Monday, 22 March 2010

Rossland, BC (Before Cleanliness)

Our first mini adventure in the red rocket got off to a faltering start... but not because of him. We offered to drop a new acquaintance, Shannon at the greyhound depot hoping that karma would look upon this act favourably (it’s that sort of place, man)... Karma clearly not approve as we were still looking for it half an hour later (despite the fact it was only 5km away and we'd driven past it loads of times). But find it we did, and we eventually began the journey proper: 450km over mountains and through creeks, Jeremy didn't complain and just kept on going though he does seem to have a penchant for the gas! That's a 3 litre V6 American engine for you. But then you remember that even with all taxes and admin charges he only cost us around 600 sterling some or all of which we hope to get when we sell him, it doesn’t seem so bad.

I’d forgotten to mention that on our second day of ownership I’d decided to figure out the buttons on the keyfob (all writing having long since been rubbed off); I found central locking and a button for opening the boot, they were really handy but that still left two buttons; I kept my finger pressed on one and… the engine started! By remote control! How cool is that? In case you were wondering, the other button stopped it again. That kept me amused for ages :o)

Anyway, back to the journey… the scenery was immense: mountains and valleys all the way with the occasional prairie thrown in for good measure (usually housing a herd of alpaca). I saw my first major piece of wildlife: an enormous eagle took off from the side of the road just as we approached - the wingspan seemed to be as big as our van - very impressive (the thing that it had been eating was clearly less impressed). Not long after, we climbed our first mountain road and - very tentatively - put our faith in the snow-tyres. I realized how tentative when moments later a Subaru came flying past at twice our speed, but I don't care! We made it safe and sound (and just a little bit tired) to our new home of Rossland, BC.

The hostel itself is less salubrious than the last (and indeed, all the rest). There’s not much to write about as we are avoiding spending much time here. Plus points are its right on the high street and even though we booked in to an 8 person shared dorm we had it all to ourselves except for the last night (and you really can’t complain too much at $20 a night). We realize how much we liked the last place :o/

Thursday we hit Red Mountain with less enthusiasm than normal… so little snow combined with a lot of freeze/thaw has left the place very icey and no amount of piste bashing could make up for the conditions (hence no pictures). Katy went out for the afternoon whilst I absorbed the rays at the day lodge accompanied by Michael Palin (you will notice a trend forming here).

The following day we gave the snow a miss and went for a walk. We called in at the tourist office in the next town along (Trail) where a very bubbly lady talked at us about all the options. She warned us that bears had started waking up from their slumbers so we had to make plenty of noise (with our bear whistles!) to make sure we didn’t startle them. She was quite surprised when we pointed out that we don’t have bears in the UK and she said she couldn’t wait to share that fact with her friend from the Isle of Man :o) Anyway, we found our route and hiked through woodland on the outskirts of Trail.

The trail was nice but a little tame, so we went off-piste and ended up climbing a rock-face, hoping for sightings of eagles and bears but all we saw were ants and spiders. Anyway, it was a fab spot for lunch; we found a big rock and munched on sandwiches. But it transpired that the climb up is easier than the climb down; we both scrabbled and Katy fell (a little bit) and after rummaging through the undergrowth (taking on board more crawly-bitey things than we would normally be comfortable with) we made it back to the path. After a brief shakedown to remove wildlife, we headed back. We were disappointed not to see more wildlife, but very relieved to find Jezza where we left him.

We headed back via the river which runs through the town centre, it was a gorgeous hot, sunny day, but as Katy’s feet discovered, the river water was still alpine fresh! Back in town, we had our second only experience of American food chains (so far) when we ventured in to Dairy Queen on the hunt for ice-cream. With a name like that I was expecting good things but it turned out to be about as dairy as Burger King. Together I guess they are the royalty of fast food. Anyway, I got my ice-cream… first one in over six weeks – a special treat :o)

We popped in to ‘Canadian Tire’ to check the options for kitting the van out for sleeping if we decide to take him through America. It seems do-able! After that, Katy had her first go at driving the rocket. Twice around the car park, then on to the open highway. Tentative at first (but no more so than me) she soon got in to the groove and we successfully made it back to base (despite a slight navigator error, which I prefer to think of as an additional sight-seeing opportunity).

Katy removed another spider.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Our blogs are like busses...

... you don't get any for ages, then two come along at once!

So we headed from Big White to Kelowna to get us some wheels, and thereby remove our reliance on greyhounds and transfers (which can become pretty expensive for two people and a board bag). It would also allow us to see more of Canada. We weren’t planning to stay long – we’d booked into the Kelowna International Hostel and after reading a couple of not-too-favourable reviews we feared the worst… but what we found was a very small & friendly hostel with a double bed, and a room to ourselves for most of our stay, hurrah warm feet at last.

We were told about a car auction held weekly in Kelowna, so on the Friday we headed over to view the cars that would be going into the sale the following day, we got a bus, got there and then the heavens opened, so we viewed what must have been about 90 cars and vans and had a list of 20 ‘maybes’. Then you get the keys and start the bad-boys up and listen to hear if they sound ok; you can’t move them but we did a lot of me standing in the rain while Tim tested the lights and wipers from inside!

Anyway after that it was time to head across the road to jump on the bus back, by this time we we’re both soaked through and very cold so we headed to a Tim Hortons, now TH is one of the largest coffee chains in Canada and they do these “things” called “TimBits”… we didn’t know what these were so Tim ordered them with a choice of 10,20,40 he went for 10, and what the TimBits are is, you’ll love this, they are the inside of a doughnut, like the inside of a polo if you will, only so full of sugar you are on a sucrose high for some time, Tim was flying, I had one and got the shakes, stuck to my fruit and bran muffin, so got on our bus got back and spent the evening going through the list we had made researching what we we’re getting and how much, we we’re very strict on our budget $1500 no more……and with the research we realized we’d be lucky to get anything we’d been looking at freelanders, jeeps, vans and reality was we might have to get us a battered old Chrysler.

So, up bright and early back on the bus, we had 2hours before the auction started and back to the drawing board then the loud Canadian redneck rounded us all up, sat in a freezing warehouse and the cars started rolling in, luckily we weren’t interested until the 6th lot as neither of us could understand him, at one stage he was definitely saying 1 banana, 2 banana, 3 banana 4! I sat there while Tim kept popping out to see what was coming next leaving me with the bidding number, I think I may of bidded on some huge truck at one stage when I scratched my nose with the number but thankfully I was outbid!! So as we sat there waiting as the ones we had penciled were going for so much more than our strict budget we thought we were going to end up with the battered white-ish Hyundai Sonata that had been sand blasted so much the lights would have to be changed and the wipers were hanging off, and it looked like something had died on the back seat. But then in he came, a Plymouth Voyager 1995, in Ferrari red with tinted windows, a sports kit and winter tyres, we played it cool as it started at $3000 then quickly went down to $700. In fact we played it too cool – no one had bid and it started to head out of the warehouse until I squeaked and waved my mittened hand (smooth!) and then the loud Canadian bounced $50 off some invisible bidder and he was ours , (the van not the Canadian) 

Thirty minutes later we had insurance, a van and number plates. It’s strange over here you know nothing about the car as it’s the number plate you’re buying and you can put that on any car, so after seven hours at the auction we got the van we wanted from the start, we’re both very excited obviously the most nerve wracking thing was to see if it stopped and started, minor points but some of the mountains are quite steep, and thankfully he did  It’s great we now have freedom to go and see what we want when we want, and in celebration we took a short trip and headed to one of the many vineyards in Kelowna overlooking the massive Okanagan lake, it was a beautiful sunny day and we had our own private tour guide, very interesting indeed and then we sat out in the vineyard looking out at the lake thinking this is very nice. By the way, we’ve named our red rocket van “Jeremy” that’s Jerem with a “Y” 

There are some great walks around Kelowna it’s a beautiful city (apart from the ugly bit), everyone comes down from Big White in the summer to work in the vineyards or mountain bike and hike. I had a great run where I got lost and had to ask directions in a conservation lodge, a lovely lady gave me a map and 13 miles later I was home, not bad considering I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything, (note to self: take map or fuel next time). My legs felt it the following day so no running or boarding until the next day where we went up to Silverstar, another big mountain not far from Big White, again self contained but smaller, we took Jeremy or rather he took us, and it was great  the boarding was excellent with fluffy snow and sunshine in the afternoon, unfortunately it went a tad slushy and my body wanted to go faster than my board which felt very strange indeed, but then the end of the day boards in the back of the van and back down to the hostel, happy days 

The hostel is such a lovely, friendly place to stay, only 1 block from the beach and the lake, a 10 min walk to down town and 20 min run to the beginning of a great trail. We only planned to stay for a couple of nights just to get a car and ended up staying a week; we arrived with our normal british reserve but the people there were really great: friendly and interesting. Big thanks go to the obligatory Aussie boys Scottie and Paul for their warnings about the drop bears and to Irish George who gave the red rocket an inspection and said he thought it should be fine (phew); actually he had an ‘unpimped’ version of the same van and I think he was secretly a bit jealous!! As we left, he had just purchased what sounded like the liquor store’s entire supply of alcohol to celebrate St Paddy’s day (which everyone seems to celebrate over here!). Have a good one guys! We hope to find other places this welcoming and friendly, fingers crossed for our next stop, Red Mountain… here we come in Jeremy the Red Rocket woohoo!!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Its the Big White Blog!

We’re getting the hang of this Greyhound thing now… with thanks to Lauren who gave us a lift to the station, we had a very smooth and ‘brief’ five hour trip to Kelowna; apparently the biggest and driest city in BC. It was only once we arrived that we realized we should have booked a transfer to the ski slope (60km away) three days earlier. But fate remained on our side… after a couple of phone calls, we got hold of a shuttle which had just left the airport so we had to wait a whole 15 minutes for it to turn up – result!

And so we arrived at Big White, welcomed by huge piles of snow. Big White is all self-contained with nothing close by, so in some ways a bit like a prison. But a nice prison.

The hostel was not much to write home about (ironic then that this is exactly what I’m doing). We arrived to a room of 4 others, very young with stinky socks. Then once we realized how expensive the prison shop was, it was back on the bus down to one of Kelowna’s many supermarkets. We splurged and had Chinese in the “mall” as time was getting on and we wouldn’t be back in the hostel until 10pm (bedtime!) early night for a fun day boarding.

The snow is the best we’ve seen so far, so even though the locals were complaining we thought it was great, fluffy, no ice and no rocks coming through - a result for us! The mountain itself is massive with loads of great runs which we aimed to tick off along our stay. On the Sunday I took full advantage of the free ”ski hosts” who will show you their mountain and tell you all about Big White it was great I had Janette all to myself, no one else wanted the crazy boarder! and Tim? Well, Tim had breakfast and a sit down with a
good book until I came back and got him for an afternoons boarding, showing him all I had seen which was quite frankly too much apparently and I was left to go solo the following day which was great as it was powder day ***** unfortunately I got wiped out by an out of control loon who damaged my board so I had to take a day off to get it repaired, the pretty pink board with white base now has a shatter in the paint work which looks like the cow has sneezed! and the base has a fetching “black” ptex patch, honestly don’t they have white?

So as there was no boarding to be done, we decided to go snow shoeing, it was so much fun having huge feet, we walked for miles passing the huskies who you can go out with for a sleigh ride if you have the money and the horse drawn sleigh by tom & jerry, two beautiful, huge shire horses, but as we’re on a budget we just patted them on snow-shoed on . We did allow ourselves a beer on the sunny veranda on one of the bars later on and it felt more like a holiday, definitely somewhere to go if you have money and group of pals who want to board and have fun.

To get out of the hostel - which quite frankly was dire - was really nice! We later found out that is wasn’t supposed to be open this season but the developers decided they wanted some money so they open it as is, it had that feeling about it that nobody really cared, customer service & cleanliness were not key, but as it’s the only one on the mountain and we didn’t have transport or much money we were stuck there. On the plus side, it was ‘ski-in, ski-out’… you could just walk up a small slope, put your board on and go, and then pop back for lunch, bonus! In many ways an uninspiring place but we did meet a lovely kiwi, Dannyelle (currently a londoner) who provided us with a wealth of information for South America (so thank you and hope the wrist heals quickly!).

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Nelson Pt II

I'm alive! Katy said that I should write this one just to prove that I'd recovered from the various recent illnesses... I was going to do an Al-Qaeda style video recording but have you tried buying video cassettes these days? I think those guys have cornered the market. Anyway, I'm feeling much better, thanks for asking. I’ve started writing this sitting in the sun on the verandah of the day lodge here at Whitewater, the ski hill for Nelson, B.C. The ski hills are pretty tiny compared to any others you might have been to; one lift goes left, the other goes right... that’s it! That said, we spent a day there in gorgeous sunshine and had a brilliant time, with the best snow so far and there are loads of tree-runs which Katy enjoyed and I endured. And the slopes are so quiet… sometimes you really do have a mountain-side to yourself! However the bigger adrenalin rush was saved for the journey home, 20 minutes on the bus of death; rattling itself to bits and only occasionally pointing straight down the road (other times slewing sideways on the pot-holed and icy steep mountain road). But the driver seemed fairly relaxed about the whole thing (which is the standard position to adopt in Nelson), so we just enjoyed the ride.

Nelson is situated in a mountain valley, just above a massive lake. Fir trees cover most of the surrounding area and the town appears to have much more history than the other places we’ve visited so far. When we first arrived, we got a taxi and the driver said there are only two directions in Nelson: “Uphill or Downhill”. I thought he was just being jovial until we saw the roads… and the buses really were labeled either uphill or downhill! Weird. The town's main claim to fame is that it was the location for the filming of the 80's film, Roxanne starring Steve Martin (when he was still funny). It still clings to that fame with a guided tour (we declined).

This town is also culturally very different; there seems to be a quiet battle raging between hippie-ville and commercialism. It has its own landing-strip / mini airport and a lot of land near the lake was undergoing development, spoiling what would otherwise be a lovely area. It would be a shame if the locals were to be priced-out of the area... on the other hand some of these hippies can be bloody annoying! I listened to one tell someone else (cooking at the stove, and therefore with no avenue for escape) about how she'd elevated to a higher state the night before (well, some of these bunk beds are quite tall).

The hostel is also different to all the others so far, I guess because they are not catering purely for skiers / boarders. It’s more like a converted hotel (in fact I think it is)... lots of wooden floors and rooms that don't have the odour of smelly socks. The place is great! We met a really nice couple called Craig and Ashley from Ontario and really everyone else that wasn’t 100% hippy were great! One of the first people we met (Lauren) appeared a bit full-on at first, but over the days I realized she was actually just genuinely really nice! I think Katy was impressed because from the first conversation with her I confidently predicted she was a teacher (she is undergoing her teacher training at the moment). Thanks for the lift to the Greyhound Lauren – life saver!

I should briefly mention that we watched the Olympic Ice Hockey final (Canada vs USA) – I truly underestimated how big a deal this was for the Canucks… until I watched the man running through the bar in a red thong after they won in extra time!

Tuesday saw us go for a stroll around Nelson. We walked down by the lake where they had created an outdoor gym; whilst I suspect that Katy had this planned all along… I did some exercise! Then, having consulted the town’s visitor information centre, we decided to go to Pulpit Rock ( ). When the person at the info centre said it was about an hour’s walk, I hadn’t fully grasped that the hour in question was just the vertical climb up the side of - and let’s not mince words here – the mountain. It didn’t include the walk required just to get to the start and it also did not take into account us taking a wrong turn during the climb… adding on an extra half hour’s vertical climb. We only stopped when we realized that ours were the only human footsteps there (the others belonging to elk, bears, mountain-goats etc). The views were breathtaking, which was frankly unnecessary as my breath had already been taken by the walk up.

Wednesday was a rest day (by which I mean Katy went snowboarding and I made the most of the facilities in the day lodge).

Next stop Big White.