Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Victoria Bug Zoo

The Victoria Bug Zoo is genuinely freaking awesome, I was a pig in shit. Learnt an awful lot about insects and and got to hold a tarantula, a scorpion, a spiny stick insect, a praying mantis, a cockroach and wear a millipede as a moustache. Really very happy I did it. Brilliant.

There were only five visitors in the zoo, a family of four with children about four and five years old and it was all done by an informative guided tour. Looking at the leaf cutter ants the guide asked 'Does anyone know who the biggest ant in the colony is?'
I was straight in with 'The Gi-ant'. I waited for the round of applause but the others just politely pretended I'd said nothing as a tumble weed blew past. The guide carried on 'It's the queen' Well of course it's the bloody queen, who do you think you're talking to? Four year olds?... Oh. Right.

If you are ever in Victoria please, please, please go to the Bug Zoo. It's not even mentioned in the Rough Guide to Canada, I will be writing to them to make sure this oversight is corrected.

The rest of my time in Victoria was equally enjoyable, attended Rifflandia festival where Band Of Skulls were playing and The Flaming Lips headlined. Cracking.

That's the way I roll

Spent a day in Vancouver, quite nice, art gallery, park, saw a skunk. In bed by 6:30pm and slept through until 9:00am which made up for the lack of sleep on the bus.

Next day across to Vancouver Island and the pleasant city of Victoria. I'd planned for one night followed by exploring the island. I stayed for three as I liked it too much to leave.

Something I rarely note down is the walking I'm doing. Most days I just get up and explore until I'm lost. Being lost is my favourite.

Some Africans have to walk six hours to fetch some water and as the old joke goes "so why don't they move?". I think they don't move because they like the walk, think about it, the sun is always out in Africa from what I can tell and they don't have to worry about being home in time for Coronation Street (thanks to sky+) so why not snap up some of the cheaper out of town real estate and enjoy a good walk every day?

One of my days in Victoria began with me passing a flyer advertising Victoria's bug zoo. In my head I told myself to strap in because today would be a good day. Saw a nice bit of lawn in a park so I did a forward roll. Even though this behaviour isn't normal for the over ten year olds it made me smile so plplplplhhhlll you all (this is my word for the noise made when blowing a raspberry). That is just the way I roll.

Found a cafe by a marina with excellent service from the pretty server and free, efficient refills so I drank about four cups and had a long, amusing three way phone conversation with my parents that covered topics from Dad's fishing trip to Mum inadvertently going to a dogging site. Once again a caffeine hit that I'm not used to kicked in and the joyful French woman sat at the table next to mine was submitted to far too much of my talking. I spewed out a sentence too fast and without pauses 'It's a great day to be alive I'm going to the bug zoo next I like bugs maybe to the museum after that I hear it's very good but maybe I don't have time I suppose it depends how long I spend with the bugs I don't normally drink coffee excuse me for talking too much I think I have had enough coffee' so I paid the bill and left to see the bugs.

On my way I passed a father and son looking out at the departing water plane that flies between Victoria and Vancouver.
Son: 'Where's that plane going?'
Dad: 'Africa'
Being able to lie to kids has to be one of the best motivations for parenthood.

After this I saw a man and a woman catch a goose in a net then wrap it in a towel. I don't know if they were going to help it or eat it.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Another Greyhound, Another Nutter

Leaving the Rocky Mountains was like leaving a girlfriend, I was going to miss them but I had to do it if I was going to see some more sights. I was taking the overnight greyhound bus to Vancouver and even though there were only a couple of free seats left some people were still spreading themselves across two seats or were sat in the aisle seat with their bag next to them. This pisses me off. Surely it is common courtesy to leave an empty seat accessible and play the lottery of who is lucky enough to get the double. If I was on a short trip I'd have picked the seat next to the person who was making their spare seat least convenient. As it was a twelve hour ride I decided to be a pacifist and took the one free aisle seat. It was next to a small man (result, more space) who was fetally curled up, gollum style, muttering to himself (hmm... not such a result, we'll see how this pans out).

Definite nutter.

I christened him Rainman because he spoke like Dustin Hoffman's character in the film, repeating the first part of a sentence at the end of the sentence. 'There should be a sign, I can't see a sign, there should be a sign'. It was hard to tell when he was talking to himself, me or the world in general. He was very jittery, intensely staring out the window and with some sort of sign fetish from what I could work out. Occasionally he calmed down after popping some pills from a little orange bottle, I liked these times as they allowed me to rack up a full eight minutes of sleep.

Come morning, about 4:00am his discomfort escalated. He was leaving Winnipeg for the first time in his life and hadn't quite worked out how the world functions. The idea of the earth spinning was definitely something he hadn't got his head around. He said 'We're three hours behind Winnipeg here, the sun should come up now. We're three hours behind Winnipeg'. 'It comes up at seven thirty there, it should come up at four thirty here, it comes up at seven thirty there'. This was too big a conversation for me to have at this hour in the morning. I figured he'd see the sun come up for himself.

Come 7:00am still with two hours left until Vancouver Rainman became worryingly agitated.
'I can't see the fucking sign, I can't see it, I can't see the fucking sign'. And my particular favourite of his eruptions: 'Fucking look at those road works. They're fucking standing there fucking doing fuck all the fucking fucking fucks' all I could reply was 'yeah, bloody roadworks eh'. Seconds later Rainman leapt up and shoved out past me in to the aisle to try and get a view out of the front window saying for the hundredth time 'I can't see the fucking sign'.

By now everyone on the bus was aware of Rainman and looked to me as if I was his carer. I decided I would try to help and asked him a few questions trying to understand his obsession with seeing the signs. From what I could work out he only had an address on a scrap of paper for a contact in Vancouver, not having traveled much he thought that he would be able to see the street name on a sign and get out there to find the address. He thought that the bus stopped for each individual passenger and when I told him that's not how it works, there were just a few designated stops he looked perplexed. How he had managed to get on the right bus with such a limited knowledge of public transport God only knows.

In a final panic Rainman leapt past me again at the stop before Vancouver downtown thinking it was time to get off. On discovering it wasn't the Vancouver stop the tirade of expletives, well just fuck and fucking repeated over and over, was awkward.

Rainman's final sentence to me before getting off was 'I need a fucking lager, I gotta fucking get off, I need a fucking lager'. I knew how he felt.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

I like Being Kidnapped

Woken by Julien throwing up/dry wretching in the loo. Showered, put laundry on and headed to a chocolate shop for a coffee date I had arranged for 10:45am with a girl I met in a bar. She never showed up. The day hadn't got off to the best of starts but it turned in to another reet good 'un.

It was the day of the Banff triathlon so I stood by the side of the road in the sunshine and cheered strangers on, earning myself a bag of goodies for my enthusiasm. All the goodies were power-bar related and tasted horrible. Back at the hostel I went to cook myself some lunch but in the kitchen there was a crazy hunch-backed woman mumbling to herself so I ran away to hide in my room for twenty minutes. When I returned she was still there, still talking to herself but now there was another normal person who I could share sympathetic scared eye gestures with so I made my super noodles while crazy lady shuffled in and out of the kitchen cursing at fridges and cupboards and kettles.

Rented a kayak for the afternoon which is the perfect way to spend time in Canada. On the river two girls in an inflatable dingy said hello to me and we hooked our boats together for a bit of a float, chat and... what's this? A beer from your cool box? Don't mind if I do.

Michelle and Jenny are most excellent people. Seeing that I had a pen they said we should draw pictures for each other. Not a suggestion I've had before, but a good one. I drew a goofy cross eyed man waving, wearing women's underwear. Michelle drew a river and mountains and Jenny just hung on to the handles trying to decide if she was enjoying herself. Jenny can't swim and has a fear of water.

We pulled over to a wee beach so that Michelle could get in the water for a wee and as the clear water looked so inviting I stripped down to my flowery underwear and dived in (upstream of Michelle). An initial feeling of 'this is perfectly relaxing' was replaced after three seconds with 'f--- me it's cold'. The girls invited me back with them by Michelle asking Jenny 'Can we kidnap him?'. Spontaneous days out are exactly what travelling is all about so I popped back to the hostel to get showered and changed and then they took me to Michelle's house in Canmore, a beautiful house with large wooden deck and mountain views. We sat round a fire, toasting hot dogs and doing conversations very well, mostly about serial killers!

I only returned to the hostel two days later having had a great weekend, playing frisbee golf and making some great new friends. So yep, I like being kidnapped.

Banff Hostel Fun

Spent a couple more days in Banff, walking and making temporary friends. Entered a quiz on my own and finished a not respectable seventh out of seven. In my hostel room in Banff was a Quebecois called Julien and one morning at twelve (I know it's not the morning but it was only just after I woke up) his first action was to offer me a beer. Those who know me will know my answer, I rarely have the in-head debate anymore. It is both polite and fun to accept a beer and so Julien and I ended up going through a box on the patio.

The amateur alcoholic part of me is not one that I am proud of but it is a key part of what makes me Glyn. Without this side the majority of people I would meet would be well adjusted, decent members of society and my decisions would be based on logic. And where's the fun in that.

Julien was a character I never fully worked out. He kept asking me about the BNP and I said I was ashamed that they had any following in Britain. His opinion was a little more pro BNP and right wing in general. Julien is shaven headed with black goatee with a number of tattoos all linked to being proud of his cultural background. He reminded me of Ed Norton in American History X in appearance. I'm pretty sure one of his tattoos is a cross that was used on the helmets of the Nazis.

Thankfully Julien's views were only of the mild racist nature and he didn't push his opinion and allowed me my own. It was more about not losing the culture, particularly the French-Canadian culture of his youth. As we drank that afternoon it would appear that Julien had been on a session since the early morning, he became slury, swaying and irritating. I made my excuses and left. When I saw him several hours later Julien had a protective dressing on his arm - another tattoo. There should be, and probably is, a law against letting someone drunk get permanently marked. Worried that he may have a swastika under the dressing it was a relief to see some ugly Greek symbol, something to do with his grandfather.

Joined a couple of other guys in the hostel in the evening, found ourselves invited to a fortieth birthday celebration. In the hired room there was a noticeboard with post-its for people to sum up the birthday boy in one word. He seemed like an excellent sort so I chose 'Gentleman and legend' because I can't count. One of the others from my room chose 'blowjob' thinking no-one would know. He was caught in the act but the people at the party saw the funny side and took no offense. Finished the night in town playing pool (badly) and dancing (very badly) in an empty nightclub. Good times.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

I'd Give A Badger A Good Kicking

After the indulgences of the weekend in Canmore I went for a long, tough hike up Mount Rundle and came back down it parlty on my bottom. I was knackered and got the best nights sleep I'd had in months. It felt like two full days had passed because of the clarity of the dream I had. The dream started with me waking up in the U.K. ready for the first day back at work (which it was for my ex-colleagues) and the dream turned almost to a nightmare.

Despite the school being a cross between the school I went to and Hogwarts I was convinced this was reality and my travels had ended abruptly. I was supply teaching and all the worst parts of the job were there: Kids embarrassing their school, being rude to visitors, ignoring staff and generally acting up like like all normal little gits should. I became panicked which is normally where a dreamare would end but instead it carried on for a full two days of teaching and extra curricular activities. There was football with the students and I got tackled by a twelve year old letting him go on to score the winner against my team. I had a house and family with an ex-girlfriend and dozens of screaming children, I was in hell and because I wasn't waking up I figured this was my actual life now.

When I eventually stirred awake I still felt like I was in my own bed at home and the sound of a man pulling up his jeans with the belt jangling was disturbing. The total immersion I'd had stayed with me all day, not something I'm used to from dreams. Normally it would just be one or two weird moments that I'd remember like when I kissed my friend but he had bicycles for hands and was thirty feet tall. I'm not sure I liked the feeling of remembering my dreams that vividly, hopefully this doesn't happen again.

Went for some bird watching and bear hunting. I didn't see a bear but the trail was marked as high likelihood so I ran through what my defense strategy would be if one was to attack. You're supposed to talk calmly so I'd tell it the joke 'What cheese do you use to get a bear out of a tree?.. Cam-on-bear.' If it didn't leave me alone I'd get my penknife at the ready with the corkscrew out - as that one's easier to pull out than the knife. Then I'd get eaten. I wondered what the toughest animal I could take down bear handed would be. I'm no Legolas against the oliphant but I reckon I'd give a badger a good kicking.

Being alone with my thoughts, I enjoy my mind on days like this. And still with all the glorious scenery as a backdrop that I can't imagine tiring of. And even better, now school is back in I can really appreciate the feeling of 'I'd be going to work right about now'.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Rocky Mountains Wedding Crasher

I had booked on to a tour from Jasper down to Lake Louise. The pick up was at 8:30. I did not make the pick up. Possibly $100 wasted.

Packed up my tent and strolled back to town to see if I could still get to Lake Louise that day. Made up an excuse about my watch being in another time-zone. I even wound my watch back an hour and showed the woman I was begging to. She may or may not have bought my lie. Either way I was able to swap my tour for the direct bus. Missed out on some apparently special sights but the drive was still spectacular, past a glacier and a black bear.

Tried some root beer. Didn't like it.

Lake Louise (gorgeous) was followed by Banff (also gorgeous), things were good and met good people and saw more great views but let's spin on to the fun of Canmore.

Had a two hour wait for the bus to Canmore so I decided I'd try to hitch-hike. Was picked up after ten minutes by a hungover girl who took me to McDonalds in her beaten up old pick up. Thanked her for the lift then tried to find a bed. Four hours later, having walked out to the hostel 5km out of town and back and around town I managed to find a motel with a bit of space. Even though it was the cheapest motel in town, at $100 it was still three times my daily accomodation budget. As the Canmore Highland Games were in town it was my only choice. Why the Canmore Highland Games are a thing I have no idea but they've been running for twenty two years.

If I was used to hotels the first things I would have noticed about my motel room would have been the badly stained carpet and odd smell. As I'm not, I was excited by the fridge, hob and little bottles of shampoo. Having a room to myself I did as any self respecting man would have done: Got naked and had a wee with the door open.

Met up with Pete and Shauna and their friends Kristy, Clayton and Megan. They were in town for their friends wedding so were squeezing in to one hotel room where we played drinking games and had a fun evening. Clayton was asking Kristy about her heated mattress
Clayton: 'What temperature does yours go up to?'
Kristy: 'Max'

We joked that I should be a wedding crasher the following night but I said that wasn't cool on someone's big day so I couldn't. Popped back to their hotel the next morning to steal breakfast and thank them for having me. Next up I figured I should check out the highland games.

Briefly strolled the park and watched some people throw heavy stuff then found my way to the beer and music tent. The music was all Irish but it was excellent. Watched the official opening ceremony which was a load of ridiculous pomp and ceremony. I loved it. Found myself smiling like a special child all day. Bagpipes though, what a cack instrument. There were three hundred pipers and most seemed like normal people. I don't understand that.

Over some Irish dancing I befriended a girl who had had a very full and troubled life. She had been given the all clear two days earlier after suffering from ovarian cancer, her ex boyfriend was murdered and she was fairly well off thanks to her talents as a cocaine dealer in Vancouver. She'd left the city to escape that life and was working in a restaurant for a bit before moving on to Spain. We drank for several hours and then she went to work half cut.

With the sunshine, bagpipes, drinking and new friend I was feeling very good and decided that crashing a wedding might be okay after all. To do this I needed a suit and luckily the taxi driver was happy to help out. The only issue was that his waist size was 40 inches and he had definitely given me the shirt and tie he cared least about. I looked idiotic, but at least I'd made an effort. I'm not sure how acceptable my presence was at the reception but I certainly felt welcomed and I think I behaved myself, not taking advantage of the free bar. I did take advantage of the limo that was provided to ferry guests back to their hotels though and I joined Pete, Shauna, Clayton, Megan, Kristy and two others at their swanky hotel room to conclude the night with some Royal Reserve (dreadful rye whisky).

Canmore and everyone in it had been good to me. I recommend it.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

It's Good To Walk

Time for The Rocky Mountains.


My accomodation was in a 44 bed dorm in the one hostel in town, which isn't in town it's 7km away. So not great but Jasper is a beautiful small town.

Found out that despite normally needing to book three months in advance one camping spot was available to walk The Skyline Trail - rated one of the best walks in the world. This is one of those lovely times when things just work out for you. Got myself kitted out with an extra pair of warm socks and set my phone alarm for the next morning.

I haven't seen that phone since. It was only being used as an alarm and had no SIM but I can't work out where it went. Fortunately I woke at 8am anyway, only an hour late, and figured even though I couldn't make the bus to the start of the trail I'd maybe be able to hitch a lift. Things work out for me moment number two: Found a guy in the hostel who was one of the other twenty people walking the trail that day, his friend was driving to the start and they could give me a lift. Too easy this travelling lark!

The group became five as their friends joined us and as we seemed to get on well we spent the first day walking the 22km together. I won't go on about the views because you can see them in pictures and they don't do it justice. Plus reading about pretty things is boring. I'll try and sum it up with one word: Incredible.
Cooked some supernoodles then went for a walk up to a waterfall where I saw an animal that I thought was a goat crossing the fall. It was too big for a goat though so maybe a deer? Then it faced me and it was quite clearly a wolf, reminded me of the gmork from The Never Ending Story. They are much bigger than all but the freakiest big dogs. It was the icing on the cake of the views I'd been spaffing over all day.

Both days had a great variety of jaw-dropping, incredible scenery and blah, blah, blah. Sorry, but it was dead good and the two days were the highlight of my trip so far.

After finishing the trail I still had 13km to go back to town and another 7km to the hostel. I tried hitching but nobody fancied picking me up so I was still walking as the sun started to go down. I'd left a note at the hostel to see if they could reserve me a bed when their computer was working again. Nothing was guaranteed but I was on a run of luck... which came to an end. No beds at the hostel.
I had enquired on my way through Jasper at an average looking motel. The girl on the desk said 'I'll write the price down for you'
'No need to do that I won't be offended' I replied. It's a good job she did write it down - $174. I pretended I'd think about it but we both knew the kid who needed a shower wasn't coming back.

The panic ended before it had begun as the campsite only 3km from town had space for a walk on spot so I headed back, finally getting a hitchhike lift from a family of South Africans and pitched my tent in the fading light. I was overdue a shower and they had some, indeed I liked the campsite so much I signed up for four nights.

The days in Jasper were good. Got my haircut one day, thought I was doing good flirting with the hairdresser until she said 'So what is this trip some sort of mid-life crisis?'. Ego dented, no big tip for the hairdresser.

Loved Jasper so much I wrote a poem, this is how it goes:
Mountainous peaks, peaceful creeks,
I'm in Jasper
And as per my wishes I will make this the time of my prime,
By drinking wine,
Really? Wine?
Sure a beer wouldn't go down better?
Alright, I'll have a beer.

Won't try poetry again for a while.

Monday, 10 September 2012


While in Edmonton I was a guest at Pete and Shauna's new house. They are a couple I met in New Zealand and had stayed friends with them since. For the next three days this friendship worked out very useful for me as they are overly generous hosts. If you know them and they like you, go and stay with them, make sure that Zorro - the cat - doesn't steal your breakfast though.

Day 1: Checked out the Edmonton Fringe Festival but we didn't see any shows just soaked up the atmosphere and watched the uniformly awful buskers. One man by the moniker of Magic Brian spent ten minutes building up to a trick with a false thumb that I had in my Paul Daniels set when I was ten. We later saw him outside his empty show tent looking depressed.

Day 2: Shauna and I played golf. They have girls driving round in carts selling beer to the players here. That seems like a good system to me. Most of my round was rubbish but did hit a purple patch of birdie, par, birdie. Followed that up with 8, 7. This is similar to how it goes with beer and pool, two beers and Glyn kicks ass. Three or more beers and ass kicks Glyn.

Fun day followed by a couple of the good shows of the Edmonton fringe, an improv show called Truth or Dare and a late cabaret show.

Day 3: Elk island provincial park. I was looking forward to this as I'd heard it was full of loads of bison, moose and elk. Technically we did see a moose and a bison but both from a distance. The main walk of the day was a two hour stroll, we didn't realise however that it was through mosquito territory. We were destroyed and couldn't enjoy the walk. I asked if we might see a beaver as there were lots of dams. Apparently they're nocturnal though. Shauna did say 'You can see a beaver tonight if you want'
Pete quipped in 'Steady on Shauna, don't I get a say in this' hee hee.

I thanked them both but would see them again in a weeks time further down the rockies when I would have need to thank them some more. But we'll come to that later.