Continued from last post…
Tuesday, August 27. Lake Louise.
5:30am MT: We look out our window to see the famous Lake Louise sunrise. This is so popular that you can even tell the front desk to give you a sunrise wake-up call, although that’s not necessary in our case, since I’m always up at five anyway. Which is, apparently, at least a half hour before the sun wakes up.
6:00am MT: Still too early.
6:30am MT: We open the shades and there…is nothing but darkness. When the heck does the sun rise around here anyway?
6:50am MT: The sun rises. It actually comes up behind the hotel and reflects off the glacier to create some dazzling light effects. Greg the Tauck tour guide later informs us that a bellman at the hotel told him this was the most spectacular sunrise in 24 years. We don’t fully believe that, but we’d like to. It would mean we’re special.
8:58am MT: The entire tour assembles for a group picture in front of the lake. Barb and I are a few minutes early, so I figure I’ll sit by the lake for awhile and read. But I can’t, because all the benches are wet. This is a weird phenomenon in the Canadian Rockies; even when it doesn’t rain, everything outside is wet. Maybe they water the outdoor furniture.
The photographer, thinking he is being cute, tells everyone to “Say Whiskey.” Then “Say Rockies.” Then “Say Sexy.” I am saying something else entirely, but under my breath. In the photo we receive two days later, Barb and I are barely visible behind some glare.
10:15am MT: After the photo was taken, we boarded the bus for the day’s adventures, which would consist mostly of stopping at one lake after another. It’s becoming obvious that the group is pretty much laked out, and we’d sort of like them to stop stopping and get us to where we’re going.
Don’t get me wrong; each stop is more beautiful than the next, and we’re aware that this is scenery that exists nowhere else in the world. But after awhile, even beauty this rare and pristine begins to blend into one huge panorama to the point where you almost wish someone would put up a Denny’s alongside the water just to break up the gorgeousness.
Also, since the scenery always involves water (frequently, moving water), I’m having to go to the bathroom at every stop. Speaking of which, Greg admonished the group a few days ago for using the bathroom on the bus too often. I guess it has to be emptied, which, as you might imagine, is not the driver’s favorite chore. I think it’s a design flaw in the bus. Instead, they should take a cue from the bathrooms at many of the scenic stops, where the toilet bowls are just seats over holes in the ground. I don’t know why the bus can’t have the same set-up. Sure, it might be unpleasant for anyone driving behind the bus, but, hey, that’s what windshield wipers are for.
I bring this up now because a member of our group has just emerged from the bathroom on the bus, even though the bus is still parked at a stop with toilets. Worse, he is calling for help because he can’t find the flush button. He can’t find the flush button, he says, because the light didn’t come on when he closed the door. We now know what he did in there, since there’s only one thing he could have accomplished with the lights off. Also, the smell emanating from the bathroom is a clue. The smell is emanating because he’s holding the door open while he calls for help. I suggest that perhaps the light didn’t come on because the bus’s engine isn’t running because the bus is still parked…near a friggin’ toilet. This turns out to be the case.
12:30pm MT: We stop for lunch. Barb has salmon for the 39th time this week (including smoked salmon for breakfast). None of the restaurants here ever have a “Fish of the Day.” In Western Canada, the fish today is salmon. Also tomorrow. Salmon is the fish of the millennium. They’ll occasionally have a fish in addition to the salmon. You know, just for the halibut.
Our new driver since Jasper has been a fellow named Hugh, who also takes on the Ed McMahon role to Greg’s Johnny Carson. Every time we get on the bus, Hugh pulls a welcome mat from the luggage compartment and sets it out by the door. This is so we can wipe our feet and keep the bus clean. It is an elegant touch. After we all wipe our feet, Hugh tosses the dirty mat in with our suitcases.
2:05pm MT: After lunch, the seating assignments on the bus are rotated, and Barb and I are in the front seat. This is touted as a desirable position, but the front seat has less leg room. Plus, it comes with a lot of pressure: we are charged with being on the lookout for wildlife. “Do squirrels count?” I ask. “No,” says Greg. “Squirrels do not count.”
I should point out that they don’t have regular squirrels here in Western Canada. Normal squirrels, such as we have in the New York Metropolitan area, are fluffy and gray, with big, curled-up tails to disguise the fact that they are really large rats. They also tend to shy away from non-food-wielding humans. The mutant squirrels of Western Canada have straight tails and a coppery tinge to their hair like your 70-year-old aunt’s bad dye job. Rather than shrink from humans, they will stand their ground, perch on a branch at eye level with you, and screech loudly in your face. We are told that these are European red squirrels (I believe I detected a faint German accent) that have crossed the ocean to take habitats away from Canada’s native First Nation squirrels.
In any case, despite our vantage point in the front seat, we see no wildlife. Not even squirrels.
The seat rotation thing, incidentally, is supposed to be so everyone can occasionally have the advantage of being first off the bus, or sitting on the invisible wildlife side of the bus, or being near Greg, or not being near the bathroom, or sitting in whatever position they think is best. The problem is that the seats are rotated, but not the people. So while we may have constantly shifting views of the outside, the folks around us on the inside are always the same. This is good if you like the people sitting near you, which we do. But it would also be nice to meet some of the others.
4:20pm MT: We arrive at our hotel for the next two nights, The Fairmont Banff Springs, which looks like a castle, only bigger. It seems, by the way, that every hotel in Canada is the Fairmont SomethingorOther. It’s as if all the American hotel chains have been banished from the country. Perhaps the people here don’t appreciate a free U.S.A. Today.
The rooms in these older hotels are significantly smaller than in the more modern ones. But since Fairmont purchased them from the Canadian Pacific Railway, I guess we’re fortunate that we’re not pulling the beds out of the ceiling
7:00pm MT: We go down to the bar for a pre-dinner drink. One of the problems with a trip like this is all the different room numbers you have along the way. I remember the one from two days ago, but not the one we’re in now. Now, Barbara informs me, we are in Room 885. Unfortunately, Barb reminds me of this after I charge our bar tab to the room. I’m sure the folks in Room 855 won’t mind buying us a round of drinks.
7:30pm MT: We sit down for dinner with two couples we haven’t yet eaten with. Surprisingly, given our ages, a big topic of conversation is Miley Cyrus’ cringe-worthy performance at the VMAs the other night, although I’m pretty sure most of our companions don’t know what “VMA” stands for. Barb and I do, but we wonder why MTV still has Video Music Awards at all since they haven’t broadcast an actual music video since approximately 2003.
Another subject is conjecture as to the identity of a “surprise guest” Greg has promised for the gala farewell dinner tomorrow night. People’s minds work in such different ways. I suggest the guest will be Wayne, the bus driver from the first part of our trip. Someone else suggests Celine Dion, which is probably pushing it. A third person aims low, guessing that it will be some guy dressed as a Mountie.
I’ll leave you in suspense.
To be continued Thursday, September 19…