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Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category

Porcupine Hills- one of the many hunting sites in Alberta

Taking in Alberta’s enormous cattle ranches and hector upon hector of cornfields, it’s hard for me to grasp how richly the area is soaked in history. In fact, it never dawned on me at all when I first moved back here in 2003. (I was born in northern Alberta, but my family left when I was just 3.) As it turns out, the province has very strong Native American roots and bragging rights to the largest deposit of dinosaur remains in the world. Discovering these layers of history has become an intriguing way of learning about a world I thought I’d left behind at a very young age. The thrilling Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is just the beginning.

The aboriginal people of the North American Plains were experts in topography and the behaviour of buffalo, and their method of using both for their own survival was ingenious. For nearly 6,000 years, the native people chased the herds of buffalo throughout the Porcupine Hills, southern Alberta and beyond. Why? For food! But catching the ox-like animals, which travel in tight herds led by dominant females, wasn’t easy. Although buffalo have poor eyesight, they have an amazing sense of smell. This made hunting them a challenge; the clever method they developed explains the odd “head-smashed-in” name of the place.

A model of how camps were set-up

“Drive lanes” were decorated with stone cairns, and below the cliffs, camps buzzed with the sounds of boiling pits and the carving of weapons and other tools needed to prepare a buffalo to eat. Once the wind started to blow over the cliffs, towards the basin, it was time. The winds made it virtually impossible for the buffalo to smell the danger ahead, so the North American Plains people skillfully drove them right to the edge of the cliffs – and then off the sides, to their dramatic deaths.

I began my tour of the area with a short walk outside to the very cliff tops where herds of buffalo once met their dramatic endings. The wind up there was insane, and I was the only person out there at the time, which I loved.  After a few minutes of being whipped around by the powerful gusts, I walked back to the interpretative centre to walk through the exhibits. I was taking notes about Napi (more on that later) when Little Leaf, an anthropologist and former teacher, approached me. Within minutes, my experience at Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump shot from a standard museum/art gallery type visit to an enthralling educational experience that lasted more than two hours.

During our time together, Little Leaf was kind enough to share some Blackfoot history he had recorded on a video. If you have some time, take a look. He’s a wonderful storyteller, and I could have listened to him for hours and hours. Before you click play, think of something Little Leaf said to me before filming: when talking about Native Americans “… It is more than feathers and beads”.

Little Leaf was an entertaining man who took time to speak with me about the Blackfoot people. He talked at length about the difference between today’s Native American children and their ancestors. I found it fascinating, and a little scary, that only 2-3% of modern Native American children know and practice their traditional beliefs. As time has progressed, more and more Native American children are forsaking their own customs in an effort to fit into the Western culture. The result? Native American languages and traditions are dying.  This cultural genocide is a horrifying thought. There are so few full-blooded Native Americans still around, and even less who know and speak their language and are familiar with their legends. Theirs is no longer a co-operative environment; things have become more individualistic, more Western. Oh, how I could talk and talk about this topic, but I think it’s best to leave it for another post.

In 1981, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump became a World Heritage Site, and its Interpretive Centre opened its doors in December 1986. Open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the centre is designed for visitors to start at the top and work their way back down, which I found an exciting break from the norm. After viewing the hunting sites outside, I hiked up to Level 1, where visitors learn about Napi, the mythical creator of the Blackfoot people. A series of boards illustrate the creation of life and the nature and habits of buffalo: “After Napi had the earth all made, he took up some mud and made the shape of a buffalo…”

An oversized tipi reigns over the second level, Napi’s People, which boasts various artifacts, like buffalo hide, which visitors are encouraged to touch. Level 3 brings visitors to the Hunt, where one learns about the drives, and Level 4 is Cultures in Contact. There, visitors learn about the Europeans’ affect on native buffalo culture when they arrived in the early 18th century, toting unforeseen wonders like guns and horses. It’s at that time in history that the traditions and culture of the North American Plains people began to change and, in my opinion, started to decline, as they strove to adapt to Western ways.

At the beginning of Level 5 is a small 80-seat theatre, which shows a 15 min re-enactment video about the hunts. (It’s actually suggested that visitors watch the video first, before beginning their tour, so they can picture how the hunts worked.) The remainder of Level 5 focuses on the archeological aspects of the site, with boards on more modern tools, maps and how discoveries were made.

Head-Smashed-In is not just another stop to make on your tourist list; in fact if you’re planning to visit for the sake of saying you were there, don’t bother. You’re cheating yourself if you do. This site is rich in Native American culture and has powerful spiritual ties to its people. If you plan on having an “experience,” you’ve picked the right spot! Go with excitement and an open mind. If Little Leaf is walking around, stop and talk with him, as he’s a wealth of knowledge. The purpose of the centre is to share knowledge and culture, and the staff are more than happy to answer any questions you may have. Who knows, maybe you’ll encounter one of the spirits Little Leaf talked to me about!

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and The Interpretative Centre are located about 16kms northwest of Fort Macleod, Alberta.  Admission fees:  Adults $9, Seniors $8, Youth 7-17 $5, Family $22 and children under 7 are FREE.

I’d like to take a moment to thank Conrad (the name the government gave him) Little Leaf for speaking with me about the site and Blackfoot and Native culture. If you’d like to learn more about the current struggles of Native American people, refer to the Indian Act here: http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/I-5/.

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Autumn in Niagara-On-The-Lake

Niagara-On-The-Lake is beautiful any time of the year, but my favourite time of the year is Autumn when the leaves on the maple trees turn an amazing shade of red.

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Oh, what was I thinking!! I am so unbelievably camera shy, and here I am shooting my first video. The idea was to do videos for my 2yr old niece while I travel, so I’m hoping this whole process will become less embarrassing as time goes by. Oh, please let this get less embarrassing! Check it out for yourself and try not to laugh too hard! haha

Okay, so now that the embarrassing part is over, it’s over right?! Let me tell you a little bit about Banff.  As I mention in the video, Banff is very touristy and therefore very expensive in some respects.  However there are some amazing vistas.  Whenever I feel the need to grab my camera and get away, I usually end up in Banff.  Below are some of the photos I took while in Banff today.

Inside Cave at the Cave & Basin National Historic Site

The Basin

View by Bow Falls

A quiet seat near Bow Falls

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Ottawa is more than politics, it’s a city steeped in history. Granted, its not the most historic city in Canada (that honour goes to Quebec City), but there’s still lots to offer would be travelers.  Here are 5 Reasons to Visit Canada’s Capital.

  1. Byward Market this a must on any and every visit to Ottawa.  The Byward Market is surrounded by everything from Irish/Scottish Pubs, to cafe’s, to fine dining.  Not to mention great souvenir vendors and street performers. During the day you can find a Farmer’s Market selling all sorts of yummy fruit and veg. I love wasting a day wandering through Byward when I’m visiting Ottawa.

    Street Performers at the Byward Market

  2. Beaver Tails– No, we don’t eat REAL beaver tails! We do eat extremely yummy fried dough smothered in chocolate or sprinkled with cinnamon, which we call Beaver Tails.  These yummy snacks can be bought in several places in Ottawa, one of them being the Byward Market!
  3. Rideau Canal– It’s a canal, how exciting can it be! In the spring/summer take some time to cruise along the canal. It’s a beautiful ride and a great way to learn a little more about Ottawa. During the winter months the Ridea Canal is THE place to go ice skating, and enjoy some Beaver Tails.

    The Rideau Canal

  4. Parliament– I have to admit, even as a Canadian Citizen, visiting Parliament was never an interest of mine. It wasn’t until I visited Ottawa with someone from Switzerland that I actually bothered to walk over to Parliament Hill. He was interested in seeing the changing of the guard, which we did. I was curious about the actual building, so that’s where we went next.  Gaining access wasn’t that hard. We had to check our bags, but admittance was free!  The best part was the view from the top of the tower. Absolutely breathtaking!

    Changing of the Guard- Parliament Hill

  5. HI Ottawa Jail– I can’t think of a better place to stay in Ottawa.  Located close to the Byward Market, HI Ottawa Jail offers an interesting view into Canada’s history. The site of the last public hanging, much of the hostel is still the same as it was during it’s jail days.  Stay in your very own cell- the door is pretty dang heavy! I could swear I heard “noises” while I was there. I tell ya, there is nothing like being anxious about having to pee at 2am and running back to your cell afterward!

    HI Ottawa Jail

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Roasting Chestnuts on Opening Weekend of 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver

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Earlier this week I was nominated by @backpackerboy of Top Backpacking Destinations to participate in Tripbase’s Project, “My 3 Best Kept Travel Secrets”. I must admit, I was flattered and intrigued, then I was stumped as to what my 3 Best Kept Travel Secrets would be. I’ve traveled, but sporadically due to career choices and I’m not sure what I can contribute to this project. However I’m always up for a challenge!  So here we go…

Waterton Lakes National Park- Alberta, Canada

Unlike Banff, Waterton Lakes National Park still has a very local feel to it.  A UNSECO World Heritage site and the Canadian half of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, Waterton is a great place to visit any time of year.  Waterton has great hikes (Crypt, Carthew-Alderson, Bears Hump), yummy pizza (Pizza of Waterton), and one of Canada’s oldest and most famous hotels, the Prince of Wales. Although Waterton is mostly a summer destination, with many businesses closing after Labour Day weekend, Waterton is still a great pick in winter. If you’re looking for a great vista, hike Bear’s Hump.  It only takes about 30-60 mins, but it can be a little steep towards to top. Don’t worry, the walk is easy and the view is amazing!  If you’re not into a steep hike, head over to the Prince of Wales Hotel and stand on the cliff behind the hotel.  Although it can be really windy, it’s a great view of Upper Waterton Lake, the townsite and surrounding mountains.

Carbisdale Castle, Culrain, Sutherland Co., Scotland

I had to tell the conductor ahead of time that I wanted to get off at Culrain so I could get off.  Leaving the platform with my backpack I headed for the crossroads, looked up and made my way towards the castle on the hill. I was kind of excited about staying at HI Carbisdale Castle. Although the walk up the hill/ mountain to Carbisdale Castle almost killed me at the time, I was loving it.  The castle itself is small, secluded and a great place to relax and unwind.  It’s also a short train ride from Dun Robin Castle, former home of Clan Sutherland, which has a great beach behind the castle walls.

Chengdu, Sichuan, China

Okay, so maybe it’s not a big secret, after all its a major gateway to Tibet and the place to go if you want to interact with Pandas.  But aside from those things Chengdu also offers beautiful temples, and lively neighbourhoods. Wenshu Temple dates back to the Tang Dynasty and is Chengdu’s largest and best preserved Buddhist temple.  But if you’re an early riser and looking for a relaxing way to spend your morning, then this is the place to go.  The grounds are vast and utterly breathtaking.  I’m always amazed at how peaceful temple grounds are, especially when they’re in the middle of a large city like Chengdu. The best part is relaxing near the temple, writing in your travel journal while listening to chanting monks.

Now, you may read this post and say “pff, these aren’t secrets!” and maybe they’re not. But they’re unique and special and are worth a visit. We live in a great big world, full of amazing places and people. Sure, this is my current 3 Best Kept Travel Secrets, but after 6 months of traveling through Asia starting this fall can you imagine what my next 3 Best Kept Travel Secrets will be? I’m kind of excited to find out!

What are YOUR 3 Best Kept Travel Secrets? Write your own post and share it with the rest of us!! In keeping with the spirit of the game, I nominate @ibackpackcanada @theaussienomad @AbbyTegnelia and @CailinOneil.

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I love finding new and unique things to see, do or even crazy places to stay.  As I’ve been home for the past 2 years, my unique adventures have been set mostly in Canada, and seeing as I’m still months away from my RTW adventures I thought it’d be fun to do some posts on unique Canadian experiences.  The first one is in Shuswap, British Columbia.  It’s not necessarily something to do per say. But it’s one of the most unique places I’ve ever stayed.

HI Shuswap, if you blink you would miss it. That’s not just some silly cliche, it’s true. Hell, even after I’ve stayed here I still drive right past it without realizing it.  What’s so unique about staying at HI Shuswap?  It’s unique because you sleep in old CP Rail train cabooses. It is may seem less than sanitary, but the experience is well worth it.  HI Shuswap is located right off Trans Canada Hwy 1 just outside Chase, BC.  The entrance is the old Squalix General Store nestled in some trees just off Lake Shuswap.

After hours of driving, I was on sensory overload when I walked into the Squalix General Store to check-in.  It was old, musty and extremely cluttered.  In fact I was almost certain the food on the shelves was older than I am and made a mental note to dig through my car for snacks rather than buying them from the store.  After checking in I was lead to the back of the store, down some stairs and outside to the backyard.  It was ultra hippy, but very cool all the same.  The grass was long and littered with various works of “art” in the form of antiques or junk to some.  They had a lovely garden and Llamas.  Yep, I said Llamas!  As cool as the yard was, I was more interested in checking out my caboose!

Walking into my Caboose was like going back in time.  Each caboose can sleep 4 people and comes complete with a kitchen, bathroom, and sitting area.  The air was slightly musty and as I mentioned above there was a less than sanitary feel to the place. But I didn’t care. I was going to spend the night in a CABOOSE!

HI Shuswap is not an easy find, its Squalix General Store is JUST before a large turn in the Hwy and can easily be missed if you’re not paying attention. It’s not an overly popular place, which makes it a nice getaway.  Shuswap, like most of British Columbia is a gorgeous. It’s full or mountains, lakes and wildlife.  It’s a a wonderful place to relax and enjoy the scenery. HI Shuswap is closed in the winter months, but opens every spring.

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