Katherine Stephens

Comments (0) Interviews

Wauchope woman, Kathryn Stephens chats with Chrissy Jones about a recent trip to the Canadian Rockies. What makes Kathryn’s holiday different from anyone else’s? A car accident in 1992 left Kathryn unable to see or smell. This hasn’t stopped her though, from completing a journey that many of us would love to undertake, but never seem to have the time for.

> Well Kathryn, you have just spent a month in Canada. How did the trip come about?

A month in western parts of Canada with my trusty travel companion, my mother, came about after a night of theatre at Port Players when I went to the bathroom (washroom in Canadian). My school counsellor mate, Dawn, whose teacher exchange had been approved, had been in my mother’s ear! It just goes to show you never know what might happen when you go to the toilet!

> When you can’t see (or smell), how do you experience another country?

You have to hear it, feel it and taste it! It also helps to have someone describe it! I must admit feeling a bit sorry for my mum, who had to bear the vast majority of the responsibility.

Canada is a very big country, so where were we going to go? Dawn and her husband, Mark, are in Calgary, Alberta for 2010, so that was the obvious place, but where else?

Travelworld Wauchope looked after all of that and more. A bus/train tour saw us do the Canadian Rockies, Vancouver, Vancouver Island and a day trip to Whistler as well.

It really is amazing to experience a culture that on the one hand has some similarities yet can be so different – customs and food, too. Then there is the thing when you open your mouth to speak – all of a sudden, you are the different one – and your accent can turn heads!

> What was your itinerary?

We did the disorientating thing of flying out of Sydney, direct to Vancouver and arriving Vancouver time before we’d even taken off from Kingsford Smith!

Thankfully, no jet lag for me. After being on a plane for 14 hours, exercise was in order. Stanley Park is a great asset to the city. Imagine the size of Sydney’s Centennial Park, but in the position of Sydney’s Botanical Gardens, and you get something of it.

Our first night in Canada was punctuated by ice hockey! A virtual religion in Canada, our hotel was next to the Dome, home of the Winter Olympics ice hockey games. Ironically, the match was between Vancouver and Calgary, our next stop! It was obvious who won the match that night – the street celebrations went on for some time!

It was so good to see my friends Dawn and Mark after the 4 months or so that they’ve been gone. Dawn, a culture vulture, had plumbed the depths of the local entertainment guide. She had planned our timetable for the entire fortnight of our visit.

> You obviously loved Calgary – tell us about it.

Calgary, the home of ‘that’ stampede, has around 1.1 million people. It has a very vibrant theatre and music life, seven days/nights a week. Talk about spoilt for choice.

Calgary’s weather is changeable! My favourite meteorological description is now ‘chance of flurries’! On cue – it did – it started to flurry! This then turned into full blown snow, on our first night in Calgary. The secret to experiencing snow – sit in a hot tub, with a beanie (that’s touk in Canada) on your head, with a glass of wine in hand and the flakes falling around you!

A heatwave of 22 degrees Celsius followed. Calgarians came out of the woodwork, put on their skimpiest clothes (so I’m told) and virtually danced for two days.

Just as fast, the snow came back at a pre-Anzac Day party, attended by the large group of Australian teachers on exchange in the area and the Canadian ones who had or were planning to experience Aussie hospitality.

What did I do on Anzac Day this year – I cross country skied. A brave new friend of Dawn and Mark’s tried to teach me to ski on a roadside drift; the snow was melting by now. There is no photographic evidence of me landing on my bottom.

> I hear you went dog sledding; what was that like?

Calgary is only 100 km or so from the eastern end of the Canadian Rockies. Mum and I were very lucky to squeeze in a trip to Canmore and go dog-sledding. The speed 8 huskies achieve is astounding, and the howls of excitement before they take off ear-splitting and one of many highlights of the trip.

> What were some other highlights of the trip for you?

I just loved the feel of the air – that crispness and low humidity. The altitude didn’t bother me; I found it all rather energising. Just as well for all the walking we were doing!

It’s so hard to describe it all without sounding like a travel itinerary! The taste sensations of high tea in a five star hotel, Canadian salmon, Alberta beef and my favourite – maple and walnut icecream! I stood on a glacier, trying to imagine it being 400 m thick!

I rafted down a river, hearing the sounds of the water changing and listening to the bird calls and feeling the temperature of the water. Waterfalls abound and are loud enough now; the roar would be deafening when the snow melt is really on! I walked on frozen lakes that we were supposed to go cruising on!

Wildlife appeared, elks, mountain goats and long horn sheep, and the black bears came out of hibernation, and I drew on the old memory banks to imagine in my mind’s eye all of these things. I recall pictures of the Rockies from the past and remember how ‘unreal’ they seem in their sharpness, clarity and sheer beauty!

The tulips, rhododendrons and native flowers of Vancouver and Vancouver Island I touchy feeled, and the soft, sponginess of the grass just made you want to roll in it! The wind in your face, the snow flakes on the end of your nose and the feel of a Douglas fir. Thinking about it just makes you want to go back, do it all again and more! Where to next?

> Your mum Carolyn was your travel companion on the trip; could you have done it without her?

Definitely not! Our tour, comprising 10 Aussies and 10 Great Britainers, managed to leave Calgary the day before it had a blizzard. If Calgary had tested mum’s powers of description, the tour was really going to try them out. I couldn’t have done it the way I did without the company of my wonderful mother and the help of Cecil stick, my long cane.

> This was the very first trip overseas for you, let alone without your guide dog Perri. Overall, how was it for you?

Perri, my guide dog could have come to Canada with the help of lots of vaccinations, but he got to have his own holiday at his aunt’s in Newcastle. It was the longest time we’ve been separated. The doggy greeting upon our reunion – stupendous!

I have the travel bug and I know how you get it! You go on a fabulous holiday which just gives you a taste of what is out there in the world, and you want more!

> Thank you Kathryn.

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