Monday, 30 March 2009

Canadian wildlife.

I love the deer in Waterton but I was glad for the opportunity to see more wildlife in the Yukon. We went on a tour of a wildlife preserve, and saw mountain goats, mountain sheep, muskox, bison, deer, elk, moose and caribou. My favourite were muskox (the photo above is from google, I didn't take it). They are a bit ugly and awkward-looking, but apparently their wool is some of the most expensive wool in the world! I liked the mountain goats too. Look how cute he is! On a mountain!

Sunday, 29 March 2009

I climbed an ice tower!

Whitehorse has the only permanent (well, permanent in the winter) ice climbing facility in the world. Every year, they hook up some hoses onto a frame, and leave them running until they freeze. Then they teach people how to climb safely on the tower. I was so scared of falling off (even though we were in harnesses) and sooo proud when I climbed the tower! Seamus got some ice shards in his face, and got a cool icy scar. It was a lovely day, and afterwards we went to the hot springs and lay in the warm water in-between the snowy mountains, with the sun beating down on us..aww it was lovely.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Burning away the winter blues.

"I've always wanted to be part of a torch-bearing mob" - Seamus Kerlin, March 21st 2009.

For the past few years, Whitehorse has held a festival on March 21st (the first day of spring) called Burning away the winter blues. This is a pagan festival, whereby an effigy of Old Man Winter is burnt on a huge bonfire whilst Yukonites dance around with drums, chanting "BURN, WINTER, BURN!". Apparently, this year is particularly significant since the Yukon has had more snow during this winter than during any other since records began. I guess if you have six months of very cold temperatures, the dancing and chanting can seem like a good idea by March. To keep warm if nothing else.

Anyway, we read about this festival before we went to Whitehorse, and thought it'd be fun, and very much something we'd never have a chance to do again. So, last Saturday night, we headed to the waterfront where the event was due again. The plan was for everyone to meet there, and parade to a campground a mile or two away, carrying this effigy (plus a large dragon? I'm not sure of the significance of that part, but still). Almost straight after we got there, the organiser approached us and asked us to carry the torches at the front of the processions. Not flashlights either....torches! With real fire! Why would they trust us with that kind of responsibility? We're not even Canadian!

So, we carried the torches, and it was a little scary (as I am fearful of fire). And we walked to the campground, where the dancing and chanting and burning occurred, and we all had to write down our winter blues, and burn them in the fire. It was very cool, in a weird, pagan way.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Throwing a tantrum on a snowboard.

On Saturday, we went snowboarding, another new experience for us as until now, we've just skied. Snowboarding looks easier than skiing (what with there being less equipment, plus both feet being attached to the one board) but it's so much harder. We took a lesson, than just practised all afternoon. I threw a tantrum because I kept having trouble standing up, plus it hurts more when you fall over (my bottom was bruised). Eventually, I got pretty good at it and started having fun (naturally, Seamus was a pro at it right from the start). The hill was filled with lots of tiny kids, skiing and boarding by themselves. I wish I was fearless like a child. There was this tiny girl of five, all by herself, who just kept riding the lift up (singing all the way), then skiing really fast to the bottom of the hill, for six hours straight. She was a star. At one point, she crashed into me (she seemed to have no steering/stopping ability) and fell underneath me. I was so apologetic and concerned but she just said "no problem!", hopped up, and started telling me about the time she went to the dinosoar park and saw dinosoar bones.

I wish I was a child :(

Thursday, 26 March 2009

A snowmobiling adventure.

On Friday, we went on a daytrip snowmobiling. At first I was really scared because on wikipedia it says snowmobiling can be really dangerous, especially for inexperienced people. But it was so much fun! We had a German guide, Thomas, and he was great. It was actually the one miserable day we had, weather-wise, so our photos aren't that special. But it was so cool. I felt like a pioneer. We rode our snowmobiles down the Yukon river, and across Lake Labarge, and stopped at lunchtime, made a campfire (whereby I ate SAUSAGES. I know, but travelling's about trying new things right? Plus, it was freezing cold and I was starving. I had a tummy upset the next day though) and drank tea. Snowmobiling is fun, but it's not as cool as dogsledding, which feels much more special. But we saw some lovely scenery, and I was so proud of us! We went over 40 miles in that day, and did you know snowmobiles have heated handles, so your hands stay warm? Isn't that so clever? Anyway, it was so cool travelling all that way on my own snow machine! I loved it!

Moonlight mushing.

One thing we really wanted to do in Whitehorse for dog sledding. We went on a Moonlight Mushing package, which turned out to be less moonlit, more sunlit, due to the clocks having gone forward a few weeks ago, and the weather being beautiful. We went to this ranch outside of Whitehorse, and each had our own team of huskies. There was a dog called Katy and one called Seamus. The guide told us that Katy the dog is really small, and find work hard but tries really hard, and Seamus the dog is very good at what he does, and is a lead dog. IT'S JUST LIKE SEAMUS AND ME! My four dogs were lovely, although one kept eating snow. It's meant to be quite hard work to make your dogs run, but mine seemed to like running, so I just stood on the sled and enjoyed the ride. We travelled across the frozen lake, and through the forests and it was so magical! It felt like a really special thing to do, to be working with the dogs. The two hours went way too quickly. Afterwards, we had a campfire and cookies and tea and talked about dogs and northern lights. Dog sledding was definitely something I'd like to do again. Some places do these one or two-week tours, where you camp out every night. I would like to do that. It felt like a real Yukon experience, something you can't do in most places.

Our journey to the Yukon.

It occurred to us all too late that Waterton is not a handy place to travel from. Stuck down in the corner of southern Alberta, we are a 45 minute drive (no public transport) from the Greyhound depo, and a further three hours bus ride from the airport. And the buses only go to Calgary once a day. Our flight to Whitehorse was Wednesday evening, but we had to leave Waterton on Tuesday evening to get there. Our bus to Calgary was 4.35am, so we stayed with our friend Roy in Pincher Creek on Tuesday evening, and crept out of his house at 4am to walk to the bus station. Then followed a horrible bus journey into Calgary, where we had a day to kill in the city before we made our way to the airport.

You may remember my post early on about the twelve hours we spent in Calgary in October, and how I didn't like the city during those twelve hours. Another twelve hours last Wednesday did nothing to endear me further to Calgary. That place is just not set up for carrying out daily functions in a nice and easy manner. Especially if you're a tourist. The city is not pretty or impressive (although we did find a little park with Canadian Geese...or, just geese, as the Canadians say), and everything is so spread out. We arrived at the bus station at 7.45am, and walked thirty minutes down a main road (and through a decidedly ghetto neighbourhood) into the city. We had a good breakfast, walked around the shops (I bought a new camera, which is confusing Seamus in the photo above), just killed time. In the afternoon, we traipsed all the way back to the bus station, where we'd left our bags in a locker. And this leads me to the worst thing about Calgary. THERE IS NO DIRECT BUS TO THE AIRPORT. Despite the airport only been 15 kms from the city centre, they decided it would be too handy to have either a public bus running, or a shuttle bus (surely every other city in the world has both?). There is a very complicated way of getting to the airport, involving two buses, one train and a lot of walking. But since we were on holiday, we gave in and paid $45 for a cab. But it hurts. Do they not want their people to travel? Do they not want to encourage tourism in their mediocre city? Or is their economy purely dependent on taxi companies?

Once we were at the airport, everything was very simple. We checked in, hung out and played cards, then boarded. We were flying with Air North, who just deal with the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska. Despite the flight only being three hours long, they gave us free, nutritious and tasty food, and a nice magazine to read. I love Air North!

We arrived at Whitehorse pretty late, got a taxi to the hostel (Whitehorse have both shuttle buses and public buses between the airport and the city, despite the population being only 20,000, and the distance being 5 kms) and then went for CHINESE. Every holiday should start with Chinese.

There's going to be a lot of blog posts about Whitehorse...more to follow!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

I love the Yukon.

We are back and exhausted and poor. Our holiday was wonderful; we did so many cool things. We got stranded last night in Pincher Creek at 1.30am. Al was meant to collect us but he fell asleep, and I was due at work in Waterton at 6.45am. We stayed in a ghetto motel and I got to work at 9am. We have just unpacked and done our laundry, and we have a million photos to upload and so many stories to share. For now, though, I will go to bed, and try and write tomorrow. I didn't miss Waterton while I was away, I just feel more eager to get travelling. It was never our intention to get dragged into work politics, and although this place is beautiful, I am excited to leave and see other beautiful places.

More tomorrow!

Monday, 16 March 2009

An abnormal way of getting warm in the freezing conditions of a Canadian winter as expressed by Robert Service.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam 'round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he'd often say in his homely way that "he'd sooner live in hell."
On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka's fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn't see;
It wasn't much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.
And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o'erhead were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and "Cap," says he, "I'll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I'm asking that you won't refuse my last request."
Well, he seemed so low that I couldn't say no; then he says with a sort of moan:
"It's the curs├Ęd cold, and it's got right hold till I'm chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet 'tain't being dead—it's my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you'll cremate my last remains."
A pal's last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.
There wasn't a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn't get rid, because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: "You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it's up to you to cremate those last remains."
Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows— O God! how I loathed the thing.
And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
And I'd often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.
Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the "Alice May."
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then "Here," said I, with a sudden cry, "is my cre-ma-tor-eum."
Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see;
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.
Then I made a hike, for I didn't like to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don't know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.
I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: "I'll just take a peep inside.
I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked"; ... then the door I opened wide.
And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: "Please close that door.
It's fine in here, but I greatly fear you'll let in the cold and storm—
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it's the first time I've been warm."

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

('The Cremation of Sam McGee, by Robert Service)

Friday, 13 March 2009

Midnight skiing.

On Wednesday night, it was a full moon, so Seamus, Alex, Al and I skiied to Cameron Lake at 11pm by moon/snowlight. We got to the lake at midnight and stood in awe for a while, looking at the glowing mountains and moon and the massive frozen lake. We skiied a little way on it (just so we could say we'd skiied on the lake by moonlight), then skiied back and made a fire. We forgot to take water to boil for tea, so we boiled snow, but then realised we'd forgotten we just ate some biscuits instead. Our camera wasn't working, but to be honest, photos wouldn't have done it any justice, some things work better committed to memory than to camera. It was so beautiful. A full moon over snowy mountains is one of the best things I've ever seen.

Last night was Al's memorial and it was lovely and alcohol-fuelled, exactly the way he'd have wanted it.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

A different perspective.

My blog's been a bit glum lately, what with deaths of my friends, fires in my workplaces, firings in my workplaces and expensive ear infections. Sorry about that. I'm feeling more optimistic today. Life's been a bit rough in 2009 so far, but everything that's happened is just part of life, and I am lucky to be living in a beautiful village, spending time with amazing people, regardless of the bad things that happen around the edges. There aren't many people living in Waterton in the winter, but let me tell you a little about some of them (as I'm aware most of my blogs are centred around Seamus and myself. I don't want you to get the wrong impression that we don't have friends here, because we do).

Irina comes from Russia, and works with Seamus in Housekeeping. She has had an amazing life; all her friends in Russia are philosophers, writers, artists and singers. She worked as a guide in the wilderness, and has lots of stories about bear encounters. She's an amazing artist, and her apartment is filled with drawings and paintings and photos. She can dance in a way that no British or Canadian person can. She works so hard and has all this crazy orange hair, and speaks her mind all the time, and feeds me cheese and Russian tea named after a Russian popstar (one of her friends, obviously), and paints stones to look like animals. She has so many interesting stories about her life, there's some I'd love to share but it's not appropriate on a public blog. I want to have as many experiences as she does.

Cook Al is younger than me, but has done so many things I feel like I've wasted my life. He's won 100-mile running races. He lived in Denmark for a year, and travelled around Europe. He's worked on a ranch in Northern Canada, and regularly goes for 30km jogs in -20 temperatures. He taught us to build campfires, and he cooks us wonderful food and mulled wine. He is so optimisitic and has this amazing idealism about how life should be.

Alex is new here, and from Slovakia. She's worked on cruise ships all over the world, and lived in Ireland for five years, and taught me to ski. She is an amazing judge of character, and organises staff outings all the time (something everyone else could never quite manage), and likes everybody. She wears a hat made of rabbit fur, and drinks brandy, and we drink tea together and talk about boys.

Sue and Zen are the people who hired us. For another four days, Sue is the Human Resources of our four hotels, and Zen is the General Manager. Unfortunately (and it breaks my heart), they have been let go due to the economic situation. From before we even arrived in Waterton, Sue made us feel so welcome. They care so deeply about their staff, and for a lot of us, they feel like family. I am going to miss them so much when they leave, and I can't see how the hotels will run without them. They do so much, for the business and for all of us who work there. They organised a Christmas meal, and chose to spend Christmas with a bunch of young people (most of whom drink and smoke too much). They are so caring and giving. And they have so many stories about their lives. And Sue wears an amazing fluffy white coat, and has a dog who steals mittens.

There are a lot more people here who are wonderful, but that's just a few. so, things aren't as bad as they seem...I am very lucky to be here, and living with these people. And I can't wait to go to the Yukon next Wednesday!

Monday, 9 March 2009

The end of something beautiful.

Yeah...I'm still down in the dumps. It feels like ever since the Kilmorey burnt down, things have gone downhill. I'm missing Al a lot. I'm talking about him in the present tense, as if he's still here, because it feels too unreal. He called me 'munchkin'. He had names for all of his girls. He came to the lounge every day at 4pm and gave me a hug, and then started ranting on about wingnuts.

This group says it better than I can:

As someone on here says; “I’ll miss the way he told stories and you didn't really understand but you laughed because you love him”.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Goodbye Al.

My friend Al died on Wednesday. It was sudden and unexpected, and it's kind of knocked me for six a little bit. Al was one of my favourite people, and closest friends, in Waterton. He was everyone's friend. He was so kind and generous, and with a very dry sense of humour. Waterton will not be the same without him.

2009's a bit of a shitty year so far.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Hiking round Milk River.

Our Milk River adventure.

On Thursday, we went to Milk River to visit Jesse (for those who don't know, Jesse is a Canadian we met when we were on exchange in Finland). His parents live on a ranch in the middle of nowhere (although, right next to the Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park). His house in in the photo above...the eagle is a stuffed eagle they have in the kitchen. It's a beautiful house, and they have so many cool things (like stuffed eagles...), lots of animal sculls and books and interesting photos. They were wonderful hosts, and fed us very good food and let us go in the hot tub. Ohmygod, I've never been in a hot tub before, but Seamus and I have decided we're getting one of our own. Theirs was out on the deck, and it was so nice sitting in the hot tub under the stars, drinking beer and talking about Mormons. My hair froze.

We went on a couple of hikes (photos in the next post) and went to the Provincial Park, and played Trivial Pursuit, and looked at animal tracks, and learnt about the tribe that lived in that area of Alberta. Maybe we're just a bit cooped up from being in Waterton for so long but it was the best mini-break ever!