Ramblings from a bloke with his head in the clouds, literally

Part 3: Canada, Banff and all things Maple Syrup……………

After a bit of delay due to back problems, I have awoken!

Now I’ve done something i wouldn’t usually but I’m thinking about adding in as a minor feature to spice it up a little. I’ve included an interactive Google map. It’s only a small one here but if you click the link, street view the different places and you will get a pretty good idea of what I’ve been babbling about.

I have gotten up to a part that I have been really looking forward to writing so sorry if I harp on about this one a bit more than I should.


Part 3: Canada, Banff and all things Maple Syrup……………

So ill begin from the beginning of this adventure. As we flew into Calgary it was grey, cold and raining outside the plane. It was so cold the windows had snow flake crystal looking things on them. Apparently the decent was going to be fun, and we all know how much I hate landing after the Vegas incident. As soon as we started descending the turbulence style bouncing around began and my white knuckle grip on the seat handles began. It seemed to last for ever and it certainly didn’t help that Juzzy was egging on my nervousness by making quips about “this is the part where the plane falls out of the sky over the Rockies and we all die because of too much turbulence” etc.

I remember the change we saw from the clear blue skies and vastness of the desert had become cold dark grey clouds and I seriously began considering our decision to leave the warmth of Vegas to come to a Canadian “summer”. Funnily enough as soon as we got through the clouds, the sun came out and the sky cleared up. I had a video of the landing into to Calgary which I might end up posting at some stage so you can see the contrast, we shall see.

We made it into the airport in one piece and began taking a nice long walk through possibly the longest straightest airport I’ve ever seen. I did feel a certain sense of excitement as we went down the escalators to the ground floor and above us on the wall was the gigantic and somewhat oversized sign saying welcome to Canada.

By the time we got our luggage and found our way to the car rental counter it was already 1030 or around that mark. We decided to get an upgrade on the car which somehow landed us with a brand new ford fusion. White with lots of silver on it and four doors, it looked ok.

So here was the scenario. By the time we got on the road from the airport and got GPS all sorted it was pitch black outside. Understandably Juzzy was not overly comfortable first time behind the wheel which was on the wrong side of the car too. The first half hour of driving or so wasn’t that bad. We got pretty much straight onto the freeway, tuned in our satellite radio and just started cruising the freeway towards Banff.  After a bit we notice the lights started to get fewer and fewer between and we noticed more and more signs saying beware of moose and deer and bears and ice and cliffs. We certainly had the smorgasbord of shit to watch out for. As we climbed higher into the Canadian Rockies, the fun really started. It began raining. The rain was coming in from all directions and combined with the lack of lights we couldn’t see shit. I mean literally couldn’t see past the bonnet. We basically stuck to following cars in front of us because we could see where the road went by following their rear lights. Every now and then we got blitzed by a truck doing some insane speed. Obviously these guys could either see or knew where they were going. It’s pretty rare that I use the Jesus bar in a car but again I was hanging on for all dear life. I wasn’t such a big deal but like I said earlier, driving in a foreign country for the first time in a brand new car with the steering on the wrong side while you drive on the wrong side of the road through the Rockies in the rain at night with wildlife all around. Interesting stuff.

How it all began and nearly all ended.

We saw the sign to Banff and turned off, paid our park fares as Banff was inside a national park and proceeded into town.

We booked in to our new home for the next 2 nights, the Banff voyager inn and went straight to our room to pass out. By this stage it was well after midnight and after such a draining day we were ready to pass out. Not without a drink tho. We went down stairs to the bar and made ourselves at home. We met John the resident barman, got introduced to Yukon Jack( A Canadian version of American honey but 10000 times better) got hit with cheap Jack Daniels that were nice and strong and had a couple of English chicks telling us about their run in with a bear earlier in the day. I would have loved to stay and sample more wears but it was time for bed.

I awoke at some stupidly early hour and realised were I was. Canada was one of those places that I had really really been looking forward to seeing. So as soon as I realised that were I was, I jumped out of bed and went out on the balcony to suss out my surroundings. Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn. As soon as I stepped outside the first thing I noticed was the chill. The fact I was wearing nothing but my trusty bonds didn’t help but it was nippy to say the least. But I didn’t care. The view that I had awoken to was unreal. Behind the houses across the street were evergreen forests that lead all the way back to the mountain that took over the majority of the scene. The mountain itself was being licked by clouds and covered in snow-caps and yet strangely the sun was slowly coming up. I might have got a bit excited and yelled out “good morning Canada” and to my surprise someone said it back. I quickly followed the sound of the voice and notice 3 sexy looking devils old enough to be my nannas doing their morning aerobics or whatever in the severely heated pool to which my balcony overlooked. I cut my loses and dived back inside to see if I could retrieve my shrunken testicles with a hot shower.

So without any clue what the hell we were going to do for the next 2 days we decided the best option would be to A) get some Canadian Cash and then B) hit the tourist centre. Upon cruising the main drag for the first time it became rather evident that Banff is indeed a tourist town. Every second shop there is a souvenir shop and every other shop is either take away or a bank….that sells souvenirs. We found a place to stash the car and hit up the ATM. Sounds stupid but it was nice to have some colourful money again. It made it easier to tell the difference between denominations and would hopefully prevent giving away the wrong notes when drunk because I couldn’t tell the difference.

We hit up the info centre and armed with our map and some vague idea of what we were doing we hit up the towns mall for lunch. We popped into some kind of crazy cowboy store to suss out any jack Daniels gear and ended up staying for an hour just chatting shit to the guy who owned the place. He loved Australians and we loved his stories. Cool guy.

Walking up and down the main street gave me this weird feeling. I didn’t pay much attention to it and kept on. After the 2 shop we walked into it became apparent that they all sold maple syrup. The more shops we walked past, all you could smell was maple syrup. As it was cold outside but most of the shops had their doors open, their heaters would blow the smell of warm maple syrup out into the street. The whole town literally smelt like maple syrup. You couldn’t hate the place if you tried let alone get angry at anyone. That’s just the kind of effect it had on you. I swear if I got mowed down by a bus in Banff and the driver got out checking on me, instead of abusing him, id smile brush it off and ask if he wanted a hug or a waffle.

It’s just something you have to experience to truly understand. Who knows, maybe maple syrup is the key to ending world crisis. SWAT teams would offer chicken n maple glaze to end hostage negotiations, Riots would be quelled with the smell of waffles n maple blown from a fan on top of the emergency maple response unit, Japan would stop hunting whales because they suddenly realised that sushi n tofu actually would taste alright with maple syrup on it……….

Um…*cough*….….so anyways…….

After retrieving the car we headed through the back streets and found our way to a lookout on Buffalo Street that the chick in the tourist centre said to check out for sure. After plenty of dicking around and following a stupid GPS that took us all over the place we found it. We pulled into the car park and gently nestled the trusty fusion between tourist coaches and holiday campervans. I was thinking great here we go. Overcrowded and over rated shithole. I soon realised how far from the truth I was.

From our vantage point we had it all. White water, gentle rivers, evergreen forests, snow cap mountains, clear blue skies, a distant view of the Banff Gondola ride that we sadly never got to use and across the river a dirty great big German looking chateau thing that I later found out was actually a hotel. Now I wouldn’t usually do this but check this place out, no fucking around here and I imagine it wouldn’t be cheap but daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam. http://www.fairmont.com/banffsprings/Photos/ I would love to see that place in the guts of winter. All covered in snow and such. Sitting quietly by the river for a few mins a funny feeling swept over me again. I didn’t really pay attention to it but I noticed it.

Kinda made me feel like i was in Germany, not Canada

We ended up taking a ton of photos from this look out because it was really the first stop we had to look around and really soak up the surrounds.  We jumped back in the car and headed off up tunnel mountain drive for some crazy cliff side driving action on a road that was not big enough for 2 cars properly. Thank Allah that we didn’t have that problem. That drive took us through a literal resort “suburb” I guess you could call it that kind of reminded me of a log cabin version of that joint that dirty dancing was set in. We found another look out and pulled up to explore and take some more photos. It was at this point that I accidently took the panoramic picture that now adorns the top of this very blog. Juzzy had wandered off down the goat trail somewhat and left me armed with the camera and complete and utter silence. I stopped for 2 seconds to really enjoy it and soak it in before realising that feeling was back yet again. Still not knowing what it was I brushed it off and we kept moving.

A bit further on down the same road we pulled into a proper tourist look out thingy where we saw more coaches etc. Figured that after the last time we saw the coaches they seemed to have found the magic so we followed suit and ended up making it no further that the info board that showed the 6 or 7 different trails we could go on. The reason for this was because when we got there we were the only ones in the area. Being all quiet and soaking it in, a few little friends decided to come out and play. This was my first encounter with a squirrel/chipmink. Damn these little buggers were entertaining to watch and I was spewing that I didn’t have any food to give them as that’s what it appeared they were looking for. We sat there for probably an hour or more taking literally hundreds of photos of them, just trying to get a good one. The result of this wouldn’t be known till we got back to the hotel. After a while too many people rocked up and all our little friends scattered and we decided fair play and it was time to move on.

Where the photography love began....

We continued on down the mountain drive and saw a deer grazing. It was almost like he knew what was going on too cause as we stopped the car and wound down the window he looked up and almost deer smiled with that deer face of his. As soon as we clicked a photo or 2 he got that look on his face as if to say “right that’s my job done” and wandered away looking for more foods.

We ended up Driving back through town and while still giggling at a “stop 3-way” sign ended up driving down the wrong side of the road into vermillion lakes where they had barricades with warning notes stating clearly that bears lived here and will apparently not be all friendly n stuff.

While we were out taking some photos we noticed it had got grey and dark all of a sudden. We sat by the edge of the lake literally just watching a storm roll through on the other side of it. Then out of nowhere it began. We got hit by the most awesome hail storm I have been in in a while. It was enough to stop us driving back into town so we just sat n rode it out.

We made it back to the hotel just in time for the rain properly set in, but that didn’t stop our efforts to get a decent feed. Across the car park there was a steak house that came pretty well recommended by some half pint local chick we met in the bar the first night. Steak? Sounded good to me. Bumpers Beef House was an amazing log house kinda joint that just had the craziest shit on the walls. I wanted to steal almost everything and bring it home with me. As soon as I walked into the place that feeling came back again. I brushed it off and headed up stairs to pull up a seat at the bar. The staff was awesome and the NBA finals were on so it won me over anyways. After an incident involving chicken schnitzels in a steak house I settled on maple glazed steak and veg with steak house chips. Omg omg omg omg. I wish I took a photo of it because it was beyond awesome. I’m yet to cook it but I will one day hopefully soon.

We went back to the hotel and made some Skype calls, Facebook updates and unloaded the cameras to which we discovered that our furry friends from earlier had indeed provided some amazing yet hard to catch photos. This was the point that I realised I had to get a camera once I got back.

It was time for a drink so we hit up the bar down stairs to see John. It had been a reasonable day for us so we didn’t stay too long. Downed a few Yukon’s and then hit the sack.

After a poor night of sleep again, presumably the jet lag still playing a bit of a part we slept in a bit late. We basically just took it easy for the day as the weather had pretty much turned to shit. Between photos, Facebook, Skype, phone calls home, trip planning for future stops we decided we needed the foods and to get out for a bit.

We again basically spent the day walking up and down the main street. Between buying souvenirs and exploring the little side streets and hidden little malls that lay around the place.

It really was quite the un-eventful day but I did however end up getting everyone a present from somewhere in that town. It just ended up that way.

Come dinner time we decided to have a crack at the hotel fare. I ordered onion soup and lasagne and John asked me twice if I was sure I wanted to order all that. I said to him both times, you’ve seen the size of me dude come on. For the second time in as many days I ate my words. That and the biggest meal I’d had in a while. I was in for a fight to finish this meal but after assuring John I could eat it, I was determined to not let the team down. A feat I was yet to repeat several times in the near future. i was soon was regretting the decision as I lay on the bed in the hotel room rolling around like a turtle upside down on its shell trying to get back the right way up. But determined to keep the partying spirit alive I battled on. I had to….it was Juzzy birthday.

We walked into town to suss out the local night life. That ended as quickly as it started, being that we couldn’t settle on any one place to drink and most places were either crazy jam packed or deserted n barren. Low and behold we ended up back at the voyager keeping John Company.

We began with a light round of Jack Daniels before I downed a shot of Yukon. After tasting it again, I decided that would be my drink for the evening and told john, in honour of Juzzy’s birthday “I’d like a double please”. As soon as he found this out he poured a jax for Juzzy that I’m pretty sure was a triple and put it on the house.

By this stage we had a fair deal going. $3 glasses, $3 dollar shots. We liked this guy so much we just kept paying with $5 and left the 2’s for him. You just couldn’t go wrong here. About this time the pint sized chick from the first night rocked up, smashed crab drunk, boyfriend in tow and parked her ass on the bar stool next to me.  Saying g’day, I realised that not only was she completely and utterly fucked up, but this was one funny chick. While john agreed to find the 3rd bottle of Yukon for the week, a feat which I apparently helped destroy 2 of, I went for a smoke.

Colourful compared to that American stuff

When I got back, I was greeted by another glass of Yukon waiting for me and this tiny chick asking me if I played rugby. Little did I know that Canadians are so passionate about rugby.  When I told her I didn’t, she got fired up because of my size. She told me about 30 times in 4 mins “I should play rugby cause Id destroy shit” ’I’d just run through stuff and destroy it” “You’d be the destroyer” “they would pay me to come and play and just destroy stuff”. I asked her if she played and she quiet animatedly replied that she does and she destroys stuff. Then she worked out that that would make her the mini-destroyer because I’m the destroyer.  Getting no support from Juzzy, John or this girl’s boyfriend, I rolled with it. Next thing I know even John was calling me the destroyer while lining up shots of jaeger for all of us and more double/triple jax from Juzzy.

This went on for quite a while and we kept throwing drinks down or “destroying them cause that’s what the destroyer does” until John decided it was time to go home. The little chick whose name will always be remembered as mini-destroyer and her boyfriend wobbled their way off. In my drunkenness I said my farewells and thanks to john for looking after us so well left him a tip that I thought suited and wobbled my way back to the room. Least I thought.

Come morning I woke in my bed, fully dressed in that paro’ed out position that is only worsened by the dribble clinging between your chin and the pillow. I had indeed passed out hard. Somehow I still had the sense to not only get Juzzy the bin and put it next to him just in case, but to take a photo of it as well. I prepared for the day ahead, packed my shit and headed down stairs to meet the rest of the lads for the trip to Fairmont hot springs.

As we got through checking out n met up with the others, hit up the restaurant for a big ass greasy breakfast I ran into John again.

He asked me how I pulled up this morning and I said I’d felt better. He then informed me that upon finding the tip that I left him he came chasing after me to give some of it back to find me struggling to get up the stairs let alone walk properly. He informed me that he assisted me back to my room and put the tip back in my pocket as it was just too much. I told him it was because of that exact kind of treatment that I wanted to leave him such a tip. Because I truly appreciated how much he had looked after us. A trait I learnt that not just john possessed but almost all the Canadians I met.

As Liam and his brother in law Trev rocked up, it was time to go and start the next part of our adventure.  We all piled into the cars and made our way out of town and back onto the freeway.

It was as I sat there nursing my hangover, watching the forests go by and Banff grow small in the distance that I realised what that funny feeling was id had the last few days.

How could you not like this place?

Id fallen in love with Canada. Sounds stupid but that’s about as close to it as I can explain. I’ve been all over the world and seen some amazing places but the streets of Banff and the people there were amazing. It was the first time I could genuinely see myself living somewhere else other than Adelaide. I loved everything about it, and no it had nothing to do with the maple syrup. Well, not a lot to do with it. I’ve never been to a place that I felt so at home and comfortable in, been in such amazement in the surroundings and truly silenced in the wonders of how much difference and beauty there can be in a small part of a country. The people are friendly; I understand the currency, signs, language and even their thermometers. They are friendly, genuine and honest people the likes of which are rarely seen elsewhere these days and I was realising as we drove off how much the place had impacted me in the last 2 days and just how much I was going to miss it.

Sounds kind of weird and feels funny writing it but I think it sums it up. I’ve been heard to say numerous times since returning. When or if Life gets boring here it will be time to head back to Canada, Banff and all things maple syrup.

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