Let me state the obvious – I love to travel. If I didn’t, I would be the world’s biggest masochist. I’ve lived on four continents, in six different countries. I’ve studied, worked, and traveled abroad on a regular basis since my first trip to New Zealand as a 19 year-old. I’m comfortable navigating airports, can read a subway map with ease, and can learn to bargain in near any language. All of this is to say that I’ve pushed my limits many times, and have learned tricks to getting the most out of my time in a place. Having seen many things this world has to offer, I can still confidently say “Canada is pretty great.”
After all of my travels, I still believe that my little part of Canada is one of the world’s most beautiful places. I’ve extensively explored Canada’s two westernmost provinces (British Columbia and Alberta,) and they are still among my favourite places on earth. Flying into Calgary, seeing the vast plains below coming to a jarring halt at the rugged Rocky Mountains is a sight to behold. It’s also a sight that means I’m home. I consider myself lucky to be able to say that.
I think many times we take for granted where we come from. We see the sights, hear the sounds, and taste the food that is all around us each day – many times without giving it a second thought. It’s not until those sights, sounds, and tastes are gone that we truly understand what we’re missing. Unfortunately, we many times need to have a comparison in order to judge what we currently have. Travel gives us the requisite in which to judge.
We don’t realize what we’ll miss until it’s gone. Missing family, friends, your own bed, or a well equipped kitchen may be things that you think of before leaving. Other things come up once your trip abroad has begun. I missed Indian food while in Colombia. Never thought that would happen. I missed skiing while in Brazil. Who misses snow when there’s world famous beaches at your doorstep?
Of course the beauty of missing what’s at home, is that you get to come home to the people, places, foods, and language that you hold dear. In short, you get to be home. My latest trip home made me realize just how much I love where I’m from. Being back in Canada, and for the majority of the time back in my home in Calgary, were three of the best months of my year so far. I’ve seen so much,this year but sharing time with the people that I love, enjoying a perfect Canadian summer, and celebrating milestones were all things that no beach or mountaintop could give me.
Being home for me was also an opportunity to explore anew the places that surround me. I maintain that a fall day cycling over well paved roads, through freshly harvested fields, with the majestic Rocky Mountains in the not-so-distant horizon, is one of the best experiences you could have on two wheels. Right up there with some of my more exotic cycling experiences, including cycling Colombia’s coffee zone, or Italy’s Tuscany.
I’m lucky to have explored much of Canada’s West. It’s full of places that are of near-untouched beauty. Canada is the proud owner of being the least populated country in the world per square kilometre. In fact, each Canadian, if spread equally across Canada would have approximately one square kilometre to themselves. This distribution, obviously is not the case, but Canada is extremely sparsely populated. As Canadians we feel like Calgary, a city of one million people, is a very big city. Obviously when set on an international scale this is far from true.
This lack of civilization gives us, as Canadians, many pristine places to explore. Our urban centres are dynamic, multicultural, clean, and interesting, but I believe Canada’s true treasures are found outside of the cities. Many of the posters promoting Canada to the outside world are of the lakes, falls, mountains, glaciers, forests, and oceans. This is for good reason. Canada is spoiled with some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Other countries may have equal beauty, but it is rare to find such beauty with such tranquility. We’re not used to sharing. We love our country, but are a bit uncomfortable with crowds.
To explain this a little better, I’ll share an experience of hiking in South Korea. I spent an exchange semester in Suwon, South Korea. Suwon is a suburb of Seoul. It’s a beautiful city, with mountains all around it, a giant, historic palace in its centre, and plenty to explore. On top of that, Koreans are passionate hikers. While many Canadians and Americans retire to a life on the golf course, Koreans retire to a life of hiking. I think this is terrific. Hiking is a much more sustainable and beautiful pastime, in my opinion, than golf. However, this brings a conundrum. The paths that are accessible around greater Seoul are packed with people. You can find stunning views, well kept paths, and many challenges within the limits of greater Seoul, however you will be hard pressed to find solitary. With 24 million people in greater Seoul, and a passion for hiking, good luck finding a quiet trail. Any given weekend tens of thousands of people will be on a trail. You’re literally marching in a line with no end to the people ahead of you, nor behind you. The sites are fantastic, but it’s a strange experience for a Canadian used to hiking alone.
As a contrast, Vancouver is Canada’s third largest urban centre. There are about three million people in urban Vancouver. If you drive an hour north of Vancouver you are in unspoiled coastal mountains. You could get out of your vehicle, hike for three days, and see less people than bears. If oceans are more your scene, you could take a sea kayak right from the city centre of Vancouver, and within half an hour not even know that you were close to a major city.
One of my favourite places on earth is a place called Desolation Sound, which is about 3oo kms north of Vancouver. Although it’s only 300 kms away, it is very secluded. You need two ferries to get there, and it takes a minimum of five hours by car. Once there, you are truly in a magical place. A few years ago my ex and I rented a kayak for five days and went paddling into Desolation Sound. I still talk about that trip. The 2000+ m snow-capped mountains rise straight out of the pristine waters; otters play in front of you, and purple starfishes decorate the mossy green rock at low tide. You camp under the stars, and spend your days in watery near-solitude.
Another one of my passions is skiing. I love being on snow. As you can maybe tell by now, however, I don’t like sharing my nature with thousands of others. This means that my favourite snow sports are cross country skiing, and back-country skiing. These two beautiful sports bring you away from the hustle of a ski resort, and put you directly in contact with winter’s silence and solitude. Most of the time it is just you, your friend, and your breath. The sound of your own breath, powerfully pumping oxygen to your pumping heart, meanwhile expelling clouds of carbon dioxide to the crisp mountain air is a thing of beauty. All you can hear is the slide of your skis against the snow, and your own heart’s beat. The silence of a Canadian winter is a true wonder. This silence, and exploring winter’s natural beauty, in my opinion is best enjoyed through human-powered activity.
I’ve painted a picture of open skies, beautiful oceans, and majestic mountains. Within this picture, I’ve woven the seasons that change our landscape. As Canadians we gauge the passing of time through the passing of the seasons. It was an odd experience for me to be living in Medellin, Colombia, where the only seasons are: rain, and no rain. Given it’s proximity to the Equator, Medellin’s daily sunlight changes about ten minutes from the longest day to the shortest. It’s maximum daily average high temperature, to it’s lowest daily high change even less – about two or three degrees. Great! Right? Yes, but it’s still strange for a person who judges time through seasons passing.
All of this is to say that I love where I come from. I love the people. I love the landscapes. I love the food. I love the seasons. I love Canada. It’s a great place to be from, and I will always enjoy coming home. Just because I wander, doesn’t mean that I am any less proud of my home. In fact, the wandering gives me a new-found appreciation of just how much we have in Canada. I feel blessed to be Canadian. This is part of who I am. I carry this with me, along with my Canadian passport, wherever I go. Oh, Canada.