Thursday, December 18, 2008

Banff and Calgary - Day 2 (Part 2)

Walking across the large parking lot from the hot springs, we arrived at the gondola. We were disappointed to find that the last trip down was in 20 minutes, and the operator told us there is about 45 minutes worth of trails and sights to see up the mountain. It was a good thing that I didn't hike up there! I might have been stuck up the mountain if I did, and have to hike all the way back, downhill on slippery icy trails. Anyway, we decided to do the Banff Gondola some other day.

The walk back was long and cold. Near the Banff Springs Hotel, we saw a buck with large antlers leaping out of the woods to cross the road, which startled me a surprisingly large amount. I started taking pictures of it, and noticed that no one else seemed to have cared it was there. I guess the people who have been in Banff for a while find deer in town just as interesting as I find squirrels around where I live. Afterwards, I took a quick walk around downtown just to see it, and bought a phone card I can use to call my parents. The walk back up the hill to the hostel in the dark was both relaxing and haunting. It was great to see the stars glowing brightly against the backdrop of tall mountain peaks. However, I kept my eye out for bears, wolves, and cougars that may be lurking in the dense forest around the road.

When I got back, I took a shower to rid myself of the stench of sulphur I took away from the springs. While doing so, I made the mistake of not taking my keys with me to the shower, and was locked out of my room in my boxers! Well, I figure I was lucky this was the only time this has happened to me so far. Not bad, being locked out in your boxers only once in about three months worth of hostel stays! Seeing that it was well below freezing outside and the reception was in a different building, I decided to look for help in the hallways. Knocking on my room didn't help as no one was in there, so I knocked on Kim's room, which just happened to be right beside mine. I was so relieved to see Kim's smiling face open the door. After about ten minutes of standing in the halls in my boxers and sheepishly smiling at everyone passing me giving me curious looks and glares, Kim finally returned with the key. She told me that it took her a while as she just realized she didn't know my last name after they asked for it, but mercifully, the receptionist gave her the benefit of the doubt.

Since it was still early, I just relaxed in my room for a while, where I met one of my new roommates, Bethany, who just arrived from England. She was going to stay all winter here and look for a job. At dinner with Beth and Kim, I tried Kokanee beer, and Beth tried poutine. It was a challenge not to eat her poutine as I was hungry, and I had been looking forward to returning to Canada and eating poutine for nearly a year as I just can't seem to find it in the Bay Area in the States! Afterwards, we went to the bar, where the real fun for the day started!

My time at the bar was spent in two distinct phases.

I split a pitcher of beer with Kim. We met Beth's friends from England, who had all just arrived and were also looking for work. They were immediately absorbed in their conversations, which left my and Kim to talk for a long time and drink. Soon, we were on our second pitcher of beer. At this time, I started seeing things in a more rosy light, and the hostel bar was getting full. One of the English guys had a Japanese version of cup-and-ball called kendama. We all marvelled at how ridiculously good he was at it and all of us took turns trying to replicate his moves in the most sloppy manner as were were all starting to feel our drinks by now. This is when I met the Kiwis sitting beside us as they also tried their hand at kendama.

As we are finishing our second pitcher of beer and contemplating when to get our third, I noticed that the Kiwis had a huge pile of broken straws in front the then. The bartender, a feisty but friendly Asian girl came over, picked up the pile, and threw it at them and they shouted friendly insults and witty responses at each other. Curious, I leaned over and asked what they were up to. One of them held out a tightly coiled straw and told me to flick it. I was enthralled by the straw popping and breaking cleanly in half, but apparently everyone else has seen this before. I'm not sure how to missed out on such an amazing trick for so long in my life! At this time, I was having fun, along with everyone else around me. As we finished our third pitcher, the Swiss from my room came into the bar and after a short talk, he bought a shot of J├Ągermeister for me. Now, if I had been on the road for a few weeks, this would be no problem, but seeing that I haven't drank that much in a while, was still working on getting over a cold, and I had only got three hours of sleep the night before, I was really feeling the one and a half pitchers of beer plus a shot.

We spent the rest of the night talking and stealing straws from the bartenders, creating pile after pile of broken straws in front of us. The Kiwis told me that they were in Canada as part of the New Zealand Army and Navy who were undergoing bomb disposal training in Medicine Hat which they endearingly called Med-Hat. At this point, I was thinking unclearly enough to join the fray when they started arm wrestling each other even though I knew they were military men and I haven't practised kung fu or been to the gym for about half a year since I moved. Of course, I was thoroughly and quickly humiliated. Before going to bed, Kim, the Swiss, and I stumbled out into the cold to watch the stars for a while. We finally wobbled back to our rooms at 3 in the morning. One important development from this night in the bar was that I proposed renting a car the next day to explore Lake Louise, which Kim and the Kiwis enthusiastically agreed to. The unfortunate thing about that was that we agreed to meet in the lobby at 10am.

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