Canada As a Tourist Destination

One thing I frequently get asked when I’m travelling outside of Canada is, “Is Canada a good tourist destination?”

Travel + Leisure seems to think so since it named Canada its 2017 Destination of the Year. I actually started this post before that came out and that’s what’s prompted me to actually finish the post.

So is Canada a good tourist destination worthy of such an accolade?

Unlike the vast majority of Canadians, I’ve travelled just about the entire country. I’ve been to nine of the ten provinces, two of the three territories, visited most of the major cities, been to almost every major “tourist trap,” and have experienced just about every ecosystem Canada has to offer, from desert to tundra, rainforest to plains, mountains to ocean coast, and more. So I can speak for all of it, not just the part where I’ve lived my whole life and so I believe I’m particularly qualified to answer this question of whether Canada is a good tourist destination.

My answer, with a some reservations tailored to the individual, is YES, Canada is an absolutely amazing tourist destination! And let me add that I feel so privileged to have had a chance to knock off about 99% of my Canada bucket list!

Before I get into the good stuff, let me get the negatives out of the way.

First, Canada is an expensive country. An asker from, say, Western Europe, wouldn’t get nearly the same sticker shock as someone from, say, the Balkans or Mexico. But there are some things in Canada that are pretty much universally prohibitively expensive:

  1. Groceries. While restaurant prices are quite on par with countries in Western Europe that I’ve visited (Spain, the Netherlands, the UK), groceries themselves are not. Our dairy products and produce are much costlier than I’ve seen in other countries. Someone from Japan might find them cheap, but Canada has thus far been the most expensive place I’ve ever had to buy groceries. So self-catering isn’t a guaranteed way to save when visiting Canada, depending on your style of travel. I find that in some more remote locations, you can actually eat much better quality food at a more reasonable price at a restaurant.
  2. Telecom prices in Canada are stupid. You are likely better off to get a Canada add-on to your existing cell phone plan than to buy a pay-as-you go SIM there. For Mexicans, I tell them to look into TelCel’s “sin fronteras” plan before going to Canada.
  3. Travel within Canada is very expensive. I had one lady in Spain say that she wants to visit Montreal and Vancouver. So she thought to fly to Montreal and then, “since [she] would already be in Canada, [she] could just get a cheap flight to Vancouver and fly home from there.” She was shocked to discover that the cost of flying from Montreal to Vancouver was more than the price of flying from Spain to Montreal! I really think that the best way to visit Canada, if you can take the time, is to come for many months and road trip it, preferably in an RV, and that’s not just because I’m biased towards RV travel. It’s what folks who have done it both ways have told me.

Now, what to see in Canada? Well, what do you like? Canada has something for everyone and I cannot off the top of my head think of a tourist trap that isn’t still worth visiting. For the urban-minded, we have world-class cities filled with museums and other cultural events, as well as shopping if that’s your thing. For the outdoorsy type, there is so much choice, from taking a canoeing trip on a lake to kayaking on the Arctic ocean, surfing in the middle of winter on the Vancouver Island, horseback riding on the prairies, and choosing from a myriad of hikes. If you like history, how about visiting Viking ruins, citadels, and ancient totem poles? Quebec offers non-French speakers a chance to travel somewhere that should feel more than a little exotic, plus old Montreal and Quebec City offer a taste of Europe. Canada has a lot to offer foodies as well. Depending on the region you are in, you will find foods from all over the world as well as some interesting local delicacies (Eskimo ice cream or prairie oysters, anyone?).

Really, Canada has so much to offer as a travel destination that it makes me dizzy!

For those on a tight budget and schedule, I highly recommend visiting the National Capital Region. Some will call me biased because Ottawa is my favourite city in the world. But really, coming to this area will give you access to some of Canada’s best museums, easy access to one of our magnificent national parks, and a chance to experience francophonie when you cross the Ottawa River into Gatineau. With extra time, you can also easily get to Kingston, Toronto, and Montreal. But of course, going there means missing out on our quirky Maritimes, all that Newfoundland and Labrador have to offer, our under-appreciated Prairies, and the incredible diversity of British Columbia’s landscapes, never mind the diversity of our northern territories where you can step back in time in an authentic gold rush town or experience life as it has happened for thousands of years in a small native fishing village.

Canada’s climate reputation is generally unwarranted. Regardless of where you go, you can pretty much be guaranteed decent weather three to four months of the year in the summer. In fact, I’ve had nicer summers in Yukon than much further south. For winter, don’t be fooled. 5C in Vancouver in January might sound nice, but it will be very rainy and overcast. You might actually be more comfortable in Regina at -30C, where it will be dry and sunny. The biggest mistake I see tourists make when they come to Canada is to make assumptions about the weather and then being completely inappropriate dressed for it (and it’s usually over dressed!). Do research about the climate of the specific area where you are going at the time of your adventure and then build your wardrobe around that information and the activities you plan to do.

I hope that some of my readers who have never been to Canada will eventually do so. Thank you, Travel + Leisure, for making my home country your 2017 Destination of the Year!

The Year-Round Road to Tuktoyaktuk Is Finally Complete

Long-time readers may remember the heady days of my Klondike summers, when I finally fulfilled my dreams of seeing Canada’s far north. Oh, those days seem so far away now, but they are some of the months I will remember most fondly in my old age. They taught me that dreams really do not have deadlines and that achieving them is particularly sweet after you’d given up hope. I may never again drive the Alaska, Klondike and Dempster Highways again, may never again see a show at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s or fly over Tuktoyaktuk’s pingos, but I did it!

Exploring the north is going to get a little easier for tourists because this coming Wednesday, November 15th, 2017, after years of delays, the all-year gravel road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk is finally going to open. For the first time in Canada’s history, it will be possible to drive year-round to each of our three coasts.

I would like to invite you reread my series about Driving the Dempster Highway and to revisit the towns of Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. I feel privileged to have done so and to have spoken to locals so that I know that while this year-round road will change life in Tuk, in some ways not for the better, this road is ultimately a Good Thing worthy of celebration.

Standing in the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, August 2010

RIP Brutus

I got some very sad news from Haven yesterday, that Charles and Caroline’s beloved dog Brutus had, after a period of decline, finally crossed Rainbow Bridge.

Brutus is the dog who really converted me to dogs and made me think that one day, in the right place and at the right time, I would want such a personable and loyal companion. He was such a sweet soul and a grumpy old boy. I knew that when I cuddled him for the last time before leaving in April that it would be the last time. I’m glad that we got that final week together. It was so very special to get up in the morning and sit by the fire with him and Charles and have my coffee.

Here is Brutus in August 2014, when he was still in his prime.

Brutus, you were well loved and will be sorely missed. Thank you for making our lives a little brighter.

Charles and Caroline, I’m sending hugs across the vast distance that separates us. Far in body, close in spirit. Love you both.

Parched

So far this month, I’m starting to settle into a more “normal” routine. I’ve figured how much I need to work to do better than just scrape by and with decent-paying contracts and working seven days a week, it’s making for pretty short days (about five to six hours of actual typing, plus whatever time I put in for client communications and bookkeeping).

In 2018, I plan to lengthen my work days, but start taking my weekends off, just one a month at first and then moving to taking all of them by the end of the year so that I’m effectively only working three weeks a month. It’s a big step, but most of my current clients don’t work weekends and I’m getting fewer and fewer projects for Saturdays and Sundays. I’m much better off working harder Monday through Friday and saving weekends for the truly special projects that pay well.

So it’s making for relaxed days now compared to June. I get up when I’m ready, sometime between 6:30 and 8:30. Puppy gets his breakfast and play time, I have coffee, and I get to work between 7:00 and 9:00. Even with a lunch break, I can clock out between 4:00 and 6:00. My evenings vary depending on how much I have to cook and if it’s raining. But I usually have time for a good meal, a swim, a play session with puppy, outdoor chores like weeding, and then something on Netflix, the length of which depends on the time I’m done. I wind down with a bit of reading and am usually asleep between 10:00 and 12:00.

What I’m doing is getting used to more concentrated work sessions, something I’ve struggled with over the years, so that I have longer chunks of free time. While it’s worked for me in the last few years to stretch out the work day and take regular small breaks to deal with chores and to run errands, I know that won’t work in Mérida. I’m going to want time in the morning for a walk to get tacos for breakfast. Evenings might include an arts performance like theatre or the opera or some sort of lesson. And the weekends hold so much potential — getaway trips, volunteering, painting, or even just wiling away an afternoon with a dark beer and a good book.

That’s what I was keeping in mind this afternoon when I decided to clock out really early and head to Mérida. I knew I wouldn’t have time during the week. Now that I’ve got some spending money again (thank you, June!), I’m probably going to start going to Mérida more often than I have simply because I never get everything at once. It’s really hard to get all my errands done in one trip here compared to, say, doing a Moose Jaw run for a lot of reasons — traffic, slow service, the heat, having to hunt down things, etc. It would be easier to shop online, but that won’t be possible till I live in the city and then, I won’t need to because going out won’t be a huge production anymore.

At any rate, I got to Mérida around 3:00 (Sunday isn’t a special day here and things are open very late!) and parked at the Gran Plaza, then went in to get lunch at its food court, which was packed since I actually managed to want food at a normal Mexican meal time for once. I was planning on sushi, but a savvy businessman at a Yucatecan stand called me offer to try some samples. Get this: he’s a Mexican-born Canadian citizen from Edmonton and he’s only here to help his family launch their restaurant. We had such a laugh at practically being neighbours! He hates it here because of the heat and dreams of going home to the snow!

Everything I sampled was wonderful and I was almost full when I was done, but I still put in an order for some salbutes, deep fried pockets of tortillas with very specific toppings — shredded chicken or turkey, lettuce, tomato, pickled onion, and sliced avocado. I also requested something else, but before I get into that, I want to say that I had a heart attack when I went to pay the $63 I owed for lunch and my wallet wasn’t in my purse! I apologised and ran down to my truck where, thankfully, the wallet was on the passenger seat. I think it’s time to replace my beloved tote bag with something with a zip top. 🙁

At any rate, my lunch was waiting when I got back. I had a bit of work to find a table, but finally did. This is not the most prettily staged meal, but anyway:

That bowl contains hard boiled eggs (he forgot that I told him to leave them out) with turkey parts cooked in an oily black sauce. This is called “relleno negro” (black filling/stuffing) and it is the most wonderful thing in Yucatán cuisine. Imagine the most beautiful performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluja” that you have ever heard — that’s what relleno negro tastes like to me. I’ve never had it like this, whole turkey parts bathed in sauce, only as shredded and quite dry on a tortilla, and it was all I could do not to drink the contents of the bowl. But I know from last year that greasy Yucatán cuisine does not agree with me in any sort of major quantity, so I resisted.

Yucatán cuisine is so different from what I’m used to back in the northwest. The staples here are different (more sour orange than lime, in my experience), it doesn’t have as many veggies, and the food tends not to be spicy unless you add some very strong habanero-based sauces. It’s not at all what I think of when I think of “Mexican” food and makes me eager to discover other regional cuisines!

So lunch ended up being so yummy I don’t care that I didn’t get sushi. 🙂

Of course, I wanted a little something sweet after because I’m pretty sure I’m addicted to ice cream, and, thankfully, there was an abundance of choice.

I saw this video a little while ago on a travel blog and thought, “I’d like to try that some day!”

Today was the day! There’s a rolled ice cream stand at the Gran Plaza!

I requested peach, strawberry, and pineapple in mine. The boy working at the stand did all the work, including chopping the fruit, manually, but the gal blitzed mine first with a hand blender. I wish she had done it for a second less than she did because I didn’t really have any fruit chunks. I thought the results were quite pretty and the show had made the $45 worth it, so I was delighted when I was told I could add three toppings at no extra cost! I went with what is called a marzipan-style peanut candy that’s very popular, Oreos, and shredded coconut.

To be honest, I found the ice cream a bit bland. I think it might work better with stronger-flavoured fruits or with some cookies mixed into the cream. I’d do it again if I want a lighter frozen treat (this was so perfect after my heavy lunch), but not if I want “real” ice cream.

I ran a couple more errands in Gran Plaza and then headed to the Office Max a short ways south, stopping at an Oxxo to top up my phone. I had a long list for Office Max and got most of the items. It infinitely amused me for some reason that Spanish decided to add an accent to an English word and call it a day:

The word “colgantes” is reminding me of the linguistic process I’ve been making in the last few weeks. It is absolutely astonishing. It stands to reason that the more words I know, the fewer new ones I need to pick up and so linguistic acquisition is proving to be exponential. I’m reading a young adult novel, a reading level that is good for me because the stories aren’t too childish, but the vocabulary is basic and limited, and I’m really seeing phrases I’ve struggled with for years finally sink in. I mean, really basic things like sin embargo (however or nevertheless), demás (the rest), and tampoco (neither).

I’ve been working on a particular past tense and that’s what they’re using in the book so I’m getting comfortable seeing and hearing it even if I haven’t started using it. And I’m catching myself daily using words I didn’t realise I had acquired, like when I said, “Puedo traerte a casa” (I can bring you home) to my cleaner to the other day, the first time I’ve ever used traer although I’ve understood it now for a bit. And colgante (hanging or pendant) is one of the words that’s been everywhere lately so I’m sure it won’t be long before I utter it and make it mine.

I still have so many stumbles and moments where I’m tongue tied or that people sound like the adults in Charlie Brown, but I’m starting to believe that I’m going to master Spanish well enough to be able to do my master’s degree in it. And with that, I just realised that I need to take Spanish courses at university — not as as second language, but as a first one. I’ll have to go speak with an advisor at a university once I’m settled this fall and see what s/he suggests I take to get me on track to taking advanced university courses in Spanish. With public university and cost of living here being so inexpensive, the idea of getting a master’s (and maybe even Ph.D.) just for the fun of it seems so much more realistic than it did in Canada. But I digress immensely.

It was getting awfully close to Puppy’s supper time when I made it back to my truck so I only made a quick dash into “Mega,” mostly to pick up wine and beer. Which is where we get to the title of this post. I got to the till around 5:30 and the cashier took my booze, put it on the counter behind me, and said, “Liquor sales close at 5:00 on Sundays.” I took that as a custom I wasn’t aware of and was disappointed more than surprised, but the Mexican guy in line behind me was shocked. He argued that there was no signage to that effect and that I should be allowed my booze. I appreciated the effort, but he lost that argument.

I could have probably stopped at a Six store en route to pick up a six-pack, but by the time I got in my truck, I was ready to get home. I got in and gave Puppy his supper. Then, I went to get his Kong to partially fill it with peanut butter for his dessert (he’s a little underweight so he’s getting extra rations), but he snatched the Kong away from me, eying me defiantly. I shrugged and said to him, “It’s your loss. I was going to give you a treat.”

His eyes went round and he dropped the Kong and kicked it over to me.

I think that proves that my dog understands English…

I’ll leave you with a shot of tonight’s full moon: