We came to the small fishing village of La Scie on Cape St. John, and after building up a band of spectators from our repeated trips up and down the main street we asked directions for the best track out onto the headland. A few minutes later we worked out what we’d been told – the Newfoundland accent is surely the strangest in the world! A peculiar mix of Irish, Canadian and Westcountry, which even us three with Irish and westcountry roots struggled to understand. It felt a very different place to the rest of Canada.
The track took us to the site of an old radar station, but we still wanted to go further, so after scouting for a while we bumped Roxy over some rocks and down onto a narrow mud track that seemed to be used by quad bikes. With Pete at the wheel Spike and I jumped out to grab photographs and examine the track ahead. It was a gnarly route, heading down a muddy, rock-strewn gully with trees in close attendance either side, but as seasoned experts/fools (delete as appropriate) we were confident of our and Roxy’s abilities.
Sadly the margin for error proved too small as Pete, showing uncharacteristic concern for the bodywork steered to avoid bashing a tree and in doing so the front wheel slid off a rock which then wedged itself between two parts of the chassis. Yes dear readers, after our north american holiday we were back to the glory days of Kazakhstan, we were back to the worms eye view of the world. We were stuck.
There were relatively few options, so after we’d settled on the appropriate jack we lifted her up and reversed her free, but enough time had been wasted to discourage further attempts. We walked up the rest of the way to 50 degrees, watched a beautiful sunset and had a beer. It had taken us six months but we had arrived at our last bit of land before returning to the Lizard. The line that had guided our lives for the last half year was plunging into the sea beside us, the stars were coming out, the wind was making our beer bottles sing…and it was bloody freezing! There was only one thing for it, we headed for the pub.
Playing on the iPod: ‘To the end’ by Blur]]>
We drove on to Montreal, stopping briefly to admire downtown Ottawa with its beautiful civic buildings. In Montreal we stayed with an old friend of mine, Emilie, and her boyfriend Colin. Emilie cooked us the most delicious food and the next day Colin showed us the city, which we all fell in love with. In the cool autumn light with the trees full of reds and oranges it looked stunning. It manages to combine the French and North American cultures terrifically. We enjoyed our time in Montreal. Many thanks to Emilie and Colin for showing us a great time.
But eastward we must continue and we hit the road – next stop the ferry terminal for Newfoundland, our final stop. We drove through Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia pretty much non-stop doing a 26 hour driving epic. We stopped for fuel, meals and regular brew ups at the side of the road – the Latitude Expedition cannot function without a continual supply of tea!
Eventually we got to Sydney (the one in Nova Scotia, not Oz – we’ve driven a long way but not that far), only to find that the overnight ferry was booked up completely. We’d been trying to make a reservation all day but when we did have signal we couldn’t get through. We were put in the standby line and crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t be stuck there for 17 hours. Somehow, once again our luck prevailed and they let six cars from our line on board. Ours was the sixth!
That night we slept well and arrived on ‘The Rock’ as Newfoundland as referred to by some Canadians, early in the morning and headed off in search of our last land before cornwall.
In the morning we went for a quick visit to Lake Minnewanka, then headed off in search of some waterfalls and blue springs. We walked for a couple of hours through frozen canyons, beside a crystal clear lake before coming to a beautiful open valley.
Banff National Park is stunning, jagged snow capped peaks surround lush alpine valleys, it will soon be a skiers paradise.
Finaly dragging ourselves away from the mountains we headed to some family friends of Spike’s for the night. Thank you very much Simon and Feather, we had a fantastic night and even managed to tolerate the abuse you gave our favourite car. In the morning we decided we should really get insurance before heading across the prairies. Up until this point, despite our best efforts to part with our money, we had been driving in Canada with out the mandatory third party lability cover. You would not believe the problems with insuring an imported vehicle. However, after a whole day of phone calls we finally got hold of the Superintendant for Insurance for Alberta who sorted us out and we were on our way….
…Thirty one hours and 1600 miles later we were in Wisconsin, and that’s all there is to say about that. There is just enough habitation in the prairies to make them mindlessly dull.
We diverted a little off the 50th and headed south of the Great Lakes. Diesel is cheaper in the US and also it is not a cold so this seemed like a good idea. Besides, time and the weather have conspired to make the 50th pretty much impossible for us here, so we felt justified in our deviation.
We had a good lunch with Spike’s cousin in Madison, who also sponsored the expedition (thank you Nick) then we headed off to Chicago.
We spent two days in Chicago, staying with Spike’s friend Kim. It is another fantastic city, the lake front has been really nicely done and it is full of cool little bars and coffee shops, definitely another place to go back to.
We then started heading back to Canada and towards Quebec, through exciting sounding places like Kalamazoo and Paw Paw (so good they named it twice). Niagara Falls are just off the route so we pulled another 12 hour driving day and made it to a small town eight miles from the falls. Here we stayed with Harvey and Rusty, a couple we met at a service station. It was so generous of them to let us stay and they even gave us breakfast. This saved us another sub-zero night outside and Harvey was even kind enough to give us a tour of the niagara area, thank you very much.
Having just about seen the falls through the wind and the rain we headed to the Pillitteri Winery for a case study. They are world leaders in producing ice wine, a type of wine that, as the name suggests, can only be produced in seriously cold weather. This made of a very interesting case study and had the added bonus of trying some lovely wines.
I unfortunately had to drive to Toronto in the evening so was restricted to only a couple of sips. As such, we made it in one piece and are now enjoying a great spag bol and a warm night with another of Spike’s friends.
Playing on the Ipod: ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ (theme from The Littlest Hobo)
(Some names have been changed to protect lovely receptionists from their evil bosses)]]>
We then headed on through the wilderness of British Columbia. We passed some stunning scenery, unfortunately most of it was hidden behind the rain and clouds. It was great to be back on the expedition again. We arrived in Kamloops in the evening after driving through the thickest fog any of us have ever seen.
We tried unsuccessfully to find some accommodation – no-one we met wanted us to sleep on their floor and the people in the hostel scared the hell out of us. So we did as we were used to doing and headed out of town to find a spot to camp. As we’re about to head to bed we heard a wild animal in the bushes. Our torches picked up two eyes staring out at us from the forest. We crept closer, debating whether it was a bear or moose. Roxy’s spotlights eventually identified it as just a regular cow!
It was a chilly night and this morning we had to break the ice off our tents before we could put them away. And it’s only going to get colder as we cross the country. The ride today up high into the Rocky mountains was terrific, following the 50th fairly closely along Highway 1. Roxy has developed turbo problems once again and she crawls up hills reluctantly – all the more time to enjoy the scenery!
We climbed up over snowy passes and white peaks lined the route for most of the day. The forests and lakes below were beautiful in the autumn light. We arrived in Banff in the early evening and set about finding a place to stay. Even the cheapest hotel in this resort was outside our budget so we started at the most expensive, asking for free room for the night. They couldn’t oblige but offered us a very tempting discount.
We scoured the rest of the hotels for that elusive free room and just when we were about to give up we managed to find it in a very expensive place, thanks to a very kind receptionist. We’re glad not to be camping tonight – it’s supposed to be -6°C outside.
Playing on the iPod: “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver
We went up to the Westlund’s cabin in the mountains last weekend to chop wood for the winter with the family. We had a great weekend staying in a lovely cabin right by the lake. We tried dirt biking, throwing axes, riding quads and ‘log burling’ – the traditional Canadian pastime of running on a log floating on a lake trying to persuade someone else to fall off first.
Our last week in Langley was great. Andrew Westlund owns Sky Helicopters, a new flying school and we were very lucky to get a ride in his helicopter up over the mountains above Vancouver. The view was out of this world as we soared over forests mountainsides and skimmed low over beautiful lakes. We were also able to see the effects of the pine beetle which has devastated areas of the forest and formed an interesting case study… the beetles have been so destructive because of the milder winters recently. If anyone wants to learn to fly in British Columbia these people are the guys for the job.
We did a few days helping out at Andrew’s other company, Apex Communications, clearing out all the random stuff they had hoarded in the basement, effectively giving them two extra rooms! We left our signature chair, desk and cuppa tea set up in each room for when they next go in there, probably in four years time.
We finally picked up Roxy from Richmond Land Rover after some time being repaired. Many thanks to Brian from the dealership for all his help, and John in England for footing the bill.
We had a great time in Vancouver, mostly down to Andrew and his lovely family who were incredibly kind and hospitable. It was hard to leave but we can all imagine ourselves coming back to live in Vancouver one day.
But leave we had to and we headed out on the open road, on the Sea-to-Sky Highway up to Whistler…
Playing on the iPod: Anything by Bryan Adams (who apparently owns a Land Rover!)
We made it to Vancouver without being decapitated (these things happen on the Greyhound apparently) and met up with Andrew Westlund. This then cued our second TV appearance (remember our first one? That’s right, Kazakhstan, glad you’re keeping up), however this one Spike did alone. Pete and I were so tired and looked so bad it was decided we should not appear. Spike managed an amazing job, even fielding questions of a spiritual nature.
Us with Laura-Lynn of channel 10′s ‘The Daily’
Since then we have been living at the Westlunds house and having an amazing time – thank you so much guys, you have made us feel really at home. We’ve even had a go at stripping…bark off a tree, which is incredibly satisfying!
Pete + power tools = trouble
Vancouver is a fantastic city, full of great people and in an amazing setting. It has a beautiful waterfront setting with rocky, snowy peaks floating on the horizon. We negotiated Roxy’s customs clearance and had a lovely chat with the friendly officials, who were a little bit jealous of us! We then picked her up from a warehouse and dropped her at the local Land Rover dealership for some much-needed TLC.
Roxy in rehab
We’ve fitted in a couple of case studies here; the first was east of the city in a beautiful valley below the mountains.
The second was out on Vancouver Island which we visited for a couple of days. Once again we enjoyed fantastic hospitality, staying with family friends of Spike in Victoria, which is another lovely (and slightly British!) city. This was where we spent Pete’s birthday, and had a great night down on the waterfront. The next day we hired a car and took a drive along the stunning coast line – the Pacific seems to have a lot of that – and did our case study at a lovely honey farm which also happened to have mead tasting…
Beautiful British Columbia
Pete, meet the bees
A few days later we celebrated my birthday with a fantastic day in Vancouver, even managing to gatecrash a party at the rowing club – they seemed to think we were ‘the rugby players’, so we didn’t ruin the illusion and enjoyed the waterfront view from their deck.
Our time here is still a little open-ended as we wait for the service on Roxy to be completed, but when we do come to leave it’ll hard to drag ourselves away!
Playing on the iPod: ‘Don’t stop believing’ by Journey
We landed in San Francisco to bright sunshine and got lots of looks as we walked around the gay capital of America in matching Latitude t-shirts (one blue, one a distinctly faded maroon – nice). It was a brief visit, but we were both rather taken by the beautiful bay area – and given that all our previous knowledge of the place came from Hollywood, we were just happy to see Alcatraz and the crazy hills. Pete’s old housemate from Bristol happened to be on a placement there and showed us the sights and gave us a bed and a hot tub for the night – thanks Mel!
In the morning we picked up a hire car and began our trip north to rejoin Spike, Roxy and 50 degrees. Northern California was warm and beautiful, and with a 20 hour journey up the coast ahead of us we decided to stop at a winery for some tasting, naturally. We were (of course) sensible but it was a lovely place and we got back on the 101 rather reluctantly.
The coastal road is amazing – we drove through giant redwood country (and yes they are giant!), and up past beautiful coastline all the way through Oregon and Washington. Sadly we had to do a fair bit of it at night and in fog, but it’s a long way and we had a date with Canadian TV to keep!
We arrived in Seattle for a very brief stop and jumped on the greyhound to meet Spike and get to Canada, the expedition is back on!
Playing on the iPod: ‘Long road out of Eden’ by The Eagles]]>
In the few hours out of Japan things have taken a turn for the worse though. The turbulent flight didn’t help either of us catch up on sleep after last night’s farewell party, and now we’ve landed in Taipei to be told that our flight to San Francisco (we’re taking the scenic route) is likely to be cancelled due to a typhoon, so we may be here for a few days. Not ideal when there’s a Land Rover to be collected several thousand miles away on another continent! We’re still in the airport and just about to go to hear the latest update. Fingers crossed…
Steve, head of Japan Car Exports, as well as helping us immensely with the shipping, has sorted us out with somewhere to stay and been an all-round legend. In return we’ve been able to help out doing some work for him while he has two of his staff away driving a similar route to ours in a minivan (I’ll stick to the Land Rover thanks). It’s actually been a lot of fun driving little K-trucks around his yard, preparing and loading them for shipping, and we now have a good bank of random knowledge about these funky little vehicles!
Loading a container
The sea of trucks
Through Steve we also seem to have been adopted into the Canadian expat community and we just keep meeting really interesting, generous people. One of the first guys we were introduced to was Lowell (a fellow Fellow of the RGS!) who has a seemingly endless supply of great stories, often from his work with Hope International. He was just finishing a new house and needed a shed built, so we dug out our best carpentry skills and got to work! Although we managed to drag ourselves away from toiling in the Japanese humidity to head out with him to a traditional Japanese bath and also to a lovely spot at the river near Toyota.
The shed that Team Latitude built
Down by the river
Lowell invited us to give a presentation about our trip to the Tokai Japan Canada Society, and it was a lot of fun talking to a bar full of rowdy Canadians, and less rowdy Japanese! It turned out to be a very productive evening as the society very generously agreed to sponsor us, and we also got an invite to repeat our presentation at an English speaking cafe a couple of days later. At both events we met lots more really cool people, and it’s that which has really made our time in Nagoya fly by.
Presentation from the TJCS
We’re set to leave though, having picked up flights yesterday. Spike leaves tomorrow to catch up with some friends before Roxy’s ready for collection, and Pete and I will follow on Saturday. We’ve all got brief stop-overs in Taipei, which should be pretty cool!
We spent this evening at Steve’s house for his young daughter’s birthday party, and she was very reluctant to let Spike leave. It’s a good job we have a lot still to look forward to, or we might be equally reluctant to say goodbye!
Happy Birthday Emma!
Playing on the iPod: ‘Baba O’Reilly’ by The Who]]>
The Japanese leg of the expedition has always had a strange status in our plans, since it`s the only country we are visiting solely for logistical reasons. As the expedition has gone on though, its status has risen as we`ve dreamed of the food, the unique culture, and crucially because of the silly agreement we made in Kazakhstan not to shave until we reached Japanese soil.
Well, we made it, and the clippers were unpacked very swiftly, but in what future historians will call the great shaving disaster of 2008, they didn`t work on Japanese voltage. Hair levels in northern Japan remained dangerously elevated.
A break in the rain
This additional trauma may have helped focus our minds on our goal though – we needed to get to Nagoya in four days, the main highways are expensive toll roads and Japan is a deceptively long country. So we drove. It`s a testament to just how much amazing stuff we`ve seen that on a drive through half of Japan we didn`t get particularly excited by much of the scenery. There are beautiful forested mountains running all the way down the spine of the islands, but there is so much human impact: concrete retainers to stop landslides, concrete barriers off the coast, and of course towns clinging to every inhabitable spot. It`s a product of necessity, with such a high-density population living on islands at such risk from typhoons and earthquakes, but the impression is of a country fighting nature rather than living with it.
Repairs over breakfast
We found a good beach to camp on one night and spent a few hours playing in the sea, but apart from that and a little bit of car maintenance (we’ve worn down the rear brake pads and made a bit of a mess of one of the discs) we didn’t pause for long anywhere. It would have been nice to explore a bit, but it rained for most of the journey so we didn’t mind being in the car!
Pete delves into a paddy field after a terrible throw in a game of Flop (rules to follow)
We arrived in Nagoya on schedule, and with the timing we seem to be blessed with were whisked straight to Obon celebrations (one of the main Japanese festivals). We chatted to our host Steve and his family, then delighted the locals with our attempts at traditional dance!
The next day we finally fulfilled our dreams and proudly rejoined the civilised world of beardlessness. Pete seemed to lose half his head!
Before and after… (the moustache was shortlived)
Spike’s moustache lasted a little longer…
…while Pete went from hair-hero to zero
We`re currently being put up by Steve and enjoying his amazing hospitality while we arrange the shipping and make plans for Canada, as well as addressing the sorry state of our budget! It seems a very different expedition to much of what went before, and we’re facing new challenges; it’s exciting!
Playing on the iPod: `Don’t let the Man Get You Down’ by Fatboy Slim]]>