Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Beyond Hope - Lezah Williamson

The tiny town of Hope, BC, calls itself the Gateway to Holidayland. Three times in the last two weeks I have travelled beyond the confines of the Fraser Valley to savour what the rest of the province has on offer. Here is a little of what I found.

We headed north/east along the Coquihalla Highway last weekend: destination Westbank. Westbank is a town smack in the middle of the Okanagan, but it's not too well known, since it is largely overshadowed by its near neighbour Kelowna, which lies just across the bridge. Kelowna is the jewel of the Okanagan , as far as residents are concerned, so poor little Westbank has been relegated to not much more than poor-relation status; it's a place for people who work in Kelowna to commute from. But, in many ways, I prefer Westbank. Whereas in the past, Kelowna had all the history and grace of any fairly established city, today much of that has been lost to the strip malls and fast food restaurants which line the main drag for seemingly endless miles. The exception to this is the area just to the south of the bridge, in the vicinity of Kelowna Hospital. Here you will find gracious old homes lining the waterfront and funky commercial areas just beyond them. This is one part of Kelowna that I still enjoy.

But back in Westbank: the little town still retains a lot of the flavour of that of many smaller Okanagan towns, with a mix of residential and agricultural. Cherry, peach, and apple orchards are holding their own against the onslaught of housing developments. It's a short trip down from Westbank to the beaches. Fruit, fun and sun: that's what the Okanagan is known for. And if you're lucky, you might just spot the Ogopogo, cousin to the Loch Ness monster...

About 40 minutes south of Westbank is the vacation town of Penticton. Penticton occupies the area of land between the Okanagan and Skaha Lakes. It was originally an agricultural town, but today is widely known as the home of the Ironman Triathalon, and for those a little less keen, as the place to go for holidayers: camping, boating, and a whole variety of things to keep the kiddies occupied abound. We were there for one thing, and one thing only: the inner tube canal rides. You see, between the two lakes there is a canal that flows, and for a very modest price, one can float down, then catch a bus back to your vehicle. We rented inner tubes, and together with the bus trip, it cost $11 each. Or you can bring your own air mattress, inner tube, or what have you and just pay $4 for the bus. Whatever the case, it's worth it. We spent just under two hours there, and experienced complete relaxation. The current was so gentle that we were moving, but never at a speed with which we were uncomfortable. The water was crystal clear, the sun was shining, there were ducks floating past us and fish swimming under us. When we were done, I felt better than if I had gone to a spa.

Most recently, I flew up to Terrace, BC. Now, when I think of Terrace, I always picture a place that is right at the top of the province, somewhere in the vicinity of Alaska, but when you look on a map, it's only about half way up. One can drive north, through the Fraser Canyon and beyond, turning left at Prince George, but it's a trip that would take more than a day - and quite frankly, I don't have that kind of time. So I opted for the 1 hour, 40 minute plane ride. What amazed me on the plane was the number of different passport holders we saw: Germany, Barbados, Spain - and those were just the ones that I managed to peek at - there could have been more. And this all on a plane that takes only about 40 people! Terrace and its closest neighbour, Smithers, are huge draws for Europeans especially: fishing is what brings people up. Terrace is also home to the world famous Kermode (Spirit) Bear, a white black bear. It's not an albino, but a genetic mutation of the black bear. I did not see a live one when I was up there, but there were plenty of bear sightings while we were there.

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