Monday, January 19, 2009

Pilgrimage

I've done a fair amount of travelling so far in my life, though nowhere near enough to satisfy me. My goal is to live and work on all the continent except Antarctica, which I fully intend to visit. I've covered three so far, though I've yet to even make any solid plans to get me through the remaining three.

Of all my travels, there was one that was akin to a pilgrimage and that was my trip across Canada. In high school and university, all I was focused on was getting the hell out of Bolton, preferably leaving North America all together. In my second year of university, I applied to an archaeological dig in England and for the exchange program through Queen's. Since there are about 3~4 applications per spot, I never imagined I'd get in. The dig was something I really wanted to do, but it was also my back-up plan, the plan that ensured I finally flew somewhere exciting. I had just sent off my money for the dig when I heard I had an interview for the exchange program - one that I never ended up attending, as I was high enough on the list that they cut sufficient applicants before even interviewing me. A huge part of me is still in awe of my luck.

As exciting as that first trip was, and it included six weeks of backpacking around Europe, it didn't really top the cross Canada trip. It was 2003 by the time I got the chance to see my own country and by then I had been living in Scotland, and hence travelling the UK, Ireland, andItaly, for two years. I moved back to Toronto to temp lazily while waiting for my travel partners, Jenni and Alan, to make some money and join me.

I can't quite say what it was exactly about that trip that made it so special. Part of it was that I was travelling with two of my best friends. Part of it was the train - I really enjoy train trips. But mostly, it was just Canada - the North, the Rockies, the Prairies. For the first time I was starting to understand the Canadian imagery and symbolism that I grew up absorbing.

We took the train to Winnipeg first, stopping only to change to another line. The trip up to Churchill, my first time to a place considered actual Arctic (it isn't that far north, but Hudson's Bay alters the climate in such a way that it is arctic). Seeing polar bears in the wild. Seeing the Northern Lights - I'd seen them before, where I grew up, but they were considerably more spectacular. The cold. The forests slowly giving way to a flat expanse of ice and snow.

After spending only a day in Churchill, sadly all we could afford, we headed to Winnipeg and spent five days there. That may well have been four days too many, considering that it was November. I now really understand Winnipeg weather reports, right down to my bones. We had anticipated sleeping through the prairies, but a huge train delay meant that we got to see them slowly pass by from the bubble car on the train. Grain elevators and so much sky! Edmonton was a much more interesting place than I had anticipated, though I wasn't overly impressed by the mall.

And then, the Rockies. Seeing them for the first time was incredible and Jasper was by far my favourite part of the trip. Granted, I'll never be able to forget the stupidity of thinking I was going to see those green waters of Lake Louise, but I did get to see a classic mountains-reflected-in-a-lake scene, so I was happy. We also saw a lot of wild life - though those deer are pretty tame!

We ended up in Vancouver and settled there in late November until August. I didn't love living in Vancouver, but I am incredibly glad I had the chance to do it. It is a beautiful city in the spring and summer - Toronto really has nothing on it there. I did miss the opportunity to do lots of cultural things without spending a small fortune - I'd been spoiled by Toronto and Edinburgh and it just wasn't my kind of city, in a way I can't really articulate. However, it was an important year for me, one in which I made the decision to come to Korea for the first time and that's a decision that has had the most impact on my life since the day I decided I was returning to Scotland after finishing my degree.

I am vaguely planning some more trips that might feel a bit like a pilgrimage - in particular, seeing Russia. Both of my parents studied Russia, history and literature, so it's one country I have always wanted to go to. Returning to university would certainly fit the bill. I'd also love to make it home for a holiday - at this point any holiday would do, but Christmas next year seems the most likely. We'll just have to see how the next year plays out, I guess. As always with my life, your guess is as good as mine!

The adventure began in Toronto.
The train ride through Ontario and Manitoba.
Polar bears in Churchill.
Winnnipeg and the Praries
Edmonton was fun.
The Rockies Rock
The trip ends in Vancouver.

Pics of the trip.

4 comments:

floreta said...

i really hope to have some more traveling experiences under my belt. would love a pilgrimage to india, japan, thailand, greece, brazil or south america.

Tumblewords: said...

You've seen a lot of places and more to go - Enjoyed reading your post!

Mardougrrl said...

Wow...that sounds amazing! I adore Vancouver and have toyed with the idea of moving there from the States myself. But it *is* expensive.

This post has ignited my wanderlust...I wonder where I should go...? :)

Jenni said...

What made you think of our trip? I read my journal not too long ago. I'll never forget that trip, it was life changing.