Driving along the Trans-Canada Highway, we headed to Banff from Calgary airport on our rented SUV. Despite the rocky terrains that it cut through, Highway 1 was in surprisingly good condition, with grooves properly done, lots of signs, and even migration corridors for wildlife (these periodic “overhead bridge” that spans north-south across the highway to let animals cross the road safely). Every inch of the highway (at least initially) was fenced to prevent road kill. And the best part that I will always remember: no tolls. No. Tolls.
We reached Banff much earlier than we thought, and with the daylight getting longer, we were actually able to sight see if we wanted to, but instead, we stayed in and ate food we had with us. This place we stayed, Alpine B&B, was a house run by a couple Anthony and Anna. Their son Matthew would get super excited whenever they had guest in their basement, and greeted us with so much enthusiasm climbing up and down the stairs, fetching our shoes for us, showed us around our room etc. that Anna had to “rescue” him back upstairs. We admired how they found a way to acquire such a unique yet simple (and monetizable) property in such a lovely town.
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April 26 (Friday)
Banff was _beautiful_. The way it gradually rose away from the prairies, the (relatively) unharmed coniferous forest and winding bow river, and the surrounding snow capped mountains, created a feeling of being tucked into a cozy corner of the Rockies, without the harsh weather of higher elevations, but high enough to be cooling for the summer season, when throngs of visitors come to escape the heat. It was picturesque every direction we looked, so much so that it was hard to accurately capture the moment on camera.
We explored the town area in the morning. Similar to Cameron Highlands, the town served visitors as well as locals living in Banff alike. We were in good company of students visiting for their spring break, playing some treasure hunt game. In the visitor centre, a TV plays specially captured footage by a hidden camera of a cougar tearing up its prey. The cougar was spotted killing a deer fairly close to Banff, and to prevent mishaps the ranger moved its prey further into the mountain and setup the camera to watch it guard and consume its prize.
From the town, we hit the road exploring close by vistas of Banff National Park. We took in probably the best view of the entire trip driving up Mt Norquay Scenic Drive, with Tunnel Mountain, the entire Banff town, some surrounding lakes, the river, the distant clouds/sun/snowcaps. Standing in high winds on an unpaved path full of deer poo, listening to the howling sound of the trees, we felt how the world was made for the two of us, a world of unparalleled serenity, careless possibility, healing wounds, lifting stress, moving yet still, chilling yet warm.
I felt amazingly rich. So rich, with all the wealth of the world. No amount of printed plastic paper was worth this feeling of relieve, no amount of property and stock investment was worth this connection to mother nature. I felt a little sense of injustice, for my prejudice towards North American forest and nature, as our humid rainforest deserve a different kind of hard love. What would I give to be in the arms of the Pacific Northwest for the rest of my life? I also felt dazzlingly richer when I have Dear with me, so that I wasn’t alone basking in the glory of Banff springtime.
Dear spent time playing with snow at the closed ski resort. Being surrounded by its abundance for the first time in her life, she was clearly excited at every opportunity to build snowman, throw snowballs (ouch), and ponder the opportunity to ski. Although I constantly reminded her about evil winter, it didn’t seemed to matter as she stepped into a foot deep of snow with porous sports shoes. Ouch.
Along the way to Lake Minnewanka, we saw a family of 5 mountain goats. Granted most people who stop to take picture gave enough space, these goats were rather ignorant to the presence of homo sapiens, enjoying the sprouting green grass after a long harsh winter. The layer of ice on top of Lake Minnewanka was still in the process of melting. Since the level of water had receded, it gave us a cheeky chance on the shore to crush them with stones, watching clear crystals that was formed in the past 6 months crash like a million glasses breaking. There was a male duck (the green head type) at Two Jake Lake that spent a long time with me at the picnic bench, possibly feeling the need for company as there was no companion in sight.
We only managed to catch a glimpse of 2 deer on our way back. No Elk or Moose that we hoped for. We kinda expected it, seeing that Banff was quite built up even though nature was well preserved. Campgrounds, hotels, roads, and every other amenities in Banff made mention to these animals who were supposed roam the place…
Finally, we ended our day tour by visiting the original primary reason that Banff became a tourist destination for many locals, the highest natural hot springs in Canada: the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Looking no different from a small swimming pool, the water there was a whopping 40 degrees Celsius, definitely not the best temperature for male reproductive organs, but with its natural minerals (Sulfate, Calcium, Bicarbonate, Magnesium, Sodium, etc. etc.) it was allegedly able to help better blood circulation and effect other positive benefits on the body.
Attire (swim suit!) was not at strict as we thought. When we first set foot on the waters, it was boiling! The body took a long time to adjust itself to this high temperature. We kept thinking of ourselves like the monkeys in northern Japan who huddle in hot springs during winter. There was a stark difference of 30 degrees (40 – 10) Celsius when we are in the pool and out of it. A large sign on the wall reminded us to get out of the water every 10 minutes to regulate the body’s expectations, but most people (especially Caucasians) we were with simply stayed in. The same stunning view surrounds the pool makes it easy for us to forget the time we were cooking ourselves. At $7+ per entry, we probably went in and out the pool some 5 times before we reluctantly left for our respective bath and locker rooms.
Cleaned and refreshed, we ended the day with a sumptuous dinner at Melissa’s Mis-Steak (not that appropriate a pun imho). The day was one of the most memorable part of the trip – nature is really the most affordable honeymoon every newly weds deserve.
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April 27 (Saturday)
We bid farewell to our hosts to continue our journey along highway 1. Our first stop was Lake Louise, which we read was even more picturesque than Banff. However, as it was at an even higher elevation than Banff, the place was still snowing and Lake Louise was still frozen solid! But that didn’t stop many tourist (including some we met at the hot springs the day before) from making the steep road in to pay homage to this sliver paradise.
The next few hours of our journey was an epic road trip that winds through the huge peaks, periodically going from summer like valleys between rows of mountains and winterish trough passes between the peaks. It also went back and forth between bright day light to stormy rain, while roads started to thin (from dual carriage to single carriage with occasional 2 lanes on the ascending side of the road) with some of the largest container trucks ploughing the same road.
Seeing Dear was still working hard to spot wild life, I distracted her by asking her to be our cartographer and naming each peak we came across. But as each peak was so huge, it took a long time to circumvent each of them, and that became boring quickly. Along the way, we saw settlements and ranches in the most unlikely of places, their presence as a proof that life was bearable enough for economic activities to happen. With humble names like Field and Golden, one might have written off such as place as an unknown kampung, when it might as well be the perfect spot to build a summer palace for a king.
We continued winding the hills together with the railroad and took a break at Revelstoke for some Tim Hortons and instant noodles. On the road we saw many properly retrofitted cars from the 60s/70s puffing their care free life. Collecting a Foursquare badge here beats holding down 10 mayorships (#firstworldachievements). I admit that I had a dilemma on whether to let Dear drive the rest of the journey, and decided to continue holding the wheel till we reach our destination.
With determination and little stops, we surprised ourselves by reaching the Okanagan region earlier than scheduled, and started making random stops after branching south from Sicamous, wondering how would life be like around these windy lakes. We passed by Vernon, Kelowna and bunch of small towns like Summerland and Peachland to reach 二叔’s place in Penticton in the afternoon, taking 二叔母 by surprise as she expected us only late in the evening.
Oh how could I even start to describe Penticton? A heaven on earth (that was first impression), but even after living there for a few days and looking back in hindsight, it was still an amazing and livable place that remained relatively unknown to the rest of the world, having overshadowed by larger cities like Vancouver and Victoria. Approximately 30,000 lucky people made Penticton home, many don’t even bother to visit Vancouver since the place is self-sufficient.
二叔 and family was exceptionally hospitable to us. It might be partially because they have chosen to stay in a relatively remote place, where people don’t visit that often. As their place faces the park and has a direct view of the Skaha lake, there were a number of small motels just next to it, and many residents who jog along the park all day.
We visited cousin Yipeng’s pharmacy, cousin Yifeng’s place / home office, and then went out for dinner with the whole family (except Yiyang who was in Vancouver). 叔母 and Yipeng also drove us around separately to introduce each street, each building, and gave us an extremely thorough run-down of their lives here. Listening attentively to each decision they made along the way that eventually turned out for the better for the family who was straddling between Singapore and Canada, I got a better appreciation about how life could take many combinations of premeditated and unexpected turns, and how the people around you in your lives could take center stage or regrettably left behind.
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April 28 (Sunday)
Due to our untimely arrival in Penticton, 叔母 and Yifeng had to help their clients complete their tax returns before the end of the month, leaving 二叔 and Yipeng to bring us up to Kelowna to meet 么姑 for lunch. We visited her dorm and had some good ole Chinese Food (everything with broccoli!). When we’re back in Penticton in the evening, 二叔 brought up for a long walk, “stalking” coastal houses with his professional grade binoculars, and continued to be our sounding board about life.
Although we didn’t get to pick fruits in Summerland’s vicinity, getting here is already like picking a bounty of fruits, great in quantities, healthy and perhaps need to check for some rotten ones, but overall a great harvest that will let us chew on for a long time to come. It was barely 1.5 years since we were officially married, and nothing beats meeting relatives on the opposite side of earth. Whether it’s hakka blood or not (wife side family exhibits lots of hakka traits), the propensity to go beyond the comfort zone and find better way of life elsewhere was most inspiring, especially when told by relatives who had walked the path.
I spent a lot of time thereafter thinking about some of my assumptions of life – one of the possibility has always been to again embrace that Pacific Northwest that was once lost, but I was too narrow in that thinking. 二叔 had to go from being an SIA plane engineer to becoming a bookkeeper – can I make that kind of drastic change in my career? Must I go back to Amazon or grab some technology big boy job? Where’s all that sense of wonder and just trying out things that your parents told you not to do? Or things your immediate social circle would deem “a waste of talent” or “too difficult to achieve”?
It was not like there’s one single priority, nor was there a need to hard rank the messy life all of us lead. Many people found reasonable balance between career, family, and spiritual well being, among other things. Neither of the camps were absolute in their promotion of better family life or career prospect or spiritual enlightenment. But one couldn’t wait too long, for time passes us by quickly, while our mental inaction and physical inertia self-reinforces each other.
By this time the Malaysian election campaigning was also in full swing – we started gluing ourselves to social media a bit more than previously in the trip, helping the deafening echo chamber build its momentum. There were also occasions where we had to give holding answers to peer pressure, for such honeymoon to take place at the price of national service.
二叔’s home cooked dinner (chicken thigh and bak kut teh!) broke the messy train of thoughts and we had a comfortable dinner as Yifeng came over to join his brother and parents in lamenting our short stay (2 days too short la, come here again ya, etc.) I crawled back into the make shift sleeping bag blanket feeling the warmth that emanates from a family who has, in essence, figured it out.
It’s now our turn to figure it out.Share
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