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"!