Day 119-124: Puno and Lake Titicaca

Out of all the educational experiences we’ve had, this was probably the most profound. After coming back from the Amazon, we got on a bus straight to Lake Titicaca, Puno. Apparently the locals don’t call it that, because “caca’’ is offensive to them. Our mission when travelling was to try and not be a tourist whenever possible, and here we were given the opportunity to stay with a local in one of the small towns surrounding the lake.

But first, we had a full day planned. We began our tour by visiting one of the ‘floating islands’. About two thousands people live on these floating islands permanently, and meet once a week to buy/sell and allow the younger people to ‘mingle’. Traditionally, the girl goes to live with the boy once they get married, which often happens at around 18 or 19 years old.

We were introduced to the president of the islands, a guy whose name I can’t remember. It didn’t seem right to shove a camera in his face, so apologies for this elusive shot.

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The president of the island is chosen by the people in a sort of vote, and is only president for 2 years before someone else takes over. He gave us a tour of the island and explained (with our tour guide as a translator) how they build the islands, using a model for demonstration. It takes approximately a year to go from this:

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To this.

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Each island only lasts for ten years before they need to be rebuilt. So 10% of their life on them are spent building the next one. Not only that, but their boats take three months to make and only last another five after that before they need to be rebuilt.

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They were surprisingly comfortable, and I could have easily fallen asleep while he was taking us around the lake. After our tour, we were given a final farewell by these lovely ladies.

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Before I go on to talk about getting to our hosts town, I want to give out another ‘Bad Tourist’ award. The guy in the checked shirt in the picture above was one of the worst tourists we’ve come across. He spent the majority of the trip high out of his skull, playing loud music and screaming whenever he felt like it. We were staying with some of the mildest people I’ve ever met, so they must have been intimidated beyond belief by this guy. I wanted to push him off the boat for treating these people that way – the old lady he stayed with could have been my Nana!!! So if you find yourself in Puno and fancy snorting cocaine, please just go to a hostel.

The town was a beautiful town with a few schools, a town square, a few shops for the locals etc. Donkeys had right of way when walking up and down the streets. We made our way up to Pacha Mama to watch the sun set.

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We were already 4000m above sea level, which means walking up-hill can be a struggle, but we made it after an hour.

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Even though it was a clear day, it was freezing once we stopped moving!

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That clear sky was worth it though! Once the sky darkened, we made our way back down in time for some dinner, which was a traditional spread of quinoa soup and vegetables from the garden. Our family consisted of a man and wife in their fifties and a grown up daughter in her thirties. Between their small amount of Spanish (their main language is Quechan), and my small amount of Spanish, we managed that the man had been a farmer all of his life, while his wife made hats and scarves for tourists.

The house we were staying in belonged to the daughter, because their house was too small to accept guests. Tonight they had three guests; me, Dan and another girl from the UK called Louise. Once dinner was over, it was time to wear some traditional clothing that the wife had made and make our way to the local party.

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I know the photos don’t really show it, but the party was quite lively! Their version of dancing was to hold hands and walk round in a circle together until the song finished. The songs went on for a long long time, and we could tell that our host was getting tired after working all day. Just as some of the other tourists were getting boisterous, we asked to go back to the house to save our host from being dragged around by people three times her size.

That evening, a storm settled on the small town. As I think I’ve mentioned before, thunder and lightning is common here around this time of year, and the storms are far more frightening than back home, where you feel secure that the trees are a good distance away and the houses can take the impact of the lightning if needs be. It was the middle of the night and pitch-black, and Dan had dropped off to sleep.

Whenever I feel out of my comfort zone, I try to remember to cross bridges when I come to them. If nothing bad has happened yet, then there’s no need to worry yet is there? This theory was really being put to the test here, and I’m not the best self soother. All I could do was count the time between the strike and the thunder and estimate how far away the storm was. Eventually, the strikes seemed to be moving further away and I was able to sleep.

The next day, we were given a tour around one of the traditional, non-floating earth islands. On this island, it is customary for the men to do all of the knitting and craft work and for the women to go out and tend to the farms. This guy in particular was a newly-wed. We were told that his hat signified this and was one of four hats that the men on this island wear during their life-time. The women signaled their marital status AND how happy they were through their black headpiece. If they were unhappy for any reason, then the whole island had a meeting to discuss how to improve their situation, because getting divorced was not an option.

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It is amazing to be given a glimpse into a way of life and has developed with very few similarities to yours. No internet and only the odd visit from a tourist, they have developed a society that is unique and appears to work very well for them. I knew tribes and cultures that are completely removed from western culture existed, but I didn’t think we’d get the chance to meet any. When I asked how long their traditions had been around for, they said they weren’t sure exactly, but knew that they had been around for at least a few hundred years. In our society, each generation lives in a very different way to the generation before, yet these people lived in a way that didn’t change a great deal over the years. I couldn’t say if it seemed better or worse, just different and fascinating.

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Day 67-69: Calgary

After the massive 48 hour train journey, a mere 20 hour one seemed like nothing. Someone has since told us that after working on the train lines, he would never get a train across Canada, so now I’m glad we only have one more night to go before our last Canadian destination – Vancouver.

We arrived in Edmonton and went to get our hired car straight away. The plan was to head straight to Calgary before Banff and Jasper and spend our last night in Edmonton so we didn’t miss it completely. I know that I’ve just thrown out a load of West-Canada cities here, and it probably doesn’t make sense. That’s because we spent so much time going back and forth to Toronto at the beginning of our Canadian stint, that we now have to squeeze as much out of our time in the west as possible.
We quickly learnt that our car had cruise control which could be adjusted. Dan went for ten minutes at a time without using his feet to control the car at all! In fact, the car had such nice steering, that I could take over for a little while, while he looked around and did no driving what-so-ever. Before you think we’re stupidly reckless, let me justify ourselves by saying that a lot of the roads would have speed limits as low as approximately 30mph in the middle of nowhere. We weren’t going to cause an accident.

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It cost us $383 to hire this car for six days with insurance from Enterprise. We did get a free upgrade, so don’t necessarily expect such a great car for so cheap.

It was Thanksgiving Sunday and we weren’t holding out any hope of finding a host when, at the eleventh hour, someone accepted our request on CouchSurfing. Our host was called Matt and was in his thirties. He just happened to be working the next day, and was the type of Canadian person we’d become accustomed to; the kind that cares about people he’s never met. He didn’t want to leave travellers out in the cold, so he accepted both us and a French girl called Sonia into his flat.

It makes me feel sad and hollow to think about it, but all of our amazing experiences on CouchSurfing may not be the same once we leave Canada. We’ve been treated like old friends and family, and experiencing that level of acceptance in a place so far away from home has been wonderful. We’ve been given lifts, gifts and home cooked meals without any expectations of us. Looking at California, I’m already seeing profiles full of “will only host gay men” and “nothing in life is free, so bring a gift”. I have not been through every CouchSurfing host, so I might be (hopefully) wrong!

Matt was extremely laid back, yet was very quick to suggest making us food and getting us settled in. Four of us fitted into his living room fairly cosily, so it was funny to imagine Matt hosting seven people there at the same time. Apparently the weather was stormy outside and he didn’t want to turn anyone down so, with a big grin on his face, he told us about how he made food for seven people, all from different countries. One of his most common sayings was “I know that when you’re on the road you just want some sleep/a cooked meal/time to chill out”. It wasn’t long before he was outside, putting on the BBQ. I thought he was joking as it looked like this outside:

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He wasn’t joking and he didn’t even put on a jumper.

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A few Canadians have proudly told us that they would BBQ on Christmas Day, and don’t seem to understand why we think they’re mad. They have ovens indoors where its nice and warm!

After our food (which was actually hot and really good), we played Mario Party for a few hours and talked. He told us about how he went travelling around Europe at 33 and slept on the street in Russia in sub-zero temperatures. He’s had things stolen from him (which I know is common, but hasn’t happened to us yet) and was deported somewhere he didn’t know for having the wrong Visa –  in the middle of winter, with no English signs. Most travellers (us included) we’ve met haven’t had to deal with half of that, let alone dealing with it on their own. He batted away the idea that he did anything extraordinary, and put those scary situations down to experience. As with anyone who goes outside of their comfort zone like that, I quickly got the impression that finding his limits was important to him; that he needed to know what he was capable of, even if he didn’t plan to be in so many sticky situations. Most people (myself included) don’t really ever seek an opportunity like that and would happily live our lives not knowing how we’d react when facing a seriously bleak situation. Maybe Matt now has an advantage over the rest of us, knowing that he can handle seriously shitty situations without crumbling. I don’t know who he was before he did these crazy things, but I was glad of the opportunity to get to know post-travel Matt for an evening.

Because of Matt’a charming stories and how comfortable we felt in his flat, we never got round to seeing anything in Calgary, so this post should probably be called “Matt’s apartment and going to get a milkshake”, because that is literally all we did here. The milkshake was amazing though – if you are ever in the area, you have to go to ‘Peter’s Drive-In’. They had those milkshakes that would take forever to drink because of how thick they are, and burgers that would make McDonalds cry!

Day 65-66: It made no sense to make the cent, Winnipeg.

I know that there are plenty of people out there that are capable of learning far more and taking more in than I am, but I am noticing some small things. For example, the earth itself. I always thought mud was the colour brown. Sometimes light brown, sometimes dark brown, but brown. Going to another country which formed thousands of miles away with dirt of its own has shown me that its not just brown. It can be reddy-brown, orangey-brown, tan coloured, grey and sometimes even coal-black. I could go into the different shades of sand, but I think you get the picture.

Where we went yesterday had no real relation to mud, but it was still interesting to see. Stephen, one of our previous hosts in Winnipeg who very kindly offered to have us back, took us to see the Mint in Winnipeg. Winnipeg’s Mint makes coins for 75 countries spread across the world, and is capable of making 15 million coins a day.

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We were tossing up whether to go here or the zoo, and oddly enough found the place to have zoo-like qualities, as we spent an hour watching people make coins in a factory behind a pane of glass. We were asked not to photograph the machines or the people while they worked, because of legal issues of photographing coins being printed and also because its rude to take photos of people without their permission. It was mesmerising and very satisfying watching them make the coins and package them with perfect efficiency. They must have really stamped down on making mistakes, because faulty coins are now a collectors item as they are so rare.

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I did manage to get some photos of the different varieties of coins they were making, and one of the big developments in coin printing was injecting colour onto the surface. It was deemed as so innovative, that one of the first people to leave the mint with these coins was deemed as suspicious – as if these coins were carrying information of some kind, making the man a secret spy for Winnipeg. After seizing these coins and analysing them, it became evident that Winnipeg just likes pretty things and wanted to jazz up their currency. So, to make a segway to the mud, what used to be gold, silver and bronze, could now be red, blue, while, yellow – any colour in pretty much any shade! To celebrate this invention, they’ve made a series of limited edition coins dedicated to Disney, comic book heroes and so on.

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As the woman talked us through the process of how vending machines detect the different types of coins, one of our tour brought up a tricky subject. A man who used to work at the Mint has recently been charged with stealing a significant amount of gold over a long period of time. They started to suspect him, because the metal detectors would always pick up more on him than anyone else walking in and out of the building. After searching his belongings, they found several tubs of Vaseline. His argument was that he got away with doing it so many times that he almost felt allowed. The last fact I’ll give you is, out of all the 75 countries that Winnipeg makes coins for, only one has legally demanded that their identity is kept a secret. The country’s acronym is SGP – work it out!

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To explain the title of this blog, we’ve noticed that a lot of people have been talking about the fact that they’ve recently stopped making the one cent coin. Apparently there was no way they could make it for under 1.5 cents, and you can no longer buy anything for one cent anymore, so they stopped making them.

In the evening, we decided to chill out at Stephen and his wife Kirsten’s place. Nearly every Canadian person in their twenties seems to like this show called ‘Bones’. I haven’t watched it enough to be hooked, but it seems better than a lot of shows I’ve seen.

The next day, I went around town by myself, because I needed to buy socks and I fancied mooching around. One thing I did want to do, and I wanted to do it whilst in a place that I trusted, was to have my nose piercing changed. I didn’t like the bulky silver stud I had, so I went and got myself a ring. It’s a pretty insignificant thing to do, but it’s something I didn’t have the courage to do back home in case it looked silly. Out here, we very rarely know anyone for longer than a week, so looking stupid just doesn’t matter.

In the evening, we took Stephen and Kirsten to a tapas restaurant called Segovia. The food was beautiful, and worth the slightly higher bill than the other places we’d been to, and had all the fancy/weird decor you’d expect from a posh place.

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We’d had plenty of time to see different places in Winnipeg, but we wanted to squeeze out as much from our last night as we could, so we had four small dishes between us and went restaurant-hopping to another place. We ended up going to Kawaii, a place that specialises in crepes, just because we could, and they were again beautiful. Our last stop for the evening was a cafe/bookstore which is a little out from the centre of town. It had beautiful desserts and a massive collection of books and other things to browse. It even had a self-publishing machine, so you could print out your own book and became an author in one night.

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As I predicted, Winnipeg seemed much bigger after Churchill than it did after Toronto, but I found it just as lovely. Our next challenge is going to be trying to find a couchsurfing host who is willing to take us on over Thanksgiving weekend!

Day 62-64: Sleeping on Public Transport for the 14th Night in a Month!

So this blog marks the two month anniversary since leaving Wales. I missed the first one because I’m not the most sentimental person, but I figured the second month-a-versary should get a mention. Before I left, people were commenting on how brave we are doing this. Any element of bravery has just not been necessary yet, and it’s been pretty easy because we’ve had each other. I’m sure without a doubt that coming back home and starting over again will be far more difficult than anything we’ll encounter on our travels.

Just before heading back onto the train, we were waiting in reception when we heard some voices that sounded very familiar. It turns out that they were Welsh people – the first that we’d met since leaving Wales ourselves! They were a couple from Port Talbot but had lived all over the world, working for global companies. You forget that some of your mannerisms and cultures are formed by the people around you and they’re not necessarily universal. Some of the smaller eccentricities of being Welsh is something that I wouldn’t have picked up on before we’d left. It was also interesting to get an insight into how Welsh people sound to the rest of the world. When we first came to Canada, both Canadian and American accents sounded pretty much the same, and you had to have a very strong Welsh accent for it to sound out of the ordinary to me. Now, I’m finding it easier to pick up on the subtle differences between American and Canadian, and Welsh sounds almost foreign! 

You can only get to and from Churchill by plane or train, because the roads come to an end 100 miles or so below. According to the ticket officer, the people on nearby reserves need this train to commute to work, school, shops and even doctors. When there used to be three trains running weekly, there is now only one, so the locals have to pile in. Then night time rolls around and you have to play the game of trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in, like Tetris with your limbs. As far as washing is concerned, in economy you have to do the best you can with a sink as a shower is out of the question. You also lose any contact with the rest of the world, and have to make do with the people around you, while the tube of metal you’re all in makes it’s way through the wilderness. It presents a good opportunity to get to know the people travelling with you, but it doesn’t allow for much privacy. 

The last ailment of this trip was the conductor was a complete asshole with a superiority complex, who forced everyone to cram into one carriage instead of opening a very available second. At one point, he was demanding that me and Dan sit with two people that we met on the train when there was no need whatsoever, just because he saw us talking to each other. Not fulfilled with us telling him that we were two separate parties, he began moving our neighbours things over to our area without asking him. I’ve enjoyed going on the train and I’m glad we did it, but it’s only fair to list the downsides that are all part of the package. We’ve now spent 10 nights on different trains, so the novelty of them are wearing off slightly and the downsides are becoming more prominent.

Both on the way up and the way back, we stopped at a place called Thompson. I didn’t know anything about this place before getting off the train, so my reactions to it were purely instinctive. The place felt a bit jarring if I’m honest. I want to portray all of the places we visit in as best a light as I can, but I don’t want to be dishonest about how I felt when I was there. When we went to the mall, the community board had several ‘Missing Person’ and ‘Crime Report’ cases, with pictures of young people who hadn’t been seen in weeks. A couple of people have told.me that Thompson is the “murder capital” of Canada. I’m not sure how true that is, but something seemed wrong. 

Two people that were on this leg of the journey with us were called Doris and John. I’d already made some small talk with John in Churchill while out looking for bears, so I knew there would be someone interesting to talk to (apart from Dan). John was an actor, who had a 42 year career behind him and no intention of stopping. You know in Star Trek, when they say “beam me up Scotty?” – he was Scotty.

He had also done a few episodes on crime shows playing judges, and had a few roles in commercials. With all of this, and a business on the side, he still only earned just above the poverty line in the US.

Doris was a retired map-maker who also lived in the US. She was a big part of the Hillary campaign; not because she believed in Hillary, but because she found it to be her duty to stop Trump at any cost. She was adamant that people had to do something to stop the madness and accompanied everything she said with waving arms and wide eyes.

Any Trump supporters on the train would not have dared own up to it around her. One idea that she had was everyone in the US spending no money for one day. No clothes, no food, nothing and all as a means of protest. It seems like such a simple idea, yet I can see how that would cause chaos for the people at the top and it would get people the attention that they need. She told us all about her protesting in the 60’s and how she feels that people have forgotten how much power they have. It was inspiring to say the least to be reminded that, if we’re serious enough, we can make change happen. And like the museum made clear – if we are not happy about something, then doing nothing makes us guilty.

Doris did not seem it in the slightest, but she was an 87 year old woman. John was also in his late 60’s, and neither of them seemed ready to slow down. Both of them were agitated at having to sit on the train for so long and thought people who went on all inclusive holidays may as well be beached whales. John had a quieter approach to getting his point across, whereas Doris was enigmatic and loud, but they usually met in the middle with what they had to say. Doris also told one of the noisy children to either be quiet or she’d kill them – so her passion ran into the small things as well as the big.

Day 58–61: Churchill. Home of Polar Bears, Northern Lights and Beluga Whales

Churchill is the third best place in the the world to see the Northern Lights, and it offered so much more.

On our first day there, we rented a car to give us the freedom to safely explore the land. Churchill is like no other place, because the village has to adapt to the seasons and the migrations of the bears. The place is constantly being patrolled, and every night an alarm goes off at 10 o clock, which sounds a lot like the World War 2 emergency alarm. Someone told me that this alarm is only a throwback to the days of the residential schools, where it would act as a curfew for the children. Someone else told me that it was a curfew for everyone to signal when the area would stop being patrolled so heavily and it was time to stay indoors. Indoors doesn’t have to mean your own home, but most of the bear attacks happen at night, so its always a good idea to be near a vehicle or a front door of a house/pub and to only walk home if its just across the road. Apparently there’s a rule that no-one is allowed to lock anything, in case someone needs to make a run for it to the nearest truck or house.

The village has approximately 900 inhabitants and the numbers are slowly falling, but every October and November, the numbers almost quadruple with tourists and seasonal workers. This  happens because the bears gather close by, waiting for the ice to form. The numbers were low during the 70’s, but in recent years there has been as many as a thousand bears close to this village which is only a 15 minute walk end-to-end. We saw a lot of guns during our visit, but they are mainly used to scare and only to harm in extreme cases. If, as a tourist, you antagonise a bear by getting too close without supervision and the bear needs to be killed, then you are held accountable to the law.

The Northern Lights

The train up to Churchill was a mixed bag, and very different from the Canadian train that runs along the bottom of Canada. There was less to do, and the journey to and from Churchill is a whopping 45 hours each way! We did get a chance to see the prairies however, which was incredibly flat and differed greatly from the endless forests in Ontario. The staff were a tight nit group that gave you impression that they would be happy to bend the rules slightly. For the first night, there were only 8 of us on the train, so we got to know each other fairly well. They were telling us about the northern lights, and I couldn’t contain my excitement when they told me just how possible it was to see them from the train. I asked them to kick me in the head if they saw any that night.

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After about two hours of being glued to the window, that was my first sight of the Northern Lights. They wouldn’t grow to be much bigger than that on the first night, and they didn’t do the famous dancing across the sky, but it’s been a dream of mine to see them ever since I saw a programme on the BBC about Joanna Lumley travelling to Alaska to get a glimpse so it was enough to be amazed. I thought Iceland would be our only feasible shot of seeing them, so I was happy to have seen even a little of the lights.

By the second night, we were completely spoilt for how much of a display we were given.

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The lights just grew,

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and grew,

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and grew.

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I always wondered how fast the lights moved across the sky, because I was never sure whether the TV programmes sped them up or not, but they can move pretty fast! This show lasted about an hour, but moved all across the sky in that time.

Our aim in Churchill was to see the big three:

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The Northern Lights, Polar Bears and Beluga Whales. I couldn’t believe that before we even got there, we could check one of those things off the list. It didn’t stop us from searching for them the day we arrived, however, as a bartender at a local pub informed us that the sky was promising another amazing display that night. There’s a website called the Aurora Service which predicts how strong the lights will be. They grade it from 1-9, with 1 being no visibility to 9 being a strong magnetic storm. You are meant to be able to see them fairly clearly from as low as 3, and that night the forecast was showing a 6. Both the website and the bartender predicted correctly.

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Our camera is not equipped for photos of the night sky, so it’s focus was a little off, but I hope you get the impression of how amazing it looked. Before the sun had even set, the sky was lighting up and the next 90 minutes saw the northern lights grow and grow before the sky was filled with green light. I love how this phenomenon is yet to be completely understood and is still difficult to predict as the website changes it’s readings fairly frequently. Your best chances of seeing them is the old fashioned way of waiting for a clear night and keeping an eye out.

Polar Bears

Another custom which I found really weird was the idea of a ‘Bear Jail’, more formally known as a ‘Bear Holding Facility’. If a bear is seen wandering around the town, they are tranquilized and taken to a holding cell for anywhere between 10 days and all season to encourage them to never come so close again. Apparently they are held without food to make the message clear! It does sound cruel, but a lot of work is put into ensuring the survival of both humans and polar bears, and it’s the most effective method they have of controlling the boundaries without shooting them.

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As for us seeing them, our first day proved to be a small success. We drove up to a husky dog farm, where the bears were reported to have been trying to steal the dog food. We did see a tiny ball of white shoot across the land, but never managed to see it close enough or get a photo to prove what it was. In the pub later that night, we were told that the dogs were tied to a post, so anything being able to run that far had to have been a bear. We were happy to have seen a bear, but it was bitter sweet only knowing for sure after seeing it.

The next day we were determined. Armed with food and water, we were ready for a long steak out next to the dog farm and surrounding areas. We spent all day with our eyes peeled and barely spoke to each other so as not to distract ourselves. It wasn’t the most entertaining day and we were getting pretty fed up by around the fifth hour, and if I was a little less concerned for my safety I would have started waving my food in the air to try and attract one. We went back to Churchill and had dinner in a cafe, where the manager proceeded to make us feel worse by telling us how it must have been difficult to miss him. We decided to drive out for one more attempt to see the bear, knowing that it would probably be in vein. Finally, a distant speck of white in the horizon started to move.

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He was a tiny dot in the distance, but he moved enough for us to be sure that it was a bear. You could see that he saw us and was keeping a safe distance, and we had no intention of advancing on him. It was enough to see him in his own habitat; a land that he ruled. I’m resigned to the possibility that I won’t ever see a Polar Bear again. I don’t have any strong opinions on zoo’s, but as far as polar bears are concerned, I don’t think I could go and see one in captivity now. Both me an Dan managed to get a photo of him and we’re really proud.

Beluga Whales

Apparently they are the most curious types of whales, coming right up to your kayak to see what you’re all about. Even stroking them is fine, as they have no intention of harming you. We didn’t see any, but as Meatloaf once said – two out of three ain’t bad!
A few quick facts about our stay for anyone who wants to know:

Where we rented our car: A comoany called Tamarack

Where we stayed: The Tundra Inn 

How we got there: VIA Rail train from Winnipeg

Day 35–38–Cape Breton in the summer

I apologise for my big lack of photos in the last post. Let me make it up to you by overloading you with photos in this post. I’ll start with the first day we were there.

Day 1 – Pictou

We set off in search of Pictou, a small town of no more than 5000 people – or so the 16 year old documentary stated in the museum we visited today. The reason for going to this museum was that it was about Nova Scotia’s Scottish heritage. 

In 1743, 3 years before the English would win a battle against the clans of Scotland and break their way of life, a number of Scots decided to take fate into their own hands and emigrate to Canada. One of the clans that left was the Campbell clan and that is the clan that my family are descended from. So I went a little picture crazy whenever I saw the tartan.

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Nice tartan isn’t it? I saw a dress in Primark once that has this pattern on and wasn’t impressed. The Campbells were one of the most formidable clans in Scotland at one point and their tartan is better than that.

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Can you imagine leaving loved ones and the only land that you’ve ever known based on so little information? A ship called ‘The Hector’ was due to set sail across the Atlantic in order to give the people of Scotland a better way of life and land that was theirs alone to tend to. Above that, they were being promised a life without the English making it impossible for them.

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In the 1830’s, two of the survivors from the journey got together and tried to memorise all of the passengers that boarded that ship. That list is what they managed to come up with. There were 189 passengers in total, but only 188 passengers paid to be there. A bagpipe player was allowed on board eventually after much persuasion from the rest of the passengers. They decided that they desperately needed the jollity that he would bring.

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Here is me and Dan paying homage to him.

So the passengers were on this ship for 11 weeks. Those weeks were incredibly difficult and no one expected to stay on board for that long. The ship was never meant to hold 189 passengers and there were meagre rations to begin with. There were 18 deaths from a smallpox outbreak on board, of which most of the casualties were children. On top of all of that, they suffered a massive storm along the way that set them back a whole two weeks by the time the weather cleared.

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Dan wanted me to get in one of those beds to demonstrate how small they were, with the insinuation that I would do the best job of demonstrating that, the cow! Entire families would be crammed into one bed and partitions were put up to give the single ladies some modesty. Single men weren’t given a bed and had to sleep wherever they could. There seems to be an obvious solution to this one – sharing is caring right?

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These photos are a little randomly placed, as there’s not a great deal of background information to give on them, but I thought they were great to see anyway. The next photo made me cringe.

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Canada seems a divided country when it comes to the royal family. Some people love them, and some hate them. When Prince Charles gets that preoccupied by some wooden boobs I wonder how anyone in Canada could form a decent opinion of him. They laminated that bloody photo in A3 and stuck it right in the middle of all the items in the museum for all to see and for years to come!

Camping in Canada is very different from camping in Iceland. Apart from the obvious temperature differences, there were a lot of cultural differences as well. Camping in Iceland was a fairly modest affair, with most campers having anywhere between a tent and basic amenities to a small camper van. In Canada, these people knew how to camp in style – there were camper vans bigger and more luxurious than most UK houses! And the campsites were full of sound; children running around, fires spitting, people talking, fireworks in the evening (it was labour day) and music coming out of car radios and portable speakers. Travelling is subjective and many people would scream at me for saying this, but I preferred it. I like my independence fiercely, but I feel far more secure being surrounded by people even if I’m not in the mood to talk to anyone. That and I’ve said before that I love staring at people.

As the night was drawing in, we decided to take a walk around the campsite and go to the loo’s before heading to bed. We overheard one of the louder camping groups singing folk songs and looked over to see one of the most luxurious camping set ups in the whole place. They’d made an alcove for themselves with wind breakers and all sat in fleece lined chairs, and were all singing at the top of their voices. Dan linked arms with me and we danced around in circles until we noticed that their attention had turned to us. They all lifted up their arms and beckoned us into their alcove, where we spent the next three hours or so in their company. It turns out they were a group of 7 or so couples which have known each other for years when the men used to work in the military. From May to October, they would go camping every single weekend around Nova Scotia and would play games, drink and sing. It was really interesting to see how little they thought of welcoming strangers, and they made sure we were supplied constantly with drinks and shooters (shots to you and me) and showed us the hospitality we had come to expect here.

Day 2 – Into The Wild

The title above is of a film made in 2007 about a guy named Chris who runs away from his privileged life in search of solitude and enlightenment. It felt like me and Dan were attempting to do a little Welsh version of the film last night. We stopped off into a very empty campsite and tried to book a pitch to set our tent quickly as the sun was setting. The owner, who sat there and nodded at me for five minutes before putting his hearing aid in, was no longer in charge of taking money and told me I had to use the phone outside to book. After an hour of trying that he eventually accepted cash and let us use the most secluded spot at the top of the campsite. It was a pretty spot!

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After parking up, we noticed a Yurt behind us. No one was around and the sun was setting – who was going to come and claim it at that time? Even the old man had gone home! It was surprisingly easy to break into and it looked a lot comfier than our tent was going to be, so we decided to claim it for the night. Some of the Canadian culture must have rubbed off on us because we were wracked with guilt for most of the night, and being so far away from anyone else meant that I couldn’t blame every little noise I heard on some neighbours moving about. At about 3 o clock in the morning, I heard a howl and decided that sleeping was hopeless. We ended up crawling into the car at 6 in the morning and slept for a few hours before setting off.

Day 3 – Beginning of the Cabot Trail

After a difficult nights sleep, we decided to eat somewhere local and cheap. Every person we asked pointed us to this place.

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The food was really good and the staff were really friendly. I don’t get the toilets though – is that a thing in Cape Breton?

It was very difficult deciding not to travel all day and night in order to see as much of Nova Scotia as possible, but we decided to spend the rest of our time here on the Cabot Trail. The Cabot Trail travels along the North-East tip of Nova Scotia and is considered to be one of the more beautiful parts of the province.

 

We made out way to a place called Ingonish, which is that bit that looks like a capitol E on the East side of the trail. We’d decided to sleep in the car for the rest of the trip because I preferred the idea of metal being in between me and a Moose instead of just fabric, plus it allowed us to arrive at campsites after dark. We were driving along the road, when we noticed a sign saying ‘Kayaking’. We figured we would only be able to kayak in Cape Breton the once so we pulled in and paid for a two hour session.

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We were lucky that it was the perfect day for kayaking and we managed to see some amazing wildlife, as well as be able to look along the lake bed as the waters were so still. We were told that there was an Eagle’s nest, but not to expect to see the Eagle itself as the sightings were becoming really rare.

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We were on our way back, and I was steaming through the waters when I heard Dan gasp “Liz, Liz, LIZ STOP”. We looked up and just about saw the outline of this majestic thing.

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I’m really proud of the next photo I took. It took a very steady hand, but it was also down to the fact that the Eagle had resigned itself to knowing that we were following it and gave up trying to fly to the next branch over.

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We’ve seen some amazing wildlife since being in Canada, but I get why the USA chose this bird. You wouldn’t mess with this bird. We watched it devour a fish while it was still wriggling and didn’t break when making eye contact with us.

Day 4 – Ingonish Peninsula

When I mentioned the ‘E’ shape which marked out Ingonish on the map, the middle part of it formed a peninsula which was one of the nicest hikes you could go on along the Cabot Trail. DSCF2278

To start the photos off, this photo shows the beginning of the hike and I wanted to put it here to give you an idea of how narrow this peninsula is. It’s about 2km long, and for much of it we could see the sea on both sides.

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These photos are just to show you the general beauty of the hike. We were lucky that the skies were crystal clear that day so we could see for miles. The beauty was timeless here and it was amazing to step into a part of the world where the animals ruled. Nature was pretty much untouched apart from the paths that we walked on and the trees were HUGE!

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This second lot of photos were some of the wildlife that we saw. Most of the animals darted across the path at lightening speed so we didn’t get a chance to take a photo of them. We didn’t end up seeing Moose, Bears or Coyotes and I’m ok with that. The photo of the tree was showing a disease that some of the trees were suffering here, where they were developing tumours.

 

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This third lot of photos shows one big thing that Dan has developed since we got out here. When we went on our first holiday, I leant over our cruise ship to look at the deck below. When I turned around, Dan was pale and warned me not to do that in front of him again or he’ll be sick. Now he’s looking over the edge by himself and being a lot more daring than me!

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He’s also becoming a lot more daring in his photos of me. I found this lovely collection going over the photos just now. This was on the way back when I was finished with idea of taking photos and just wanted to walk. I particularly hope he’s pleased with himself for that last one. For the record, it was 30 degree heat and I was wearing jeans. I figured if finding shade and chilling out was good enough for lions in Africa, it was good enough for me.

Above all of what we saw during the day, the most amazing part of our camping trip happened at night. In most parts of the UK, you can see the big dipper on a clear night, alongside Orion’s Belt and maybe Cassiopeia. Here, they shone vividly and were joined by clusters of other stars and across the middle of the sky was the more gentle glow of the milky way. On one hand I wish our camera was capable of taking a photo of it, but on the other I’m glad that I’ll have to rely on my memory for it. I won’t forget seeing the stars like that and it’s what I’ll use as my pull when I try to convince you to come out here! 

To end this blog, I’ll add just a few more photos. When I said we didn’t see any Moose or Bears, I wasn’t telling the whole truth.

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