Hello Canada (World)

The bike and kayak tour was supposed to take five hours. It took seven. And by the time we got back to the Summit, the only thing that saved me from being told to sleep on the couch that night was the incredible couples massage at the Taman Sari.

They were waiting for us when we arrived, flushed and filthy from the day’s outing. Our two young Indonesian masseurs suggested we go to our rooms to shower first and then return for the 90-minute treatment that would soothe our aching muscles. When we entered the low-lit couples room we found a tiny thong on each massage table.

“What’s this?” I wondered.

“We’re supposed to put it on, to cover our private parts,” Hiromi said.

“It’s too small,” I said. “I’d rather be naked.”

“Just do it their way.”

So I put on this ridiculous piece of lace that wasn’t tight enough to really hold anything in and Hiromi started laughing.  I knew we were back on track.  The whole idea of traveling together all these years is to not only experience new things but to amuse each other. I knew that Hiromi now had a new image of me that she could invoke any time she needed a laugh.

The massages, on the other hand, were no laughing matter. They were both spiritual and cleansing. They used different herbs to scrub our bodies, knead our muscles, and enrich our skin. Then they covered our hair in coconut cream and went to work there. We were tingling from head to toe. And when it was over they led us to a two-person bathtub where we sank into a warm, Jacuzzi bubble bath. They even had some fruit and hot tea to enjoy while we soaked. I wasn’t sure if we walked or floated back to our room.

Hiromi didn’t think she was good enough to play golf at one of the courses in Whistler, but I convinced her otherwise. “We’ll just play nine holes,” I said. “Nicklaus North is not as hard or hilly as the Chateau Whistler, so let’s see if the golf pro there is free to give you a few tips. If you aren’t comfortable, you can just sit in the golf cart and watch me play.”

“I’m not going to waste my time watching you,” she said.

“Didn’t think so,” I said.

So off we went to meet Gavin Eckford, the club pro at Nicklaus North, who agreed to join us on our half round. “Why don’t you ride with Hiromi,” I suggested. “She won’t listen to my advice; maybe she’ll listen to you.”

“I’d listen if you knew what you were talking about,” Hiromi said. “But you’re not such a good golfer.”

“Hey, I shoot in double digits,” I said.  High double digits, true, but who’s counting?

Inviting Gavin along proved to be a smart move. He helped Hiromi with her swing, taught her to hit the tee without the ball for her practice swing, and try to duplicate that once the ball was on the tee. He teed up balls for her in the middle of the fairway, got her to keep her head down when she putted, and made the nine holes enjoyable for her.  I, on the other hand, was on my own, as I played my usual game of one good shot/one bad, two good shots/two bad. But I had fun because I got to take my wife with me and didn’t have to play with her. This is a good lesson to learn when traveling: find a willing club pro to play with your spouse and you’ll both be happy at the end of the round.

We ate at two highly rated restaurants in Whistler: the Fifty Two 80 Bistro and Bar at the Four Seasons Resort and Araxi in the Village Square. The Chilean sea bass and  smoked duck were worth sharing at the Fifty Two 80, and the gazpacho, matane shrimp, roasted garlic halibut, Berkshire pork, and molten chocolate cake, complete with five champagne and wine pairings at the award-winning Araxi, matched what we had at Cin Cin’s, Araxi’s sister restaurant.

We even found some time to wander over to Longhorn’s Bar opposite the gondola lift in the town square, where the Australian and New Zealand guides get together to party in the evenings. Alex and Reese had told us about it and we figured after putting up with us as we zipped, pedaled and paddled our way through Whistler, we’d down a pint in their honor.

With Vancouver and Whistler behind us, it was time to board the Rocky Mountaineer for the two-day Gold Leaf service train to Jasper.  This trip covered the Fraser Discovery Route. It was named after the gold rush days from the late 1850s, when prospectors came from all over the world after gold flakes and nuggets were discovered in the Fraser River north of Jasper, between the Cariboo and Rocky Mountains. As with the two other train routes covered by the Rocky Mountaineer (from Calgary/Banff to Vancouver and from Vancouver to Jasper), this train ride, inaugurated in 2006, lived up to its promise of being “The Most Spectacular Train Trip in the World.”

Well, in all fairness to the world, I haven’t been on some of the famous trains that go through Russia or South America, but I would imagine it would be hard to top the scenery in British Columbia and Alberta. The train takes you through forests (where you can see first hand how the pine beetle has infected and killed tens of thousands of pine trees), into mountains (those glaciers are diminishing), over bridges, across rivers, and next to lakes. Eagles and hawks can be spotted overhead, bears and elk in the distance.  And all along the way as you’re being served sumptuous breakfasts and lunches, poured champagne, wine, beer, whiskey or liquors throughout the day, and told when an interesting photo opportunity is approaching, you’re also being served up a history of the area.  So not only do you pass by lakes named Anderson, Seton, Kelly, Green, La Hache, Williams and Moose, and through towns called Lillooet, Soda Creek, Woodpecker, Red Rock and Tete Jaune Cache, but you get to learn how the Chinese, Scots, Kiwis, Russians and English fought for their rights, built and lost townships, and created routes out of backwoods and wilderness.

Here are the differences between driving and taking the train: on the train, you can sleep when tired; you can drink without worrying about altering your perception; you can go to the bathroom any time you like; you don’t have to look for a place to eat or a petrol station to fill your tank; you can read, listen to your iPod, play cards, work on crossword puzzles and Sodoku or snap photographs from your comfortable seat; and you can see things you can’t see any other way, since the tracks have been laid through mountains and by rivers where no highway exists.  And when you get to your overnight stop, your luggage is taken directly to the hotel that is part of your ticket and taken on to your final destination the next morning, so you don’t have to deal with it.  In other words, the Rocky Mountaineer has made their train trips as hassle free as possible. All you have to do is show up.

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