We recently finished a couple week driving trip through the Canadian Rockies and into Vancouver. What a remarkable time: the scenery was stunning, everyone was super-friendly, the hiking was mindbogglingly awesome, the weather was perfect, the ethnic foods in Vancouver were absolutely delicious, and our participation in the 150th Canada Day celebrations in Jasper was very enjoyable and seems like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Our only disappointment was making our trip too short, there is a lot to see and we know we’ll have to come back. Had we known how awesome the Canadian Rockies were we probably would have visited earlier and visited multiple times.
Our flight to Calgary at the start of the trip was really interesting only because of who we sat next to: an Airbus mechanic. I’ve flown quite a bit so I had an opportunity to ask him all sorts of questions about planes, maintenance, and flying. My most pressing question had to do with the toilet; many of my flights have been delayed due to toilet problems so I asked him whether it was code for something else. He then went into a long explanation about the plumbing in an aircraft and how people flush all sorts of things that cause huge problems and that, no & absolutely not, is a toilet problem code for anything else. It comes down to people flushing things they should be flushing! Very interesting!
We showed up to Canada not really knowing what to expect. We chose the Canadian Rockies because we’ve never been to the area and we figured it was time to visit. In general, we’ve found areas with large amount of tourists rather unenjoyable places to visit because it’s tough to move around, it’s expensive, it’s a poor value, and people with their bad behavior ruin just about everything. As an example: our first stop on our first day in the country was Waterton National Park and a young couple became enraged at us when we took the last available parking spot at a waterfall. Another example would be when we showed up really early to Lake Louise to start the Plain of Six Glaciers hike and were hanging out near the outlet of the lake taking a few photos of the sunrise on the lake when someone walked over and asked us to move so she could take a photo. It was early so not many people were awake or around and her request took us by surprise. We looked to our left and looked to our right to see another 10-20 people on the near quarter mile paved pedestrian area where this person could have easily taken a photo. Somehow, we had ended up in the exact spot she wanted to take a photo. Baffling.
Fortunately, these were very rare events and discovered pretty much no-one veered far from their car or the parking lot so we were able find pure joy filled solitude in the mountains surrounded by fantastic views, wonderful smells, and the beautiful sound of nature! Our lodging was generally a bit away from the major tourist areas so it was a bit more quiet for us. While things were generally more expensive than in the US, we found pretty much everything to be a good to great value. I can’t really think of a bad meal we had, bad lodging, or anything else that may have been a poor value. We had a lot of great conversations with locals and found pretty much everyone to be happy and very proud of Canada. We used Airbnb almost exclusively and once again Airbnb didn’t let us down at all and very much added to our trip experience. The flat we rented in Vancouver was easily one of the best views we’ve ever had on any trip and it was such as special experience to be able to watch sunrise and sunset on the beautiful mountains and city every day.
The hiking was some of the best hiking we’ve ever done – the trails were well marked, well maintained, and went to areas of great interest. We were able to complete quite a few hikes but the two hikes we enjoyed the most were the Eiffel Lake trail which runs behind Moraine Lake and the Plain of Six Glaciers trail which runs behind Lake Louise. Moraine Lake and Lake Louise are two of the most photographed / most visited places in Canada so we were expecting throngs of people on the trails but found solitude. The Plain of Six Glaciers has a really cool tea house near the end of the trail and serves some delicious food. We found out the non-perishables are helidropped and the perishables are hiked in when needed. Knowing this, it was surprising the food was so delicious and reasonably priced!
For the most part, we have never had dangerous encounters with wildlife while traveling. Our luck turned this trip when we encountered a grizzly bear on the trail during the Eiffel Lake hike. We had started our return and I was about 150ft ahead of Jac when I came face:face with a grizzly about 20 feet ahead of me as I rounded a blind corner. Fortunately, I had read the bear safety pamphlet the night before. Unfortunately, I completely disregarded all advice and recommendations in the pamphlet due to fear and panic. So I turned and ran back to Jac while shouting many curse words intermixed with ‘bear’ and ‘run’. I looked back periodically only to see the bear coming our way on the trail at a nice pace causing further panic. We eventually ran into a couple on the trail and asked if they had bear spray. They told us we should not run from a bear. Right about that time Jac slipped in some snow and was no longer standing so I couldn’t help but think it wasn’t really the best time for a conversation. We soon noticed the bear that had been following us on the trail once we started running had lost interest and was running into the valley below us. Jac and I don’t have any desire to come into contact with animals while hiking. Nature is very dangerous and even non-meat eaters like moose, elk, mountain goats, etc., can really mess up a human. We neither think seeing bears is cool nor strive to see apex predators in the wild while we are also in the wild because we both know six in claws don’t mix well with a human’s desire to thrive. Once we continued our return hike we warned hikers about the grizzly bear only to get replies like, ‘oh, cool!’, and ‘nice, I want to see one!’ WTF is wrong with people!?
We were lucky to be in the tiny town of Jasper (pop. 2,500) for Canada Day on July 1st. It was the 150th anniversary so the festivities were bigger than normal. We started Canada Day by going to an all-city pancake feed in the park, went to a flag raising ceremony where birthday cake was served, watched a parade and finished the day watching fireworks. Canada Day was awesome and we were lucky to have been in Canada for their special day. We saw locals sitting around, BBQing, and enjoying the day. While Americans celebrate July 4th right, I think the Canadians give us a run for our money when it comes to celebration our respective nations’ birthdays.
Eventually we made our way down to Vancouver. Shortly after we arrived we found out Vancouver is a food mecca and we were able to get all sorts of authentic food in Vancouver that we haven’t had since our world trip. We had amazing bowls of Japanese ramen, delicious Malaysian char keow teow, fantastic Vietnamese crepe, real-deal Syrian baklava from a guy on a street corner, authentic NYC style pizza, and even found the real-deal elephant ear donuts! We ate our way through the city so it was great we walked 45 miles in total as we walked from place to place over the course of five days. I am an early riser so I would walk around Chinatown while the area woke up. Chinatown wakes up a bit earlier than the rest of the city so I was able to snag fresh/warm apple turnovers at the many bakeries while it was still very quiet. I did it enough times to call it the Tour de Apple Turnover and even found a Chinese favorite bakery.
After our world trip I pretty much lost my apprehensions about being around dingy or unsavory areas. We discovered people are people and they, like everyone, pretty much want to be left alone. So walking around homeless areas and or dilapidated areas really hasn’t been a big deal to me. Well, I went for a walk around 5AM near our place in Vancouver only to find a massive amount of addicts hanging out around the safe injection site / needle exchange. I walked through the area and it was a surreal experience – these individuals had set up a market in a similar style to what we saw in the third world countries we visited and were selling items that looked like their personal possessions like used clothes, toiletries, and so on. People were yelling, people were passed out, people were talking, people were holding each other, people were helping each other do drugs. I was the only one like me and I haven’t felt that uncomfortable around a group of people in a long time but no one looked at me or acknowledged my presence. It was quite the sight to see. I walked through the area on a later day around 10AM only to find the market was gone and very few folks were around but the folks that were around now talked to me and said things like, ‘I’m going to kill myself’, and ‘I see you following me, I see you’ while staring at me with pinpoint pupils. What a weird experience.
Vancouver is a really interesting city. There have been many migrations of foreigners and pretty soon there will be no majority race / ethnic group in the city. It’s also a very rainy city and it apparently rains 300 days a year so we consumed nearly 10% of their sunny/non-rain days per year during our visit! I always like to see if it’s possible for me to get a job in any area we visit and what wages would be like relative to the cost of living. I was a bit surprised to find Vancouver would easily be one of the worst places we could move. Once currency translation and generally lower wages for engineers are taken into consideration I would be making about half what I make now but also have nearly four times the housing cost. I was blown away by the idea I would be making less than I did when I graduated from college 10 years ago and have living costs many times higher than now. Vancouver has very expensive real estate like Seattle, San Francisco, LA, and San Diego, but unlike those places the same type of very high paying jobs don’t exist in Vancouver. Even after five days in the area and many conversations with the locals I’m still not sure how people make a go of it in Vancouver.
All-in-all, our trip to Canada was amazing. There were many other things we did, like watching and listening to avalanches, riding a bus type thing one a glacier, taking a boat cruise on the pristine Malign Lake, and many other hikes and tours where all of it was awesome but I want to wrap this up. I can state with certainty we found another area of the world that falls on our favorite list. We’d happily go back and I’m sure it would be just as enjoyable.
Enjoy the photos!