Round the world Day 19

A day to don my hat and get on a train for the first time since leaving the UK.  My alarm woke me at 6.45 and I snook my bags out on to the landing to avoid waking everyone up as I got ready to depart.  I had a quick shower, dressed and went down to see if I could find Jim.  He had offered me a lift to the station last night and we agreed that I should knock on his door at 7.15, unfortunately (and nothing to do with drink I am sure) I had forgotten to find out which was his door, I only knew it was the landing below mine.  Luckily he was up and his door was ajar.

We left the hostel at 7.25, found a Tim Hortons to get a coffee and bite to eat and he dropped me at the station at 7.40 in plenty of time for the train.  Jim gave me his email address and promised to give me any help he could about South America.

After a short wait for the gate to the platform to open we climbed aboard the ViaRail Skeena train to Prince George and Jasper.  The train manager Dianne gave us a briefing about the train, its facilities and emergency procedures.  This included telling us that 375 people had lost their fights with cars and trains at level crossings in the last year and that Via meant Very Irratic Arrivals, as the train was rarely on time and could be up to 3 hours late depending on freight traffic and other things.  She counted all 23 of us and told us that we could each have a seat in the viewing dome if we wished as there were 26.  At 8 we left (on time) but had to stop a mile or so from the station to pick up a CN (Canadian National) rail crew from a freight yard.

Lady Di supervising the departure after a picture stop.

Lady Di supervising the arrival at the picture stop.

Dianne had explained that the first few hours from Prince Rupert were the most scenic as we followed the Skeena River and after a few miles we were told that we would be stopping for a picture opportunity.  Not something we have ever been offered on the 6.55 from Seamer to Driffield on any morning.  You could be very cynical and say that what we were looking at was something common to many modern railways as it was aboriginal pictographs, not disimilar from graffiti but older and with more meaning.

These pictures probably marked the edge of a territory.

These pictures probably marked the edge of a territory.

The rail line then followed the river for miles, cutting through the coastal mountains before reaching the flatter land.

The Skeena river near the coast.

The Skeena river near the coast.

A few miles up the Skeena.

A few miles up the Skeena.

Cutting through the Coastal mountains, river, road and rail together.

Cutting through the Coastal mountains, river, road and rail together.

Taking pictures through any window is not great, especially after my decision only to bring my point-and-shoot camera not a SLR, so I haven’t got many from the train.  I just hope that Google Earth will have lots that show the awesome scenery.

We stopped at two towns on the way to Prince George today, the first Terrace was a quick stop with enough time to have a look in the station gift shop and take a picture of the train.

Train 6.  Loco, baggage car, passenger car and sightseeing car.

Train 6. Loco, baggage car, passenger car and sightseeing car.

Happy Commuter in the passenger car at Prince Rupert.

Happy Commuter in the passenger car at Prince Rupert.

From the very back of the train showing the steps to the viewing dome.

From the very back of the train showing the steps to the viewing dome.

The cafeteria.

The cafeteria.

The cafeteria.

The cafeteria.

As well as stopping in Terrace we had to pull in to sidings a few times to let freight trains go the other way laden mainly with shipping containers for Prince Rupert.  They usually had 2 or 3 locos and lots of cars, I counted a couple and 187 trucks was the shorter one.

At Smithers we had a longer break, giving us 45 minutes and chance to walk into town to find something to eat.  Unfortunately it being Sunday there wasn’t lot open but by walking all the way across town I was able to treat myself to an icecream and a milk-shake from MacDonalds.  Canadian towns in themselves tend not to be picturesque,  they have no old places like York or Chester and the buildings tend to be variations on rectangular boxes.  There are always exceptions and often there a murals to brighten up boring walls.

On the way to Smithers.

On the way to Smithers.

Coastal mountains from Smithers.

Coastal mountains from Smithers.

Smithers Firestation

Smithers Firestation

Statue of man with Alpenhorn, I've no idea why as its a long way from Switzerland.

Statue of man with Alpenhorn, I’ve no idea why as its a long way from Switzerland.

The side of the Canadian Legion.

The side of the Canadian Legion.

After leaving Smithers we soon crossed the longest grider bridge in Western Canada at 2.5 km long.

Dianne opened the back window for us to take photos as we crossed the bridge.

Dianne opened the back window for us to take photos as we crossed the bridge.

Further on we stopped to let someone off and had to wait for an hour as there was a broken rail ahead.  This gave us chance to get off and visit the local post office and take a few pictures.  The car parked at the crossing had wheels underneath for going on the rails as did a huge truck we say further on when we got the all-clear to proceed.

Post office

Post office

Pickup truck equipped to go on rails.

Pickup truck equipped to go on rails.

Train 6 waiting patiently.

Train 6 waiting patiently.

Truck equipped to go on rails

Truck equipped to go on rails

We eventually got in to Prince George an hour late but not unhappy.

Round the world Day 18

Today started in the most interesting way of any so far.  Breakfast at 8.30 was great if unusual; a bowl of fruit salad followed by something like a souffle, served in a little vertical sided bowl, it had ham, cheese and peppers in and came with home-made salsa sauce if desired.  There was then a pancake already rolled round apple and strawberries and also a muffin and choice of tea or coffee, I chose Earl Grey tea.  If the breakfast wasn’t unusual enough what accompanied it was; Colleen our hostess, who was French-Canadian from Quebec did a performance for us from an act she used to do about Edith Piaff, slipping back into a french accent she told some of the life of Piaff and sang a little of one of her songs.  She only sang a little as her PA system had broken down.  This was then followed by some jokes.  Colleen had a good voice and was entertaining but it made for a very unusual breakfast.  After serving us and entertaining us Colleen reclined on a sofa while the three of us guests, Kelly from Alberta, Jim from Ontario and I, drank our drinks.  Somehow the conversation turned to politics and between Jim and Colleen became quite heated.  This left Kelly and I looking at each other wondering what to do, every time I tried to change the subject I failed so in the end I made a light remark about being a coward and excused my self to pack my bags, Kelly made a break for freedom at the same time.

After I packed Collen kindly rang the Pioneer hostel to see if they had any space for Jim and I as she could not have us tonight.  There were two rooms available, one double and one with bunks, so I headed off quickly with one of my bags to check in.  By the time I arrived the room with bunks had gone and the choice was a double or a bed in a dorm.  I chose the dorm and asked them to hold the double for Jim before heading back to the Pillsbury to get my other bag.  I let Jim know that they were saving him the double and he gave me a lift back to the Pioneer and booked in.

It ended up that we spent the rest of the day together, Jim was looking round for property and we drove round each area of the town looking at what was available and the state of each zone.  At home in Ontario Jim has a buiding firm and is hoping that as Prince Rupert gets more business with the various shipping terminals property will rise in price.  He also quite fancies finding somewhere to retire to and Prince Rupert seems a nice place.  Just as when Glyn and I used to drive coaches abroad I was charged with map-reading while Jim drove.  I was reminded again, as I had been when I met Alex, of the time Glyn and I drove to Hamburg with a school party from near Bedford.  Little did the kids know that their hostel was just across the road from one of the most notorious red-light districts in Europe.

In our travels Jim and I found quite a few houses in various states from dereliction to newly refubished and Jim gave his opinion on each and the possibilities that they held.  For me it was great to explore the town from the comfort of his hire car and hear how things were designed, built and regulated in Canada.  After touring all of the town we ended up back at the hostel where we parked the car before walking down for some lunch at “The Breakers” pub in Cow Bay.  Jim had Wonton Soup and I had a burger, both were very nice as was the Black Lager that we had to accompany them.  Jim has travelled a lot and had lots of information about South America which will be useful.  All in all he is a very interesting man to talk to with wide raninging interests and education.

After lunch we walked round the corner and had a coffee at the Cow Bay Cafe before going down on the pontoons to investigate the sale of Tuna which was widely advertised on homemade signs around the town.  On our way we spotted the head of a young seal who it seems hangs round in the harbour.  The young man on the small fiishing boat chatted aimiably with us though we were not able to make a purchase just because we had no way to eat or store or transport all of a tuna.  This was a shame as Jim was telling me how nice tuna steaks off a barbeque are and the price was about a quarter of the shop price.  We chatted for a while finding out that the boat could spend up to 2 weeks comfortably at sea and that the tuna had been caught off Haida Gwaii on the Pacific side.

By now it was early evening and we headed back towards the hostel.  On the way down we had passed a door which advertised brewery samples and bar, the opening times were 2 ’til 8 and we had been too early, now Jim wondered if we had missed it.  I assured him it was only 6 and we could go in.

Like so much in life, today has been one of those days where things just go right.  To say that the brewery is basic would be very accurate.

The Prince Rupert Micro-brewery.

The Prince Rupert Micro-brewery, Jim can be seen at the bar wearing a blue shirt.

It appears that all the furniture and shelving has been made of local timber with perhaps the exception of the barstools. The sacks of ingredients and some of the brewing vessels are separated from the bar area by a set of wooden shelves.  All in all it was ace.   There were only three beers available, Gillnetter Golden Ale, Flagship Pale Ale and Blacksmiths Dark Ale, there had been a fourth earlier but it had run out. I started the the Gillnetter before moving on to the Blacksmiths while Jim started with the Flagship.  The locals at the bar were very friendly, one was a teacher at the Middle school (9 to 13 year olds) and also worked as a volunteer in the brewery so when James the barman (and master brewer) had to nip out he went behind the bar.  One worked as an accountant for the harbour authority, had family in Cheshire and Portsmouth and chatted about visiting the UK, moving from the rat-race in Vancouver and the merits of big cars.  The last we chatted to worked in HR for the local phone company which as in Hull is independent of the rest of the network in BC.  All were easy to chat to and 8 pm became 8ish and despite having a private party arrive for a tasting session (a stag do) we were still at the bar well after 9.

Eventually Jim and I headed back the few minutes walk to the hostel where we chatted in kitchen with other guests and Jim opened a bottle of Red wine.  Sima was one hosteller we met, she had been an accountant in London but much to the concern of her Asian family had been working on a remote island in Alaska with no communication.  She had to visit Prince Rupert to come out of the US for Visa reasons and hoped to be heading back at the end of the week.  We had a long discussion about the expectations on children from parents, real or percieved.  Soon after 11 I had to make my excuses and head to bed as I need to be up for the train tomorrow.

Round the world Day 17

Woken this morning by a PA announcement that we would be arriving in Prince Rupert in 30 minutes.  Time for a quick shower and breakfast.  More Eagle-down in the bottom of the shower reminded me how good I felt about my visit to Haida Gwaii.

Happy Express Commuter in his stateroom

Happy Express Commuter in his stateroom

For some reason this time we were asked to go down to Deck 2 for disembarkation a bit too early and had to stand among the cars waiting for the bow doors to be opened.  This did give us chance to watch one of the crew breaking in to an Ambulance while its crew looked on.  Whether they had locked themselves out of the central locking failed because the battery had gone flat I will never know.

Eventually we walked off and I hiked in to town vowing again that I would get rid of some of the stuff I was carrying.  I went directly to the Pioneer Hostel where Dad and I had stayed on our trip a few years ago only to discover that I wasn’t booked in there.  When I logged in to my emails to check it turned out to be the Pillsbury B&B so I set off again in the rain.  I arrived just before 9 and a little too early really for Colleen the landlady, but she was very keen to let me in to my room and then do her make-up before feeding her guests.  I took the opportunity to change out of my wet clothes before coming back down and heading out in to Prince Rupert.

Pillsbury B&B the oldest building in Prince Rupert.

Pillsbury B&B the oldest building in Prince Rupert.

First stop was the museum of northern BC which though interesting was not as good as the Haida Heritage centre either in the arrangement of exhibits or the information it gave.  It did have a good history of the town though and a well stocked shop.  I also had a good conversation with the lady on reception when I suggested she was being cynical.  I cannot even remember now what her original comment had been but it led us into a long discussion on politics and modern capitalism which neither of us are fans of.  It also led me to thinking about what I had seen on my travels.  In many places there were signs against the building of a LNG terminal in KIttemat an inlet south of Prince Rupert and for many reasons I would also be against it. But, through out my time in BC cars with engines less than 3 litres seemed to be an exception and though I can see that you need big trucks when you go up the logging roads daily as you might in Bamfield the majority seemed never to leave the tarmac.  In Campbell River there had been a hook up for electric cars outside the Tourist Information office but I had seen very little sign of other attempts to reduce petrol use.  Haida would seem to be an ideal place to start, the distances that people drove appeared to be limited by the size of the island and if people wanted a large truck why not have a car pool arrangement as they do for cars in many cities where people use public transport.  If the oil companies saw us putting ourselves out to reduce their income they would take us much more seriously than when we say we are against them while still giving them our money.

I think this may be another side-effect of my midlife crisis, the easy with which I can begin a rant.

In the museum book shop I succumbed and bought something I didn’t need in the form of a book about called “Lost Nuke” about an american bomber that crashed in mysterious circumstances and probably had a nuclear bomb on board.

From the museum I wandered down to Cow Bay (no idea why its called that but it was themed with the bins and things painted black and white like Fresians).  It was the harbour area and this morning was being host to what I was told later was a small cruise ship.  It was still about twice the size of the ferry from Port Hardy.

The tourist info office on the docks was full of a display about the container port nearby and its benefits for the local economy and that of BC.  I think, in fact, that it was the move of the information office from the museum to Cow Bay that had sparked the chat with the lady at the museum.  Certainly the tourist information took up only about 5% of the space in the new office, the rest was the commercial display.

After a while wandering round the harbour I hit Cow Bay Cafe for some food,  the local fayre this time was pizza al funghi which was very nice and very large.  So large that the man who sat down later with his daughter at the next table offered to take any left-overs, not that there were any.  He had been working at the local golf course for years mainly as the Pro and seemed to know almost all the locals that came in.  He was very chatty with me and everyone that came in that he knew.

In the afternoon I had a good wander round the town as the rain had stopped and then headed to Safeway for some food supplies and back to the hostel. I spent the rest of the night reading and catching up on bits.

Plaque laid by the council and sheriff to honour a gardener.  Not something I have ever seen in the UK.

Plaque laid by the council and sheriff to honour a gardener. Not something I have ever seen in the UK.

The sunken garden that Lloyd "Bud" Pierce had tended.

The sunken garden that Lloyd “Bud” Pierce had tended.

 

Round the world Day 16

Today was meant to be a bad day with storms and therefore my museum day, but I did that yesterday so today I was at a bit of a loose end.  My plans for this week had been to go out sea-kayaking yesterday and the heritage centre today but for some reason the gods are against me sea-kayaking.  I had a leisurely morning and avoided the drizzle by staying in Jags.  Late in the morning I packed up my tent and then walked up to the Haida centre.  I kept a look out on the other side of the road for evidence of any carcass that may have fallen off the cliff last night but didn’t see any.

I got to the centre in time to see two of the newly built sea-kayaks being tested with some other kayaks.

The two kayaks built this week are the two light brown ones left and right.

The two kayaks built this week are the two light brown ones left and right.

I somehow felt really pleased to see these boats being used and they seemed to be performing well against the plastic versions.

I had been told by Jags to try to be at the ferry terminal this afternoon when the ship arrived as members of a native tribe from Bella Bella would be arriving for a potlatch this weekend.  A potlatch is somehow a combination of a feast, a court and a convention.  They are a formal part of the aboriginal culture and can be called by a chief for many reasons.  In this case the potlatch on Saturday is to formalise a peace-treaty between the Heiltsuk nation and the Haida.  The verbal peace agreement was made by chiefs in the 1800′s but for political reasons it needs to be confirmed now.

Jags said that there would be singing and drums as the Heiltsuk came off the ferry and it would be worth taking my camera down.  I had headed down early so walked past the terminal to get some shots of the ferry arriving.  When I walked past there was no sign of activity in the car park so I thought that may be there wouldn’t be much to see.

After a few minutes sat on a rock looking out over the channel the small ferry to Moresby Island came in to view and then the Northern Expedition from Prince Rupert.  I hoped to get a picture of one dwarfed by the other but they refused to pose.

Honestly it only looks smaller 'cos its further away.

Honestly it only looks smaller ‘cos its further away.

I waited until the big ferry had almost docked before walking back round to the terminal to see what may be happening.

The Northern Expedition.  My "stateroom" window is one of those

The Northern Expedition. My “stateroom” window is one of those behind the small boat on the side.

By the time I got back to the ferry terminal it was clear that something was happening, the car park was filling with cars and people stood around.  There were a lot of cameras and people in robes had begun to arrive.  I tried to stand back out of the way as I felt that I shouldn’t get in the way of an important occasion.  I visualised how welcome I would be if I intruded at Heathrow when Barack Obama landed and was greeted by The Queen and felt no reason to see this as less important.  Having said that there was no security perimeter and the only interference from authority was a PA announcement to say that foot passengers would not be leaving until vehicles had disembarked and to make sure that the road was clear.

While I waited a man appeared along the road wearing a flat-cap which, I felt sure, meant he was a Yorkshireman! No, he was a Mormon from Utah recently sent to work on Haida Gwaii and had no idea that his headgear was native to England.

Once the vehicles had come off the crowd moved forward with the Haida chiefs at the front and drummers and singers behind.

A Haida woman in her robes.

A Haida woman in her robes.

Haida waiting to greet the Heiltsuk including children in robes with decorated paddles.

Haida waiting to greet the Heiltsuk including children in robes with decorated paddles.

Haida chiefs from the different villages leading the welcoming party.

Haida chiefs from the different villages leading the welcoming party.

The Heiltsuk disembarking led by the children singing.

The Heiltsuk disembarking led by the children singing.

Haida chiefs

Haida chiefs.

The children with their decorated paddles.

The children with their decorated paddles.

Heiltsuk greeting their hosts.

Heiltsuk greeting their hosts.

HAIDAG

Having made their various speeches of welcome and shaken hands the groups began to disolve and make their way to cars for the trip to Skidegate.  I walked back to Jags feeling very lucky to have been here.

Jags and Sue were in the coffee shop when I got back and suggested that I walk down to the community centre in Skidegate to join in the meal and watch the proceedings.  The assured me that I would be welcome and regarded as a witness to the event.  I walked down in to the village and on the way saw a rainbow over the island in the channel.  I wondered as I took a photograph whether this was an omen.

The rainbow is just at the left-hand end of the island with Sandspit behind.

The rainbow is just at the left-hand end of the island with Sandspit behind.

At the entrance to the community centre I was met by Lydia who was acting as doorkeeper for the evening and made me very welcome and explained what would be happening.  It was very clear that I was welcome to join in with the meal and activities but they wouln’t be starting for a while as the guests had not yet arrived from the Heritage Centre.  I felt that as I would have to leave soon to catch the ferry it was best not to stay, so having chatted for a bit I walked further in to the village before heading back to Jags.

A redundant firetruck in Skidegate.

A redundant firetruck in Skidegate.

When I got back Jags gave me a lift to the ferry terminal and I said Good bye to Haida Gwaii.  That writes much more poetically than intended, but I left feeling very lucky (again).  It was sheer accident that got me to “Jags Beanstalk” coffee shop and his generousity letting me camp in the garden.  Everyone I met has been good to me.  The meal on the first night, Mike taking me fishing, Jags cooking the fish afterwards and telling me about the potlatch, all of my stay has been very special and not what I had planned to do at all.  I have not got to see the UNESCO site at the south of the islands or hiked or kayaked as I had planned to but that only gives me reasons to come back again.  Jag says that May is a good time to come as the Herring will be arriving and bringing lots of whales and other wildlife.

I boarded the ferry, went to the pursers office and got the key to my “stateroom” a cabin with two single beds, a TV and ensuite bathroom.  I smiled as I found several bits of Eagle down.  On Monday as I walked back from Queen Charlotte I met a lady walking her dog who was picking things up off the floor, when I asked her what she was collecting she said it was Eagle-down for celebrations and was a symbol of peace.

Round the world Day 15

Earlier in the week the forecast had said that today would be a good day before storms tomorrow, but when I woke I could here rain falling through the leaves above and the sound of tyres on the wet road. I decided that today would have to be a “museum day” after all.  Museum days were an invention of cadets trips to Norway when we had a day visiting cultural stuff to make sure that the young people recovered from whatever exertions they had been doing.  I’m not sure that they were ever grateful for the opportunities but we got to see some great places.  Today I was going to visit the Haida Heritage Centre.

I had granola and yoghurt again in Jags.  Mike was there finishing his breakfast so I paid for it as he had refused to accept any money towards the fuel yesterday.  Just before 10 I set off to the centre which was about 15 minutes walk along the road to Queen Charlotte and the ferry terminal.

Haida Heritage Centre from the road.

Haida Heritage Centre from the road.

One of the Totem poles outside the centre.

One of the Totem poles outside the centre.

I intended to spent the whole day in the centre to avoid the weather so I was going to read every label. The lady who greeted me had seen me on Monday as I walked to “Charlotte” so was very friendly.  I was the first customer and she had to take payment and open the doors to the museum section for me as the receptionist hadn’t arrived yet.

The first room was a display of Haida arts and dress.

"Mercedes"

“Mercedes”

There were several masks of Raven and other spirits but in amongst them was “Mercedes” and the write up explained that the artist had realised that masks did not always have to be serious and that “Mercedes” liked to play with the audience.  It made it sound much like a drag act.

The most fascinating thing about the objects was the materials that had been used.  Haida had traded with coastal tribes and got wool but also used cedar bark and spruce roots to get fibres to spin.  I didn’t want to handle any of the objects so went out to the shop to see if they had any objects there that I could touch to see how soft they were.  In the past I have had bamboo socks and they were very soft.  Cedar bark was not quite as soft but the only pieces I could find were more like wicker than fabric so perhaps when split further they would be softer.robesc robesb robesa

There was a lot of rules to the design of robes and who could wear them as with most of the traditional objects on display.  Rather than the cost of the materials being the important factor in their value it was more intangible qualities such as how many feasts the wearer had hosted or how many stories they could tell.

I continued to make my way round the displays and had learned about the first contacts between the Haida and europeans, which seemed to be mutual trading.  It all went wrong later when the British government of the mainland tried to take over the islands and used diseases such as smallpox as weapons and later forced all first nation children to attend residential schools where their language was banned and they were forced to speak English.

I ate at the canteen in the museum but was disappointed to find that the choices were very much regular western food not Haida.  I had a very nice chicken sandwich with a latte.  As I was passing through the entrance again to go to the dispays I ran into Alex who had got a lift across from Sandspit for the day.  She was just on her way to eat so I joined her for another drink and a piece of pie.  We swapped stories of our time on the islands so far.  She had had a good time on her tour of Louise Island and had spent yesterday hiking from Sandspit.  They hadn’t seen any bears but lots of evidence of where they had been fishing and left the bits they didn’t like like heads and tails.  They had also found one fish on the top of a hill which was complete apart from a lack of eyes and couldn’t explain it.

We went back and looked round the rest of the displays before heading outside to see the totem poles and the kayaks.

A traditional longboat next to one of the newly built kayaks.

A traditional longboat next to one of the newly built kayaks.

In a shed at the end of the centre there were a few traditional long boats that had been made by Haida workmen in the traditional way and a totem pole that had been outside the Haida centre in Skidegate until it fell down.  In amongst them this week there is an activity week for teenagers where they get to built their own kayak under the supervision of a builder from Washington State.  They are building them from cedar strips with ballistic nylon for the skin, one of the few good things to come from the Gulf war said the older “youth” that I spoke to.  In fact he was there with his 13 year old son.

Father

Father

Son

Son

While I was lookinng at the kayaks Alex disappeared to get her lift back and soon after 4 I walked back to Jags

Jags cooked me more of the salmon this evening which I ate before heading back to the centre to see a talk by members of the Parks Canada staff about their project with Google Streetview.

When I got in to the room where the talk was to take place I was asked where “close to Stoke” I came from.  Pretty remarkable as I haven’t lived in the Midlands for 32 years and my home when growing up was only 40 miles from Stoke.  The man asking me had a soft “Geordie-ish” accent and had moved from Durham only a few years ago and landed himself a job with Parks Canada working on their internet presence.  He had been in Gwaii Haanas for a few weeks working on the Streetview project.  This involved one of the team wandering round with a camera backpack system taking pictures to be uploaded to Google so that people could have a virtual trip round the national park.  It was an interesting presentation and looked like they had a great time.

On the way back to Jags in the dark there were some worrying noises from the top of one of the cliffs overlooking the road.  I hope it was a bad tempered mother bear telling a cub to getaway from the edge.  It was certainly a bad tempered something with something else wimpering.  I got in my tent a little more nervously tonight.

Round the world Day 14

I had thought that with practice getting in and out of the tent would get easier but I don’t think it has.

I ate breakfast in Jags this morning having the homemade Granola and yoghurt (also homemade).  The kitchen is a hive of industry with Sue and the girls baking and preparing food while Jags acts as barrista.

I was introduced to one of Jags friends, Mike Meegan, who was an Irishman who had been living in Queen Charlotte since 1979 and owned a store as well as having a boat and other properties round the town.  He invited me to join him this afternoon on his boat as he and his friend planned to go through the channel to the other side of the islands and the Pacific.  I was given his phone numbers and asked to ring at 11 to check that it was happening.

I stayed in the coffee shop most of the morning catching up on the blog and drinking “London Fog”, Earl Grey tea added to steamed milk.  I’m not sure many people in London know of it but it was a nice drink.

Before I had chance to ring Mike he had phoned Jags to let him know that it was on and to get me to the dock for 12.  It ended up with me rushing as we left soon after 11 to get Davey to the shuttle bus to Sandspit airport.  We called down at the dock and Jags and I looked at another National Geographic ship that had called in while Davey went in to the fish store to get four boxes of fish that they had frozen for him to take back with him.  Because of the “War on Terror” the ship was surrounded by an orange plastic fence (they described it as snow fence) with two people sat on guard.  The woman knew Jags and chatted to us about the security and the cruise that the ship had taken to Alaska.

We helped Davey with his polystyrene boxes of fish and discussed how much extra he would have to pay for weight allowance before dropping him off at the bus stop.  Jag then took me to Mikes store and the dock to try to find him.  It took us a while but I got chance to look inside the shop,  I had passed it yesterday when I walked round the town and assumed it was a sports shop as it had bikes in the window.  Inside it had much more than sports stuff; fishing rods, power tools, nets, all sorts of stuff crowded the shelves.  Jags spoke to Mike on the phone and left me at the top of the slope down to the dock where I would be picked up.  I headed up to the store to get some bait (Anchovies) and when I came back had a bit of a panic as my bag and boots had disappeared with no sign of Mike or Jags,  I soon spotted Mike taking the boat to get fuel.  When he got back I gave him the Anchovies and hoped it would be enough, he suggested that he would have got two packs so I headed back up to the store and took the opportunity to use the restroom as I thought it might be the best one I would see for a few hours.

We hung around until 12.40 hoping that Mikes friend Matt would join us as he said he would but there was no sign and we set off though Mike was reluctant to go without him.  We headed inland through the channel and Mike began to express hopes that there was enough water to let us get through.  The channel is narrow in places and at a very low tide there is so little water that you can walk from one island to the other.  He didn’t seem too confident so I was beginning to get a bit nervous, having visions of us grounding the boat and when I asked he said that it was (as I thought) not aluminium but fibreglass so my imagination had holes appearing as we struck the bottom.  We passed through the narrows with no problem, it is a little bit of a winding route passing left and right of different pillars set in the seabed.  Finally some 15 or so miles later we began to feel the swell of the Pacific and Mikes dog began to get less happy, he suffers sea-sickness and later when he got the chance he hid deep in the bottom of the boat.

There were already 3 or 4 other boats fishing and we joined them going up and down parallel to the rocky shore and cliffs that were the south side of the channel.  Mike had me steer while he set up the rods and lines, this was not the sea-fishing I had done many years ago in Namsos, then we had just dropped lines over the side and jigged them up and down to attract the fish.  Here the lines from the rods were passed through weighted lines to keep them down and we went back and forwards hoping for a bite.  We took two runs up and down the shore and on the second we got a bite.  Mike called me from the cabin to come and take the rod and gave me hurried instruction on how to maintain the tension with the palm of my hand on the reel and not have my fingers near  as they could get broken while he was telling me he was detaching the line from the weight.  I tried to keep the tension on but at one point felt we may have lost the fish as the rod straightened a  bit.  Mike took over for a minute and we still had him then passed the rod back to me and gave me more instruction.  Eventually I could see the fish swimming close to the boat but had to wait for Mike to get the net ready then lift the rod straight to get him close.  Between us we had landed what seemed to me to be a big salmon, Mike estimated 14lbs and deflated me by telling me that last week they had taken a 40 pounder.

As we set up to fish again the radio squarked and someone asked if anyone close-by could help them as their engine had cut out and they were getting close to the rocks.  The first person to respond was 5 miles away so Mike responded and as I steered he pulled the lines in.  Once the lines were in Mike took over and opened up the throttle a bit to get us there quickly.  The boat in trouble belonged to Rob who Mike knew and when we got close they threw a line across to us, I was able to hold it to pull them free of the rocks then we tied it to an eyelet on the stern of the boat to get it further. A few minutes later Mike went down in the cabin to get a rope with a pulley that he had made for towing and it was then that the dog took his opportunity to hid below.

Once the tow was set up so that the load was balanced at both sides of the stern we head back at about 9 knots.  We had done an hour or so fishing and would be towing back for about 3 hours but the time went quick as Mike told me how he had ended up in Queen Charlotte from Prince Rupert after quite a few adventures in Kenya, Australia, Indonesia and the Himilaya, including a day or so in prison for overstaying his visa in Katmandu.  He had been wild in his youth with drink giving him courage but had not had  drink since he was 27.  The journey back to QC went quickly as we chatted and watched the world go by, once again the bears that we hoped to see on the shore stayed hidden as they had on the way out.

The Spring Salmon we caught.  Gutted by Mike as we travelled back to Queen Charlotte.

The Spring Salmon we caught. Gutted by Mike as we travelled back to Queen Charlotte.

At the docks we helped Rob to one of the jetties and then moored up Mikes boat.  The dog had recovered when we got back in the wide waters close to Queen Charlotte and like so many dogs in cars had spent the end of the journey with his head out of the window.  He was still happy to jump on to the dock.

Mike gave me a lift first to his place where he cut up the fish and we put the unused bait in his freezer.  I took half the fish to Jags in  a cardboard box and Mike gave other bits to the lads who were renting buildings from him.

When I was dropped off at Jags there was no one home so put my stuff in the tent then sat in the garden and caught up on my notes while thinking how lucky I had been to have such good fortune.  Mike had seemed disappointed that we didn’t fish longer but I had enjoyed all of the day.

When he got back Jags put the fish in the fridge and promised to cook it tomorrow night.  I stayed up a while longer but soon retired to my tent.

 

Round the world Day 13

Woke at 6 to the PA announcement that we would dock at Skidegate (pronounced Skiddergut).  Alex and I headed down for a bit of breakfast but Meegan declined.  We had to wait quite a while to disembark and when we did Alex waited at the terminal for the ferry across the channel towards Sandspit and Meegan and I walked towards Skidegate.  The brochure for Northern BC said that Skidegate had a tourist information office, a bank and other facilities, Meegan was looking for Husband St. where her friends mother lived.  We walked more than a mile from the ferry terminal with no sign of the road and a search on my phones GPS didn’t show it so we asked a lady who was just out emptying her rubbish.  She told us that the bank and tourist info were both in Queen Charlotte and Husband St. was also that way so we turned round and headed back.  In theory it is easy to hitchhike on the island but I think the two of us was a bit off-putting so suggested to Meegan that I call in the coffee shop and she continue to try to get a lift.  In fact she got a lift straight away and the woman driving was also calling in the coffee shop.  We were met on the porch by Jags who owned the shop with his wife, we chatted and it turned out that he had rooms upstairs but they were all full.  He did though offer me a camping space in the back garden with access to the toilet, shower and laundry.  I accepted gratefully and once again serendipity struck.

The coffee shop is great, a new venture and change of career for Jags and Sue, the camping in the garden is very sheltered but is just yards from the sea on the otherside of the highway so I fall asleep to the sounds of waves lapping on the shore, Ravens in the trees above and the occassional squirrel.

Camping in Jags back garden.

Camping in Jags back garden.

After setting up my tent I had a latte in the coffee shop and Jags introduced me to his cousin “Chubby” and they told me of their trip to Europe when they were both 15.  I’m sure he was exageratting when he described the shock of going from an island village with a population of 600 to the mainland and then Europe but it must have been quite a change fromthe life they were used to.

Quote in Jags Beanstalk 'restroom'.

Quote in Jags Beanstalk ‘restroom’.

After coffee I walked in to Queen Charlotte, about 7 miles away, hoping to get to a bank and perhaps book a trip at the tourist information office to visit the UNESCO site at the southern tip of the islands.  I had already been told by Sue that the Haida Heritage Museum was closed on Mondays but it turned out that so was the bank and several other businesses in town.  The tourist info was open and was able to tell me that there was no chance of getting to the south as the season was over.  I wandered round town and chatted to a man who was trying to sell me some argillite carvings that his wife did.  I explained that as my card was not cooperating I couldn’t buy anything but he still showed me the beautiful pieces and talked about how he found the rock and his wife who was Haida (the native tribe) did the carving.  It was a black rock that looked very much like Whitby Jet but was found up the mountain not on the beach.

The ferry at dock, it lays over for one night before returning to Prince Rupert.

The ferry at dock, it lays over for one night before returning to Prince Rupert.

I called at a Chinese restaurant for lunch and then wandered round the dock for a bit before heading back to Jags.  There was a National Geographic ship docked in town so I took a few pictures of it on the way back as it headed out to sea.

The docks in Queen Charlotte.

The docks in Queen Charlotte.

A house built in mock-Tudor style overlooking the channel.  White painted with wooden beams.

A house built in mock-Tudor style overlooking the channel. White painted with wooden beams.

The National Geographic ship heading out.

The National Geographic ship heading out.

When I got back to Jags I walked across the road to a bench overlooking the sea and spread the solar-panel out in the hope of charging up the GPS but it didn’t seem to work. After a while I headed in for a coffee and worked on the blog.  I was allowed to stay in after the coffee shop closed and later Jags returned to prepare some fish that had been caught by some of the guests.  As I headed off to my tent later he invited me to join them for a dinner of the fish later.

When I returned there were seven of us eating, John was guest from Alberta who had business in Queen Charlotte and had caught the Coho Salmon we were eating, Davey was a friend of Jags who had lived on the island working as a logger but now lived in Victoria, he had caught a Red Snapper.  There were also two ladies who were up from Vancouver for a meeting about the amublance service as well as Jags, Sue and myself.  The meal was beautiful, fresh fish with boiled potatoes, brocolli and corn-on-the-cob with cheesecake to follow.  The conversation was good as well, I explained my travels and plans for the Andes, Sue told me about her recent epic throwing herself off the Skytower in Las Vegas held with only ropes through rings on the shoulders of a harness.  Though I have abseilled thousands of times before and parachuted this seemed pretty extreme.  Davey told us of the time he walked the West Coast Trail when he was in his 20s and did it in just 23 hours.  At the time he was an avid sportsman, playing rugby and doing lots of other things including rock-climbing.  He went on to tell us that he had just lost above 100lbs of weight having got up to over 340lbs.  He had reduced his diet, stopped watching TV and started lifting weights at the gym and felt so much better for it.  He had just cancelled an operation on his knee as losing the weight seemed to have solved the problem.  It turned out that Jags was also an athlete, playing basketball and running daily.

Jags also told us some of the history of the Haida nation, how they had been reduced by disease from above 30,000 to about 600 and that he was descended from a young girl who was the only survivor of a group on the mainland killed by smallpox as they tried to make it back to the island.  She had been rescued by another group making their way back though it hadn’t been a decision they came to easily.  She had been adopted by one of the chiefs of a village in Masset and grew up to have lots of children of her own.  Jags is one of 17 and they had worked out that his mother had been pregnant at least part of every year for 20 years from the age of 16.

I went back to my tent tonight feeling that once again things had worked out better than I had any right to expect.  The disappointment of not being able to visit the UNESCO site had been more than made up for by the hospitality of Jags and Sue.

Round the world Day 12

When I woke at 7.15 the lounge we were camped out in was almost empty of people,  I had vaguely woken at 5 when we arrived at Klemtu but not enough to realise how many people had left.  Meegan was already up but Rob was asleep until we woke him up to see Humpback Whales through the window.  For most of the day I read, wrote and looked out of the window at the shoreline going by.  I was searching for bears on the beaches and took a hard look at anywhere that looked like the entrance to a creek but there were none to be seen. Again!

Meegan came down from the deck to drag Rob and I up to enjoy the view.  By now we were passing through the Grenville channel and the view was good.  There was also an announcement on the PA to say that it was the narrowest channel on the trip and occassionally you may see Elk or Deer swimming across.  Needless to say we didn’t see any.  We soon entered an area of fog and we were warned that the fog-horn was going to be sounding every two minutes.  There were good views, when we got breaks, of the mountains on either side with the fog bank below.  Unfortunately my pictures were all lost when I messed with the card and laptop in Prince Rupert.

The last few miles to Prince Rupert were clear and we could see the container wharf with a huge ship being pushed in by two tugs.  There was a train being pulled by two locos along the shoreline and I commented that it was going very slow,  Rob said that you could almost walk in front of it and then we spotted that there was indeed someone walking across the line infront of it. We had just been having a conversation about trains in North America and their speed compared to those in Europe.  My theory is that the vast distances that need to be covered mean that they can’t maintain the track to a standard high enough for high speed trains.  Rob is leaving us at Prince Rupert and heading up on the Alaska Marine Highway to do some hiking, kayaking and travel on the train and I told him about the journey Dad and I had taken from Seward to Anchorage and then to Denali.

PRa

One of the deer beside the highway.

We arrived in Prince Rupert at 3.45 and then had to wait for foot passengers to be allowed off.  Rob headed straight off to the AMH ferry which was docked beside us and we didn’t see him again so assumed he managed to get a passage to wherever it was going.  Alex, Meegan and I stayed in the terminal building until Alex decided she needed to walk in to town to get food and we left Meegan guarding the bags.  We walked down the highway to Prince Rupert and found an Overwaitea store.  We did several laps of the aisles and found most of the things we wanted.  Alex made the comment that the thing she was disappointed with compared to Germany was bread, the selection was limited and the bread wasn’t good.  We both bought pastries and drinks for the walk back.  The lady at the checkout asked if we had a storecard and when we didn’t she put our purchases on the stores card so that we would get the discount.  As we walked back to the ferry we passed within a few feet of two deer, one on the edge of the road and one a little further down a track.

There were also noises in the trees on the otherside of the road where a group of kids were building a den, a “fort” over here.  This reminded me of my first trip to Canada in the summer holiday between Primary and High School when David, his friends and I build forts near a stormdrain in Trail, BC.

We got back to the ferry terminal at 7.10 to find our bags secure but Meegan desperate for the toilet.  She had been so conscientious that she had not left the bags unattended.

At 8pm one of the BC Ferries crew came out with a clipboard and read the list of names of people on the standby list who were going to be allowed on, some quietly accepted their place some cheered and made pleased comments.

We were called to board at 8.30 and headed off, at the checkpoint before the ship we discovered that Meegan had not collected her boarding card so I took her case on while she went back to the terminal.  We fooled the crew by heading to the forward elevator so that we didn’t have to struggle with bags through the corridors on the higher decks and settled ourselves in the same section of the lounge we had been in just hours earlier.  Meegan settled straight down for sleep while Alex and I stayed up for a bit.  I sat listening to some of the conversations of the young people round us, one lad who may have been in his late teens was chatting with a “radical” girl with dreads who was a little older.  They were discussing some environmental issue which involved direct action, he wanted to know if she smoked “bud” and assured her that his mother got the best.  I had to smile at how people all over the world are the same and yet different.

Alex settled on her chosen patch of floor while I headed down to get a hot chocolate.  I was called to the Pursurs office on the PA and offered a cabin but as I had a good nights sleep last night on the floor and was enjoying the company I turned it down. Settled on my patch of floor at 10.30.

Round the world Day 11.

Having been a great host last night Rob did even better this morning.  I started by going to the cafe downstairs to get a coffee and being offered Pumpkin pie cake by the young lady baking in the kitchen.  Then, after showing me how to use the very high tech eco-friendly washing machine, Rob gathered six of us together to take us for a hike to see bears.  We went in convoy with myself and Alex (a girl from Hamburg) riding with Ben who was from Holland following Rob.  He took us first to the spot he had shown me last night, then to another beach before taking us to an Indian village and showing us totem poles and some canoes.  There was a big event going on in the community hall so he could not show us some of the art inside.  After the village he drove us out to the airport, passing the local scrapyad on the way where I spotted an old RV ripe for restoration.

At the airport we parked in a track next to the perimeter fence and walked between the fence and the beach towards a creek where Rob thought we had a good chance of seeing bears. On the way we saw a young eagle, Stellar Jays and thousands of salmon but no bears.  Despite clambering over wet rocks at the end of the track and  then trying beside an old salmon hatchery we still didn’t see any bears and returned to the cars happy but unfulfilled.  We got back to the hostel soon after 2 giving me time to put my washing in the drier and go up to the supermarket for some supplies. When I got back from the hostel I packed my bags and waited downstairs with Alex, Meegan and another Rob for the taxi to the ferry.  It had been booked for four but failed to turn up before half past.  Rob the hostel owner assured us there was no problem it was just North Island time.  It turned up later and delivered us safely to the ferry where we joined the queues in a very busy but small terminal.

After waiting for half an hour or so and drooling at the collection of enduro motorbikes waiting to board the ferry we followed them on through the car deck.  No separate footbridge on this ferry.  We took the elevator up to the 5th deck and Rob, Meegan and I found seats close to the door to the Aurora lunge where Alex and Ben had got their reclining seats booked.  Some people wasted no time staking their claim to a bit of floor to sleep on but the three of us were a bit more restrained and didn’t unpack our sleeping bags until 10ish.  In fact to start with I planned to sleep in my seat but at 1 in the morning, when the people on the floor behind my seat got off at Bella Bella, I took their place and rolled out my mat and sleeping bag.

At 6pm. Alex came through asking if we were going to eat but it was decided we would leave it until 7 o’clock.  She was hungry but was prepared to wait.  We watched the world go by through the picture window for an hour and at 7 we all descended one deck to the “Canoe” cafe.  I ordered a cheese burger but ended up having a chicken burger because a German woman seemed to have ordered a it when she wanted a cheese burger and it made no difference to me.

On the way back to our place on deck 5 we passed three young men on the landing with sea charts spread out on the floor.  They were recent graduates from Thompson University Outdoor Persuits course travelling to Klemtu with sea kayaks to circumnavigate the island and hoped to see “Spirit Bear” rare white Black bear.  I was jealous as I still hadn’t got in a kayak, Meegan though had done the trip I had originally hoped to do in Johnstone Strait and had loved it.  This knowledge didn’t make me feel happier at missing out.

 

 

Round the world Day 10.

Once again I hadn’t managed to sort a kayaking trip for today but had booked a seat on the Greyhound bus to Port Hardy to join the ferry tomorrow afternoon.  Unfortunately having had to wait hours to get through to BC Ferries to book my passage I discover that the terminal is not in the town and that I should check with Greyhound about transfer times.  I walked to the tourist info office to see if there was any other way of reaching Port Hardy and was given a leaflet for another bus company, when I looked closer their service finished on 1st September.  I walked round to the Greyhound office to check on the transfer times and was greeted with concern as the bus was likely to run late and had no chance of getting to Port Hardy in time for the ferry.  I rushed back to the hotel, shoved all my stuff in my rucksac and duffle back and made it back to the Greyhound bus station in time at 1.50 in time for the 2 o’clock bus.  The staff were great and agreed to accept my booking for tomorrow on todays bus and as they couldn’t print the ticket out because their computers were down just asked the driver (the same as had brought me in from Nanaimo) to let me on.  Having rushed and panicked to get there the bus didn’t actually begin loading until 2.15.

All the rush and change of plans turned out to be serendipity at work again.  The drive took us through a different type of forest landscape with more mountains and even signs for a ski resort.  We had a break at a place called Woss and raided the store there for snacks before heading to Port McNeill and then to Port Hardy.

The best bit came when we arrived in Port Hardy.  It was by now 5.30ish and I had no booking for accommodation so asked the lady in the Greyhound office who pointed me “up the street on the left” to a hostel.  North Coast Trail Backpackers Hostel and the owner Rob turned out to be amazing.  I joined the back of the queue and listened to a very English accent greeting the guests in front of me.

When it was my turn Rob told me that he was from near Heathrow Airport but had been in Canada since 1968.  I ended up with a huge private room with a double bed, a set of very wide (double?) bunk beds and a window looking out over the straits towards the mainland with the promise of an excellent view of the sunrise.  Later, because I had laughed about not seeing any bears despite the warnings of Parks Canada, Rob drove me out to a parking spot at the start of a trail where there was a good chance of seeing bears and after a few minutes we spotted a young bear fishing for salmon.  We watched him for a while and some eagles who were flying round then Rob drove back in to town and I aimed to walk back by the path next to the river.  The first part of the path took me under a road bridge and as I stepped under on one side of the river and mother bear and cub stepped out on the other side.  There are bears in Canada after all.

Having seen bears I was not quite so keen to follow the very dark path by the river,especially as it was now night time.  Instead I followed the road back in to town and arrived back at the hostel soon after 9.

Having thanked Rob for taking me I headed up to the room.

My main meal today had been at Setos Chinese restaurant, Rob’s suggestion.  It seemed an expensive menu but I was so pleased with the hostel and the fact that plans had fallen together that I decided to stay.  My mistake was in fact believing that hot and sour soup was overpriced when really it was a huge portion, a tureen full, and was a main course not a starter.  I ended up leaving with a doggy bag with half my soup and half my chicken something to eat later.