Canada and Alaska: Kamloops

It seems like everyone in Canada is determined to out-nice the last person you met, so I have to tell you how I met Ron.

Halfway through our Rocky Mountaineer voyage we stop for the night at a city called Kamloops. I don’t know why, but I though it would be a tiny, one-horse town in the middle of nowhere. In fact, Kamloops has around one hundred thousand people, a big university, paper mill, and a lovely city centre next to a scenic riverfront. I probably wouldn’t be writing much about it though, if I hadn’t gone for a walk in the late afternoon to keep myself awake so I could get a proper night’s sleep.

I saw a couple of people from the train walking into town (only a couple of blocks from our hotel) so I joined up with them and we walked along chatting and discussing whether dinner was really necessary after being stuffed to the gills on the train.

When we got to the edge of the big central park we fell into conversation with a guy named Ron who walked us down to the river to show us some sculptures illustrating the height of past floods. The sun was setting and turning red in the haze from the local fires. The other two wandered off after a bit but I walked around with Ron for an hour, talking about the town and our own travels.

We looked at the river, the gardens, heard a band and looked at some public art, community gardens (a picture for you here, Wendy!) and historical buildings.

Ron had lived in Kamloops for most of his life and his children and grandchild also lived there. He was great! One of the joys of travel is connecting with local people and learning things no tour guide would ever tell you, so if you’re ever in Kamloops and you see a guy who looks about 76, eating a liquorice ice cream and not getting one spot on his tan trousers, call out ‘Ron!’.

You won’t be sorry!

Next: Mum and I tick off a bucket list item and take a ride through Jasper in a Harley Davidson side-car. If you think Mum would look hilarious in leather chaps, you are correct!

Canada and Alaska: I Win a Silver Salmon

I’d read on a blog that the Rocky Mountaineer holds a poetry competition so on the second day I started writing a poem. Halfway through the day nothing had been mentioned so I asked Cleo, one of the staff, if it was happening. She said it only usually happens on the longer routes but I was welcome to get up and read mine. I was immediately filled with terror but I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t, so at the end of the day I got up and read it for our carriage. I got a few laughs for mentioning the things that had been annoying us, like the trees always blocking the view. When I finished they gave me a silver salmon pin and said that if I ever saw anyone wearing one I had to give them the secret salmon handshake, which I will demonstrate for you if I ever see you in person!

There were many stops along the route on the second day to let goods trains pass, so we also had a little quiz sheet that Mum and I also finished first so we really scooped the pool. I never win anything so it was quite thrilling for me!

Here’s the poem I wrote. As you can see, it’s nothing special but I do quite like the way it ends.

Oh Canada, oh Canada

Your home and native land

Is filled with trees, so we ask please,

A chainsaw we demand.

Don’t cut them all, just make them small,

So better views we’ll see,

My camera’s filled with blurs of green,

It looks quite like the sea.

T’wixt train and mountain,

Track and shore,

they block all sight of land

Fine far away, but close I pray

For gaps a camera’s span.

I don’t like to moan, you’ll send me home,

Everything else is grand.

Your food, your smiles, your bear-filled wilds,

Smoked salmon on demand.

Cleo and crew know what to do,

To keep us all well-fed and happy.

Giving us facts and plentiful snacks

Their service is anything but crappy.

We’ve laughed, we’ve snoozed

We’ve barely boozed,

We’ve travelled, young and old,

We’ll come again, just tell us when

On your Rocky Mountain gold

Canada and Alaska: The Rocky Mountaineer

Well, it turns out a million Canadians aren’t wrong, this does indeed seem to be one of the world’s best rail journeys. Today is day 2, we spent all day on the train yesterday and have just reboarded this morning and had our breakfast.

A few facts to begin. The Rocky Mountaineer isn’t just one train. There are four routes and the one we are on started in Vancouver, stops for the night at Kamloops (don’t worry, we hadn’t heard of either) and finishes in Jasper. There are no beds on the train so we were bussed the four blocks to the Hilton.

The journey starts at the dedicated Rocky Mountaineer Station in Vancouver. There’s a vast number of people milling around and drinking free tea and coffee before a bagpiper starts playing and they have a short welcome speech.

The train is quite huge when you first see it. About 13 carriages, half of which are ‘silver leaf’ single-storey and the other half are ‘gold leaf’ double storey. Gold leaf is the way to go! We have a glass-roofed car and the dining area is on the bottom level. The seats upstairs are lovely and wide with nearly a metre of leg room. It’s lovely!

Our whole tour group is in one carriage and the other people in the carriage are almost as rowdy as us so it’s a great atmosphere. We can see into the cabin behind and they all look like they’re asleep so we feel a bit sorry for them;-). One of the other people in our group just came by and said that people at the front of our carriage complained yesterday that we were too noisy which has made us all determined to be even noisier today.

The food on the train has been lovely and our tour director, Carmen, said the staff on the train will ‘hug and kiss and slobber all over you’, which was something of an exaggeration, but they are all very lovely. Breakfast is two courses and lunch is three. There is a menu and a nice range to choose from. The carriage goes down to eat in two groups, which gives the other half of the carriage a rest from all the cackling that our group does. On the first day we were in the second sitting and today we ate first.

The view from the train begins with green fields of corn, blueberries and gigantic blackberry thickets. The route follows rivers most of the way and eventually the scenery dries out until the mountains become quite bare. The colours of the rock faces change from grey to sulphur yellows, purples and pinks in places. We passed a place where The X Files did filming and a few other movie locations. We’ve seen about a dozen eagles, some beaver dams, osprey nests on dummy telegraph poles (the nests can last for hundreds of years and grow to the size of small cars but ospreys prefer to build on man made structures because… they’re jerks? No one really explained the reason. What they did before people built telegraph poles I do not know) and big horn sheep and a few deer.

They can never tell you, at the beginning of the day, how long the journey will take because there are an enormous number of enormous goods trains using the lines and, as a tourist vehicle, we need to stop and wait when those trains go past. I counted 150 containers on one.

As we go along the crew give us interesting facts about the places we pass. One little town we just went through is home to a helicopter-skiing business with a lodge that could be hired for $100,000 a week. It provides chefs, cleaners and unlimited helicopter drop-offs to remote snow fields for up to 12 people. Bargain!

We are lucky to be travelling in the first of the gold leaf carriages, which means we get a view out over the front of the train, so we can take photos that make it look like we’re standing on the roof.¬†

Unfortunately all the smoke from the forest fires has reduced visibility and we didn’t get to see anything of Mt Robson, Canada’s highest peak. Still, all the trees and rivers were very pretty.

Next: I win a poetry competition that I suggested and was the only entrant in!