Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Day 6 in Canada: Banff, Mt Sulphur and steaks in Cochrane

We'd arrived in Cochrane, Alberta about 6pm the night before. Dear Hubby has an old friend living in Cochrane and they offered to put us up for two nights. Thank you to the Martin family! Their house was GORGEOUS. It was two-storey unit with a basement suite. When I saw the basement suite, I thought it made a lot of sense. It had a bathroom, bedroom and a living area. Guests could come and go quietly without waking the rest of the family.

I could barely crawl out of bed this morning because I was just exhausted. The main reason for my tiredness was that the bed wasn't really big enough for us two. Or let me put it this way - it was big enough but wasn't big enough to contain a 6ft 2in guy who insists on sleeping in a diagonal position and a 5ft 4in lass who was trying her best all night to push him over and not fall out of the bed at the same time.

All the same, the mention of climbing mountains was enough to wake me up. We hopped into the car and headed for Banff which is an hour away. I kept a sharp eye out for wildlife as our hosts had told us how they'd seen coyotes walking at the lake just outside their house and how bears would sometimes raid the bins in town.

We saw three bears during the entire Canada trip. The last bear encounter was the funniest. We were on some highway and when we spotted the usual mass of cars parked by the roadside, we knew there was a wild animal sighting. And lucky us! Even though we were at the end of the queue of cars, the bear started heading our way! So Dear Hubby hurriedly fixed up the zoom lens on his big DSLR and handed it to me, telling me to get a shot since the bear was on my side of the road. I stuck my head out of the window and peered through the lens. There's the bear! His head was down and he was munching away at some grasses. Clickclickclickclick! went the shutter loudly in quick succession and to my horror, the bear heard it, lifted his head and looked right at me. I froze in terror, "Oh god.. he's going to charge! I'm dead meat!" Looking through the zoom lens, the bear looked about five inches away from my nose (WAH LIAO EH!!!!!! SO CLOSE!!! YIKES!!!!!!!!!!) and my immediate reaction was to duck my head back into the car where I then discovered the bear was... a good 20ft away at least in reality. Silly me. As for the bear, he had already gone back to his munching and had forgotten all about this amateur in the car.

When we arrived at Banff, Dear Hubby drove straight through the town to the gondola terminal. He promised we would take a wander through the town later. The most important bit was to get to the summit of Mt Sulphur while the weather was good. As we paid up, I looked doubtfully up at the mountain. It seemed rather... high? Like Rocky Mountain High high? What am I doing going up mountains and bridges when I'm terrified of heights anyway???

The ride up to the summit took about 8 minutes I think. It was a very LONG 8 minutes. It didn't help that Dear Hubby kept moving about in the gondola as he tried to get the best shots of the valley below. This made the gondola sway gently and had me clutching the rails in terror. The gondola terminal at the top displayed flags of all its international visitors. Of course I looked for our flag and there it is! Jalur Gemilang! Hello, my flag! Apa khabar?

The mountain has a walkway leading to the very pinnacle of the mountain. If you're going, be sure to dress warm. When we got there, it was bright and sunny. By the time we descended, it was snowing! Wear a cap or something, it's very windy up there and you don't want your hair obscuring your view. Bring a camera and keep an eye out for the wildlife. We saw plenty of birds (I could only identify the raven) and alpine squirrels.

There was snow everywhere. Snow on the trees, snow on the ground, snow on the walkway and when we looked up, we were surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It was absolutely breathtaking. Even though there were plenty of people up there, it was pretty quiet. I guess everyone was like me - awed into silence. I looked at those mountains and I felt... humbled. Humbled by the power of Nature. Man has built some pretty impressive structures but they all pale in comparison to what Nature can do.

We took a leisurely walk, stopping to read the various info plaques along the way. We even stopped to say hello to a little snowman that someone had built on a bench!

Quite close to the top, a little alpine squirrel ran out from the rocks and guess what? He came to me! I was so excited! "Ooh, you love me! You really, really love me!" I stood very still so as not to scare him off as he scampered about near me for a bit and finally went off to search for some food.

When we reached the peak, I really wanted to yodel. Really. Just to see what it was like and if it would echo back. But I didn't. We could see the clouds moving in and decided it was time to get a move on. Lightning always strikes at the highest point and up on the peak, I couldn't see anything else higher than us, so er... better get going!

As we came down, the weather swiftly turned from sunny to cold and grey and something started falling out of the sky. What was it? Dear Hubby had to tell me gently, "It's snow, babe." WOOHOO! Snow! On me! In June! I was sooooo excited I nearly fell on me bum. Behind me was an equally excited (or naive) lad who shouted out to his pals, "Guys, it's SNOWING!!!" Guess who sang Jingle Bells as we walked back towards the gondola terminal?

The gondola ride down wasn't as bad as going up. I found it helped to focus on Dear Hubby's face and just keep chatting away about anything in my mind. We drove back into town and took a walk about. As Banff is a tourist town, most of the shops sold souvenirs. It's very clean and well laid out and so very colourful! We popped into a shop for some lunch. We've learnt now that a single Canadian portion is enough to feed two of us, so we ordered ONE spag meatball, ONE garlic bread and two drinks. And it still was too much! So we went for a walk along the lake to work off the excess calories.

I fell asleep on the drive back. Not a good idea because the sun was shining in one direction so when we got back, I looked like Harvey Twoface from Batman. One side of my face was redder than the other. Sigh. We took the Martins out for dinner at a steak place to say thank you for their hospitality. Alberta steak is supposed to be excellent and mine certainly was!

The next day, we hopped back into our car, said our goodbyes and started the long journey back towards Vancouver. That's half of our holiday gone liao... I really don't want it to end so quickly! I love Canada!

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