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 Will try and recall what I wrote, though my general update has since been superseded by the news that my trains not coming and I’m stranded in Jasper.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.
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.
I have so much to share, I’m going to have to do two posts (this little phone struggles a bit). I want to tell you about the wilderness, endless sunshine, wild life and all but first – I went to a dinner party! I’m staying at Premier Creek a homey, heritage (vintage/quirky) hostel with additional self contained rooms. I have discount for being vegetarian – I found out why, later.
After a long, hot and dusty walk yesterday I was lolling on their balcony feeding muffin to a raven. Peter, one of the owners, invited me to dinner. I just had time for a wash and to put my last clean top on. All I had to offer was 2/3 of a bottle of wine. But what a great, crazy, kooky evening! There was an australian man who lives outside the village, two men who are building a house together and the brilliant Paul. A reclusive, eccentric genius neuroscientist who lives with 6 cats on a remote island. Oh, and a big dog that snarled and growled at me all night.
And the best bit? At the end Peter and Lenore said they had been complaining together that they hadn’t met anyone interesting all year – and then I walked in (hint: I count as interesting). I have chosen to take it as a compliment…
I have no pictures of dinner, but here’s Premier Creek Inn and my room.
I left Masset on the ‘hospital bus’ this morning – a little van that runs once a day north or south carrying tiny packages for the health clinic, patients or travellers with giant suitcases. I seem to be the only person in on this secret budget travel, $30 as opposed to $175 for a taxi. There is no other public transport. As the driver is also a logger, and he talked about logs for an hour and a half (and I really don’t think he had exhausted the subject) I had time to reflect on the past few days and realised I had shared barely anything! So, in stream of consciousness style here is a mini update and some random pictures.
It has been gloriously, unusually sunny and will be until I leave. No use for the sweatshirt, waterproofs etc that I packed.
I have been staying at Eagles Feast with a Haida artist, April White or Sgaana Jaad, Killer Whale Woman. It has been quite a privilege to share breakfast and learn so much about Haida culture. She has her nephew Charlie living with her, who is half Maori, and is being immersed in Haida culture to better connect with his incredible heritage. It was a warm and hospitable household, and April is related to other local artists who I got to meet.
Everyone is nice and says hello everywhere. Many of them say ‘I like your hair’….
I hijacked an elderly kiwi couple as they had a car and I got them to drive me on a trip for the day. I think they imagined I was their daughter.
Downtown Masset with the all-important liquor store, far right.
More anti-oil graffiti. Harper is the prime minister of Canada.
The most perfect find – organic crepes and stationery!
The view from Queen Charlotte, where I am tonight. Jealous?
It may not be a huge surprise that I had a meticulous spreadsheet for this trip, which hasn’t exactly gone to plan (other than the travel). Firstly, hitchhiking. I’ve knocked that idea on the head as I’m getting a bit too much attention. I think my red hair and pink skin is a bit exotic to the black haired, swarthy menfolk. And I’m a Brit travelling alone. So, I’m walking instead (and getting lots of friendly waves from trucks).
Secondly, the tiny tourist industry is restricted to summer so quite a few things (carving sheds, interpretative centres) are closed.
Thirdly, it seems I have developed a healthy respect of black bears with big claws and teeth ( not absolute terror, honest). As I have spotted 4 on the edge of the village, I am less keen on wandering around the estuary on my own.
I have had a great time going up to Old Massett, a First Nation area, and met a couple of artists. Was lucky to come across Jim Hart at his carving shed working on a monumental whale sculpture.
However, I also became aware of the First Nation battle against Enbridge who are proposing to extract oil, lay pipelines and send giant tankers down the pristine and delicately balanced Hecate Strait. Haida Gwaii is likened to the Galapagos for its uniqueness and untouched wilderness, and the impact could be devastating environmentally and culturally. As the Canadian Government have approved it in part, and generally oil-money wins, I suspect they haven’t got a chance. Just in case, I will be checking to see if Greenpeace have a petition going.