About Me

"Setting the world to rights"...one blog at a time! Plus anything else that comes to mind

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Wed 30th April 2003, Whitehorse

Well, here I am, safely settled in Whitehorse.  The flights went well, on time from Heathrow and only a half hour delay from VancouverI exchanged smiles with the girl who sat next to me from Heathrow but we hardly spoke until we were coming into Vancouver.  She was from Oregon and was on her way back from visiting her sister in London.
Later I got chatting to a couple from Birmingham visiting family on Vancouver Island.  We were waiting in a queue for passport control in Vancouver airport and we started chatting about the Orientals a couple of queues away.  Most of them were wearing masks against the SARS virus, or perhaps they’d come from a SARS area and been asked to wear them; I never found out - they were almost a tourist attraction!  The couple had done a fair bit of travelling so we swapped stories about places we’d been, which passed the time while we queued.  Vancouver airport is impressive and airy; all glass and steel, even water features.  One was really large and you walked through it (well-not actually through the water!); complete with mock rock walls, waves lapping on the "beach" and bird song.
I was a little nervous standing in line because there’d been notices on the plane that you can’t take certain foods into the country and of course I’d had my food parcel in case the airline had mucked up my booking for gluten & dairy free food.  I’d finished the grub – of course, but no way of cleaning it so there were things like tomato seeds.  I’d got it into my head that I’d be in trouble but it was no problem.  I explained to the customs man and he did his best not to laugh but I definitely saw his mouth twitch at this well-meaning but obviously dippy Englishwoman!
I managed to find the general area for boarding the internal flight up into the Yukon but wasn’t entirely sure from the signs if I was at exactly the right gate.  Someone reassured me and we sat chatting happily for a while.  She was on her way to Edmonton for a course on how to train people to become horse-riding teachers.
The flight from Vancouver took us over Vancouver Island, up the Inside Passage, breaking off after Ketchikan to fly inland to Whitehorse.  We had a birds’ eye view of the islands and fabulous snowy mountains.  It was exciting to see where I shall be going in a month or so.
I was so excited as we came in to land I could scarcely contain myself despite being so very tired.  The airport is a small airfield with one large building on a ridge outside of Whitehorse.  I really must check the history of the town; but it looks to be built where the ground has been quarried or mined.
Sad to say, there was no snow nearby although I could see it on the hills/mountains surrounding the town.  Instead it was really warm and sunny – not at all what I was expecting.
Before I left the airport I checked with the National cars desk, who confirmed my booking for 1st May.  She also helpfully rearranged the pickup to a place in town as it would be cheaper and I could have a courtesy car from my hotel to the pick-up place.  Of course, I had forgotten that George (travel agent George not Georgie George) had arranged the pick-up from the airport specially so I could go straight onto the highway and wouldn't have to drive through town immediately after pick-up with a left-hand four-wheel drive on strange roads.  Ah well, committed now.
I had an hour and a half wait at Whitehorse airport.  By the time I finished at the car hire place I was at the back of the queue that eventually dwindled down to me and one other.  He turned out to be the most interesting person to date.  He works for the Fisheries & Forestry Commission (I think that's who he said it is) and was there on business of some sort.  We sat in the sun discussing hunters, ecology, Iraq, Americans, European, Germans, terrorism and goodness knows what else.  The nice people on the Air Canada desk had ordered a taxi for me when we realised the source had dried up, and he rang twice for himself but all to no avail.  I learned the first lesson of my trip - patience in all things Yukon.  We shared a taxi in the end and he paid for both of us, which was really sweet of him.  I tried to pay my side of course, but he was having none of that.
The hotel is pretty outside with a western style fa├žade and boardwalk running the length of it.  My room is nothing out of the ordinary except that it has two double beds – a little overkill for just one person I feel but very comfortable and it's nice to have the space.  I have a great view over the houses towards the mountains.  The room’s clear but the common areas smell of cigarette smoke, which surprises me as I thought Canadians were very against public smoking.
When I had settled in I tried going for a walk but the roads are really wide and I was so tired and befuddled that I was too scared to cross the road, even though there were only about four cars around at any one time!  I could only follow the block.
I went to the hotel restaurant, the Casca, for ease last night, and so I wouldn’t have to cross the road.  The salad was ok but the service was lousy.  The girl was intent on showing how under pressure she was, saying so outright and sighing with exasperation when I went to pay.  Needless to say I won’t be going back.
I managed to last until about nine o'clock before collapsing into bed.
Now I've settled in and I’m a bit more awake I can see how nice my room is.  As I write this I’m eating the last of the gluten-free bourbons I brought with me, looking out from the 4th floor over the dusty streets of Whitehorse to the mountains with their snowy caps.  There’s a fridge with freezer compartment, microwave, filter coffee maker (with one free coffee packet per day plus bottled water), iron & board, TV, hairdryer.  Pretty good set-up all in all.  Not very happy about having to use the lift – claustrophobia an’ all… but there’s no other way up to the rooms.  The lifts are operated by the electronic room keys as a security measure and the doors to the stairs are kept locked against undesirables trying to get in.  Ok getting out so I’m gritting my teeth up and walking down. 
The roads weren't nearly so scary this morning so I guess it was just exhaustion that made me so wimpy last night.  I also found the lady on the front desk rather off-putting last night but she’s turned out friendly.
This morning I went to the Visitor centre but found there’s very little opening for at least another week and probably up to a month.  That’s ok, I’m coming back!  The guy did suggest a couple of walks that he said were perfectly safe to do on my own.  I wandered along the side of the Yukon a little way then headed back into town for lunch.  I passed a library and went in for a nose around and found they have email access.  Free for 15 minutes on one computer on a first come first served basis but you can also book ahead for up to an hour free although you do have to register with the library first.  Good to know for future reference as the access in the hotel lobby is can$5 per hour.
I’d asked the guy at the Visitors’ Centre where I could get a mobile phone for while I was here – that confused him - ‘did I mean a cell phone?’  So after lunch I decided to walk to the industrial area where I’d been told would be the best place.  It was a lot further than I expected; also very hot and very dusty but I got a kick walking along the banks of the Yukon river and enjoying the scenery and mountains that you can see from just about anywhere in Whitehorse.  I could see, but not get near to the snow and ice along the banks.  Majorca heat in spitting distance of snow – weird!
The mobile phone idea turned out to be a non-starter.  I wanted one primarily for safety in case of breakdown, and also to phone ahead as I move around.  George had advised me to phone ahead whenever I move on because then if I don’t arrive they’ll come and look for me.  He said people are good like that here.  The pay-as-you-go type is very expensive, better to go for a year's contract.  The problem with that is they need a Canadian billing address.  I was pretty sure Jane would let me use hers in Calgary but then we came to the problem of credit checks.  I don't have a credit history here, only having been in the country 24 hours!  To get round this I could have paid a can$500 deposit refundable after three months but this would tie up a large chunk of money for me.  Both payment methods get more expensive as you move outside the immediate rental area, climbing two, three, four and five times the local call charge depending on where you are.  Similar problems with renting.  Neither would work outside major towns and immediate surrounding areas so they would not meet the requirement for use in case of breakdown etc.  Global network phones are available for rent but at can$250 per month (with a whopping 10 minutes free call time - whoopee!) on top of the deposit, this was also out.
As I can use public phones to call ahead (and this hotel has a public phone in the lobby so presumably others will too) I decided so save my money and go without.
I inadvertently had a lot of practice crossing the roads thanks to my mobile phone trek and been able to watch the drivers to get a feel for traffic flow.  Still rather confusing though.  Some junctions have traffic lights, plus white lines across the road almost like our zebra crossings.  If they have illuminated signs for pedestrians you have to wait until you are allowed to cross.  Rather funny to see people waiting patiently without a car in sight.  Since cars are still allowed to turn right, even though the walking sign is showing, it pays to be vigilant.  If there are no lights you look for the same white lines on their own.  In this case pedestrians have right of way but you hold out your arm so drivers know you intend to cross.  I’d asked the guy in the Visitors’ Centre about crossing but confused again almost immediately.  A nice lady asked if I needed any help and explained everything - they like us to cross on the white lines but we won’t get arrested if not – just be sure to hold an arm up and out to indicate I’m crossing.  Seems to work!  Everyone is very friendly and helpful.
For the most part, even without white lines, I find if I stand at the side of the road and look confused, people will stop and let me across.
About those white lines - sometimes you have to look very hard to see them, the harsh winter weather takes its toll and they are faded and sometimes almost non-existent.
At the moment I'm not looking forward to driving through town but I guess I'll manage, no other choice really.
I went to Sam & Andy's Mexican restaurant across the road for lunch.  It is so friendly and the food is really good and reasonable (to someone used to paying UK prices).  I had a little lie down afterwards – feet were throbbing and my face was red from the sun; and spent the rest of the day browsing the shops.  I got maps for driving, a small ring pad for quick notes, some toiletries and water, plus films.  I must remember to buy things in bulk in Canada, at least can$50 at a time – that way I can claim tax back if it comes to over – rats, I’ve forgotten how much but I must do it!
I’ve been worrying about how best to record the trip (I shall have to thanks to my forgettery – and I don’t want to forget anything).  All sorts of ways occurred to me – email only – diary and email all of it – mixture of the both etc and then finally I made a decision : it doesn’t matter – I’ll just do what I feel like, whenever I feel like it!  Whew – that’s a relief!!)
All for now
PS - notice how I'm chatting with people - oh what a good girl I am!

Monday, 29 April 2013

Tues 29th April 2003


Made it, got to the hotel about hour an half ago, settled in, eaten and on my way out for a stroll (minus any coat-it's a heatwave!!! although the scuttlebut is that Calgary has just had 8 inches of snow - I don't believe it!)). Met a number of very nice people en-route.

Will send again soon when brain stopped spinning from jetlag.

Not many taxis though, waited 1 and a half hours but had company, nice man from Fisheries & Forestries Commission who shared a taxi eventually and insisted on paying the fare. I like the Yukon!

Saturday, 27 April 2013

And so it begins

This time ten years ago I was packing my bags ready to fly out the next day for Canada and Alaska.

I'd actually taken the huge step of deciding to go ahead with my plans for my big adventure.  I'd worked out an itinerary with George, my travel agent, finished work and spent the last few weeks getting lists ready so I didn't forget anything and shopping for warm clothes.  I'd been so excited with all the preparations I'd not really had time to think about what I was doing but the night before I left it hit me.  What on Earth did I think I was doing, going off alone for several months in a strange country?  I'd tried to get some friends interested, at least for parts of the trip but no-one else had either the time or the inclination to see this part of the world.  Most of my friends prefer warmer climes. 

So here I was, on my own!  There were a few complications, the biggest being that I wasn't an outgoing person...panic attacks in crowds, in awe of friends who could talk with a stranger with ease.  Then there was the business of my diet, I was gluten and dairy-free.  For those who don't know me, I suffered with eczema for a lot of years and some other problems so I stayed gluten and dairy free for three years in a last ditch attempt to sort things out.  My problems cleared up and, with only a couple of minor flare-ups in the last ten years sorted by briefly watching my diet again, I've not had any trouble since resuming a normal diet.  It was a shame my trip took place during those three years but it was worth the hassle.  George (the travel agent) was a little worried about me doing this trip so I hadn't mentioned one other little thing to him, in case he didn't want to be get involved with the trip.  The other little thing being that it hadn't been so long ago that I was being investigated for the possibility of multiple sclerosis.  The symptoms had faded, and although they couldn't say for sure what the problem was, they also couldn't say it wasn't MS.  Going through that was probably one of the main things to nudge me into living a dream.  For the record, there's been no recurrence so I can safely assume I'm out of the woods now.

Obviously, it wouldn't make sense now to give dates and days of the week so I'm going to post the emails I sent home as sections of the journey.  Things may look a little odd but you'll get the general idea.  Anway, this trip down memory lane is really for my own benefit, a self-indulgence, so if you're interested, just follow as best you can.

Tonight I'm re-living in my mind the expectations and excitement of that day before I flew out, as well as the panic and worries that I may have bitten off more than I can chew.  Tomorrow...the journey to Heathrow airport for the start of my great adventure.  In two days time I'll be in the Yukon...in 2003.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Dancing in the Rain

Last week, I came across the following at work; one of those little things you see tagged onto the bottom of emails.  You know, homilies, prayers, cute little sayings, really irritating stuff...well, this one caught my eye and my imagination.

"Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain".

That's what I've been doing, "waiting for the storm to pass" for the past few years but especially during the past few months!  The phrase bounced around my cranium for a day or two and finally came to a rest in a resolution to change my outlook.  I was in the middle of a drive to Bath Hospital for visiting hours.  I love to drive, maybe because it's something in my life I can control and something I do well, maybe it's simply the freedom of the road, I don't know, but I enjoy driving.  In the last few years each trip has mostly been a means to an end, no pleasure in the drive itself, just something that was necessary.

So, there I was, ready to take the steep winding road that leads to the hospital, Bath City spread out beneath me, nestling in the folds of the surrounding hills.  That was the moment I realised I should be enjoying the experience.  Ok, life throws the bad stuff at you, but that doesn't mean there isn't still good stuff around.  Ok, I need to spend a few weeks going to and from the hospital on top of everything else but I should be taking the opportunity to enjoy it - I should be dancing in the rain!

It's time I started making the most of what I have now instead of wishing things were different or waiting for things to change.  There's not a lot I can do about the present but I can remind myself what I'm capable of...what I have done and therefore what I could do in future and so enjoy the present for what it is, enjoy what I am doing now.

Ten years ago this month I went on my big adventure.  I wanted  more out of life and I decided to not just wait until things improved but go out and get what I wanted.  I handed in my notice at work to spend some time travelling in Alaska and Canada.  It wasn't an epic journey studded with outstanding action or romantic encounters.  It was simply the once-in-a-lifetime trip of an ordinary person who enjoys driving and wants to know what's over the next horizon.

In a few weeks time I'm going to start re-living that period of my life just for the sake of remembering.  In a spirit of sheer self-indulgence I'm going to periodically post the emails I sent home.  This blog will change for a while from random thoughts to a retrospective travelogue.  If this isn't your cup of tea then I'll see you when I get back.  On the other hand, if you'd like a gentle journey then I'd welcome your company, take a seat and sit back, I'll do the driving.