Continued from last post…
Saturday, August 24. On the Train.
6:30am PT: We slept remarkably well on the train, considering Barbara was in the top bunk and was, initially, nauseous. That alone should have kept me up all night but didn’t. The close quarters has its advantages, as I am able to brush my teeth at the sink without getting out of bed.
At breakfast, the maitre ‘d (or whatever it’s called on a train) hands out color-coded cards for sittings at lunch and dinner. They seem to very much enjoy color-coding things here in Canada, as if life is just a game of Candyland. Even the boarding passes on the float planes were color-coded: blue for the passengers of one flight, red for the passengers on another, yellow for the passengers who really would have preferred not to fly on a float plane.
Anyway, we aren’t interested in the dinner sittings for the train, since, hopefully, we’ll arrive in Jasper well before dinner. But we notice a non-Tauck group across the aisle take dinner cards, so we ask where they’re headed. Toronto, they tell us. This prompts the following exchange between us and a somewhat huffy woman from their group:
- Me: When do you arrive in Toronto? Later tonight? Tomorrow?
- Woman: Tuesday.
- Me (incredulously, as I can’t imagine spending three more nights on the train): Tuesday?
- Woman (huffily): It’s a big country.
- Barb: Why don’t you fly?
- Woman: Carbon footprint. Scenery.
Okay, Ms. Huffycanadianpants, first of all, you’re doing nothing for the carbon footprint, since both the train and the plane are going with or without you. If you want to do something for the environment, fly to Toronto for $335 instead of taking the train for about $3,000 and donate the difference to an environmental group. Sure, you’ll miss some scenery, but after the third waterfall, they probably all look the same. So why not just admit you’re afraid to fly? At least the plane from Vancouver to Toronto doesn’t friggin’ waterski in for a landing!
10:00am PT: Most of our group is in the Tauck dome car looking at the scenery or, more accurately, looking for wildlife. Marilyn, the cute French-Canadian train person, comes up every once in awhile to tell us what to look for. “I’ve seen bears here,” she says, and shows us photos of black bears and grizzlies. I don’t mention that I saw both kinds of bears yesterday. In the Royal BC Museum. Stuffed. We do not see any living animals.
BIG IDEA: The railroad should steal all the stuffed animals from the museum and install them at various places alongside the tracks. The trains would go by too fast for the passengers to realize the wildlife was dead, and the travelers would be satisfied that they saw the animals they were promised.
12:30pm PT: At lunch, we sit with a couple from Long Island, and we’re talking about the remarkable color of the water we’re passing, It’s a beautiful teal green. “I think it may be a reflection from all the trees,” I suggest. “Or possibly a chemical spill.” The man from Long Island thinks it’s the latter. A guy after my own heart.
4:30pm MT: We arrive in Jasper. We’re on Mountain Time now, having given back one of the hours we gained flying to the West Coast. However, we’ll never get back the day of our lives we just spent on the train.
We get on the bus to go to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Almost immediately, Greg the tour guide yells “Bear! Right!” Once I realize he’s not screaming at the driver to take the right side of a fork in the road, I see the black bear ambling along to the right of the bus, which stops so that everyone can take pictures. Soon there is a traffic jam, with vehicles on both sides of the road stopped to take pictures. Except, of course, the people who live in Jasper, who are also stopped but not taking pictures. They are probably contemplating using something other than a camera to shoot the bear. Or the tourists.
Wildlife-wise, we have passed many flocks of what Greg calls “American geese.” It seems that Canada not only doesn’t want to take ownership of its bacon, it would prefer not to be associated with prolifically pooping birds.
7:00pm MT: We assemble in the dining room for a barbecue buffet at the lodge. Greg informs us that, on the last tour he did, the train was four hours late and the barbecue was at 10pm. I kind of wish he’d stop telling us how lucky we are. He’s only courting disaster.
Sunday, August 25.
8:15am MT: Damn it–another beautiful day. I send out some laundry.
9:30am MT: After breakfast, Barb and I set out for a walk around lovely Lake Whichever-One-This-Is. It’s about two miles, and we’ve been told there’s a decent chance of seeing wildlife. Also that there’s a similar probability of the wildlife seeing us. We are warned to keep at least a bus-length between us and any elk we happen across, although I’d feel more comfortable if we had the actual bus between us and the elk. We’ve also been told that the conventional wisdom concerning bear encounters has changed over the years. They used to tell you to stand still. Then they told you to carry pepper spray. Now they say you should find a weapon of some sort and bop the bear on the nose with it. For the sake of tourists everywhere, I really think the experts should get their act together on this issue. Because I have a feeling that after I piss the bear off by hitting him with a branch, Plan B should probably not be standing still.
After walking for awhile, I see some footprints that I deem to be elklike, or deerlike, or at least those of something bigger than a golden retriever, and I point them out to Barbara. I imagine myself to be an Indian scout. My Indian name, I think, would be: Jew Who Should Stay Indoors.
11:30am MT: We settle in to spend some time at the pool unwinding. Or, more accurately after the train ride, unbending.
5:00pm MT: While Barb goes for a massage in the spa, I attend a presentation by someone from Parks Canada. He tells us about their work, which mostly seems to be counting various kinds of animals. In order to determine animal populations, they’ve placed motion-detecting cameras all over the forests. It appears that there are more cameras pointed at Canadian parkland than there are pointed at Manhattan streets. And they’ve made some amazing discoveries. For instance, they now know exactly what a wild bear does in the woods.
On the way back to the cabin, I run into Barbara returning from her massage. “How was it?” I ask. “She said I was tense,” Barb replied, “and I was like ‘ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I JUST SPENT 20 HOURS ON A TRAIN AND LOTS OF TIME ON A BUS!’” I suspect the masseuse felt that Barbara’s response confirmed her diagnosis.
9:30pm MT: We head back to the cabin to pack for an early departure tomorrow. We had dinner with two lovely women from the tour who, like most of the tourfolk we’ve spent time with, were delightful and interesting to talk to. I only wish that, when we retire, Barb and I have the energy and sense of adventure the people on the tour seem to have. Also, the cash.
To be continued Sunday, September 15…