BY PAUL ROBINSON
With a significant wedding anniversary rapidly approaching, Mrs R decided we should treat ourselves to the holiday of a lifetime. For some, that appears to be an all-inclusive fortnight that disappears in an alcohol-induced haze. Others trek in Peru. We opted for a month touring Canada in a camper van, although ‘camper van’ is not an adequate description for an RV, as we discovered.
Canada being where it is, flying is the only realistic option which is unfortunate for my travelling companions as I have an uncanny ability to fall asleep on aeroplanes. Even on trans-Atlantic flights. True to form I was blissfully unaware within 15 minutes of take-off and only awoke when the pilot deployed the flaps on approach to Vancouver airport. Consequently, I am unfamiliar with jet-lag.
The next morning was an education in customer service in Canada.
Calling in to the nearby equivalent of a Little Chef we set off on what turned out to be a marathon breakfast with mountains of muffins, scrambled egg and toast washed down with gallons of orange juice and coffee. After parting with a very modest amount of cash, about £5, we waddled back to the hotel firmly convinced we wouldn’t need to eat again for some time.
Shortly afterwards our taxi arrived.
On arrival at the camper van pick-up point we assumed they were running late, after all there was just some monstrous vehicle about the size of a rural bus parked there and we had ordered a ‘mini’ mobile home. This monster, it turned out, WAS the ‘mini’, all 27 feet of it. Having signed all the paperwork and now being in possession of an axe, for reasons that will become clear, we set off on our first experience of touring Canada. After collecting the obligatory pizza and wine at a local supermarket we pitched up for the night on the outskirts of Vancouver.
The site was little more than a large concrete rectangle with service posts sticking out of it and it would not be until we hit our first National Park that we would start to see Canada proper. That was where the fun would begin, and the axe would prove to be a disappointment.
We had been advised National Park sites have fire-pits and supply logs for very little outlay, hence the need for an axe. On arrival at our first National Park I went in search of logs. Man. Fire. The logs were enormous, the axe inadequate, so it was off to the nearest hardware store where I invested in the biggest axe they sold. Man. Fire. Sorted. I still have the axe, I packed it in hold luggage and brought it home. (I advise against trying that in today’s security-conscious airports).
I mentioned previously the size of the vehicle and, being used to driving a wide range, I like to develop a ‘feel’ as quickly as possible so a series of manoeuvres were carried out. In hindsight, the 33-point turn should have been anticipated but the acceleration caught me out too. It’s not so much the speed you understand, more how quickly you can get out of the way of trouble. Anyway, most main roads are straight as far as the eye can see so a nice clear section soon presented itself and I put my foot down. Petrol is cheap over there so economy is not a concern; engines, therefore, are large. We surged forward. Unfortunately, the loose groceries on the bunk bed above the cab did not accelerate at all and, with a loud bang, numerous potatoes and an assortment of root vegetables struck the bedroom door with some force. Fortunately, no damage was done but that manoeuvre was not repeated.
Mrs R is nothing if not prepared. We would be walking in the National Parks. Canada has bear. We would need some form of protection – bear bells. Never heard of them? They’re little bells attached to an elasticated strap that you put on each wrist so, as you walk, you jingle musically. Apparently, this alerts the bear to your presence and, so the theory goes, as bear are naturally shy they will avoid you. Never having been convinced of the wisdom of letting something big enough to eat me know where I am I decided to check with the local Tourist Information Centre.
Dropping the bear bells on the counter I asked “These bear bells, do they actually work?”
Canadians have a dry sense of humour and, with a deadpan expression, the assistant explained,
“Well, they’ll be about 8 feet tall, weigh around 500 kilos, can run as fast as a racehorse over a couple of hundred metres and they’re not scared of a damned thing. What do you think?”
I took that as a no.