Wildfires were burning in the BC interior the day we left, so we kept the radio on for road closures, but our journey through the beautiful Glacier National Park to the Okanagan Valley was uneventful, if twisty. The road follows the mountain valleys and goes up and down like a roller coaster. A good stop on the way was to a unique interior rainforest grove of ancient hemlock and cedars. It was quiet and dark under the tall tree canopy. Some trees were over 350 years old. As we entered the valley, we passed farms and vineyards and fruit stands. Apricots and cherries were in season – oh joy! It was hot and very dry. The anticipation built for MLH – and yes, by the time we got to our Airbnb on a hillside outside of Kelowna, it was rocking hot (34 degrees or 93F) – and it stayed that way for the entire week. Neither of us have experienced temperatures like that in Canada before. As MLH is solar-powered, I had difficulty keeping up with his energy.
We sat on the covered deck at the house and watched as the Okanagan Lake and city reflected the setting sun behind us. The geography is different again, volcanic rock and gentler mountains, blue grey wild sage and brush, grass burnt yellow from the heat, splashes of green from irrigated land.
The next day we went to a lakeside public beach for a swim. The area is obviously a draw for Albertans and city British Columbians to come for summer holidays. Lots of children, boating, kite surfing, swimming. After a swim in the lake, I lay on the beach and closed my eyes for a snooze. This is the conversation from a family with three young children and a dog which buzzed around me. It will resonate with anyone who has been on a family vacation, and I swear this is almost verbatim:
“I want ice cream”
“Ice cream is after frisbee”
“Oh my God! There’s a tornado warning in Edmonton. Hail as big golf balls! Aren’t you glad the car is here?”
“So it can get us out of the wildfires? Sure.”
“Rowan, where’s your brother?”
“Rowan, you’re burning! Honey, where’s the sunscreen? Rowan’s burning!”
“No, first frisbee and then ice cream.”
“Quick! Catch the unicorn, it’s blowing away!”
“Riley, don’t tug on the dog’s collar. That’s his neck you’re twisting.”
“Mu-um, I pooped in my pa-ants.”
A visit to a local winery was of course on the to do list. We had a tour and tasting at Quail’s Gate Winery, founded by Irish fruit growers about 50 years ago, who found the table grapes they were growing were better suited to wine. Here MLH scored a first. People on the phone have mistaken his accent for French (de MLH), Scottish (MacMLH), German (von MLH) and Irish (O’MLH). The vineyard guide looked him straight in the eye and declared he had a Polish accent. Now his nick name is MLHwynski. He fits well into the Canadian mosaic. Speaking of which, we came across a photographer in a RV who has crossed Canada six times, taking photos of Canadians. He’s decorated his camper van with them (see photo) and the inside is decorated gypsy-style with tassels and red velvet cushions. We chatted with him, and I asked him, having travelled so extensively in Canada, whether he’d observed more differences in people East to West or North to South. “Both – people are really different in different parts of the country” was his disappointing reply (but maybe he was simply being diplomatic). He took our photo, and you might find it at: canadianmosaic.ca. I like to think that our mug shots might be criss-crossing Canada in this colourful way long after we have finished being Nestless and Restless here. It’s also the only way we are going to be travelling by RV (see Episode 5).
The Okanagan is a popular retirement place, and celebrities apparently have summer homes along the lake. Many people come from somewhere else, willing to pay the ‘sunshine tax’ to golf, ski and boat year-round. A young retiree from Calgary told us ‘BC’ stands for ‘bring cash’. He and his wife live in a retirement community of 115 bungalows, where they are the youngest residents (I’d guess he is in his late sixties). There are 27 widows, one widower, and they attend many ‘celebrations of life” he said. Service industries, logging, fruit-growing and processing are how people make their living here.
On our last full day in the valley, we drove to the Myra Canyon and hiked the Kettle Creek Railway trail. The steam railway was opened in 1915, and it shows how important it was to commerce and Canadian sovereignty to have a link from the BC interior to the coast, because it was an engineering nightmare to get the railway around the canyon, involving building multiple trestles and tunnels through the mountains. It made for a spectacular hike, with the bonus of coming across a magnificent cow moose on the road.
That evening, we watched a wildfire burning North of the city from the deck of the Airbnb, and the next morning a blood red sunrise was coming through smoke and ash sitting over the whole valley. It lessened a bit as we drove south to the warmest and driest area of Canada, Osoyoos, near the US border, but still lingered as we drove into Vancouver, a reminder of the devastation going on further North. Between Penticton and Osoyoos, our odometer clicked to 10,000 kilometres.