Saturday, July 13, 2013

Cowboy hats and Grizzly bears in the Canadian Rockies


I decided to head to the Calgary Stampede (Canada's largest festival) leaving from the farm I was previously staying at in Mcbride. Kunal (a friend) met me in Mcbride, and together we headed towards Calgary, via the scenic, bear territory of Jasper and Lake Louise. I have seen every type of bear in North America including the polar bear in the wild; with the exception of the famous grizzly bear. I really want to see one, but they have avoided me out of fear of my good looks, even though I have spent lots of time in Northern BC. For this trip I made sure to keep my eye out for Grizzlies as there are tons around here in the Canadian Rockies.

I left Mcbride at about noon. About two hours into the road trip there were a bunch of cars parked out on the side of the road and I almost hit one because they stopped so suddenly. I was about to get mad (or as mad as I can really be...) but I couldn't, because about 8 meters from the road, in the grassy field, was a big grizzly bear! I got out of the car and watched it eat dandelions in the grass. Almost all of the other people watching the bear from their cars were from other places as I over heard British, German and Indian accents talking about the bear. Jasper/Banff National park definitely has the most foreign tourists for a park in Canada, and for good reason as it is stunningly gorgeous! That grizzly was a really good luck omen to start to the trip with my new travel buddy for the next two days!
The first Griz I have seen in the wild!

About 20 minutes later we stopped off in the town of Jasper to grab some food quick. I wanted to go to Pizza Hut and eat quick, but Kunal wanted to be more adventurous and try some other restaurant that served pizza. It took about 20 minutes, and 20 bucks later for their largest pizza at this cafe on main street. We got the smallest “biggest” pizza with nothing really on it. That is a mistake I will avoid in the future, and should have realized. Most restaurants in a tourist town like Jasper (or most other tourist towns throughout the world) are sure to have crappy food at over priced rates, and you would be better off packing a lunch and eating it somewhere nice, or taking time to look around and see where the best food is served and for the right price!

Heading out of Jasper we stopped off at this lake we saw through the trees with crystal clear blue water to swim in. A sign said that there were lots of cliffs to “fall off of” and use the park at your own risk. We had come to a cliff jumping haven with no-one else there. After checking to make sure I wouldn't splatter my brains by jumping I threw rocks off the cliffs and counted how long it took the rocks to sink before I couldn't see them anymore: 6 seconds so I assumed we were good to go. I flung off the highest cliff I could find (my second favorite thing in the world to do), about 7 meters, and hit the crystal clear blue water, which surprisingly was not that cold. Climbing back up the cliff I did it about four more times. Across the lake we saw a mother black bear with her cub.

Further down the road we checked out the Athabasca Falls which I am sure I would die on if I tried to kayak off of; but were quite spectacular to look at even for Canadian standards. Later in the evening driving towards Banff I saw for the first time a black wolf chilling on the side of the road. We got to the Columbia Ice Fields at about 8pm and there was nobody else there which was cool (this is ranked the number one place to see in a lot of guidebooks for Canada). We walked on the glacier a bit. I wanted to camp there for the night, but Kunal wanted to hit Lake Louise, and traveling with someone you have to sometimes compromise... so we continued on. The scenery from Jasper through to Lake Louise was really, really cool, with jagged rocky mountains, glaciers, crystal clear blue water and a lot of wild life everywhere. That being said there were a lot of tourists which can take away from the rugged feeling, but is to be expected with a place as seriously beautiful as this, and my advice is to just embrace it!
Ice fields
Athabasca Falls

In Lake Louise the hostel was full, so we hit a overnight camping spot just out of town, where you're allowed to have a trailer... but no tent? To me that's just ignorant. Why would the government encourage you to sleep in a metal can out in the middle of nature? Unless they want you to spend money and get entrenched in a system that keeps you working for things you don't need; or maybe I am just crazy?! Anyways, we found a camping spot behind some trees where some other tents were pitched. Unfortunately there wasn't much space and we pitched the tent on an incline, and had a horrible sleep. Oh well, it's part of learning I guess. Lesson: When camping in a national park, find your spot at least two hours before dark, make sure its in a flat area that won't get covered in water if it rains, and away from the eyes of unwanted visitors! Overall a great day, and I got to see an amazing part of Canada that I hadn't really explored before!

The next afternoon we arrived in Calgary where I met an old friend from school who had a hotel downtown through his work and allowed us to stay in it overnight. Calgary Stampede is a massive outdoor festival, and was created to celebrate the ranching lifestyle that is present in the Prairies, although over the last decade or more, the Prairies has been transformed into an oil based economy.

I honestly was disappointed with the stampede, as in my head I envisioned a bunch of real cowboys and cowgirls, doing crazy cowboy things like riding horses through town, shooting stuff with their pistols, spitting in spittoons, bull riding on the streets, etc. What it actually was was a huge outdoor market selling mostly useless things and overpriced tickets for parties, shows, events, etc. This is nothing new, and I should have known this, as I found a similar experience when I spent Saint Patrick’s Day in Dublin, Ireland. It seems all the famous festivals around the world have been taken over by business interests and personally, I can't really unwind and have a good time when people are looking at you with dollar signs in their eyes instead of genuinely wanting to welcome you to their event and home. Anyways I stayed there for the night, watched some chuck wagon races (old school horse wagons, four horses, and a race around a track), ate some really good ribs at a cool bar in town, and went out with my two buddies for the night. The next day I basically spent driving back through the National Park to get back in time for work on Monday.

It seems like the less money that is involved in life, the more enjoyment and fulfillment I get out of it. Two of my most memorable trips were volunteering in Zambia, and couch surfing/ hitch hiking around Iceland. Both trips cost me little outside of plane tickets, but both places I made real connections, learned a lot, and was able to enjoy myself. When I end up touring around famous places like London, the Stampede, Dublin on Saint Patty's day, etc and don't have specific plans, I find I get caught in tourist traps, overspending, and not really meeting people and learning about the true environment I am in. This is a point I want to make to those who always wonder how I can afford to travel so much: You don't need to spend much to travel, and often when you end up spending a lot, especially in cities, you don't experience much as you will end up in a hotel, eating at nice or overpriced restaurants (where the population doesn't go often), and it is hard to make genuine connections with people as often they see you as a customer, instead of as a companion. For me when I travel or even stay at home, I need real adventure, dealing with people who are genuine and want to be around me, and I am able to accomplish things by doing, rather then paying!

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