The Canadian, Canada (2): (almost) ending my world tour in Alberta…

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05-07.07: Edmonton, Alberta. The torn cross ligament

The train reached Edmonton early in the morning. My ‘cattle class bed’ was so comfortable that I had wished we could have arrived later. No time to complain though; I had met Marion on the train and we would go cycling in the hills of Edmonton.

The weather was marvelous, the bikes were good and our spirits high. What could go wrong? Well, for starters, we could get lost. Well, lost may not be the right word as we actually knew exactly where we were. It was just that our cycling path had changed into a dirt trail. Dutchies are natural bikers but I am the exception that confirms the rule. I stink even more in hilly terrain. Note for foreigners: the highest Dutch mountain, the Vaalserberg, is only 322m that means ‘blink your eyes twice and you missed it whilst passing’. (PS: Mount Scenery is 887m but this volcano is located in the Caribbean Netherlands).

The dirt trail was no fun so we took the first exit that should take us back to the road. This exit started with a flight of stairs up. No issues there. Minor complicating factor: the stairs were blocked with a fallen tree. We managed to push the bikes through a tiny gap. Unfortunately, the stairs led to nowhere so we had to push the bikes back down through the same tiny gap. Not funny.

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I should have recognised a bad omen when I see one. The blocked path told us to go back where we came from but we decided stubornly to we continue (how much further could it be?). Our next challenge was a potholed hill that was so steep that I didn’t dare to cycle it down. I got off and walked with the bike at hand. Sensible, right? Not! I had to lift the bike over a crater, lost my balance, fell down, heard my knee say ‘snap’ and felt the instant pain.

‘This is the end of your word tour, Linda’ came crashing in to my head. ‘End of story!’ A torn cross ligament in my knee means surgery and [lengthy] rehabilitation. Shit, darn, bugger! …. (on the dots your swear word of choice, I think I used em all). Marion and I tried to pedal back to the hostel, and then Murphy joined our ride; believe it or not but I got a fat tire on the top of my misery.

I couldn’t walk for several days although my knee wasn’t swollen nor back-and-blue. A doctor we met on our next train diagnosed it as ‘a partly torn ligament’. I chose to believe this diagnosis and abstained from any further hospital visit: Without affirmative MRI I could keep going until the pain would become unbearable whereas a positive MRI would leave me no other choice then to take responsibility and ‘abandon my tour’ Yes, I agree, this is a pretty pathetic rationale!

07.07: Jasper, Alberta. No hikes for me

I was gutted when I reached Jasper, Alberta, or better said the Rocky Mountains (hiking walhalla). My knee still hurted terribly. I had already buried my plan to hike the famous ‘West Coast Trail’ on Vancouver Island as well as my [crazy] thought to summit Mount McKinley (6,200m) in Denali National Park. ?

Marion and I met three new travel buddies; Margit (German), Lauren (USA) and Pavni (Indian). We got in Jasper our first ‘bear training’ because Grizzlies and brown bears frequented the grounds and well prepared we went on our 15 minute hike (yes, minutes!).

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Margit, Lauren and I rented a car for a 9 nights road trip. Our personalities and age couldn’t have been more different yet we had tons of fun. I think this trip could win the Corner of the World Award for Most Fun’.

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08.07: Athabasca Falls and Angel Glacier, Alberta. Bears in the outhouse

The ‘Rockin Ladies’ (our whatsapp name) traveled down the Columbia Icefield Parkway to Banff. If you ever get here then please take this road. It is only 230 kilometers but it will probably take some days because you will want to stop at every corner to take [more perfect] pictures.

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The Athabasca Falls were first on the menu. And we devoured it! Incredible!

imageimageWe navigated to our next hostel when I noticed a glacier on the map. It seemed pretty near [and this time my map reading skills didn’t fail, whohaa!)]. The Angel Glacier on Mount Edith Cavel lives up to its name. It was heavenly!

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Our next hostel was a wilderness hostel; no running water (so no shower), outhouses (outdoors toilet with a hole-in-the-ground system) and strict rules on how to preserve water. Now, I wasn’t worried about the water nor the toilet. I was more concerned about having have ‘to go’ at night. The thought to leave my safe cabin to cross the grounds twice for a ‘rest’ didn’t appeal at all. I know myself… I attract funny luck… I would be that one that shared the outhouse with a bear. So, I drank very little that night, LOL. Sorry Mr. bear, reincheck ?!?

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09.07: Athabasca Glacier / Columbia icefield, Alberta. Hiking a glacier

As I said, this trip took us to one of the most beautiful parts of Canada and it only got better and better. Our next stop was the Athabasca Glacier, a 6 kilometer long ‘toe’ of the Columbian Icefield.

Geological intermezzo: An icefield is a ‘growing place’ for glacial ice. A icefield collect snow which transforms into ice (refer to my newfoundland blog). Icefields are static whereas glaciers per definition are in movement. They move under their own weight, push ice and rocks over kilometers of distance and thus literally shape a landscape. Glaciers can also grow by accumulation of new glacier ice but they simultaneously ablate (or: retract) as a result of melting at its end. Although some environmentalists may say differently, retraction is a natural process. It may be sped up by global warming but the experts are still out on this topic.

We hiked the Athabasca Glacier with a guide. It was my first glacier hike and, oh my, it was impressive. If only I hadn’t done Everest and the Great Wall, this hike could be up for the Award for Best Hike.

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10.07: Lake Louise, Alberta. Wet to the bone

Admittedly, all tourists visit Lake Louise. Not on our day though because it was raining cats and dogs and few people dared to go outside. The Rockin ladies were not so easily stopped and we hiked up the Plain of the Six Glaciers. We encountered a little teahouse on the top, which had no artificial lighting. Due to the grim weather, we had to sit in the ‘dusk’ with 10 odd other hikers. Interesting!

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It was only a short drive from Lake Louise to Banff. I bet this little town may be even better known than Vancouver or Toronto, because of its unique location smack in the middle of the Rockies and hence THE starting point for hiking and skiing.

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11.07: Banff, Alberta. Discovering the true gem; Lake Moraine

All Canadian travel books rave about Lake Louise. And it is gorgeous, no doubt. Insiders, however, know that it not Lake Louise that is the prettiest of them all… that is Lake Moraine. This lake surprised us big time… with a heavy snow storm. Yes, we are talking June! Cool 🙂

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12.07: Banff, Alberta. Summiting Mount Rundle

The girls were game for a serious hike. My knee still hurted but I decided that I could always ‘cry tomorrow. Or the day after’. We choose to summit Mount Rundle which, at 2500m only, should be perfectly fine. Should, because it proved to be a tough cookie to crumble. It had a constant steep incline (+1000 m), was almost fully out in the weather, and its last kilometers often require snow climbing.

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We started around noon [for this 6-8 hour hike]. Yes, you may raise your eyebrows, this is FAR TOO late for a serious summit attempt. Ironically, we hadn’t slept in or lazed around but had to shop, sadly enough, for tack for this hike.

We moved relatively slowly but that was to be expected of a group of relatively inexperienced and/or injured hikers. By about 4 PM we finally crossed the treeline and had to continue on loose gravel, which was much more difficult to climb.

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My knee started to seriously complain so we rested for a while and subsequently chatted with descending hikers. The summit had heavy snow and we didn’t bring crampons. Moreover, it was at least another 2-3 hours uphill. We decided to abort and turn around (damn!)). A good decision in hindsight because we only got back at the car around 7 PM. Imagine if we would have added another 4-5 hours for our summit attempt!

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13.07: Banff – Lake Maligne. Girly horseplay (in Dutch: onderbroekenlol) in a gondola

Time flies when you are having fun and ours was running out. We had to return to Jasper to catch the Canadian the next day and this was a full day drive. We squeezed in one final hike up the Sulphur Mountain. This mountain had a gondola which was perfect for saving some precious time on the descent. Descending was FREE but consequently the queue was so long that we may have better hiked down in hindsight. Bummer! What to do to cheer things up? Simple: have girly horseplay! We faked an emergency situation in our gondola. Our action had no added value other then trying to ascertain whether this cabin was fitted with a security camera. Our conclusion: it did not have a camera OR the security team simple had a good laugh watching us 🙂

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14.07: Miette Hot Springs, Alberta. Mountain spa

On our last Rockin morning, we had just enough time to drive up to the Miette Hot Springs (in Dutch: thermale baden). These springs are the hottest on the North American continent. What a perfect way to relax!

We switched between hot and cold baths which ranged from 37 and 14 degrees Celsius. I had issues with the cold baths, guessing my eight years in the Arabian Golf area must have spoiled me. I simply cannot dip more then a toe in water under 30 degrees. I did want to succeed here though and -with minor heart attacks and major cursing- I managed to submerse in the 14 degrees pool. Wow, those people on Titanic people [who were in 4 degrees Celsius] really died a painful death.

It was the hot water that made me want to succeed in the cold. After the cold dip, the hot water felt like being tickled by 1000 fingers simultaneously. OK, that sounds pretty inappropriate for a public blog! Second attempt: It felt as if every cell in my body relaxed simultaneously and thus releasing their energy. The cold water felt the opposite, as if 1000 needles stung me at the same time until all cells had gone numb and it felt as if I had lost all my energy.

imageSmoking hot Rocking Girls (in the hot water of course, or else we would have looked cool of course)

Our last day went far to quick. It was soon time to say goodbye. Margit and I had another few hours together on the train but Lauren had to travel else where. You know, the most amazing thing of traveling is meeting new people but that leads to the most sad thing which is to say goodbye to many new friends. Saying goodbye to Lauren and Margit was one of such tough moments.

The Canadian, Canada (1): Fretting miles in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan

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Sunset on the train, Saskatchewan

02-03.07: Ontario. The quest to sleep

Let my next rail adventure begin! I boarded the Canadian (train) to travel 4,500 kilometers from Toronto to Vancouver. It was a journey that would take 4 nights and 5 days. I had learned my lesson from the Transsiberian and had now planned stops in Edmonton (Alberta, +3 nights), Jasper (Alberta, +0.5 day), Kamloops (British Columbia, +0.5 day) and finally in Vancouver (British Columbia, +1 night).

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Curtosy of fellow traveler Fabian and his drone

Canadian [VIA] trains are great, really! Their ‘Business Class’ is luxurious; with good berths and fabulous food. As ‘writer’, I had been granted access to all areas :). My own ‘cattle class area’ wasn’t too bad either. I loved the ‘dome’, which is the upper deck of a double decker and was made out of glass. The dome provided a spectacular 360 view and made train traveling fun as it also was THE place to meet fellow travelers. I haven’t left a single train without making new travel buddies.

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The Canadian departed in the evening so I soon needed to call upon my inventiveness to find a way to get me through the night. Not so easy. My quick scan clearly indicated that the train lacked the necessary open space for my tiny air mattress. As former Director Intelligence, I know that it far more import to know who is the expert and to assess/synthesise ideas than to actually know everything oneself.

So, I roamed around the wagons around midnight to inspect the available sleeping set-ups. My ‘Linda version’ was a combination of several concepts; I created a level surface in a four-seater-section with my day pack and the foot stools which was just big enough to fit my mattress. I jumped in my sleeping bag, pulled the hood over my head [for darkness], put plugs in my ears… and woke up just before 10 am next morning! Most fellow Economy Class travelers complained about the ‘terrible night’ yet I had slept like a baby. Three cheers for achieving the ‘impossible’!

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It took a full day to cross the province Ontario. Yes, Canada is really vast! The scenery was not too spectacular; hours and hours of dense forest hardly without any settlements. We stopped at a handful of stations that barely deserved the title ‘railway station’. A better description would have been: ‘gravel strip with a tiny house’.

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03-04.07: Manitoba. History lesson

The train stopped in Winnipeg, Manitoba’s capital, to let us explore the city for a few hours. It was 7 in the morning so there was not so much to see as all shops and museums were still closed. I didn’t mind at all because I couldn’t wait to get active after the long confinement on the train. My city map led me along the river banks and let me hike to the [wooden] Fort Gibraltar. This fortress had been the safe haven for French army battalions and fur traders brave enough to travel this far into the Canadian interior. Many fights took place at the fortress because the English found it unbearable irritant to have a French stronghold at arms length.

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04.07: Saskatchewan. The shortest entry ever

The train chook-ed through this province with no stops and nothing interesting to report. I think I made only one picture worthwhile to show and surprisinggly this one actually made ‘front page picture’ for this blog (refer to above; sunset from the train).

Well done, Saskatchewan!

Ontario, Canada: Sleeping beauties and Niagara falls

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Base ball match in the Blue Jays stadium in Toronto (view from CN tower)

 

01-02.06: Toronto: sky scrapers and sleeping beautyContinue reading

Quebec, Canada: La province magnifique… But WHO won the Seven Years War??

28-31.05 Quebec City: Celebrating bilinguality and wars

Whilst buying my Can Railway Pass, I couldn’t help thinking back of my (mis)adventures on the Transiberian Express (link). I was signing myself up for another 5,000 km by rail…I was a little weary because the previous 9,500 had been hardhip and this time I had cut down on ‘luxury’ by eliminating the berth (= bed). I would have to trust my resourcefulness to get me through 9 nights on the trains. I just hoped it would result in some juicy input for the blog… a writer’s life is tough… although it was exactly this status that got me [upgraded] through the first night; I reached Quebec City as right as rain (in Dutch: fris en fruitig).

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Canada seems to inspire travelers to converge. At Quebec station I met Anais, a young Frenchy We discovered to be in the same hostel so we walked up together and chatted basically when our ways parted in Montreal [our next destination].

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Quebec [the province] is a strange duck in the Canadian pond. It is extremely proud of its French ancestry. It had for example to be physically conquered before it got included under the country’s governance and still strives to become independent [again] today. Yes, this is the QuebEx; Canada’s BritEx. And yes, Quebec had its referendum in 1995. It was rejected by 51-49%, so one may conclude that Quebec has 3% more sensible individuals than the UK. LOL! [however, which benefits beyond emotional satisfaction for one half of the people (and dismay for the other half) could result from sovereignty?].

All joking aside, I do admire this province and it is for its true bilinguality. I heard people switch languages back and forth, even within sentences. More importantly, they seemed not to mind to do so irrespective of their ‘English’ or ‘French’ lineage. I thus far only experienced the complexities of bilingual countries [for example Belgium, our neighbouring country]. It was cool to see a place where it actually works. Maybe Belgium could start exchange programs with Quebec.

Quebecian musea topped this ‘merry spirit’ in a pretty incredible way. They displayed their Seven Years War (or War of the Conquest or French and Indian War) in which the French and the English armies battled over Quebec (in 1759). Interestingly, the displays seemed to celebrate the victories of both sides and the French’s even a tat more. So, tell me again: who actually won the war??

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Quebec claims to have a waterfall higher then the Niagara falls in Ontario. Their claim is valid; the Montmorency falls are high indeed. This caused a ‘petit probleme’ for Chris (from Moncton, who had driven up for a weekend getaway) because he suffers from acrophobia (fear of heights). When I got all excited about the gondola and zip line at the top, I got it crisp and clear that ‘I would be alone on that one, unless hell would freeze over’.

A steep, open stairways took us up to the top. My god, I felt like a rocket going up them stairs in comparison to Chris who had to go slooooowly to collect courage for every step up. He looked like he was going to die of shock when I ran enthusiastically onto the steel roster bridge to took shots into the depths at an 180 degree angle. I am now making fun of him but he went far outside his comfort zone that day and that defines a hero in my dictionary!
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31.06: Montreal: The early night that turned into a late one

I didn’t have much time to visit Montreal due to my reservation on the Canadian Express in Toronto. Therefore, the city Montreal had to be seen in ‘Chinese style’; all in 1 day. Pas de probleme! I reached at noon (after a 5 AM departure, pfff), started my first walking tour at 1 PM and my second at 4 PM. By 7 PM I was dead beat tired and determined to go to the hostel and turn in early.

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The ‘turn-in early plan’ would have worked out if only I hadn’t spotted this marvelous park opposite my hostel, if it hadn’t been such a sweet sulty summer evening and I hadn’t started conversation with some locals. I am pretty sure that I then probably would not have been kicked out of a bar after closing hours and that my next day [in Toronto] would have been a lot easier. Ah well, I can only blame myself and, heck, I really got the most out of my limited time in Montreal.

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Novo Scotia & New Brunswick, Canada: The truth about Canada

25-27.05 Novo Scotia: Planning panic / New Brunswick: Getting a grip

Here we go… I nominate Canada for the Corners of my World Award for ‘Most difficult country to travel in’! Surprised? So was I! It was not because of a language barrier because there is none. No insurmountable cultural differences either; I yet have to meet my first unfriendly or uncooperative Canadian, and heck, they also dislike ‘Trumps’ and mock the Brits [for BritEx].

So why this nomination? It is because Canada is ruthless to backpackers without a plan. It is unimaginably vast, sparsely populated and freaking expensive. So unless you are rolling in money or don’t mind to sleep ‘on a bench’ you have to plan ahead. I don’t consider myself a member of the first category and benches are a ‘no-go’ for female solo travelers, so I was one of those who needed a plan. And… I didn’t have one. All I knew is that I wanted to take the Canadian (train from Toronto to Vancouver) and visit British Columbia. No clue which route, which places to stay and how to get from a to be (to c…z).

My life got exponentially more difficult after I ruled out flights and rental cars (where possible) due to extortionate rates. I had confined myself to public transport and, admittedly, I hate public transport. I only take a train to Amsterdam Airport and my last bus ride was back in 2001. So this journey could get interesting! I figured out that trains were my best option although infrequent, slow and still expensive. Buses, albeit cheap, were too slow for long distances but potentially OK for shorter stages.

I decide to nominate when I was deeply stressed. I was about to disembark a ferry in an unfamiliar place, I had no idea where to go, how to get to this ‘unknown place’ and where to sleep. All rules in ‘Linda van Dijk’s Policies & Procedures Manual’ were smashed in pieces. I felt an irrational urge to flee from the place that had made me feel miserable whereas I could rationalise that any new place would be minimally as bad.

I forced myself to get a grip and started to solve the puzzle piece by piece. First: transport. The bus was the only public transportation available so that was easy. Second: bed. I picked Moncton in New Brunswick. The bus would reach in the later afternoon, it was pretty central for sightseeing and had a hostel with availability.

imageMoncton by air (c. Chris McMahon, photographer/friend)

My panic attack subsided, at least, until I found out that I got myself stuck in a presumably depressing ‘hamlet’ (in dutch: gat waar als je er een bom op gooit het een groter gat wordt) for two days since that is their train schedule… Whoosh, gone was my newly restored mood! (Dear Dutch Railways, I take back all the words that have hurt you in my previous blog!).

Sometimes you win and sometimes you loose. I accepted my loss and decided to use the days to properly plan the rest of my Canadian adventure. First priority was getting a ‘Can Pass’, the nation-wide, 60-days, flexible railway pass for the 5,300 kilometers from East to West. I walked to the railway station [hey, Moncton is really tiny] and engaged with their front desk manager.
>> Time in: 5 minutes before closing time. Mood in: grumpy
>> Time out: 2,5 hours after closing time. Mood out: happy

What the h### happened in there? In one word: Chris! Chris happened. He helped me to outline the coolest itinerary ever, to reserve all trains tickets with free rescheduling/cancellations and to pay 600 dollar less than I had expected.

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I offered Chris a beer as a ‘thank you’, which he thought was hilarious so he topped it by inviting me to sightsee Shediac, New Brunswick’s most popular beach area.

Now, jumping into a stranger’s pick-up truck, at night, to drive to an unknown location god knows how many miles outside civilisation… is breaking about all the rules in the Instruction Manual for Female Solo Travelers. I thought I would be absolutely safe with Chris but nevertheless updated my bunk mate of my plan and asked her -should I not return- to report to police that I had been abducted by a railway employee. I n hindsight, I have to offer my sincerest apologies to Chris, because -of course- it ended well, actually, it ended very well; I made a new friend!

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My two daysconfinement in Moncton were gone before I knew it and I had to move on to Quebec City. I got a pleasant surprise once boarded the train… Someone had given the train crew a heads up that they had a ‘VIP writer’ on board… and I got an extra special treatment (thanks all 🙂 )

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Final reflection…
It is funny how a town that I had erroneously stigmatised as ‘depressive’ could turn out to be so good. Moncton is a swell place! I think I may even withdraw Canada’s nomination. Let’s see first how it treats me in the next few weeks 🙂

Hostel’s cat. Layzyyyyyy

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Newfoundland, Canada (2): Earth’s mantle and MOOOSE!

22-23.04 Gross Morne National Park, Labrador: Touching the earth’s Mantle

Since the Redhead/Dutchy duo proved a house on fire, Alana and I decided to head to Gross Morne National Park together. Labrador is a big island; it is a 13 hours drive from St. Johns to the ferry on the other end. No trains and only one bus per day, so we needed a rental car.

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Gross Morne (2,000 square km!) is one of the only places in the world where the earth’s mantle [and deep ocean crust] lies exposed on the surface. This is due to unique ‘continental drift’; when tectonic plates (in Dutch: aardplaten) collide, they push up and form a mountain [or an ocean if both dive down]. In Gross Morne, not the crest but the earth’s mantle got pushed up and flipped over, just like a wood chip shaves off from wood. The mantle starts at 30,000 meters below the surfac, so this event is a very rare. It consists of a high concentration of magnesium and heavy metals, which is toxic for normal life forms. Its presence forced of an ‘extraterrestrial’ micro-ecosystem. In other words, Alana and I had found E.T.’s home 🙂

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Gross Morne is even more spectacular because it has additionally had glacial activity recently. It still has glaciers and glacier valleys, fjords and steep cliffs. We took maximum advantage and packed our days with hiking and road trips.

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Our base, Woody Point, was coincidentally celebrating their annual culture festival. We got it al; country & western, jazz, poetry, limericks and stand-up comedy. Embarrassing detail….Newfoundlands is very difficult to understand. I thought it was simply my [poor] English level but then Alana confessed she struggled too. Big relief!

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24.04 Gross Morne National Park, Labrador: MOOSE!!!

We were warned over [and over] for moose on the road. Hooding one can be lethal. Fortunately and unfortunately, we hadn’t even seen a single hoof print. Until I spotted one in the field from the corner of my eye. I was steering on a very curvy dike. I saw the moose, shouted ‘MOOOOOSE!!!’ and instantly slammed the brakes. ‘CARRRRR!’ Alana screamed. I yelled back ‘NOOOOOO…MOOOOOSE!’. Then her words sank in. Our vehicle was [a tat] over the middle line. Whoa, I quickly recovered, turned the car and stopped [safely].

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The moose looked different than I had imagined but then again I had never seen one in the wild. Alana added that white moose -which ours was- were rare. I had also expected bigger antlers but reasoned that it was likely that females had smaller ones so this should then be a female. Anyhow, who cares, we had seen our moose. Right? Wrong! My moose turned out to be a caribou. A caribou is not much more then an ‘upgraded’ deer. Can you imagine I almost tolled the car for that? Moohoo!

Still pumped up with adrenaline after our (van) dike adventure (gotta admire that word play, right!), we thought to try and top it by hitchhiking to the ferry in stead of taking the public bus. It was a 5 hours drive, the island had only one road to the ferry and we were two chicks at the side of the road, one being a redhead. How difficult could it be?

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We started off well [warning: sarcasm!]; Alana kindly declined a request to ‘babtise a pick-up truck’, and yes, it is really was what you are thinking, seriously! I had found a mother and daughter that were willing to take us so we quickly got in their car. Hasta la vista, pervert! The ladies proved great tour guides; they stopped at all cool places for pictures. But when they dropped us off an hour later we had still another 4 hours ahead…

Our second ride took much longer to secure. Eventually, two guys drove us to their town 2 hours ahead. Still not at the ferry yet. The bus was on our tail. We ended our hitchhike adventure. It didn’t make sense to risk missing the ferry. The two guys proposed to have a beer and play pool to kill the remaining waiting time. Who said hitchhiking wasn’t a ton of fun?

We caught the ferry and set sail for Novo Scotia. We left without having seen one Newfoundland or Labrador dog… Pitty!

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Newfoundland, Canada (1): Whisteling whales and icy icebergs

19.05 Amsterdam: Thank you, Dutch Rail!

It was tough to leave family and friends but it was time for the second leg of my tour. I had a long journey ahead, with special thanks to NS, our Dutch railway company. I had found a dirt cheap flight from London Gatwick to St. Johns, Canada. My outbound flight from Amsterdam was at 6 AM and it normaly takes only 1,5 hours. You know our country is tiny; Den Helder in the North to Vaals in the South in just over 3 hours, 4 with traffic). I, however, had to sleep-over at Schiphol Airport Departures area since our railways doesn’t run night trains for us, Southerners whereas the Dutch in the West have a superb night schedule. Boohoo!!

Hey, it was swell to spend a night with drug addicts and prostitutes. Joking!!! I just had to write this to help stamp out this international misunderstanding. Yes, soft drugs is legal in the NL [in small quantities] but really, don’t expect to find addicts at every corner. Actually, I read somewhere that the NL has less drugs issues than other [comparable] countries. So give us a break, please!

20.05 Signal Peak in St. Johns, Labrador: It’s a whale, it’s a whale!!

I reached St. Johns, the largest town on the Island of Labrador in Newfoundland, around noon. After more than 24 hours of non-stop travel, I had to take a tough decision: to sleep or not to sleep. The Jet Lag Prevention Protocol stipulates to persevere until the early evening but I felt really tired. I decided to ignore the fatigue, put on my hiking boots and set course to the famous Signal Hill trail. The reward came instantly in the form of stunning scenery.

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At Signal Peak’s summit I noticed some movement in the bay deep down below. A fish, I thought. Correction, a big fish! I thought: wow, that is a really, really, really big fish!! Then, gasping in disbelief, I realised it was… a humpback whale! I couldn’t help it and shrieked ‘whale, whale, whale!!’. I now understand that I may have come across as a person in need of immediate help. The local couple that rushed to the ‘rescue’ looked a little vexed initially but then laughed about my bona fide excitement.

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It seemed to be my lucky day. Only minutes later I spotted a flock of the rarest species. Their Latin name is Homo Sapiens. Lol! They had found a bald headed eagle sitting on a nest. Wow, now that is a big bird!

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When arriving in St. Johns’ I felt strangely unadjusted, you know just not in traveling mode. Could it be that one’s ‘globetrotter vibe’ could already distinguish after 2 weeks at home and/or 1 business meeting? I had read up on travelers that couldn’t adjust to their normal lives anymore but I was experiencing the opposite; homesick upon arrival. Great start, miss van Dijk..

I was pondering upon this topic on that first hike when I felt my enthusiasm re-ignite concurrently with each curve of the trail, view point and wild life spotted. My body and soul re calibrated, got back in balance. I was hungry for new adventures. Tired? Heck no!!!

21.05 Atlantic Ocean: Icy icebergs from heaven

The first adventure planned was a kayaking tour but I had a change of hearts. I decided to be sensible; the odds to spot a whale were close to nil as they hadn’t arrived from their migration yet. The nearest iceberg was 50 nautical miles (92 km) off shore, so not kayaking there! And I was weary about the water temperature; the Titanic sank close to St. Johns and I remember that water was 4 degrees so any splashing could lead to common colds, pneumonia or worse. So I booked a boat instead. Better!

Alana, an amazing young Canadian redhead, joined me. She praised icebergs and without exaggeration, icebergs are BEAUTIFUL! They are in my top 5 of most awesome sights. They seem to be sent straight from heaven with their bright baby blue color. (Scientific note: the blue color is caused by the refraction of the light in the air pockets that resides inside the ice mass. The air gets stuck when fresh snow compresses and transforms into new [iceberg] ice. Glaciers grow in the same manner as a matter of fact.

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There is nothing heavenly about Canada’s National dish, poutine, which is chips topped with melted cheese -so far so good- and… gravy (in Dutch: vleesjus). Jikes! Okay, poutine is perfect at 3 in the morning after a heavy night [because then all fatty foods taste divine, right?].

I had ordered mine for lunch time. Wrong timing! I tried to save the meal with a cheese top-up to mask the taste of gravy. The waiter returned my plate with more cheese… and more gravy, transforming the dish to a gravy soup with soaked fries. Yuck! Even Alana agreed (and my apologies to all [Canadians] who feel insulted by my poutine review).

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