Print Edition: January 11, 2012
Cash-strapped students like me are all-too familiar with the ongoing battle between paying for tuition and paying for travel. I have personally had the strong desire to pack up my belongings and go explore different parts of the world on numerous occasions. Perhaps this desire would explain my spontaneous reaction to take the opportunity to spend four days and three nights experiencing beautiful British Columbia, more specifically, the Rocky Mountains and Lake Louise with West Trek Tours.
I was contacted by West Trek Tours on a Tuesday and left on a coach bus two days later, headed to Lake Louise. I haven’t done a lot of travelling in my life, and more notably, I haven’t done much travelling in my own country. I had heard from friends and family that the Banff and Lake Louise area is absolutely breath taking, but to be honest, all I could think about was how the weather forecast put temperatures below zero. Nonetheless, I was excited and kind of nervous to be leaving in the middle of my exam period for a mini vacation.
One of the greatest things about travelling anywhere is the people you meet along the way. Lee Henderson, who is described as the “Governor of Given’er” [sic] on his business card, was one of the West Trek leaders who made it his mission to ensure everyone on the trip was having a good time. Dressed in a red plaid jacket, skate shoes and a loveable red beard, it was hard not to look at this guy and think, “Canadian.” Lee was paired with another staff member from West Trek Tours, Leslie Fordham, designated, “Canadian Dream Maker,” which myself and the other tourists agreed was a fitting label after spending a few days with her. Leslie is the kind of person you couldn’t not like if you tried. Her gumption and smiling face made all of the weekend adventures even more enticing.
Not knowing anyone else on the trip was intimidating at first. All kinds of thoughts go through your head, worrying you will hate everyone or that they might hate you. But my social anxiety disappeared the moment I stepped onto the bus. Students from all over the world filled the charter bus, and all of them were excited to experience beautiful British Columbia with a smile on their face. Perhaps the eclectic mix of people was what added luster the entire experience. Here I was, exploring my own province with people my own age from all over the world: Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Australia, Korea, Austria and Japan. Everyone was welcoming, and everyone was excited.
After driving for the majority of the day, passing through the wet Fraser Valley, the desert areas of Merritt and Kamloops and the snowy and icy Roger’s Pass, we arrived safely in Lake Louise. Standing outside the lodge, I was immediately humbled by the enormous mountains that surrounded us. Ice-capped and intimidating, the sight of the mountains seemed to inspire awe from all of the travellers. Being from BC, I knew I was partly desensitized to the natural beauty of the mountains. I can only imagine how breathtaking the other travellers—who were mostly from other countries—found the landscape.
Although we arrived at the lodge after dinner and the plans were to go snowboarding or hiking in the morning, it didn’t stop everyone from getting to know each other and sharing a few drinks before bed.
West Trek Tours has clearly been planning their adventures for a few years, because they certainly didn’t miss a beat in their organization. Fifteen decided to go snowboarding at Lake Louise Resort while the others went to Johnston Canyon to view the massive frozen waterfall. Of the two touring options, leaders Lee and Leslie had everything figured out and made everyone comfortable. For those interested, there was also the option of enjoying a horse-drawn sleigh ride or dogsledding. It never felt more fitting to throw the questioning intonation of “eh” at the end of every sentence.
After a long day of exercise and breathing in the mountain air, the entire group went into Banff for dinner, drinks and good conversation. This seems like a good introduction to Andrey “Russky” Sidorov, “The Russian.” One of the many cool things West Trek Tours does is take on student interns; Russky was one of the interns that will forever be remembered. Between jumping through fires, taking pictures of people sleeping, making people laugh, and telling the wildest stories, Russky’s general demeanor made everyone comfortable. Often wearing a hat that resembled a wolf’s head, everyone wanted to be around him. The group grew to be more like a family, and we only had known each other for four days. While we were out for dinner, Russky told stories and laughed heartily, bringing everyone together. It was a moment where, even though you know you aren’t related to this person, you felt like you were at home with family.
The next day was filled with adventures that were equally exciting. Driving into Banff, a group of us went up the Banff Gondola, 2292 feet up Sulphur Mountain. Although it was foggy, the view was still unbelievable. Walking through the man-made trails once we got to the top, the snow was gently falling as we posed for photo ops. Jacob, a tourist from Austria, and I were walking ahead on the trail when we came across a grouse. It sat on the trail and just watched us as we took the opportunity to take pictures of it sitting in the snow. It was moments like these that allowed all of the travellers to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds us. The situation is almost humorous, I mean, it’s just a bird. But maybe that’s what was so beautiful about it. Almost 3000 feet in the mountains, I am walking with a guy I have known for a little over 24 hours, and we are admiring a fat grouse perched in the snow.
The Fairmont Lake Louise is a luxury hotel that has what I consider one of the most astounding outdoor experiences I have ever had. Although the snowboarding was amazing, and riding the gondola to the top of a mountain was absolutely gorgeous, when we arrived at The Fairmont, we rented ice skates and skated on top of the frozen Lake Louise. In between two overwhelmingly huge mountains, we skated on the naturally frozen lake and played ice hockey. The best part about ice-skating is that you don’t have to be good at it to have fun. Peter, the bus driver for the tour, and I skated around in circles, occasionally talking and also just looking around. All of the trees were dusted in snow, everybody’s nose was a little bit cold and runny, and every single person was having fun. I felt like I was in a Tim Horton’s commercial.
On the first night, when everyone was sharing drinks in the hotel room, the majority of our newfound friends had gone to bed. We had spent the night learning the dance moves to one-hit-wonder songs by the Backstreet Boys and singing along to ‘90s hits that everyone knew the words to. At the end of the night, the music mood changed and everyone began to wind down. In an impromptu speech, Lee reminded everyone to consider what the word “home” means to them. Although he was born and raised in the Vancouver area, it is when surrounded by the mountains and the fresh air in Lake Louise that he truly feels at home.
Our homes will always be with our family, in the towns where we grew up and with the people that we love. But one thing we will never know is if we have other homes out there that we haven’t been to yet.
A lot of people I know have dreams of backpacking across Europe or Asia, or flying to Australia to lie on the beach. All of these places offer different kinds of beauty: tropical, historical or mysterious. For me, I have the same dreams, I want to travel the world.
My four-day trip to Lake Louise with West Trek Tours brought new insight and inspiration to my future travel plans. I realized the beauty that is in my very backyard. Travelling doesn’t have to be something you save up $5000 for, it can be a weekend spent a few hours north. Whether the mountains are covered in snow and your nose is running, or the sun is beaming down in the summer months, British Columbia has enough beauty for me to explore for more than just a weekend. West Trek Tours provided me with an unforgettable experience. Their trips are planned all year long and work towards providing trips that show-and-tell BC’s organic scenery. Cliché statements are cliché for a reason, and on that note, I hope I have the opportunity to relive the memories I created in Lake Louise.