05.06.2017 - 23.06.2017 17 °C
“And then the Bear bit my face.”
“What happened then?” said the aghast woman on the bus.
“Well, I’d broken both of my hands trying to fight the bear off, so I was pretty defenceless. Then the bear started to bury me”, said the rugged looking man sitting behind us on the bus from Victoria to Campbell River, Vancouver Island, Canada.
Nikki doesn’t like spiders. No, it’s more like a phobia. A big phobia.
Nikki doesn’t like bears either. She’s convinced that, given half a chance, they’ll eat your face off. I told her that when we’re in British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska, that all of the Bears were on holiday in Alberta.
And now here we are, on our first bus in British Columbia, and there’s a bloke saying, not only that he’d seen a bear, not only that he’d been attacked by a bear, but that he’d been bitten on the face by a bear! Not only that, but the bear had then tried to bury him to eat him later!
A friendly bear
“What happened then?” asked the wide-eyed woman.
“The bear cubs started calling and the bear walked away”.
Nik and I didn’t discuss anything about the conversation until we got off the bus.
“Did you hear that conversation behind us on the bus?” asked Nik.
“Yes” I said. “But that was in the past and the bears are all on holiday now”.
Nik didn’t look convinced.
Beautiful British Columbia (BC)
After a brief overnight stop, we left Seattle via a 3 hour ferry ride to Victoria, Vancouver Island. Even from afar it was extraordinarily beautiful. If there was one common theme in our discussions with people about places we “had to go to” on the trip, it was that Canada is awesome. And, well, look at this:
On the ferry from Seattle to Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
Another thing we found was that BC is very big, and to get to Anchorage in time for our flight Russia, we were going to have to travel fast.
Map of British Colombia (where we visited Vancouver Island and Prince Rupert), Yukon (where we visited Whitehorse and Dawson City) (Both Provinces are in Canada), and Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska, USA.
Hence, we bypassed Vancouver and went straight to Vancouver Island. We had time for lunch…
Praise the Lord! Lunch in “The Empress Hotel”. We’re back in a land where the Head of State is the British Monarch. “The Empress” referred to is Queen Victoria who was also the Empress of India… (see the photos on the wall behind me…)
This was the first time I’d been in Canada since 1986 (discounting an overnight stop in 1992). I’m sure that the next gap won’t be 31 years. Apart from being stunningly scenic, there is also a great chilled out vibe with the Canadians, and a similar sense of humour (well, at least they get ours).
After a brief stop for lunch in Victoria, we caught the bus straight up to Campbell River for a couple of nights. From there we took a day trip across on the ferry to Quadra Island. It really was very pretty, especially the secluded beaches of driftwood and pebbles that we found after hiking over the island to the eastern shore.
Quadra Island, looking towards to British Colombian mainland
Bald Eagle on Quadra Island.
Deer on Quadra Island, wandering in someone’s front yard.
We then took another bus ride north to Port Hardy, from where we planned to catch the overnight ferry to Prince Rupert. It was here that I had to admit that maybe, just maybe, I might have been telling a bit of a fib about the bears.
We decided to go hiking along the estuary near the town. All very civilised and quite populated. Nothing to worry about, right? Then, it kind of started with an information sign that said “You’re in bear country”. Then it continued with this:
It’s possible that there may be bears in Canada.
A bit more cautiously we kept walking, both thinking “yes, but not really”. Then we saw a tell-tale sign on the trail and we looked at each other and said “Um, is that bear poo?”. Now I’m no First Nations tracker or anything, but it looked pretty fresh to me.
As it had started to rain, we took shelter under a bush shelter with Les, a Scottish Canadian.
“Are you worried about the bears?” we asked.
“No, but I do carry a whistle now after I met one on this track last year. Oh, talking of which, there she is over there”, he said, pointing to a black bear about 100 metres away.
It’s possible that the black blob in the middle of this picture, close to the water, could be a black bear.
Only 10 minutes before the bear had been on the path we’d been walking on, leaving her mark. It started raining and, discretion being the better part of valour, we decided to retreat to the hotel … in Les’ car…
It was at this point, that we started thinking about the little jaunt that we were on.
At Port Hardy we had got to a latitude of 51 degrees north. The last time we were this far from the equator was in January when we were on the Navimag ferry in Chile travelling north between Puerto Natales and Puerto Montt.
Neil and Nikki in the Americas!
We had started on 26th December 2016 from Adelaide, Australia. We’d flown to Ushuaia, Argentina (54 degrees latitude south), and taken the ship Australis down to Cape Horn (at 56 degrees south). It felt like there was a nice symmetry of south and north as we fast approached the end of our time in the Americas.
It was now time to take the ferry up from Port Hardy, on Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert (54 degrees north), on the British Columbia mainland. It was a 20 hour trip and it lived up to it’s reputation as being one of the most scenic trips in the world, through the Inside Passage. After preparing for a night sleeping in the bleachers, we even managed to score a cabin for night – luxury!
Looking out the back of the Ferry from Port Hardy, Vancouver Island, to Prince Rupert, BC, Canada
Sunset from the ferry travelling from Port Hardy, Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert, BC, Canada.
Prince Rupert, Stewart and the Salmon Glacier (BC)
Whilst we have tried to travel as much as possible by land, the trip from Prince Rupert to Whitehorse in the Yukon was the choice between doing 42 hours straight on a bus, or a 5 hour flight. We decided to go for the 5 hour flight. This also gave us the opportunity to rent a 4 Wheel Drive in Prince Rupert to go and see the Salmon Glacier, close to the town of Stewart, BC. We’d been lucky enough to meet up with a German/Swiss bloke and an English woman on the ferry who wanted to go to the glacier too, so they joined us for the road trip.
Both the road trip and Stewart itself were awesome. We stopped at the Bear Glacier for photos and, well, for bears on the way too….
Bears on the way to Stewart, BC, Canada.
The Salmon Glacier is biggest glacier you can see from the road in Canada. Well, a windy snow-covered dirt track. In order to get to the Glacier from Stewart, you have to cross the border briefly into the US at the tiny ‘ghost town’ of Hyder. After 20 or so kilometres you’re back in Canada and winding your way up the mountainside toward the glacier. It was easy enough to drive across the border into Hyder, but the Canadians took crossing back in pretty seriously – even though there is only one road in/out and we had waved at them on the way through only hours before!
The Salmon Glacier, BC, Canada. With Nikki and Neil!
A Little Bit on Climate Change
It was at this point that the subject of climate change came to the fore.
I can’t copy the images because of copyright, but the link to the webpage is in the public domain (http://www.explorenorth.com/library/roads/images/salmon_glacier-retreat-1975-2015.html)
The retreat of the Salmon Glacier shown in the images from 1975 and 2015 above is stark.
The last Ice Age finished about 12,000 years ago, and since then the glaciers have been retreating. The rate of change as planetary CO2 has been rapidly rising, has increased markedly. This was to be first of several tangible signs of climate change that we would see in the far north on this trip.
The Yukon (Whitehorse and Dawson City)
The flight from Prince Rupert to Whitehorse was via Vancouver, but was painless.
Whitehorse is in the Yukon and is at 60 degrees latitude north. We were now at the furthest we had been from the equator on this trip. The Yukon is roughly the same size as the Australian State of Victoria, which has a population of 5 million. The Yukon has a population of 34,000, of whom 26,000 live in the capital Whitehorse!
The first thing about Whitehorse is it’s the first place I’ve been to that has stuffed duelling mountain caribou in the airport….
Stuffed Duelling Mountain Caribou at the Whitehorse airport…
Whitehorse was only an overnight stop but, my lord, the Yukon Brewing Company do a fine job! And this is what an Elk looks like:
And it tasted very good.
An Elk Burger…….
There is one part of me that looks at the beautiful Elk above and thinks well, it’s beautiful. But hunting has been part of the way of life up here for thousands of years and well…
The bus journey from Whitehorse to Dawson City (at 64 degrees north) was, once again picturesque.
Dawson City went off like a frog in a sock in 1896 when gold was found at Bonanza Creek. The population of Dawson City, now 1,400, was between 30,000 and 40,000 at the peak of the goldrush. Bonanza Creek flows into the Klondike River and the gold rush became known as the Klondike Gold Rush. As with all gold rushes going on at the time it was, so to speak, a flash in the pan and by 1898 the population was falling like a stone.
However, Dawson City is fabulous. It was incredibly well preserved and all new buildings have to be built to the 1905 building standards (well, for external appearance anyway). We found a beautiful organic café in town using local produce. The owner had built the café himself from scratch - including cutting down the trees, and dragging them to the site of his cafe. This is just one example of the very proud local and slow food movement that seemed to be a part of Dawson. It was certainly a tourist town, but there was also lots of young people, great food and beer and a vibe that was unexpected in this remote location.
Street views of Dawson City, Yukon, Canada
For the first time since we were in Brazil and saw the Rio Negro (Black River) joining the Rio Amazonia (Amazon River), we once again witnessed the meeting of two different rivers, where the waters did not mix for many kilometres. In the photo below you can see the very noticeable “split” when the Klondike (black) and the Yukon river (brown) meet.
Photos showing the Klondike River (black) meeting up with the Yukon River (brown) at Dawson City, Yukon, Canada.
Interestingly, when we left from Oakland railway station, they had a place next to it called “London Square” named after Jack London (1876 to 1916).
Jack London wrote, in particular, “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang”, two books that I devoured when I was in my pre-teenage years.
Jack London went up to Dawson City in 1897 and stayed for about 12 months before returning to San Francisco after suffering from scurvy. But the 12 months or so that he spent in Dawson City were the inspiration for many of his books.
The pictures so far do not represent, if you like, the real Dawson City. I find it difficult to really comprehend that the rivers you saw above were frozen only 7 weeks before we arrived.
The Frozen Yukon River. It is frozen for about 8 months of the year.
The sign on the Yukon River that is connected up to sensors to give the time that the river first starts moving.
There are sensors on the river that measure when the ice starts to move each year. This is where, once again, we see the effect of the increasing rate of climate change because the date of the first ice move has been recorded each year since 1896. In summary, 8 of the 10 times that the “first move” has occurred in April have been in the last 30 years. In 2016 the “first move” was a full 5 days earlier than it had been in any year since 1896.
Date of the first moving of the Yukon River at Dawson City, Yukon between 1896 and 2016. In 2016 it was the earliest first moving of the Yukon river by 5 days, 23rd April.
Of course, the other point of interest is the sunrise (3.48 am) and the sunset (12.58 am) in Dawson City. Just in case you’re like me and weren’t 100% sure on why the days get longer and shorter, look at this:
In short, the earth is not perpendicular to the sun, it is non-perpendicular by 23.5 degrees.
The Frogs and the bloody Poms. Good Lord, are they always in a bun fight?
I mentioned in a few previous blogs that the Poms (Prisoners of Mother England, a derogatory term for the British), the Frogs (a term of adoration for our French friends), and the Spanish (a term meaning “Please can you bring me some of your excellent shaved ham, and a gin and tonic”), got into a bit of argy bargy in about 1756 to 1763 in an imaginatively called “7 year war”. The Brits must have done reasonably well out of all this, because in the Treaty of Paris, Spain and England swapped Florida for Cuba, and France gave up Louisiana to the Spanish.
Also, at that point, there was a lot of fuss over beavers. Beaver hats were all the rage in Europe and there were a lot of beavers in Canada. The French were there in force, and the Brits were too. The French were in Quebec, the Brits were elsewhere in Canada. The French gave up Quebec as part of the 7 year war.
However, les Francias in Quebec thought “Merde!”, and have been battling ever since for political, if not national, independence.
So political leadership in Canada is a tad tricky. But, when they were looking for a leader in 1968 and the son of a French Canadian father and a Scottish/French Canadian mother wanted to be Prime Minister, well, Bob’s your Uncle. And he was completely bi-lingual. And had a French surname. He was ahead of the pack. His name was Pierre Trudeau.
Three years later in 1971, he had a son called Justin Trudeau who in 2015 became the Prime Minister of Canada.
So now we get on to the whole “My political leader is hunkier/betterer than yours”.
There have been two recent incidents of an overload of Canadian official and news websites; once was the Canadian immigration website when the present US President won the election, and the other was when a picture emerged of a bare-chested Justin Trudeau emerged on the internet.
Photo of the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau at a charity boxing competition in 2012 that emerged in 2015 and caused meltdown of a number of Canadian websites…
That is all fluff and junk until you consider that Trudeau is, in my view, among the best leaders in power at present. Why?
- He has equal numbers of men and women on his cabinet (and they are not all sitting in the front row!)
The Canadian cabinet of Justin Trudeau.
- He (knock me over with a feather!) appointed a military person to be the minister of defence,
Harjit Sajjin – Canadian Minister of Defence – 2015 to present
- A doctor to be minister of health, etc.
Dr Jane Philpott – Canadian Minister of Health – 2015 to present
- He welcomed the first Syrian refugees to Canada personally
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcoming the first Syrian refugees at Toronto airport. “Tonight they step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of the terminal as permanent residents of Canada”, he said.
- He went to visit them again after they’d been in the country for a year
- And, in my view, very importantly, doesn’t need to put his ego on the table during negotiations.
In short, he rocks.
Overland from Dawson City to Alaska
John, the bloke driving the shuttle van taking us from Dawson City to Fairbanks, said the road up to the Canadian/American border was his favourite in the world. It is called the ‘Top of the World Highway’, winding along ridgetops for hundreds of kilometres, allowing a view to distant mountain ranges and river gorges. Bloody interesting bloke by the way. A kayak rowing fisherman who spent decades in the logging industry, as well as 11 years in a Buddhist retreat….
To sound like a broken record, it was very pretty.
View on the way from Dawson City, Yukon, Canada to Fairbanks, Alaska, USA. The second photo shows the devastated pine forests after a bushfire a number of years ago that wiped out the spruce forest for thousands of hectares. Unfortunately they do not regenerate and other species are replacing them.
We arrived in Fairbanks on the 19th of June, which is only 2 days before the summer solstice and there was a festival on in the town to celebrate. We had a wander and lovely dinner in town and then went off to bed, in the day light. Nikki got up to take this photo of sunset/rise at 1.30 am. This was as dark as it got that night – a combination of fiery sunset and bright summer evening!
Photograph taken at 1.30 am from the hotel window in Fairbanks, Alaska
Fairbanks is the furthest north we go on our trip, at 64 degrees 50 minutes north.
Finally, onto the last part of our travel in the Americas; the train ride from Fairbanks to Anchorage. Twelve hours, including travelling through Denali National Park, the location of North America’s highest mountain at 6,190 (20,156 feet) – called Denali or Mount McKinley.
Views on the train ride from Fairbanks to Anchorage, Alaska.
Anchorage is the largest city in the largest state in America (Alaska is 1.7 million square kms, or a quarter the size of Australia).
And I’m afraid that my fibbing about bears came to the fore again:
Er, maybe there are bears in Alaska..
And we heard about a tragic theft in Dawson City. The Downtown Hotel Sourdough Saloon is world famous for its “Sourtoe Cocktail” that contains a real human toe. You don’t eat the toe, I hasten to add. Infact there’s a $2,500 fine if you do, but there is a toe in the glass and you are meant to ‘kiss’ it when you drink the cocktail. Anyway, this happened:
The actual human toe from the “Sourtoe Cocktail” in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada, has been stolen!
Yep, we’re not in Melbourne any more…..
The end of the Americas
So here are the statistics:
9 time zones
61,140 km’s (4,627 km’s by boat, 2,577 km’s by train, 25,361 km’s by Bus/ car, and 28, 576 km’s by plane (of which 16,075 km’s was getting to Ushuaia, Argentina from Australia).
It’s been amazing. And so, we say goodbye to the Americas. And hello to Russia. We are very excited.
We’re starting our Russian adventure here:
The Russian Far East in the context of Russia as a whole.
Or more precisely, we’re taking an expedition ship called the “Spirit of Enderby” up the Kamchatka Coast to Anadyr:
Route we’ll be taking on the expedition ship, the Spirit of Enderby.
The Spirit of Enderby, Kamchatka Peninsula, Russian Far East.
So, let me say: Dasvidanya y spasiba….. Goodbye and thank you……
For now at least…..