Saturday, July 23, 2005

Yukon Ho!

The following ramble is unconnected with my forthcoming trip to South America. But I didn't want to leave the blog empty.

I wrote this in late July 2005:
It is 10 o'clock in the evening and the sky outside is blue, even though the sun itself has disappeared behind the hills. This is Whitehorse, capital city of the Yukon and almost the southernmost point of my likely itinerary in the North.


This all started with a rearranged flight from Auckland to San Francisco on Sunday. Because of the Air NZ cabin crew strike I was invited to begin my journey a day early and was offered a better connection to Vancouver. So I said "yes".

Getting ready in one less day was a challenge, but I haven't yet found that I left anything vital behind. Useful items yes, but not vital ones. NZ8 finished a 12-hour flight by pulling up to the airbridge exactly on time in blazing sunshine. Amazing. I think it was one of the older aircraft and my seat was strangely uncomfortable so I didn't sleep well. I did better on the Air Canada plane that carried me to Vancouver and the welcome hospitality of cousin Sarah and her husband, Tom.

Vancouver also basked under a bright sun. Clearly I was in North America at the right time.


My extra day was a Monday. Tom went to work and Sarah had an appointment, so after the morning rush hour had spent itself I sallied forth into more hot sun. I had been to Vancouver before and wanted to leave the main attractions until Anne joins me in a couple of weeks, so I played with the Vancouver mini-ferries. These distinctive craft are only 3 or 4 metres long and buzz up and down False Creek with an air of earnest busyness. I bought a day pass and rode from the inland end of False Creek to Granville Island.

Granville is a derelict industrial site transformed into a bustling market with lots of buskers and plenty of space for more substantial performing arts. The food stalls were offering lush, mainly local fruit and vegetables and the new season's first wild-caught salmon. This is preferred by Vancouverites to the farmed fish and commands premium prices - even at the markets. It is also berry season. British Columbia produces a lot of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, redcurrants and other berries. The summer stone fruit is also in. Mouth watering.

The first busker I saw was a girl of about 10 playing Irish jigs on a fiddle with enthusiasm and great skill.

I lunched on fruit and an assorted plate from an Indian food stall. I would never have guessed that tandoori cabbage is a delicacy, but this sample was quite delicious.

A specialty coffee stall provided coffee in a tankard. An interesting presentation of quite the most awful decaf coffee I have ever tasted.

My good humour was restored by three young men playing very nice Stan Getz style jazz.
Back to the ferry landing and two ferries to the Maritime Museum. There were several interesting vessels moored around the ferry landing, which I could admire and still save the price of admission to the museum.

I almost fell asleep on the next ferry so it was time to head back to Sarah and Tom's apartment for a nap.

Tuesday afternoon saw me back on an Air Canada plane bound for Whitehorse. The sun was still shining. The plane was on time - that's 3 out of 3! The bus dropped me almost at the hostel door. I was made welcome. The sun was still hot and high in the sky. I went out to explore. The Visitor Centre provided an armful of free information. I sauntered on to the supermarket. It was shut. What? The sign advised it closes at 7pm. My watch says it is now half past but the sun was still hot and high in the sky.

Whitehorse, capital city of the Yukon, is about the size of Putaruru but maybe a little more exciting. I trudged to the only convenience store I had noticed. It stays open until 2am, which I now suspect is 'daylight hours'. It features organic foods. Goody. At Far North prices. Crikey!
And so back to the Beez Kneez Backpackers which, despite the twee name is very congenial. The sun went behind the hills (Whitehorse is in the Yukon River valley) between quarter and half-past nine. At 11 o'clock a reddish sunset tinge lit the sky, but it is still twilight. My body doesn't want to believe it is tired and should go to bed. But everyone else is awake and chatting, too.

By the time I emerge to inspect Wednesday it is cloudy. Hey, who changed the weather script? But it is dry and I have a free map describing a 20km loop hike along the Yukon River Valley, camera, binoculars and a field guide to identify the local birds.

Early progress is slow because there is so much to see. Mostly the dreaded "little brown bird" that inhabits almost every locality on the globe. They are probably sparrows, but not the house sparrow that feasts on cold chips in every major city. The ones with stout, yellow beaks are Juncos. Hooray - a 'tick'. A rustling in the grass is a red squirrel with a pine cone in its mouth. Further on a chipmunk hops about on the path, its tail stiffly vertical. A duck flies down and lands on the river, a merganser. Another 'tick'.

The first section of the trail ends at the world's longest fish ladder where chinook salmon are not quite ready to ascend on their spawning journey from the Baring Sea. The first salmon were seen at the foot of the ladder yesterday. They are still in the river deciding what to do. I go down to the river where a helpful guide points to a salmon in the swirling eddy. I can't see it. It's there again. Again I can't see it. I never did spot it.

What does spot is the first hint of rain. It fiddles around for a long time and then decides to rain in earnest. How dare it? I want to sit in the sun and eat my lunch. It eases a little so I sit in the drizzle and eat my lunch.

The rain really gets going so I abandon the walk to the site of Canyon City and head for the bridge at Miles Canyon. Through the precipitation I see my first beaver lodge and three of Canada's national bird, the loon. Despite, or because of, the rain they sing their haunting song for me.

At Miles Canyon the rain stops and I risk taking a couple of photos. Despite the information board, there are no beavers or otters in the river here.

The path back along the West side of the river quickly becomes a road and the rain starts again. I am very grateful for the lift I am offered back to town, a hot shower and the sorting out of my soggy possessions. That done, the sun finally comes out and an arctic ground squirrel (a kind of marmot) appears in the suburban street opposite the hostel.

Tomorrow, pick up a rental car and head along the Klondike Highway to the even further North.


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