Travel: Hungry brown bears await on a train journey through Canada's Rocky Mountains
Hungry brown bears await Peter Thompson on a train journey through Canada's Rocky Mountains
MESMERISED by awe-inspiring views of the majestic Rocky Mountains I was in a world of my own until a loud shout of "BEAR!" jolted me back down to earth.
Throughout the first half of my week in Canada, the subject of bears was one of the main topics of conversation in our group.
Will we see a bear? What do we do if we see a bear? What would a bear do if it saw us?
Taxi drivers, bus drivers, chefs, tour guides and locals – we asked nearly everyone we encountered.
But when the yell of "bear" was bellowed out by Rod, a member of our group, there was no need to demonstrate my survival techniques by playing dead or reaching for the pepper spray, as I was in the safe haven of the magnificent Rocky Mountaineer train.
An excited Rod informed us that this particular brown bear was perched at the top of a tree, so we had clearly been well informed when we were warned not to clamber for our lives if we encountered the wild mammals. Not that my climbing skills are up to much either, I should add.
Despite my disappointment at not clapping eyes on the bear, we were not far into a train journey which had already exceeded my expectations. I had spotted bald eagles circling for prey, marvelled at scenery that you could never tire of looking at, while also being treated to five-star service and culinary delights.
In truth, I didn't know quite what to expect from my trip on the Rocky Mountaineer before I boarded the famous train. I had been on the odd steam train before, but I am certainly no rail enthusiast.
But I knew this was not going to be your average train journey and, soon after setting off on our two-day trip from the idyllic town of Banff to Vancouver, I realised why the Rocky Mountaineer attracts tourists from all over the world.
Sitting in the comfort of the GoldLeaf coach, with full length windows extending to the roof, I enjoyed a panoramic view of breathtaking snow-sprinkled mountains, ferocious rivers, gorges, waterfalls and wildlife.
As we made our way along the route which retraces the historic Canadian Pacific Railway, famous for uniting the country and connecting British Columbia to Canada more than 125 years ago, it was almost as if I had escaped from the real world.
And the five-star GoldLeaf dining experience was just as impressive as it sounds. As I tucked into tasty buttermilk pancakes for breakfast, I was still able to take in the jaw-dropping scenery while feeling as though I was in a high quality restaurant with no hint of snobbery - a far cry from a trip to the buffet car for a coffee and a packet of crisps.
I regularly ventured out to stand in the vestibules between carriages, which not only gave me an opportunity to take in some fresh mountain air, but also offered great vantage points for taking photographs.
After a sociable pre-lunch beer back upstairs, we were soon indulging in fine dining once again and I was discovering why the Alberta beef came so highly recommended.
There was another bear sighting over lunch, but although that passed me by I was more than content sampling a couple of glasses of wine as I watched waterfalls crash down from a great height into huge rivers with vicious currents and gazed at mountain ranges which stretched as far as the eye could see.
After an overnight stay in Kamloops, the friendly staff rolled out the red carpet for us to board the train for a second time. En route to Vancouver, we passed vast forests, glided alongside huge powerful rivers which are popular for white water rafters, and I watched the front of the train curve around to cross huge sturdy old bridges and disappear into tunnels.
We then looked down on the unforgiving 'Hell's Gate' in the Fraser River, a landmark which must strike fear into even the most experienced white-water rafter, and the landscape changed to the type of dusty and semi-arid terrain you see in Western movies.