CANADA – A girl. A camper. 3.5 months.
OFF TO CANADA
My last week in Germany and my first big challenge started: What to pack in my suitcase. What to bring?
I must admit, that it somehow felt weird to me, that I would be bringing a book about "Being safe in bear areas". At the same time it increased my excitement.
Isn't that ironic?: I've always wanted the adventure, but at the same time I was scared of it.
I've never travelled all by myself. I am never alone, always surrounded by people. I can't even enjoy a day on my couch without doing anything or seeing anyone. You can imagine, that this last week was quite hard for me. Leaving my friends and family for such a long time was challenge #2 (for me). I love my comfort zone, my hometown and I knew that I would miss them. For some of you I must sound a little dramatic.
But, oh well, that's me. Emotional like a spanish girl.
THE SILENT BEFORE THE STORM.
Let's be honest: I was disappointed. Everyone said, that Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I am from Hamburg, my expectaions were quite high, I must admit. If you're living in a city full of culture, beautiful architecure, parks and creative areas, your benchmark is high. When I arrived I was excited. I love skyscrapers and I love the waterfront. But there's a lack of beautiful architecture. I had 2 days to explore the city and I walked around. I was jetlagged, I was lonely, far away from home and everything was new to me. This might have affected my first impression of Vancouver. Let's see how we can build our relationship up from here, when I move there in November.
Photo: Downtown Vancouver, British Columbia
Photo: Downtown Vancouver, British Columbia
Photo: Granville Island Vancouver, British Columbia
PEEING MY PANTS.
Let's get started. I am finally peeing my pants. As this 5 week-camper-roadtrip was a very spontanous decisicon, I got the cheapest camper I could get (depending on availability) – I do need space but I really don't need a camper built for 6 people.
After I finally got the camper, my first stop was "Superstore" to buy everything I would need for the next weeks. It was already quite late and I didn't want to arrive at a campground, when it's already dark. So I had to hurry up.
Problem #1: Where to park? I am pretty good with backing in – but finding a truck-sized parking lot was a bit harder. Luckily the canadians are used to big cars...
Problem #2: Dropping a big jam jar at the checkstand is pretty uncool. I mean besides creating a big red mess. The cashier would make a loud annoucement through the whole supermarket (and its a big one) to get a colleague for cleaning up. Everyone starred at me.
Fun Story: The cashier was quite impressed on how I would arrange my groceries on the belt. "In 15 years of working here, I never saw something similar. Where are you from?" (Outed me as an efficient German right away)
Problem #3: Finding a campground close by on a long holiday weekend
Problem #4: Setting up the camper for the night without having a clue of what I am doing. (The park ranger helped me with backing in, setting up electricity and water)
First day: Me 1 : Camper 0
Campground: Fort Langley (expensive, but safe and close to bars and restaurants)
Photo: Kalmalaka Campground, Okanagan Valley
Second night. I read in GEO Special about the EC Manning Provincial Park. "That is Canada" was the description. So I drove about 4hrs to get to the park. And I soon recognized, that Canada isn't always covered by cellphone service. #toughtimes
At the park entrance I met an Austrian couple, so I decided to park close to them for the night.
GEO was right: This is Canada.
I parked in the National Park right in the woods. And a beautiful and chrystal clear lake was close to it.
A huge "bear in area" sign welcomed me in, so before I would start my first hike I sat down in my camper and did my homework. I read my "Safe in bear areas" book that my friend Finn lent me. Since this book made me more scared than confident, I clipped the bear spray on my belt and started hiking.
Although the path was quite crowded, I was scared to have my first tête-à-tête with a bear. But I didnt.
Back at the camper the Austrians invited me to come over and have a campfire. They served Lindt Chocolate and gave me advice on where to go and what to see. As this was the last night for them, they gave all their leftovers to me: Spices, toilet-paper, potatoes and a bar of chocolate. What a great start – I thought.
The night was horrible: I was freezing, my phone was running out of battery (I didn't have a car-charger at that point) and I didn't have service with my phone. My first night out in the wild and I was done with it.
Photo: E.C. Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia
Photo: E.C. Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia
That morning started really bad, I didn't sleep well, I was running out of power with my phone and I was nervous about the next "challenges" awaiting me. As this is a blog about my experience as a single-traveller, I will be honest with you; I was lonely, I hated hiking by myself, I was scared at night, the camper wasn't easy to handle (too much technique for a girl) and I couldn't think about travelling in this camper for 5 more weeks. I was about to give up. I didn't have to prove anything to anyone. But I didn't like that idea. I'd been waiting 2 years for this trip and now it felt so wrong. Why travel alone when I actually love being surrounded by people? What a dumb idea. I tried to find wifi and to sort my thoughts.
Photo: Princeton, British Columbia
Photo: Princeton, British Columbia
I stopped in Princeton, a cute, small town a 1.5 hr drive from the E.C Manning National Park where deers chill in your front yard. First things first: Car charger and a french press for coffee. These were the best 25$ spent during my trip. I found a cute little granny café with a socket, free wifi and coffee. I talked to my mum and also to my best friend Anna. She sent me a very emotional (we are both super emotional all the time) text while I just got the coffee and I couldnt help myself: the tears were running. The owner of this café, an older lady, served the coffee and saw me crying. She asked what happened, so I told her a bit. She was quite surprised, when I told her, that I was travelling all by myself through Canada in a huge camper. She also compared it to her daughter when she moved to Calgary a long time ago and actually told me the same as my friend Anna told me: It just takes some time. At the end she gave me a long and warm hug, only mothers and friends can give.
Photo: "Thomasina's" in Princeton, British Columbia
I decided not to quit. Not to give up. Not yet. I wanted to make it at least to Lake Louise and Banff. That was my goal. So I got back to the camper and kept going. I arrived in the Okanagan Valley – also called little Italy. It was warm, sunny and fruit stands lined my way.
Photo: Fruit stand in Keremeos, British Columbia
Photo: First root beer since months at Mariposa Keremeos, British Columbia
GO WITH THE FLOW.
This year taught me: After every down an up will follow soon. You just have to crawl out of the hole, go with the flow and use the energy for the positive things in life. This might somehow sound esoteric to you, but its my simple mantra.
And it was right again: I kept going, driving through the sun, listening to "Hotel California" and my mood changed.
After looking for a nice campground for hours in the Okanagan Valley around Keremeos, and close to the lakes, I found the "Wild Horse Mountain Ranch" in Summerland in my "Camp & RV" App. Although I wanted to stay close to the lakes it was worth a try, as it was already getting late again and I still got nervous, when I didn't find a place to stay for the night immediately.
So I drove up the hill to the ranch. It was a beautiful log house, surrounded by horse pastures, dogs welcomed me and I suddenly felt good again. The ranch was run by Brigitte and Jochen a german couple, who moved there 17 years ago. It's rather a B&B than a Campground, but they have enough space to host the camper close to a shed, with water and electricity.
I grabbed my book, sat down on the patio enjoying the sun (after the last night was freezing cold) and also enjoying being surrounded by people and the dogs. The crickets chirped, the sun felt good on my skin and there it was: The up.
Still jet lagged, I got up at 6 and had my first camper coffee, while the sun was rising. I don't need a lot to be happy: This morning I was just happy to sit outside with my french press, the dog as my company and to watch the ranch waking up. The daily routine as a theatre play.
Of course I wanted to trail ride too. My last ride was 2 years ago in Iceland, but I always loved this way to explore a country. At 10.00 we got the horses ready and started a 2hrs ride through the Summerland bush on small trails. This area is known for its cold and snowy winter and hot and dry summer, which also involves the risk of wildfires. As you can see on the picture below, the mountain in the back used to be covered by forest years ago. But a huge wildfire destroyed this ecosystem and it didn't recover yet. I drilled my guide ( a super nice german, who has been working for ten years on the ranch every summer) with questions about the landscape, the flora and fauna and we were always on the look-out for bears. (But didn't see any)
With a rapid gallop, we scudded through the prairie. What a cowboy feeling...
Back at the ranch I chatted with Jochen, the ranch owner, for a while. We were talking about owning a ranch as a B&B, and how life is like this. Generally you have to like people, he said. "I mean, I also like to be alone from time to time. There at the tack room for example. Sometimes I just like to sit there, watching the horses, all by myself."
I left the ranch with a smile, but also with some kind of sadness as it was the first place on my trip, where I was feeling comfortable. But, this trip was about leaving the comfort zone.
Looking for a nice place to camp or to stay at? Visit Brigitte and Jochen at their ranch: http://www.wildhorsemountainranch.com/
NEXT STOP: LITTLE ITALY
After leaving the very peaceful place at the ranch, I tried to find a new campground, close to the lakes and still in the Okanagan Valley. Believe it or not: I had an invitation for a birthday party in Vernon on that Tuesday night, so I wanted to stay in this area to meet Eryn. I got to know Eryn through my german friend Falk, who used to live in Vancouver a couple of years ago. And when I was looking for a job, he sent me her name and said: "Write her, she is cool" – So I did. And what a coincidence my path would cross her birthday party plans, so she invited me to stay with her and her family and to join them.
I started three attempts to find a good campground, one was on an orchard, which sounds very romantically: Camping on a hill, surrounded by apple trees... but it wasn't. It was actually a very shitty place with 5 longterm campers and barking dogs. A real trailer park. I kept going, although I already saw me driving a tractor through the orchard, harvest some apples and playing with the dogs.
Finally I found a good spot to park at in the Ellison Provincial Park. I guess in the end, this was one of my most favourite spots. I got there in the afternoon and started exploring right away. A small path would guide me to a beautiful cove, which was warmed up during the day and the stones would relieve the heat in the evening. The sun was shining and I sat down, read a book for a while, till the sun went down. I had the cove for myself and again I had the feeling, that this trip might become good trip.
Photo: Ellison Provincial Park, Okanagan Lake, British Columbia
I walked back to the camper, my neighbours were playing the guitar and I was ready to have my very first barn fire. The park ranger came by later to cash up for the night and also sold some firewood for 8$.
Unfortunately I didn't have any marshmellows at that time, but having my first barn fire (set it on fire in seconds) filled me with excitement. Of course I had tons of barn fires in my life. But not one just for me, in Canada, in front of my rented camper. That was like an upgrade... I opened my San Pellegrino can, sat down in my blue camping chair, grabbed my book and listened to the soft guitar music play. #realcamperlife
Photo: A campers living room at Ellison Provincial Park, British Columbia
As soon as it got dark, it was the start signal for the coyotes to start howling and I preferred to swap my camping chair with the chair IN my camper.
One of the most important camping rules is: " Never leave your barn fire unattended". Especially in the Okanagan Vallye, where it gets super hot in the summer and the whole landscape dries out. So I made sure that it was safe, got inside the camper and watched it for a while.
The next morning I woke up at around 5.30 (still jetlegged) and got out of the camper to pay the wooden bathrooms a visit. But instead I met my new neighbours. A gang of 5 deer thought that the bush close to my camper offers the best breakfast buffet. I was wondering why they didn't knock on my door to ask for freshly brewed coffee.
I jumped in the camper, grabbed my camera and started stalking. They didn't seem surprised at all: "Hey Jeff, look at this jet legged tourist...let's test, how frightend she is, when we suddenly start jumping."
It was like watching a real-life Bambi movie.
I made myself a fresh french press coffee and walked down to the beach with a mug of coffee in my hands. Sitting there in silence is truly magical. I felt so relaxed and simply happy.
After a little stroll up the hills and sitting in the sun for a while, I let my thoughts run free. And I wrote it all down. To capture my feelings in this moment.
Time to get groceries for the night and leave this wonderful place.
At night I was supposed to meet Eryn and her family.
HOW I MET ERYN.
As soon as my Vancouver idea became reality I started looking for jobs and people to catch up with in Vancouver. So I started a facebook post – I love social media for that: Friends always know someone who knows someone. So my friend Falk sent me a message, saying "Write Eryn, she is cool." So I did and before even knowing her, I liked how open and positive she was. After about 6 months I arrived in Canada and shot Eryn a text, we checked our plans for the upcoming weeks and what a coincidence: Eryn was having a birthday party in Vernon (Okanagan Valley) which was on my route anyways.
I spent the day at the Kalamalka Lake, before I would meet Eryn and her boyfriend Chris.
The Kal Lake is a glacial lake and shows a different range of colours each time of the year. After a short hike I met a very nice elderly couple at the beach, sitting on the bench. That's one special thing about Canada, everywhere you go you'll make new friends. We chatted for about 1hr and the elderly man didn't get tired of telling me his secret hot springs tips. He wanted to make sure that I would end up in the best ones they have.
Time for my first bath in this chrystal clear, light turqoise water. Again I was a VIP guest in this cove and enjoyed the silence, the sun and the water all by myself.
Photo: Kalamalka Lake, Okanagan Valley, BC
Photo: Herschel @ Kalamalka Lake, Okanagan Valley, BC
How to shit in the woods: Try these romantic wooden cabins – you'll find them in provincial and national parks.
Photo: Toilet cabin, Kalamalka Lake, Okanagan Valley, BC
After my beach day I was kinda hungry and as I was already parking on a good spot, I decided to cook and have lunch afterwards in the sun. Unfortunately my camper attracted at least 3,567 stink bugs and they were all sitting on the warm surface. Some of them even tried to get in the camper. I already excepted that I won't be sitting outside, so I just left the door open and used my screen door. While I was cooking my pasta, more and more young students arrived at the parking spot. I thought they would just meet there and then do some hiking or running in the woods, but failed: They would do their exercises in the parking spot, next to my camper where I was about to eat. Kids staring at my camper "ugh look at those stink bugs", trying to steal a glance into my camper. I got so annoyed by them, that I had to open the screen door, get outside, close the real door (I am sure you can picture the students faces) and I would drive with the pan in my hand and the noodle pot between the seats (as the pan and the pot were hot, I couldnt leave it somewhere else while driving the short distance) to another parking lot, where I was all by myself again.
I went back to the grocery store to get Eryn's mum a flower as a little gift for letting me camp in their front yard. At the checkout I was standing behind a guy with a beanie but of course didn't really care about him.
At around 7pm I went to Eryn's family's farm and met Eryn, Chris, Sarah and her family. I nearly crashed the camper as I got stuck in the trees at the driveway - I wasn't used to the height at all. When I entered the kitchen to meet everyone, Dean, Eryn's stepdad, said: "Oh you just bought a flower at save-on-foods; I saw you there. You were right behind me. " - Surprise, surprise! When I entered the kitchen to meet everyone, Dean Eryns stepdad said: "Oh you just bought a flower at save-on-foods – I saw you there. You were right behind me. " Surprise, surprise!
Photo: Eryns family's Farm, Okanagan Valley, BC
Photo: Eryns family's Farm, Okanagan Valley, BC
The next day we celebrated Eryns birthday with a potluck and byob (had to google this: bring your own beer). Of course I was nervous, going to a party, where I didn't know anyone and just met the host one day ago. #nextchallenge
I tried not to think about it to much and just showed up. Had some beer, some snacks and nice talks to strangers. They also had awesome live music playing as Eryn and her family is super musically. One guy, I met at the fridge (his name was Dave) was really impressed by my motorhome story. "Girl you've got balls! You need to meet my wife. She is as adventurous as you are"
That's how I met Jelena and Dave. They invited me to come over the next day, to catch up and exchange our travel stories.