Friday, September 23, 2011

Southern BC - smells grass and tastes peaches...

After Rockies we didn’t head straight to Vancouver as we thought we’ll do, but - driven by stories about exceptional beauty of valleys, uniqueness of towns, warm lakes and sunny weather and best fruit and veggie farming in BC – we just couldn’t resist and were looping around  The Kootenays and Okanagan Valley for over a month. We probably did an extra 1000 km, but it was worth it. 

Kootaneys was our destination for two reasons – hot springs and Nelson. BC is famous for hot springs in general, but Kootaneys is definitely the ‘hot spot’. Just within maybe 30 km around a small town called Nakusp one could probably spend a week soaking each day in different pool. There is a book called  'Hot Springs of Western Canada' by Woodsworths; it describes all developed, undeveloped and supposed-to-exist thermal springs in BC and north-west US, with all details about pools and directions how to get there. We had an opportunity to have a look at it and some of the undeveloped ones are in very amazing spots; unfortunately they are normally not easily accessible (some only by plane or boat!) and there wasn’t any on our way worth the effort of half day hike or cycling 30 km uphill; so we visited two developed ones, which we enjoyed a lot. First, Canyon Hot Springs were in the right spot; just after Rogers Pass, the last big climb of Rockies and so our joints and muscle were so grateful for this bath. The others – Ainsworth Hot Springs are interesting for its couriosity – a cave. They were first discovered by miners and greatly appreciated after a day of hard work. To help the water flow the miners dig a U-shape cave. Nowadays there is a big resort around but they kept the original cave. The thermal water is full of calcium, so evaporating it leaves sediment on the walls, which creates this amazing shapes; walking throught that caves feels like being in mother’s earth intestine.
There is not a single big city in west Kootane and that’s what’s so great about this place. All towns are small and cute, all of them by the lake, surrounded by mountains, with their little coffee shops, boutiques, art galleries, farmers market, all stocking and promoting local products. And each of them has different story to say – whether it is a history of silver mining, old railway crossing, or some nature treasures or curiosities. But there is one that we heard about miles before - Nelson. Place that for some reasons attracts all kinds of weirdoes (in the most positive meaning this word can have!) and thanks to them, I believe, has this unique friendly and open atmosphere. It is a place from ’60, hippie place, some say (easy to agree with it at first glance – never seen so many guys with long hair and dreadlocks in one town!:). Place, where you can meet the whole bunch of people with interesting professions, hobbies and stories to tell. Town, with so much life on the streets, where people have time to slow down, sit in one of many coffee shops and just enjoy conversation, go to a park and play guitar or just wander around; interesting place…
On the way to Okanagan we passed through ‘hay country’, Slocan Valley, where the smell of freshly cut grass and the sound of watering machines followed us all the time; and as we cycled the grass fields has been gradually replaced with orchards – we hit Okanagan, the tropics of Canada. This valley is apparently the northernmost tip of a dessert stretching between two mountain ranges - The Rockies and Cascades – all the way down to Mexico. And has just the right climate for fruit and vine plantations. We happened to be there just on time for cherries and peaches season as well as any sorts of veggies, we had lots of them! Places like that are obviously great for seasonal jobs, we heard about opportunities for making good money there, we even considered getting some jobs ourselves, but haven’t really try hard to get one. Well, the job found us….

That’s our story on a ‘China Farm’
We were offered a job on an organic veggie farm – help with weeding. We heard before that weeding is the worst of all seasonal jobs you can get there, but we thought ‘nothing can be that bad that you cannot do it for a week’. We were told that they are ‘demanding, but good people’ on this farm and we thought ‘we can work hard, we will do our best’. What we didn’t know was that they were Chinese! (Please anybody, don’t feel offended, we have nothing against any nations, it was just such a stereotypical experience) The weeds were huge, some like a meter tall and there was plenty of them, sometimes you couldn’t see what is supposed to grow there (that is all about organic apparently…) and so we worked hard – those who know us imagine us getting up at 5:45am, just to be on the field at 7am, working for 10 hours under Okanagan sun with temperatures reaching 35C, with just 2 hours brake in the middle of the day, squatting or kneeing all the time. Apparently  it wasn’t enough – Chinese people in the age between 20 and 80 were on the field at 6am working without a single break (not exaggerating!) for drink, pee or stretch until 1pm, took break for lunch (hopefully some water and pee as well) and were back to work at 3pm (or earlier) to work for another 5 hours. And like that 7 days a week. And so not surprisingly everybody was tired, overwhelmed by job that needs to be done, not in a mood for friendly conversations ‘halloes’ and ‘how-are-yous’.
We stayed there 6 days, made the money we wanted and were gone as quick as we could.  We are happy we did it, that was good experience, but, to us, it not the right way…
The day we left the farm we were invited for a BBQ by other seasonal workers. That was their leaving party, it took part in the back yard at their bosses’; we barbequed veggies they used to pick, the bosses happened to have a jam session with their friends the same evening; so there was good local food, local wine, life music and all those people laughing, joking and enjoying the evening together…

We are now in Portland, Oregon, US; BC seems distant already... we had some good time in Vancouver and met great people, cycled through rain forest in Washington (had some rainy days, but not very many luckily) and now having few days off in Portland and getting to know this apparently 'best for cycling city in US'. More pics and stories coming soon!


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