Category Archives: Canada 2017

Planned and unplanned surprises

After a week in Calgary the time had come to head east, further into the prairies. I boarded another bus and got off in Lloydminster. Here, my host sister Melissa was waiting for me. She had known for the last two months, that I would start my trip through Canada out here. As we were waiting for her husband, Roland, and their kids, Faith and Torrie, we drove through town and went for a walk in the “Bud Miller Park”. I was hoping that we wouldn’t bump into Vic and Bev, as that would spoil my birthday surprise.

Melissa helped in hiding me for a few days (Photo by Melissa)

I spent the next few days with Roland, Faith and Torrie on their farm, hiding out and waiting for Bev’s birthday. We chased some chickens, watched Faith’s rugby practice and played some cards. It was a nice, but quiet time. However, by the end of my stay there, all my host brothers and sisters knew that I was there, but luckily everyone played along and nobody said anything.

Chasing chickens with Torrie
Watching Faith at rugby practice

Finally the big day arrived and Melissa managed to set up a lunch date with Vic and Bev. They met at the “Lashburn Golf Club” and somehow I happened to be there, too. It was indeed a big surprise and neither of them had suspected anything. And another surprise was waiting for all of us, as a middle-aged woman suddenly declared that she buy lunch for all twelve customers present at that moment. We thanked her and shared the cream pie, that Melissa had made, with everyone, without getting to know the reason behind this generous gesture.

Vic and Bev didn’t see this one coming – a successful surprise! (Photo by Melissa) 

Afterwards I changed cars and accompanied Vic and Bev to Maidstone, where I had previously gone to high school. This time we went for an award ceremony in the elementary school, where Ryker, my host brother Michael’s youngest son, and Steele, my host brother Ronald’s youngest son got awards for their hard work and their good behavior and sportsmanship in class, while the whole school was watching them.

Ryker is waiting impatiently for his award
Steele was the only one from his grade to receive an award

Over Easter, the weather forecast had predicted a drop in temperature. This proved to be true and with it came another big surprise in form of 20 cm of snow, covering everything with a thick, white blanket, dampening my hopes for spring to come. And instead of mowing a green lawn, I was shoveling mounds of snow, while behind me the ground got covered up again. I was glad that I still had gloves, scarf and hat from Patagonia with me.

Spring in Canada is incomplete without shoveling mounts of snow
The snow appeared over night and almost out of nowhere

After a few days the sun came out again and we tried making the best out of this late-winter weather by going for a walk in the snow. And of course there were all the indoor activities that we could still do, like the farmers market in the “Servus Sports Centre”, which is lacking fresh produce at the moment, but still sells fresh bread, chocolates and other handicraft. It’s very popular with the locals and everyone goes there to discuss the latest news over coffee and cake.

Going for a walk in the warming sunshine with Bev
Locals meet at the weekly farmers market

Another part on the agenda was visiting with my other host brothers and sisters, who came over with their families. Almost everyone had been sick before Easter, but they recovered and were fit as ever, especially Zayne and Ryker, who were chasing each other all over the living room. It was really great to see everyone again!

Todd has the shortest drive, as he lives right next door
Zayne and Brenda are having fun

Between Rockies and Prairies

My former host family from my exchange year to Canada in 2004/05 lives about three hours east of Edmonton in the Prairies. I had told them that I was coming to Canada, but not when I would be visiting them. So I decided to surprise them for my host mom’s birthday just before Easter. I still had a bit more than a week until then, so I decided to go to Calgary for that time.

The “Calgary Tower” is the most prominent building of the skyline by day…
… and by night, when it is lit up in different colors

I hopped on the “Greyhound”, pretty much the only major bus company in Canada, and got off about four hours later. On the road I noticed how old and outdated the busses are, compared to most of the busses in South America with the exception of Bolivia. Here, the busses may have WiFi and power outlets, but the seats are old and uncomfortable, they don’t have seat belts and the leg room is not very large on most seats. Maybe they should order some new vehicles from “Cruz del Sur”.

Large displays of artwork can be found in different parts of the city
The Rocky Mountains are within reach of Calgary

In Calgary I checked into the hostel – surprisingly there are only two hostels in this city with more than 1.2 million inhabitants. Here I met Raghu from India, who had been living in the US for the past twelve years, but decided that he’d rather have a Canadian citizenship than from the US. He was living at the hostel while looking for an apartment and getting everything organized. When he was not busy, we explored the city or cooked something together.

Exploring the city with Raghu
An exhibition of Canadian paintings of the Rockies and the Prairies at the “Glenbow Museum”

Another day I met up with Brendan, whom I had met back in Namibia on the Sossusvlei trip. He lives here in Calgary and took some time off at his job, as the oil and gas industry is still not back on track here in Alberta. We drove about one hour west and were suddenly surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. Here, winter was still omnipresent: Everything was white, covered in snow from the last few months and from last night.

A beautiful day to be out in the mountains
Brendan took me cross country skiing in Kananaskis Country

The plan was to go cross country skiing, which I had never done before. Brendan had picked an easy trail to “Chester Lake”, south of Canmore. We arrived at the parking lot as one of the first ones, put on the ski and set off into the woods. After a while we started sweating, as we were constantly gaining altitude along the way. For it being my first time, I thought I did quite well. The moving joint on the ski and the scaled bottom of the ski helped quite a bit.

During the ascend we were warm enough without a jacket
The blue sky seemed to be moving with us

As we had reached the lake, we enjoyed a short lunch break in the snow. However, we did not have the typical turquoise lake in front of us – instead, we were looking at a wide open area, covered in snow. Only the fact that it was flat reminded us of the lake. On our way back it was mostly going downhill. What was supposed to be an easy ride back turned out to be quite difficult, as the trail was much narrower and bumpier than what we remembered from the way up. The thin, long ski added to the difficulty, as they were more difficult in handling.

“Chester Lake” is still hidden under snow and ice

I ended up taking off my ski on the steepest parts, but I still managed to get a good ride for a long part of the trail. It was a good experience, but we agreed that snowshoes would have been the better choice for this trail. On our way back to Calgary we stopped in Canmore, where we caught the last rays of warm sunshine, before it disappeared behind big dark clouds, which would eventually bring more snow.

Closer to Canmore the ice on the lakes is breaking up
Canmore is the first city in the Rocky Mountains on this route

On the move

After nearly four months in South America it was time to move on. I boarded an overnight flight from Lima to Fort Lauderdale (US). From there, a connecting flight took me to Houston. The flight was delayed due to tornado warnings, but in the end everything went well and I reached my last connecting flight to Canada. We arrived in Edmonton in the evening and when I left the plane it felt like I was home. Everything around me seemed familiar, although I have rarely used the airport in Edmonton during my various trips to Canada.

Arriving in Edmonton almost felt like coming home

There were almost no other people around, so I got through immigrations pretty quickly and soon afterwards I had the “Work & travel” visa in my hands. Outside I was awaited by Gary and Sharen, who had been with me on the trip to “Manu National Park” in Peru. They live in Edmonton and had offered me a place to stay for the first few days in Canada and I had gladly accepted.

Reunion with Sharen and Gary, who invited me to their home

The next morning I woke up to a big American breakfast, with bacon, eggs, potatoes and more. It was really delicious! While sitting at the table, I noticed that there was still snow in the backyard. This was not exactly what I was hoping for. In my mind it was springtime – with flowers, green grass and warmer temperatures. I had forgotten that springtime in the prairies means bare flowerbeds, brown grass and snow…

A quick glance at the backyard revealed leftover snow

In the meantime, Sharen was trying to find something for me to do in the Edmonton area. It proved to be quite difficult, as it was too warm for ice skating and the “ice castle”, both had melted already with the temperatures just above the freezing point. The parks were still brown and without flowers and the “Royal Alberta Museum” was still under construction. However, I was happy to spend a few days without doing much, as I had been on the move for quite some time now.

Outdoor ice skating was not possible anymore

Still, time passed by quickly with playing cards and pinball, updating my diary and blog, watching pictures of our trip to the jungle and a stroll to Tim Horton’s to get my favorite Canadian drink, “Iced Cappuccino”. We also helped Sharon’s nephew, Ross, to load and unload his van with boxes and furniture, as he was getting ready to move across the Rocky Mountains to Vancouver.

Playing pinball with Gary
My favorite coffee chain in Canada – Tim Horton’s

One night Gary and Sharen took me on a tour of downtown Edmonton, which is all nicely illuminated during nighttime. We visited the modern city hall and the area of the new downtown ice hockey arena, currently under development to improve this part of the city, which has had a lot of problems with crime. On the other side of town we visited the Alberta Legislature Building. It is surrounded by a large green area, pitch dark at night, where I had to remind myself that I am now in Canada, where it’s still much safer to walk around in the dark.

Inside the modern City Hall of Edmonton
The Alberta Legislative Building is surrounded by darkness

Another day we made use of the sunny weather and went to “William Hawrelak Park”, located in a riverbend of the “North Saskatchewan River”. While the river was almost fully covered by ice, the trails were mostly free of ice. However, with the melting snow, some of the trails had become really muddy, making it quite challenging to move along. Nevertheless it was a great day and we enjoyed spending the time outside.

The “North Saskatchewan River” was still mostly covered by ice

We’re trying to find a way through mud and snow