Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Canadia eh? Part 2

All right, I'm sure you've all been waiting breathlessly for another update on my recent trip to Canadia. Hey, get your finger away from the Back button! Good, now back away slowly... Anyways, let's see, where were we? Right, in Banff.

After the horseback riding we took a gondola up to the top of Sulfur Mountain to get a better view of the Rockies. Let me just say now that I don't like the idea of entrusting my life to a tiny cable and 100 feet of air. Therefore, i was glad to reach to top. Here's where my mom surprised me again when she joined us on a hike up to the summit. I honestly didn't expect my mom to do any hiking on this trip. I always forget how similar we are in some ways.

Once we reached the summit, we were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the valleys carved out by glaciers eons ago. They're hard to describe since none exist here. Basically, think of a gigantic icecream scooper scooping out large U-shaped valleys. Combine that with jagged grey rocks, green fuzzy pine trees, a dab of snow, and silt-laden azure rivers and you have the Canadian Rockies. We also got a really good view of one of the forest fires raging out of control up there. Apparently, some of them started as controlled burns that flared up out of control due to a week of record-breaking scorching 86 degree weather. This naturally caught everyone off guard and the fires spread and began consuming entire mountainsides worth of forest.

The next day we headed over to Lake Louis, the posterchild of the Canadian Rockies and rightfully so. The entire lake comes from a melting glacier just above it. The silt from the glacier gives it a greyish-blue-green-aqua color which is visually pleasing when set beside the dense pine forest and sheer granite cliffs. Strangely enough, humans have actually found a way to enhance this natural beauty even more by building a gigantic hotel at the downstream shore of the lake. I'm usually against such things, but the architecture blended in nicely. The best part was sitting at a coffee table inside looking out a huge bay window facing the lake. I guess framed beauty can be so much more effective than unbounded beauty at times.

Here's where we had our longest hike (2 hours uphill). If you think that's nothing, just remember that my mom was with me. I always forget that me taking after her implies her taking after me as well. It seems that our love of hiking is mutual and she climbed up, albeit slowly and with a lot of breaks, without a complaint and enjoyed the scenery along the way. When we got to the very top, we were rewarded with another beautiful lake, this one a deeper blue color, and a small teahouse built at the head of a waterfall. It was nice up there because there were fewer people because the uphill hike had filtered out all but the more dedicated tourists. We decided to sit down and have some lemonade to cool off before the hike back down. They ended up serving us disgustingly watered down lemonade which our whole family (very unpicky eaters) found repulsive and disappointing. My mom, normally very acquiescent about such things refused to leave a tip. I had to sneak a coin in after she'd left.

Our last day in the Rockies was spent up on the Athabasca Glacier. It was awesome, but I wasn't as awed as I should have been. Standing on a flat expanse ice thicker than the Eiffel Tower is something humans really can't comprehend, much like the national deficit for example. The only thing that was really sobering was that there are cracks in the ice (crevasses) as deep as the glacier which made walking outside the specified boundaries suicide to us normal folk. The other thing that was really cool was our transportation. We took a Snocoach onto the glacier and drove on the glacier for a while before we stopped and got out. A Snocoach is basically a bus-sized cabin with 6-wheel drive. Each wheel monster truck sized and taller than i am. It's a very cool looking piece of machinery. Apparently this tour company owns 22 of 23 ever built. The 23rd is owned and used by the scientists in Antarctica.

Our final stint in the Rockies was white water rafting on the Athabasca River itself downstream from the glacier. It was really fun despite being easy rapids. We even jumped into the river to swim and quickly discovered what hypothermia was like. I had to keep my bare arms out of the water (we had wetsuits) just to avoid excruciating pain from the freezing water. Very refreshing I'd say.

Turns out it was lucky we left Jasper when we did because about 30 minutes after we left, they closed the highway because the forest fire (still burning and only getting bigger) was burning out of control by the highway. I've never seen that much smoke in my life (and that's saying a lot coming from Chatsworth where brush fires are the norm).

The next stop was Edmonton, home of the West Edmonton Mall, the largest mall in the world. Having been to Orange County and seen some pretty large malls, I was skeptical. How big could a mall be? As I learned before, apparently sub-freezing weather will push humans to do wonders. That thing was the size of an amusment park. In fact, there were SEVERAL small amusement parks within it: huge wavepool w/ beach and 4 story tall waterslides, two rollercoasters + smaller rides, IMAX, dolphin show, and (my favorite) a full-sized ice(hockey) rink. Of course there was no one on the indoor ice rink, this being Canada and all. In addition to all the regular stores, there were a great many stores I'd never heard of, a whole Chinese area, restaurant area, etc. Of all places, we had dinner at Tony Roma's called it a night and flew out of Calgary the next day.

Anyways, that's the last of my trip. Hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I had actually being on it. Other than Canada, I spent a couple days just lounging around my home in Chatsworth with my family. You all know how much I love home. There's nothing quite like it. I've gotten the pictures back so I just need some time to post them. I'll send one final email when those are ready.

And next time, "Hawaii"!

Canadia eh? Part 1

You might have noticed that I'd fallen off the face of the earth last week. Well, it was because i was in Canada (or Canadia as it's called in my head). So now you ask, what the heck was i doing in Canada? Who GOES there??? My family I guess. This was our annual Kuo Family summer vacation. My sister and i voted to go to Hawaii and my dad voted for the Canadian Rockies. So to the Canadian Rockies we went! It's okay, he's been wanting to go for many years and what's Canada got that Hawaii doesn't besides warm oceans and gorgeous women... i mean beaches?

Anyways, all that really matters is that it turned to be one the best vacations i've had in a long time.

We flew into Calgary and it took me forever to figure out that we were somewhere north of Montana. WOW, Calgary is the most loaded ($$$) little city i've ever seen. There were plasma displays every 10 feet in the airport. It made more sense after i remembered that the 1988 Olympics were here. Absolutely amazing.

In the grand tradition of Canadian cities i've been to, Calgary really appealed to me. Small enough not to feel squashed in a giant metropolis, yet large enough to actually have a downtown district. It was, however, unnerving that despite being the middle of the day and there were almost no people or cars on the street.

The first thing we did was go up the Calgary Tower (a teensy version of the CN Tower). It looks like a thumbtack stuck in among sky scrapers. The view up there was okay. Not much to see but the river and lots of green below. After that, we went to China Town and had a good laugh because it turned out to be a block-long glorified strip mall. Not many asians in Calgary eh?

Apparently it gets cold in Canada (i'm so smart!). Our next stop was this indoor garden which basically doubled as a Central Park for Calgary. Inside were fountains, streams, ponds, sculptures, grass, flowers, trees, and a dance floor. What was amusing were the many white flower-laced arches scattered all throughout the garden. I imagined five weddings taking place simultaneously within 50 feet of each other and was glad i lived in California.

The place we went to after that, Heritage Park, blew my mind. I guess it's a place you might consider corny, but me being overly susceptible to these things really enjoyed it. The whole place was basically an entire 19th century town transplanted onto an entire peninsula complete with a town hall, hotel, saloon, schools, Victorian residences, horse-drawn carts, steam engine, tents, stables, horse show ring, bank, trading post/fort, newspaper, and shops. Every building was a vintage 19th century building moved from the vicinity to be preserved and they had people dressed in period costume actually running them. For example, a trader in the trading post was explaining how things were traded with beaver pelts and how they were made, school teachers taught lessons in the school, and a printer demonstrated how newspapers were printed using a vintage printing press. They even went as far as to stage a continuing series of scenes from daily life in the 19th century throughout the day, things you might read out of a jane austen novel. It was total immersion for four hours. By the end of the day, i was thinking it would be such a nice life to sit under one of the aspens on the green grass and eat an apple whit my horse grazing beside me. Anyways, you see that i'm a) easily amused and b) have no shame.

Then it was on to the Rockies! We stayed in Canmore which is just south of Banff (where the really pretty mountains are). The first day we were there we went horseback riding. My sister and i have independently picked up this rather expensive and random hobby. In my opinion, i'm surprised we didn't do it sooner considering we grew up surrounded by horses for 15 years. It got to the point where we both called the smell of horse manure the sweet perfume of home. Anyways, the thing that worried me most about the whole affair of trail riding was my mom (she doesn't do ANYTHING athletic). I thought she was going to hate it and that the horse would run off with her. To my surprise, nothing of the sort happened. In fact, she controlled her horse better than most on the trail and had a wonderful time riding by the rivers and through the woods. I guess i should've known that the woman who learned to ride a bike the first time she got on at the age of 45 wouldn't have trouble with a silly old beast. My sister and i had a decent time. We couldn't run, or even jog, but being on horseback is soothing nonetheless. It was a good time to enjoy the azure water and green meadows.

I've decided to break this into parts because it's honestly too much work for one night of a working man so stayed tuned for the next installment of Albert's Vacation Adventure! And if you're wondering about pictures, those will be back Friday so hopefully i'll be able to have them up in the up-till-now-abandoned Pictures section.. Okay, seriously pompom, i'm tired, i go sleep.