Tag Archives: Banff

Final Push to Alaska

We crossed into the State of Montana while we were still in Yellowstone National Park. That shows you how big the park is. There were wildfires through the State and visibility was highly reduced in some places due to smoke. Montana is beautiful with high mountain passes and very scenic landscape. We loved it there and the 80mph speed limit was a plus too. 

We briefly crossed into Idaho which had a French sounding city called Coeur d’Alene named after a native American tribe. Soon after we crossed into Spokane,  Washington which to my surprise was a flat Savannah-like, dusty grassland. I don’t know why but I’ve always thought of Washington State as a green and rainy kinda place. I was so wrong. 

Seattle was next on our itinerary. Crazy traffic,  cyclists everywhere,  many bodies of water,  bridges, ferries and islands best describe this city.  We were able to get the car on a 30 minute ferry ride to Bainbridge Island. What great hidden gem so close to the big city. The view of Seattle from this island was amazing. Luckily it wasn’t raining while we were there. We also had the car serviced here ready for the final leg of the journey. 

We had to cross into Canada to start our final push to Alaska. The thing is when  Canada customs learn that you are military, they want to search your car for guns. Luckily they had already searched the car the last time we crossed into Canada enroute to Montreal. They quickly let us go this time round. We went into Vancouver and headed for the Capilano suspension bridge.

It was an interesting experience hanging on a suspended bridge with at least other fifty people swinging side to side while carrying a baby.. quite a balancing act I tell you. 

From Vancouver we headed towards Calgary stopping in Smoky Kamloops due to wildfires and the most beautiful part of Canada in my opinion: Banff and Lake Louise. The small town on the base of the mountains and the nearby lake are so scenic, words cannot begin to do justice to this place.

We took a break in Calgary, Alberta for a few days.. it was such a welcome do-nothing-but-eat-and-sleep kinda break. After two days we headed towards Grand Prairie via Edmonton. This was the last city in civilization before we hit the bunduz of Canada. 

We hit the the start of the Alaska highway at Dawson Creek and we were truly in the wild wild west of Canada. Hundreds and hundreds of miles a day before we got to these cities in the middle of nowhere: Fort Nelson, Watson Lake, Haines Junction. The accommodation options in these towns was only slightly better than the lodgings we have in rural Kenya. A bed,  shower,  a small TV and…. heater. I guess due to the harsh winters. No breakfast,  air conditioning.. basic being the key word. Fuel was being sold in remote lodges in litres. Between $1.20-$1.40 a litre. It was expensive. Along the way we stopped asst the famous Liard hotsprings in British Columbia too.

Food was limited and we survived on what little lodge cafes and gas station delis had. There were so many recreational vehicles (RVs) on the Alaska highway. So many people, mainly retirees make trip every year. But we saw bears,  bison,  mountain sheep even though they looked like goats. Those sheep can climb rocks.. wow!!

We finally made it to the Alaska-Canada border after 2.5 weeks on the road. They say it’s either winter or the road construction season. We were held up on numerous occasions as we had to wait  for escort vehicles through construction zones. Rural Alaska is very remote with only a gas station,  motel and restaurant in some places. 

We headed to Fairbanks for a well deserved second break. While there we took a trip to the Denali park where we saw some grizzly bears and Caribou. It was surreal to see them feeding in the distance. 

After a few more days of rest we headed into Anchorage,  our home for the next couple of years.  We had covered 8,700 miles or 14,000 kilometres. The trip of our lives. The car had performed amazingly well and the wife and young feels had been such great sports for such a long trip. We’ll do it again at the end of our tour God  willing. 

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Canada

Where do I even start..Canada was awesome, scenic, beautiful. I loved it there. So different from the US.

Let me start with the Immigration side of things. With a green card I didn’t need a visa with my Kenyan passport. I went through immigration in Houston without incident. As you might know, CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) don’t stamp your passport as you exit the US. On arrival in Canada, I showed my green card and passport, answered a few questions including “Have you been to West Africa recently?” Yes, Ebola questions just in case. You never know 🙂

I used public transport as my pal was working. It was easy to use, got tickets and I was on my way. I followed directions and voila..I was ‘home’. I’m grateful for my traveling years in Africa. Nothing is impossible especially in Canada..until.

I tried to get a SIM card as roaming with my US carrier was going to cost me an arm and a leg. 30 or 60 bucks for 120 or 300MB respectively. Too expensive I thought until I tried Canada carriers. First to find a shop selling SIM cards was next to impossible unless you went to a mall. I managed to get 1GB data plan with $0.15 calling or receiving per minute. At least I could be on Whatsapp with the Missus..and have Google maps on my phone.

I happened to land just in time for the Calgary Stampede. It’s got nothing to do with stampeding of any sort but more like the Houston Rodeo aka Horse carnival aka Kenyan ASK Show for those of you who went for the Nairobi International Show.

My hosts were able to get tickets for a Stampede sneak peek event and it was great. They put up quite the show. The next day they had a parade through downtown Calgary and free pancake breakfast all over town. We managed to see the first but we looked for the pancakes in vain. I guess it was the first day and the pancakes were not ready. Bars open at 8 in the morning and close at 3 in the morning. Let’s just say it’s the biggest event that Calgary sees during the year.

I checked out the military museum. The Canadian military is complicated to say the least and the Queen of England features somewhere in there. Actually Britain features quite a lot in the history of the military. It was great seeing all the military hardware quite close. You all know by now I love anything military.

I checked out the ‘patio’ life in downtown Calgary. People love being on the patio bars all over town. It’s summer and it won’t last too long so they get out when they can. It was a great carnival in town. If you work in downtown, there are company networking parties during the 10 day Stampede week and you get to drink at ‘work’. Canadians man…

I went to the Spruce Meadows which is the local horse derby. It was a family day out and again it reminded me of the British. We have a racecourse in Kenya and there was betting and all the official-ness that comes with horse derbies. It was a race course but a jumping-over-obstacles-kind-of-derby. I don’t know what they call that horse jumping stuff.

I got a rental and drove up the mountains to Jasper National Park. The drive was 3+ hours but the views were breath-taking. There were glaciers all over the place and so many lakes along the way. I don’t know what it is about the glacier water but it does look bluish in color. God’s creation at it’s best.

The funny thing is there were so many Japanese tourists at the glaciers. I guess Canada is a big tourist destination for them. There is a gondola (big ice vehicle) that takes people on the glaciers. I didn’t get to ride in it as there were hundreds of Japanese tourists waiting to get their tickets :). I hiked up to the base of the glaciers although the gondola would have taken me closer.

The drive back was more relaxed, I stopped at nearly all the lakes and took my time being one with nature. Amazing Canada is what it is. I got to stop in Banff and had elk burger.. I know. Random stuff. I was told to try Beaver tail too but I was too full to even look for it.

I had a great trip and will be back sometime to tour some more.

Random thing when I was exiting. US Immigration was at the Calgary Airport. Weird. I went through US Immigration before I even left Canada. CBP were there and even collected the Blue customs card. When I landed back in the US, we went directly into local terminal and just connected.

Next stop. Kenya.

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