I have just finished watching Series 2 of the Handmaids’ Tale. While the show itself is fantastic, if not a little bleak, I wonder if it was made by the Canadian Tourist Bureau. It certainly highlights some of the good political and social features of Canada! What is doesn’t show us is the beauty.
In 2016 I did a solo travel adventure to Canada. I flew into Vancouver and drove from there to Calgary and then flew over to the east coast visiting Toronto and Ottawa. As an Old Chook travelling alone, I would really recommend it as a safe and fun destination with plenty to see and do.
I have put together this short photo essay on Adobe Spark Page. It’s an experimental post to see how blending these two platforms works. Clicking on the picture will take you to an Adobe page. Then scroll through to look at the photos.
All my planning was complete, and I was stepping on the final flight from Incheon to JFK International and it came to me in a thunderbolt that I had committed to spend three weeks in New York, in the house of someone I didn’t know very well. I didn’t have a Plan B if things went sour and that was an oversight.
My intended host and I had met in a bar on a rainy afternoon in Jasper in October 2016. We spent the afternoon and evening together, drinking, eating and chatting to other hikers who were also trying to keep dry. Did I mention the drinking part? To tell you the truth, we all got smashed together and had a fabulous time. After that RJB and I stayed in touch via Facebook. We had a lot in common.
It turned out that RJB lives near Central Park on 5th Avenue and she invited me to visit. Sensibly, I said yes and then we spent a few moths planning my visit.
My sudden concern arose from a fear that in the flesh and sober we might not be so compatible. What happened if she turned out to have some strange and dark secrets? Could she be a member of a weird, radical religious cult and I was destined to become a captive?
From her Facebook posts I knew our taste in music, politics and ethics aligned well. Still I had a niggle in the back of my mind. It still might be an elaborate hoax. My worries were of course in vain. RJB was a treasure and although a self-confessed crazy cat lady, everything went well. Her husband was a lovely fellow and we got on well too.
One of the downsides of being divorced is that your old friends find it hard to take sides and you tend to lose contact. I didn’t have many friends to start off with. The friends my ex and I did have, fell by the wayside as we spiralled down into a very unhealthy vortex of introspection as our marriage collapsed around us.
Since “getting my shit together” I have made a few really good friends. These friendships have in fact be an integral part of that renewal of my life.
As an adult it’s not that easy to make new friends. We are a little pickier and harder to please. We have much higher standards than we did as children. Even though it is hard, I think we make it harder than it needs to be. I think we disguise fear as pickiness. We are just a bit scared to bare our souls.
This blog, Science of People  has some really good tips on how to make friends, but I remember reading somewhere else that how you make friends and them keep them boils down to a few basic things.
1: You meet by being in the same pace at the same time, so you are already involved in some common pursuit.
2: You spend an intensive period of time with them participating in that common activity
3: You commit to staying in touch and
4: You actually do stay in touch.
It’s not rocket science. Of course, the most important factor is you need to trust and be open.
I guess with RJB I should have just trusted my gut. If she was an axe murderer I think I would have guessed in that first meeting. Little bit crazy cat lady I can deal with! 🙂
My eyes snapped open from a deep, deep dreamless sleep. After the 27-hour haul from Sydney to Vancouver via Seoul and then nearly 15 km of walking through the streets of Vancouver, I think I had been as close to a coma as I could be and still be breathing.
Was that someone calling my name? I lay there with my eyes open, my breath held in anticipation, listening in the semi-dark, unfamiliar room…
3 seconds…nothing ….5 seconds…nothing except the noise of the distant traffic.
I must have been dreaming. Who knows me here anyway that they would be calling out my name? Go back to sleep, you silly old chook! I rolled over, snuggled down into the doona and headed back into sleep.
Thud. Thud. Thud. Heavy thumps shook the frame of the house. A loud clatter on the roof. Tink, tink against the window. Was that someone throwing pebbles? Somebody giggling?
Where were my hosts and why weren’t they sorting this out? It wasn’t my place to investigate!
“Robyn – ROBYN! It’s Jeff”
This time I know I am not dreaming and peeking out from behind the blind – I see Jeff trying the hoist himself onto the slate roof.
“Oh! Thank god!” Jeff shouts as he nearly falls off the rickety ladder with laughter! “We locked ourselves out, we were trying to break the window!”
There on the back lawn of the Airbnb were Jeff and Kathy, wearing wobbly boots and beer goggles, trying to muster some decorum. I let them in through the front door and we stood chatting. It was Jeff’s birthday and they had celebrated exuberantly.
This was my first experience with AirBnB and while it may not have been five star, the
Charming… cozy room on the second floor of [the] renovated home … equipped with wireless, fluffy towels, robes and Aveda products…only a 15-min. walk to the best in Vancouver and close to all transportation,
was indeed cosy and the hosts, great ambassadors for the city. I was impressed. This sure was better than a cold, impersonal, [boring] hotel. I was sold! Disruptive innovative marketing practices seemed a great way to connect with real people when you travel.
As long as you connect.
A few days later and only 153 km down the road, I had already filled one SD card with more than 1000 images of mountains and mushrooms and was pushing it to get into Pemberton before dark. The red cedar clad homestead looked just like the profile photo. The Coast Mountains rising majestically behind it; a light mist rising from the straggly grass. I clapped my hands in excitement!
A pushbike lent up against one of the posts and a big, old Cadillac was in the drive. No lights; no noise and no smoke rising from any of the chimneys despite the cold air that was beginning to settle. I should have been on the alert.
“Hello! Rob? Anyone home?”
Asleep perhaps? Out in the paddocks? I pulled down the beanie to cover my ears and wrapped the scarf tighter around my neck and knocked on the front door again with more force.
The sound of children playing drifted from across the road as they threw a football. I hugged my arms around me and slapped my sides and knocked again.
I peeked gingerly through the windows into the darkness. What I saw shocked me to the core.
There was no furniture. The house was empty. Completely empty; except for a few unfolded packing boxes.
The little guy on my left shoulder – the pessimist – gloated! “See I told you you should have booked a PROPER hotel!”
“Shut up!” right shoulder guy yelled back “I must be at the wrong place. I will go ask across the road.”
It was nearly dark, the football kids just about to run inside.
“Excuse me boys! Are mum or dad home?”
Mum came down the stairs.
“G’day!” in my broadest Australian “I was supposed to be staying at the AirBnB across the road? It’s empty?”
“Oh… he moved out about 2 months ago. He and his wife split up.”
Left shoulder guy was triumphant. It was now dark and I had nowhere to sleep. The dad came down and mum filled him in on my predicament.
“Hang on – I know someone who has a guesthouse, I’ll give them a call.”
His friend was booked out but they knew someone who knew someone else who had another place. So, three phone calls later, Kevin arranged for me to meet Miriam in the supermarket car park after vouching for my bona fides
“She’s a nice single lady all the way from Australia and she was supposed to be staying at Rob’s.”
I ended up with a six-bedroom, three-bathroom chalet all to myself. Three times the price mind you, but I had a bed. Miriam had stoked up the fire and I toasted my toes as I sat on hold to AirBnB customer service for over an hour before giving up.
Right shoulder guy was vindicated by the random acts of kindness of strangers.
I stayed in four more AirBnB’s after that as I worked my way towards Calgary. Mick and his wife had a lovely family home in Kamloops. I sat with them watching TV and patting their huge black cat as he snuggled on my knee. They made me dinner, shared their wine and cooked me a full breakfast.
Rowena’s 23-foot caravan in Clearwater was an interesting option. She did my washing and I shared a family BBQ and sat up drinking and comparing travel stories with her son and his girlfriend after my full day of hiking and horse riding through the Wells Grey Provincial Park. Rowena, a Park Ranger and was keen to hear all about Wollongong and our beaches.
I didn’t meet Sandy in Jasper, well not until just as I was leaving her very luxurious apartment. This place was a standout in terms of its appointments and style but without the welcome, I felt a bit like an interloper.
Krissy in Canmore, was described by her reviews as being “a super-friendly and helpful host” and she certainly was. Her bohemian home was decorated with her own paintings and photographs.
One of the other guests took advantage of her offer to provide some weed but I declined. After a bit of Google stalking it turns out she is reasonably well known in the Canadian art scene.
As a first-time AirBnB user, I was pleased I had decided to book most of my accommodation using their website. Except for Sandra in Jasper, all the hosts were friendly, helpful people who looked at it as an opportunity to meet travellers as much as it was a way to make a bit of cash.
Some advice: don’t pick a place solely on price, read the reviews carefully and with a critical eye and be prepared to mingle. Make sure you confirm your bookings close to the arrival time. I don’t think it saved me much money but it did give me some interesting memories. One point though, only three out of the six places I stayed at provided breakfast – the others were just AirB’s.
 It’s the long way around I know but it’s all in the pursuit of frequent flyer points
 Sandra wasn’t unfriendly she just wasn’t home.
 AirBnB eventually gave me a refund and removed the listing.
I surveyed the crowd in front of the copper sulfate blue lake. Moraine Lake. The reflections of the Ten Sisters, crystal clear in the still deep water. The scars of glaciers evident in the rock. Peaceful, even though the Lake’s edge was teeming with people trying to get a clear shot without other tourists in it. The more intrepid, climbing like goats, up and over the craggy boulders despite the ‘no access past this point’ signs.
Approximately 3.89 million people visited Banff National Park in 2016. I was one of them.
As a solo traveller, I get to choose where I go, when I go and what I will do while I am there. I can choose to meet people when I want or enjoy peace and serenity while hiking alone along pine scented trails, talking only to myself and never having to have that most annoying of travel conversations.
‘What do you want to do now?’
‘Oh I don’t know… what do you want to do?’
‘Oh, whatever… I don’t mind. I’ll just do what you’re doing’
‘OK let’s go for a 13-km hike’
‘No… let’s have lunch’
Gasp with exasperation.
I gave up on trying to get people-free images and began to include them in my scenes. Amused by women teetering on impossibly high heels amongst the granite, posing with their selfie sticks and peace signs.
My planned walk was brought to an abrupt halt by this sign:
I am usually as happy as a bear in the woods when I am out hiking; but today there were bears in the woods and apparently, plenty of them.
There was only one of me so I needed some buddies…. pronto!
I spied a youngish fellow with a toddler on his shoulders, loitering at the trail head. Maybe he was looking for some walking partners too?
‘Do you need someone to make up your foursome?’ I asked hopefully
‘No, no I am waiting for my wife.’ He turned away unsympathetic to my plight.
Searching for some other prospective candidates in the crowd, my antenna came up when I heard the melodic tones of another Australian accent. A whole family of melodic accents! Mum, dad and two teenage kids. Ker-ching! Jackpot!
How could they resist another Aussie in need? After all we were all 12,000 km away from home and these bears were real bears not the drop-bears we like to scare tourists with.
‘G’day’ in my brightest, friendliest tone ‘Can I tag along with you guys’
‘No worries’ says Mum
My problem solved, we set off on an easy 3 km circuit to the Consolation Lakes.
Making small talk, I discovered Dad was a bit of a photographer too, they lived near Newcastle, a once steel and coal mining city, north of Sydney. I live in Wollongong, south of Sydney, also once a big steel and coal town. We had plenty in common and walked along in pleasant companionship, discussing our adventures in Canada, what we had seen and where we were going.
Let me repeat that statistic I gave you before. Around 3.89 million people visited Banff National Park in 2016. We were five of them. That works out to 10,700 visitors each day (if we spread them out evenly across the year)
‘So are you guys on leave?’
‘Yes’ says Tim ‘I am a teacher’
‘Me too – where do you teach?’
He gave me the name of his school ‘And you?’
I told him where I worked.
He stopped dead in his tracks. ‘You’re kidding! You must know my brother-in-law, Chris!’
“Yes! I do! He works in the office next to me’
The kids laughed out loud and danced around. We all laughed and shook our heads and declared the world really was a small place.
So here were Chris’s relatives.
‘You are bound to see them’ Chris had quipped in jovial sarcasm on my last day before leaving.
What are the odds? To meet up with the family of a colleague on that day, at that place?
I guess they are around 2 in 3.89 million.
There’s my chance of ever winning the lottery right there.
A photographer on a road trip needs two things: a trigger brake foot and the courage to pull over even if the verge is tiny and there is a line of cars behind you. Forget the “Baby on Board” sign. Warning: Photographer – Frequent Stopping is what’s required. In flashing lights!
I had been driving along Bow Valley Parkway, in Banff National Park, Alberta, for only a short time when another photo-worthy vista caught my eye.
Craggy mountains covered in a punctured shroud of mist that allowed the black and white striations typical of the Rockies to be just visible in the background and stark, nearly naked birch trees standing in tall rows in the mid-distance and then the patchy white snow interrupted by straggly grass in the foreground.
It had caught my eye because of the high key contrasts. The white trunks with black lesions where branches emerged echoing the black and white of the peaks behind. All the trees were about the same height and girth, and all had a black tide mark about 2 metres up the trunk.
What’s with the black tree trunks?
I began to wonder why they would all have this blackened trunk to the same height? Was it the result of a fire? I discounted that idea – the whole trunk would be black; the lower limbs would be burnt. Hypothesis #2 – snow? Maybe this was how deep last winter’s snowfall had been. Perhaps being encased in snow sends the white bark black? This seemed like a reasonable explanation to me so, inner scientist satisfied, I began to snap away all the while imagining how this contrasting collage would look after I had “Snapseeded” it. The white snow, the black-footed trees, white trunks against the black and white striped slopes in HDR and high structure – this was a winning shot for sure!
After a few minutes zooming in and out, changing my point of view and switching angles, another car pulled up next to mine. I looked without looking. Maybe they were swapping drivers. Maybe they needed to get something from the back of the car. My photographer’s territorial hackles began to rise.
This was my frame!
Get yourself your own shot!
My personal space, already violated by the car, was further assaulted when a guy got out with a bigger camera – a longer lens – a man with a Canon!
This guy was a shot-parasite! The type who sees someone else taking a photo and thinks “Oh I wonder what they are taking? I will cash in on their scouting ability and steal their shot with my f2.8 ultra-fast bit of glass!”
Hmmph! I thought patting my Lumix tenderly, “It’s not how big it is buster! It’s what you do with it that counts!
His travelling companion stayed in the car; a bored look on her face. My original displeasure vanished and turned to smugness. As a photographer travelling solo, I didn’t have to worry about apologising for the constant stops to take yet another picture of another snow-covered tree that looked the same as the last five snow-covered trees. Trying to explain “good light” to those who can’t imagine through the lens is close to impossible – they never understand.
We clicked away taking a few shots; me feeling a little uneasy. I had done the hard yards to get to this black and white frenzy of contrasts! I had already had a short hike along a trail to the Johnson Canyon Lower Falls, slipping and sliding along a treacherous boardwalk dizzyingly close to a deep ravine! I had already risked my life and limb on a slippy-slidey road! This girl from Oz was not used to snow, and I spent an hour or so driving through slush thinking I was going to die, wondering should I have chains on my wheels and trying to remember what that driving instructor had told me to do 40 years ago if I ever got into a skid.
My inner adult triumphed. I relaxed and smiled. Mr Canon and I began to talk. He agreed the contrast was great. We enjoyed the quiet beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
I quipped “all we need now is a great big moose with huge antlers to emerge from between the trees and stand majestically before us while bellowing a warning”. He liked that idea. “Did you see a moose already?” he asked; hopefully. I contemplated saying yes. We laughed and then we waited as if thinking it would make it happen. We stopped shooting. Would the moose come? An elk would do. Heck! A little deer would be enough! I looked one way standing on my tippy toes searching for a tell-tale rustling of grass. He scanned the short horizon intent on finding something – anything.
A small noise distracted us both. I am sure I heard breaking glass. Perhaps it was the cold air shattering. The woman in the car had finally gotten out to hurry the man along. I had forgotten about her. The disturbance ended our waiting – that shared moment of magic vanished. I got back into my car and drove on. I stopped a kilometre down the road at another impossibly emerald lake where the snow was still lying on the ground making it look like a scrap of old carpet – threadbare and patchy. I wondered if he had stayed and waited for the moose.
In the end, I was disappointed with the shot. I guess after the interaction with Mr Canon I expected it to be different. Bigger. Grander. It was one of those times when the camera cannot see what the eye feels. It does not see the stillness, it does not smell the crisp, pine scent. It does not hear the crunch of the snow under your boots. It does not feel the cold air filling your lungs and it does not share a brief moment with a stranger waiting for a moose to appear.
Check out some of my other stories about my vacation in Canada.