I know, I know. I just reread blog post number 3. I may need to take a little responsibility here for missing the flight.
VIA Rail, VIA Rail, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…
Hmm, You are always late. You have been a total of 19 hours late resulting in: my being escorted to my hotel late at night in Prince George by a nice Scotsman, one missed flight, one extra night in Vancouver. Take your pick of potential reasons from previous post. Oh, yesterdays delay was caused by ‘an event in the United States resulting in a back log.’
You do not compensate. No, this is unfair. If I fly back to Canada in the next 6 months I can travel one way between Prince Rupert and Prince George for half price, and today you gave me a Kit Kat and dinner. But not a blanket when I pathetically wheedled and the air con was on at 4am (yes, they do carry blankets – but not free for economy class on a 12 hour delay.)
You prefer us to determine arrival times for ourselves as a little fun game.
You do not really carry vegetarian food (though you say you do). On one 14 hour journey I had a tub of instant porridge oats, a small pot of Pringles and a box of white wine for dinner – don’t get me wrong, I’ve had worse.
You do not help stranded passengers change flights or find hotel rooms. Although the nice people of Jasper do.
You have a top speed of 60km an hour.
But you know what? I do love you, and I’d do it all again. You’ve laid tracks across the most beautiful wild places, you toot at bears, you have great staff, you have some even greater passengers and I am totally seduced by a gently rocking carriage and a train driver radioing to us ‘look to the north for a Cinnamon Bear.’
Hey, so that didn’t work. Blame the internet, not me. Will try and recall what I wrote, though my general update has since been superseded by the news that my trains not coming and I’m stranded in Jasper.
So, I had written about the two – long (and delayed) – days I already spent on the train. A list of general impressions are: British Columbia is vast, vast, vast; wide, overflowing rivers with eddies and flurries carrying trees and logs; snowy mountain ranges; tiny, remote communities; wildflowers galore like dandelions, wild rose, columbines, thimble berry, orchid; acres of willowy marsh with ribbony twists of black water full of lilys and beaver dams. And bears! Black bears chewing grass, walking past, waving. One honey brown Cinnamon Bear. A coyote frozen and watching ( though I swear it was a wolf). And a huge area of blackened forest devastated by pine beetle with a solitary black bear standing up tall.
Things that generally might delay a Canadian passenger train:
Freight trains 150+ carriages long. They rule the rail.
A bear warming its butt on the tracks.
Creeping over ridiculously skinny single track bridges.
Train drivers chatting to people in remote one shack outposts called Doreen. The outpost, not the person.
A gentle incline.
So, I am here longer than I thought and off to change my flight, book a room in Vancouver and buy a clean T-shirt.
These posts are all a little delayed and out of synch. Thats part of the joy of being on boats and trains in remote places.
So, back to Gwaii Haanas, the national park/biosphere that forms the lower half of Haida Gwaii. Before I keeled over and lay under a tree getting gently nibbled by an array of blood sucking beasties, I was paying attention to the guide and boat driver (captain?). The Haida people have fought for decades to preserve their land and it’s environment. They fought the loggers to stop removing centuries old trees, they fought to protect it with park status and now they are fighting the oil companies.
To protect the land from theft of ancient artefacts or damage to the environment, Haida Watchmen (and women) are posted throughout in cabins and live there in frugal (though beautiful) surroundings. In the 1960’s, before national park status, there were a number of thefts of ancient totem poles and carvings. The Haida Watchman goes way back in cultural history and legends and today also helps the Haida maintain a claim to the land with continual usage.
The Haida – and all of the Canadian inhabitants of the island – are passionate about the environment. They see how their culture and the natural world cannot be separated. When I was planning to come here, I thought it was great as it had two areas of personal interest; natural beauty and wilderness and art/culture. It took me a couple of days to realise that these were completely entwined and, ultimately, all part of the same whole.
This last picture is taken from the ferry on my last morning.
Yesterday I went on a wonderful exploration of the uninhabited lower half of the island on a zodiac speedboat with 5 other people. The sky was clear, the sea was bouncy, the coves and inlets beautiful. And then I got sunstroke and keeled over. So I was left laying under a tree while the others explored the forest and an ancient Haida village.
I was still more than three hours worth of speedboat, 4×4 and fishing boat away from home! It was a looong day – so no pictures.
Note: that was the first time I wasn’t scared of bears. I thought if one could just eat me now, that might be a good thing.
Today I went on a trip offroad through the centre of the island with Cody; a beardy man with a big wheeled 4×4, an axe and a bag of food. And a nice couple from Alberta.The west coast is pretty inaccessible, and standing on the beach you realise there is nothing else between you and Japan (apart from a few thousand gallons of pacific water). Its pristine and beautiful.
We did a bit of trekking and a lot of beach combing. I might have to buy a second suitcase to cart back all of the driftwood I’ve collected, which I really dont think I can be parted from. Cody built a fire and cooked lunch (even though I thought bears might join in).
But none of that was the best bit: the very best bit of all was I saw a giant golden eagle battling 4 bald eagles over a fish head right there in front of me, a few feet away. Golden eagles don’t live in Haida Gwaii, so it must have flown down from Alaska. Its hard to describe how it feels when you look an eagle in the eye, in the wild, and as I don’t have a photo you’ll have to do your best to imagine it.