain they have two orphaned grizzly bears, although they were hibernating and you had to get snow shoes to go out to see their enclosure, so no scary animals at all. One of the bears is called koula though :)

We headed back down the road to the dam and Sarah decided to try driving - we survived!!! The dam was quite cool and we went for a walk along the river. We saw a couple of big salmon in there - I think Eamon would have gone in after them if there hadn't been a ten foot sheer drop to the river and I'm pretty sure we saw a bald headed eagle too - we just saw a flash of white zip past us at one point. The views over the mountains were pretty cool, as is the weather here, I'm beginning to wish I'd kept my hat and gloves from Beijing...

We all did our own thing the next day - we decided to give Eamon a chance to recover and give the love birds some time on their own. I decided to use the time properly - I slept in, only leaving the house after lunchtime and then I went for a facial! My face felt like I had three months worth of grime on it so it was a real treat. I was quite healthy though and went to investigate a bit more of West End Vancouver. I walked along the beach front and down to the harbour where all the rich guys have their boats. It's a really green city and it's very relaxing. Everyone seems to be out and about getting fresh air and exercise, even if it is a leisurely walk along the beach. It's a nice time of year to visit too, it's not too cold but there's definitely a bite in the air that lets you know you're still alive. It's all so green as well, with bluebells and daffodils starting to show in the gardens around Stanley park. I think the sea actually has a calming effect on me now, now that I've conquered my fear of the deep that is. I did debate going scuba diving here too, but I think the cold is just a little bit too much for me, I think I'd die of shock after being to Thailand and Fiji, maybe next time though.

After a days breather we hijacked the car again and headed up to Whistler for an overnight stay. With the time we have it would have been too much of a strain to try to get to the Rockies, but it's a great excuse to get back here soon. So we stuck closer to home but still got to see some magnificent mountains. The drive up was great, view points pretty much the whole way up once you got on the highway and the sun was beating down on us. A gorgeous day for a drive up through snow capped mountains. We got up to whistler early afternoon. Although Whistler itself was closed some of the other mountains still had skiing open and I immediately felt out of place without a snowboard under my arm, not that I'd know what to do with one anyway. Just watching these guys come down the mountain gave you the urge to get kitted up and head up the mountain, but we didn't have time or money for that kind of adventure. We found the adventure centre and quickly realised that we came right in between seasons - there were no dog sleighing due to lack of snow and not much hiking because of too much snow! We did manage to find a couple of interesting trips to take though and while the girls and Eamon opted for the zip line adventure through the tree tops I managed to find a ranch with trail rides which was open and agreed to take me out. We also found a lovely lodge to stay in that night. it was exactly what you'd expect of a ski lodge if (like me) you'd never been in one before. The wooden house was huge with a big pile of cut logs out front for the open fire in the sitting room. The staircase, the bunk beds, the dining table (which could fit about 16) were all made of huge chunks of wood, everything was very sturdy to say the least. The sitting/dining room had a huge vaulted ceiling with huge wooden beams and the place came equipped with sauna and jacuzzi, just what you'd need after a long day of skiing. It was a very relaxing place to be. The little cafe just down the road was tiny, only four tables which were already busy but we managed to squeeze in there for a fantastic dinner that evening.

The next morning we were up fairly early and out, back into whistler with Sarah driving again. She was starting to get a grip on it at this stage and we got into town and I dropped them off for their zipline adventure. I did a little bit of window shopping, I was hoping to find a couple more presents up there, but all I could find was ski gear and I didn't know anyone back home that I wanted to buy presents for that skiied. Also those clothes are fairly bulky and my rucksack is very full, although I could have got thermals, but I don't think anyone wants them as a present, so that wasn't much good.

I headed up to Pemberton up highway 99 to my trail ride and the drive was fabulous. There was a lake on the side of the road partly covered in ice and a sprinkling of snow on top of that and surrounded by mountains. I found the ranch no bother and was quickly embarrassed by 1) turning up too early and 2) having brought the exact money for the ride but forgetting I was supposed to add tax to it (all prices here are quoted excluding tax - a real pain). Anyhow, Tamara let me off very kindly and she quickly had Flash and Fizz tacked up in the Western saddles and ready to go. The horses aren't very big so that was a relief to start with, I'm a bit out of practice when it comes to horses. We headed off across the fields, me on Fizz heading towards a mountain across the way while I asked questions about the horses and tried to sound knowledgeable and experienced on horses. As we got up close to the creek Tamara sent her two dogs out ahead to scare any ducks out before we arrived on the horses. She said that her season for trail rides hadn't offically started as yet and the horses weren't getting regular exercise and could be a bit skittish - oh great, where are the breaks on this thing again? As it turned out Fizz was quite happy to watch Flash's heels up ahead and plod along while Flash took the odd jump sideways at a shadow in the hedge. In fact I was having trouble getting Fizz to keep near enough to be able to hear Tamara talking. As we neared the mountain Tamara said that if we were lucky that we'd get to see a black bear or two that had been round lately. The day before there was a 300 pounder and it was the time of year when the cubs started to come out of the den and take a look around. I'm guessing (although I'm no good at conversion) that 300 lbs is a bit heavier than me and I'd be no match if I was on foot, so I was determined to stay on Fizz. Tamara seemed to be not at all fazed about it and so I reckoned that if she and the horses were safe enough in these woods then I probably was as well. I remember seeing an episode of Grizzly Adams where he said to play dead if you were attacked by a bear anyway, so I had a back up plan.

We headed up a tiny trail, if you could call it that, zig zagging up the mountain. It was fairly steep and we had to keep giving the horses a breather after each little sprint. They were out of shape and lets face it, one of them had me on its back, I'd be breathing hard too. Tamara apologised, she said that she had only just started cutting out the trails for this season so there would be branches overhanging the trail and holes in the track where she hadn't filled in yet. Apparently this woman walks across to the mountain before the start of each season with a chainsaw and a bag of sawdust and hikes up the mountain to clear the trails - Dad would love to have her working on the farm with him, a lot more hardy than any of the girls he was blessed with. This isn't a small mountain either. It took us two hours up and down, I have a lot of admiration for her.

When I wasn't concentrating in balancing right in the saddle to make it easier on the poor horse and had chance to look around it was just amazing. It was pure silence with the exception of the odd grouse looking for a mate and the first streams from the snow melt bubbling downhill. I kept an eye out for bears but had no luck that day. The view from the top was beautiful though, overlooking a huge plain below and snow capped mountains to every side. At this point Tamara thought it might be a good idea to swap horses. My stirrups were a little bit too long for me and so I jumped on Flash. He was fine the whole way down the mountain, happy to follow down and to take his time. When we got down to the fields again we had the chance to open them up and give them a bit of a canter round. Going the opposite direction we'd cantered a bit, with me on Fizz. I'd spent most of it trying to keep myself in the saddle as they are very bouncy horses, not like at home. I hadn't had to worry too much about steering or slowing down on Fizz. Flash however was a different matter. He was used to being up front and definitely saw it as a race. Western style riding is much more laid back than English, you don't actually have any contact on the reins with the horses mouth, but I had to shorten up my reins and go back to English style to get Flash to slow down. He didn't like that and I gave him his head for a second to see if he'd stay at the same pace but stop flicking his head around. No chance, he was off like a bullet. I quickly got him back on the rein before I got to the point of overtaking Tamara and making her think I couldn't ride at all and I was out of control - she never knew a thing! Flash sensed he was on his way back though and made a big deal about prancing around behind Fizz, dying to get in front and dying to get home. It was actually good fun though, they have a lovely smooth trot, unlike their canter! I had such a brilliant day out there, I just wish Lydia had been with me because I know she'd have loved every minute of it too.

We headed back to Vancouver that evening where Hazel very kindly put us up once again. The last two days of my trip have been very laid back. The most energetic I've been has been trying to fit everything into my rucksack for the journey back. I can't believe that three months has gone, just like that, but at the same time I feel quite travel weary and I'm looking forward to sleeping in familiar beds and seeing familiar faces and going to familiar faces. It'll be good to be home but I wouldn't change seeing the places I've seen or doing the things that I've done for anything and I'll definitely be back to visit some of these places again. For now though I'm signing off, but keep an eye out, all going well I'll be signing back on in six months with a new adventure - if all goes to plan you'll be waiting to see how I get on in Africa in Autumn. Keep your fingers crossed for me and don't be too surprised if I'm back in touch soon looking for donations to help me out with getting some volunteer work over there. You have been warned!!
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