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ReportsSaturday, 19 July 2003
Edmonton --> Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada "It's seven o'clock in the morning," Jocelyn said, when we were in the car on this Edmonton morning. "For God sake!" she laughed.
Yesterday I made it back to Edmonton from Calgary and I hung around with Jocelyn Maclean and friends, and today I had to catch my second-last train in Canada.
But because this train, to the Jasper National Park in the middle of the Canadian Rockies would leave around 8 o'clock in the morning, it was a very early wake-up call for Jocelyn and I.
For breakfast we passed the McDonalds Drive Jocelyn bought me some fresh orange juice and a bagel for some breakfast. She dropped me off at the out-of-town train station of Edmonton. I thanked her for her help and I hope she was happy about helping me out with a place to stay, because she once wrote me how disappointed she was when I left Edmonton for Calgary without consulting her for a day.
From Edmonton to Jasper it would only be a five hours train ride, a shorty for Canadian standards I must say. Without any stops in between the train dove straight into the Rockie Mountains and pretty soon I was surrounded by a sight that I had known only from professional photographers and tourist brochures.
The Rockies are beautiful and it's not only about those big hight mountains only!
You should know how I felt this day. It's almost relieving. With everything prepared until my departure day (back to the Netherlands) next week, I know exactly where I will be going, with who I will be staying and how I will get there. I don't have to prepare anymore and it feels like one heavy weight has dropped off my shoulders. Am I looking forward to going home already?
The Jasper National Park covers some 10,000 square kilometres. The Jasper Townsite is the only settlement, but it's surrounded by valleys with solitary lakes, waterfalls and the world's best trails (if I believe all the backpacker stories).
A ten year old kid was sitting behind me in the train, travelling with his grandfather. He was looking out of the window all the time saying: "This is so beautiful. This is really beautiful. Look grandpa!" It surprised me that some young kids can still look outside and find things intriguing, otherwise than complaining about batteries running low on their Gameboy.
I almost had no place to stay in Jasper. I knew I had two invitations from this town, so when I had to schedule my sponsored train rides from Winnipeg all the way to Vancouver, I thought I would be able to at least stay two days at one of these locations.
But I had a hard time contacting these hosts! One seemed to have moved away and another one – well I enjoyed her eternal answering machine.
When Erin Collins interviewed me for CBC Radio last week, I plugged in this little problem and soon I got an offer to stay in Jasper if I was still stuck without one.
On the day of the interview I finally got in contact with that lady I had only heard on her answering machine. She had been visiting family in Saskatoon and could only check her machine when she came home again.
Fortunately (bad luck just doesn't seem to like me) I had two places to stay for the coming two nights. And then it's on the train again.
I arrived in Jasper in the afternoon where I immediately met up with Corinne Vey, her boyfriend (who's name I shamefully forgot) and he sister Andrea.
Corinne had invited me over after hearing an interview with me on CBC Radio one Saturday last Februari. and loved to help me out with a place to stay in Jasper. "I thought you would have enough invitations in every town in Canada!" she said.
After waiting about half an hour (!) to get my bagage off the train (where they slow here or just very slow?), I got on board of Boyfriend's giant monster truck for a very short drive to Andreas apartment in the north of the small town.
Jasper's streets have the windswept open look of a frontier town. Mountains do surround this place, but they are not in constant sight, undermining the feeling I was in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.
I immediately noticed that Jasper was about tourism, tourism and tourism. "And transport," somebody added. "Because those tourists has to come and go here."
Corinne however works at the local day care for children and pretty soon she was telling me about the understaffed facility where working-Jasper dumps the kids and expects others to raise them for them. "My family is from Saskatoon, but there wasn't much there and I went to Jasper and while looking for jobs I found this one."
(After publication of this report, Corinne emailed me:
I appolize for giving the wrong impression and it deeply breaks my heart that that is what you thought about my job. Parents don't dump their kids off and expect others to raise them. Some do it because they need to support their family and this is the only way and some do it so their child can play with their friends. I love my job, it can be challenging at times, but i love it and i also enjoy talking with the parents about their kids. I wish this was the impression I had given you. And about the understaffed thing, well we are doing good now and all the businesses in town seem to be understaffed now and again. That remark is not what I meant, and it worries me that people I know will think that of me. It is truly a miss understanding. And i'm sad about it. - My apologies back to Corinne again, I hope she has explained how it really is.)
Corinne lives in a very small one-bedroom apartment on the third floor of an apartment complex. It almost looked like a hotel, with a reception and a little store on the main floor. "We even have a swimming pool," Corinne said and I smiled. I love them! "But because nobody used it the landlord emptied it three years ago." I stared at an empty blue gap in a big hall.
Her apartment is one big place with an open kitchen. Against the wall was her bed. "I guess you will be staying here tonight. I will stay with my boyfriend." I have an apartment for myself!
"But I have to work today, I could not reschedule that. I have to babysit from 4 to 10 today. That's way I want to drop you with my sister Andrea. She told me she would take care of you. I am very very sorry." It was okay for me and we walked from Corinnes apartment complex to a house down the street where Andrea lives on the top floor.
We ended up eating sun flower pits and drinking water in the back garden and I remember having a very akward feeling about the entire situation. All three of them asked me all kinds of questions about my travels that I immediately understood they had never seen a single writing on my website. Which is of course very encouraging to keep on publishing reports online... And the amazement rose and more questions followed, almost with disbelief.
For me - well you steady-readers know for already how this life on the road can all be about.
I felt akward in a way that I had just arrived in beautiful Jasper and I was seriously interested in way many Canadians praise this place so much. And I was sitting in a back garden for a few hours, eating sun flower pits and I had to talk about myself most of the time. I noticed how icy the conversations were going. They didn't know anything about me and I didn't know anything about my hosts. We filled gaps of air while I tried to break ice with loose jokes, hoping the subject won't change to "those Americans". I have heard enough Canadians about "those Americans" that they should learn to express themselveves openhearted TO Americans.
About 4pm Corinne looked at her watch and told me she had to go. Her boyfriend left too. Andrea and I were left in the backgarden. "Do you want to go for a walk?" I asked her. "Jasper is a small town and I haven't really seen it yet."
Andrea and I walked from her house down the streets and soon we were at the location which you can call the town centre in a small place like this. There were tourists all over the place, walking with maps, lunch boxes and hopping in and out the standard tourist shops.
What I enjoyed in Jasper is that there are KFC's, Pizza Huts and A&W's, but they were made normal under town's regulations. No big screaming signs, but small little signs like every store had. It takes away the commercial in-your-face advertisement.
Andrea told me she works as a payment administrator. "I arrange everybody's paycheck of the staff at three resorts in town. I got to Jasper only three weeks ago, so even for me this town is pretty new."
After our walk we ended back home with icescream from Loopy Scoopy. It was the end of the afternoon and I had become a little bit tired (the train ride?) and had a little nap on her sofa.
Andrea had not thought about what to do with supper. "I only heard a few days ago that I would have you over, so I am not prepared at all," she said. "And normally, I eat sandwiches and noodles."
"All day?" I asked.
"Yeah, I can't really cook well. I have been spoiled the last six years of my life when I did payment administration on big cruise ships. Everyday I would be fed and I never had to cook for myself. Since a few weeks I have to get used to preparing a meal."
"Hey I can always help out," I said. Andrea was really nervous at this time. Not only she had a guest over all the way from another country, she also couldn't cook very well. It must be a hostess' nightmare!
But we made it to the local little grocery store around the corner and decided we'd make some stir fry with rice. That's always easy and can hardly go wrong. Believe me, I have been pretending to be a journalism college student (or did I really study?) for seven years and I survived on it.
In Andrea's kitchen the tension was just hanging in the air. She didn't really know where to start and what to do. So I just started reading the 'how-to'-lines on the packages. I haven't seen any stir fry package that do not tell you how to do it. Ever. Andrea grilled the chicken in a pan, while I cut onions and peppers and watched the rice being cooked.
Meanwhile we had quite a laugh. I joked about being with a person who has never really cooked for herself in the last six years and she laughed about the entire situation that a guest actually had to do most of the cooking for her. "But I am learning things here," she said. We thanked Uncle Ben when we had our dinner outside. It was okay.
Andrea had only been here herself for only three weeks, but she had seen enough of the surrounding places to give me a tour around Jasper. I was pretty happy to see more of Jasper's beauty, because from the train ride I only got more and more interested!
We drove to Maligne Lake (pronounced Ma-Leen), only 50km southeast of the townside, where I enjoyed the peacefulness of this fascinating place as the sun almost went down. Maligne Lake is the second largest glacial lake in the world (22km long, 92m deep - the largest being in Russia) and it gets its water from the Columbia Icefield (105 km south of Jasper). From here the lake just seemed to go on and on…
From the lake, we drove on again along the Maligne River, which streams through the Maligne Canyon. On the road I was surprised by the wildlife that I had not seen in just majority before. An elk bull was just resting along the road, mountain goats were hopping around and chipmunks were sitting around trees and a deer was chasing two coyotes (yes that's right) right in front of the car and then behind the car again. Where is all the action suddenly coming from?
The Maligne River is a fast streaming river, but believe me too: terribly cold! The sun had gone down when Andrea showed me the last attraction for today, the deep limestone cut Maligne Canyon itself. While standing on the "Third Bridge" over the river (they numbered all bridges around Jasper so you can never get lost if you find yourself a bridge) we watched down one of the most spectacular gorges in the Canadian Rockies: sheer limestone walls plunge to depths of over 50 metres (165 ft.).
Back home in Jasper we relaxed. Andrea had some phonecalls and I browsed around on her television, connected to a sattelite dish on the roof.
Just after 10 PM Corinne and her boyfriend appeared again. They were at first glance surprised that the ice had been broken between Andrea and me and probably I noticed I am just as normal as any other person to hang out with.
We all went for a few beers at their favorite neighourhood pub the Whistler's Stop Pub. We actually laughed about our icy afternoon. "I just didn't know what to say!" Corinne said.
Andrea went home as she had to work early tomorrow morning, but Corinne took me along to the hot spot bar dancing of Jasper, named Steve's. It was something I would not expect in Jasper after this initial first day, but the young folks in Jasper actually enjoyed a good dance party. The deejay was playing hit music from now until thirty years ago, clearly enjoying the audience.
I also had to meet Karen.
Karen had been the subject earlier before, because she was also going to be a guest of Corinne and the question rose where she would be sleeping tonight. Karen comes from Golden (BC) and is on her way to Hinton (Alberta) to take care of a horse ranch for a while.
It only took me a few minutes to realise I was talking with a very intelligent, open-minded and very tough cowgirl! They exist! I didn't see that at first sight!
I heard stories about a recent breakup with her boyfriend who had to live in Golden for work - and now she wants to get out. Start over again. Somewhere else. "The ranch job is a great way to think about it."
Corinne was trying to tie her up to Jasper, where Karen had lived for six years in the past. "Then I was the really young and naïve party girl," she said.
She looked around and looked like somebody who was happy to be at a familiar place again. I was really enjoying her happiness again, because maybe I longed for that same feeling too. Something familiar. Something where I have spent time before.
One more week, Ramon. One more week.
With a few beers we had some great talks and we didn’t even get to do some dance floor dancing (I learned some country disco in Calgary!). It came to a point in the conversation with all four of us when the subject had changed to marriage. I asked Karen if that former boyfriend ever wanted to marry her. "No, never heard him about it," she said. Anybody else I asked? She thought about it for a second. "No…"
And that's where I took my change and while Corinne's boyfriend took over my camera I went down on my knees and asked Karen if she would marry me. You should have seen here face! She was clearly surprised and pretty overwhelmed!
I never really heard the answer to my question (let that just be a mistery) but I know for sure know that the first one who ever asked Karen to marry her was me. I was pretty honoured by that!
"Well, would I be able to travel along with you then?" she had asked. "I don't know," I said. "Maybe then I would have to change the website in Letmestayatyourranchforaday.com, to make it more interesting for you."
We had a ball. When the bar dancing closed at the early time of 1 AM we walked around the complex where Karen's car was parked. Because she is going to stay on this ranch in Holden for a few weeks, she had to take her own pets along in the car.
A lovely dog and a cat (who loves the car more than anything else) where happy to see some company and they got the ability for a short walk. They travelled the long distance to Jasper earlier today and had to stay in the car this evening.
Karen was going to stay with Corinne at Boyfriend's place, so she could have the dog and cat running around the house at night. Tomorrow Karen would embark another long drive to arrive at the ranch tomorrow night. "And then I'll have to work hard for a while, but I love that work. I love the animals around me. The peace."
Before going to their house, they all dropped me off at the apartment complex where I would stay overnight in Corinne's apartment. "I will wake you up tomorrow," Corinne said, "and you will smell the flavours of bacon and eggs for breakfast.
I had enjoyed the company of some great people today, all around my age. We were all totally different from each other, still we hung around as good pals.
Karen is cool, she even invited me to the ranch. "Oh help! I have everything planned out for the coming week. If I didn't have to leave the country next week, I would have joined her immediately!"
Good night Jasper!