Sunday, 29 May 2016

Walk it Out

I started the day in a foul mood. The kind of self-perpetuating, grey mood where everything was wrong, but nothing was my fault.

Maybe it was the fact that we’d been camping for almost a week straight and it was a long time since I’d seen a shower; maybe it was a particularly nasty case of PMS. Either way, I started our hike up the Squamish Sea to Sky trail – a notoriously difficult 7km stretch of almost purely uphill terrain – with legs like lead and an expression like thunder.

It being a Saturday, we weren’t the only ones who’d decided to take advantage of the warm weather to hike. As we started the trek I became part of a chain of people, like a caravan of camels in the desert, making slow, frustrating progress. We shuffled onwards, upwards, as if compelled by some far-off oasis. The first half hour or so of the hike took us back up the merciless incline of The Chief – and my legs groaned as they remembered the stretch and pull of the steep stairs. Deep in the forest it is dark and muggy, and I felt myself retreat somewhere inside myself as I hauled my reluctant body up step after step.

At one point, the guy behind me misjudged his step and took my shoe clean off. It tumbled down a few stairs before landing in front of a few of his friends, who proceeded to laugh and keep walking. I felt that kind of shameful, grim irritation that comes from knowing you’re completely overreacting to something, because really there was no reason for the faintest hint of a tear had started to form in my eye. I told them as politely as I could to move out of the way, and I re-shoed my foot with as much dignity as I could muster. Then I walked on.

Thankfully, the next stretch took us away from the hoardes intent on scaling the Chief and onto a gentler, more level path with only a handful of other hikers. Warmed up, my muscles stopped protesting against the exertion, and settled into a steady rhythm - like a drum resigned to being beaten. The world grew quieter and more mysterious as we walked over meshes of knotted tree roots, crumbling gravel and clambered up jagged rocks using hand-worn ropes. The trail unravelled and ambled lazily on in places, before rearing up sharply, a dragon woken from sleep, in others.

We walked on.

Tumbling waterfalls erupted suddenly from the cliff face, drenching us as we got closer. The water was as clear as glass, rumbling peacefully in its ancient ribbon through the mountains.

We walked on.

My mind indulged in a pick and mix of thoughts. How nice it would be to dye my hair dark in the winter. How I want my blog to be better. Christmas time in Edinburgh. A hot shower. That girl in front is so pretty – I wish my skin was that tanned.

We walked on.

I caught myself thinking about the colours and music of South America. I’ve never been, so I let my mind run through a carnival of sights and sounds plucked from the air. Tripping over an exposed tree root, I reminded myself to live in the moment.

We walked on.

My mind, wore down by the soothing thud of footsteps, simmered down, placated. My thoughts were relegated to the best way to navigate that tricky tumble of rocks, or reading the sporadic signs reminding us of our progess. By 5/7km, it had pretty much fallen asleep, leaving me only with the absolute necessary function required to get me up the mountain. The higher we got, the quieter it got. A fork in the road offered tired hikers an easier route to the summit, and it got quieter still.

We walked on. We hopped over streams, paused briefly and silently at teasing viewpoints, grazed our ankles on sharp stones. The air felt colder, purer.

1km to go, and just for fun, I tried to conjure my bad mood. But there was nothing there. No irritation, no frustration, no wistfulness. But no cheerfulness either. Just a subtle sense of contentment, and an innate and steely determination to reach the top of the mountain.

By the time we reached the top, I’d stopped feeling the pinch in my toes or the burn of my thighs. I’d stopped looking for markers and progress signs. I’d stopped noticing that there was anyone else around me. I was simply walking. Walking through the world, using my body, quietening my mind.

I thought of all the times in my life that I’ve walked. In Edinburgh, because I couldn’t drive, walking for miles and miles with music in my ears and feeling like I was somewhere else. In Surrey along character-less motorways, getting nowhere. Before travelling, restless, walking for the sake of walking. There’s a meditation in it, I realised. A pure, honest form of relaxation and just being.

So when I reached the top, I realised I’d gained more than just a photograph of stunning views. I’d gained a quietening a satisfaction of the mind, which really, is worth a lot more. 

Saturday, 21 May 2016

WWOOFING at Ruby Lake Resort

For the past two weeks, I’ve been living in a kind of paradise. Waking up to mist dusting the mountains like icing sugar, working out in the garden in the baking sun, eating as much fresh Italian fish and pasta as humanly possible. I’ve been volunteering – or WWOOFING – at Ruby Lake Resort, a hidden gem on Canada’s Sunshine Coast.

Erm…what on earth is WWOOFING?

That’s the general response I get when people ask what I’ve been up to, prompted by pictures of me wielding a trowel or being knee-deep in mud on social media.

WWOOFING stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. You offer your time and hard work in exchange for food and accommodation. Generally, no money changes hands. Phil and I have about six different WWOOFING places we’ll be staying and working at over the summer.

“Farms” is a loose term. You might find yourself planting and harvesting, looking after animals, or helping out with the running of the resort like we did. It’s a great way to experience a different way of life and get an insider’s look at a new place – all while saving money.

About Ruby Lake Resort

If you ever find yourself on the Sunshine Coast, seriously – make sure you check this place out. It’s a resort offering luxury cottages, safari tents and an authentic Italian restaurant, all set on a lagoon which is also a protected wildlife habitat (it’s home to beavers, turtles and all sorts of other rare critters) and of course the beautiful Ruby Lake – one of the warmest lakes in BC.

It’s been a labour of love by the Cogrossi family – Aldo Cogrossi is the proud owner and Head Chef who visited once and never left. The people who work here put their hearts and souls into the place – working crazy hours out of sheer passion for what is surely one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in Canada so far.

If you’re looking to stay here, you can nab a rustic tent from $59-$99, or a cottage (some include kitchens, some don’t) for $129-$199. The restaurant specialises in local, ocean-wise ingredients and is beloved in the area for its authentic Italian approach and flavours. Order a steaming plate of seafood pasta and wash it down with a local wine, all while staring out at the sun setting on the lagoon. You really don’t get much better.

If you find yourself over-indulging (it’s hard not to when faced with Aldo’s infamous Tiramisu) there’s plenty of ways to work it off. Indulge in some lakeside yoga, or head out on to the lake on a paddleboard or in a canoe. You can rent both from the resort office, and the lake offers plenty of beaches, rope swings and mini islands to explore.

There’s also lots to do around Ruby Lake. Local town Madeira Park offers everything you need, while nearby Skookumchuck Narrows provides a thrilling opportunity to watch some of the fastest whitewater rapids in the world as they build and dissipate. The best thing about the Sunshine Coast is how close everything is – Ruby Lake Lodge is a great base from which to enjoy everything the coast has to offer. 

WWOOFING at Ruby Lake Lodge

But of course, I didn’t stay at the resort as a guest but as a volunteer. As a result my experience was a lot different, but no less enjoyable.

We spent two weeks living in the “WWOOFER” house with other volunteers (shout out to the amazing Cecile and Seb!) so when work was over, we all went swimming, played cards or just drank beer around the fire. Oh, and had awesome pancake breakfasts almost everyday. 

It’s not a bad way to pass the time, really, and when you WWOOF you tend to meet other people who have the same mindset. That is, an open mind and an adventurous spirit. We also got to spend a lot of time with Sasha, the resort manager, as well as Aldo and his family. There’s a real tight-knit team running the show here, and it was an honour to be a part of it for a short while.

In terms of actual work, it was varied. One day I was checking the books, the next I was power-washing the decking, the next I was planting potatoes. As I guess is the case in a lot of WWOOF placements, it depended entirely on what needed doing. The variety was refreshing and it was great to see the running of the resort from every side.

My favourite activity was definitely the gardening. Getting to work with the gardener and learn all about how different flowers and vegetables grow, and watching first-hand as they thrived, was something I’d never done and I loved the novelty. There’s something lovely and humbling about getting down on your knees and working with the earth. With the sun on my back, I let the moist dirt crumble through my fingers as I prepared beds which would eventually grow the food eaten in the restaurant. I used all my strength to hack at the ground with a hoe for hour after an hour, enjoying the genuine fatigue in my muscles and dirt on my face. It’s honest and grounding work, in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

If you get a chance to volunteer here, go for it. The setting is gorgeous, the people are wonderful, and the work rewarding. I only wish we could have stayed longer. Thank you to everyone at Ruby Lake!

Our next stop? A fruit and veg farm in Squamish. Stay tuned to find out how we get on! 

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The 9 Ultimate Camping Hacks

Up until about three weeks ago, I was a complete camping newbie. 

The closest I'd got to "roughing it" was sleeping in the back of a van on the beach. 

But over the past month we've turned into happy campers - making our way around the Sunshine Coast in BC, just us and our trusty tent. In fact, I'm right in the middle of a week straight of camping. 

So, I've picked up a tip or two, and I've shared them all over on Canadian adventure website Live Out There - from how to stay warm to avoiding those "I-need-to-pee-in-the-middle-of-night-but-I'm-scared-and-there's-no-loo-roll" situations. We've all been there. 

Here's a sneak peek, or head straight over to Live Out There to read my 9 Ultimate Camping Hacks. 

Happy camping! 

Canada is a vast and varied treasure trove of camping spots.
Want wild beaches and ocean views? You got it. Looking for remote, mountainous forests? No problem. You can pretty much pitch a tent anywhere and be spoiled by this country’s natural riches. However, much like riding a Segway or trying a new recipe, camping is only fun when you know what you’re doing. After all, there’s nothing worse than finding yourself in the middle of nowhere and feeling completely unprepared.
Here at Live Out There, we’ve been everywhere and made every rookie camping mistake in the book. So to help make sure that your next camping trip goes without any bumps in the night, we’ve put together our 9 ultimate camping hacks. Let’s go camping!

Friday, 13 May 2016

Camping on the Sunshine Coast

I'm not quite sure how I've made it through my twenty-five years as a travel-loving human without having ever camped. Sure, I've spent weeks sleeping in the back of a battered old camper van, but actual pitching-up-a-tent-and-lying-on-the-forest-floor camping, I've never, ever done. 

The whole point of Bambi Jane Travel is about living the best, most extraordinary life I possibly can (and hopefully inspiring you to do the same), and a big part of that is getting out there and trying things I've never done before. So, I was super excited for our camping trip on the Sunshine Coast, BC, a scenic strip of land flanking Canada's west side. It's a place renowned by Vancouverites for its beauty, but is, I think, still relatively unknown outside of Canada. I'd definitely not heard of it before. We had a couple of night's to kill in between leaving Vancouver and arriving for our first WWOOFing placement here on the coast, so decided to make the most out of our time by exploring by day, and camping by night. 

Here's how we got on, alongside plenty of tips and must-sees for your camping trip on the Sunshine Coast. Let's go, campers! (Sorry.) 

Getting to the Sunshine Coast 

The easiest way to get here is by ferry from Vancouver. 

We left super early, it being coincidentally being the same day as the Vancouver marathon (and the marathon of traffic that comes with it). We drove through a sleepy Vancouver at 6am to catch the 7:20 ferry from Horseshoe Bay. The ferry itself only takes about 40 minutes, and takes you on a scenic sail around little islands wearing cloaks of mist, secluded bays and lush green forests. I'd recommend buying an "Experience Card", which gives you discounts on certain routes. It works like an Oyster Card, you top it up and swipe it. The minimum amount you can put on at any time is $115 (about £60) but you can put it toward your first journey, and you'll save money in the long run.

You'll arrive in Gibsons, a cute little town on the south of the coast. There's not a whole lot going on, but it's a great spot to grab a quick breakfast or lunch. We headed to Wheatberries Bakery, which I'd recommend for the cheap coffee and warm, freshly baked croissants all for under $10.

What to do on the Sunshine Coast

The coast is rich with idyllic beaches, crystal clear lakes and sprawling forests. The best part about the Sunshine Coast is that it's still relatively unknown - you don't need to contend with hoardes of tourists or bustling beaches filled with people trying to sell you things, especially at this time of year when the season hasn't quite kicked off. Everywhere we've explored here, we've had pretty much to ourselves. Also, unlike many other places in the USA and Canada which are extremely spread out (which takes a while for a born-and-bred-Brit to get used to!) the Sunshine Coast is small and easily explorable. The drive from Gibsons to Egmont in the north is just 81km so you could drive the whole thing in just over an hour, but it's so much nicer to drive it lazily, stopping and adventuring wherever you like along the way. Here are a couple of my favourite spots that we found. 

Roberts Creek Beach 

About 20 minutes drive from Gibsons, this pretty little beach is next to the Roberts Creek Campground and picnic site. It's pebbled, so not ideal for getting your tan on, but it has a raw, rugged beauty that make it a great place to sit and chill. Mountains wink in the distance, driftwood lies abandoned on the bay and forests rear up around the edges. It feels far away from city life. 

Davis Bay 

Davis Bay is one of the Sunshine Coasts's most idyllic and celebrated highlights. It took us just 20 minutes to walk here from the Creekside Campground. It was the most gorgeous day when we visited, with the temperature in the mid-twenties, so the ocean simply twinkled and the sand was toasty on our toes. There's some cute, quaint shops (get the rolo gelato from the little store!) and a little jetty you can walk out on to sit alongside locals crab fishing. 

The water here, as in so many other places in the Sunshine Coast is an impossible, jewel-like aquamarine, shimmering and dancing with the sunlight. 

As we walked along the beach, I noticed something moving in the distance, just below the surface of the water. There was a sudden rush of foam, and the suggestion of something shiny moving beneath. 

"OHMYGODITSDOPLHINS" I shouted to Phil, taking off down the beach. 

Dolphins! A whole school of dolphins. I knew they appeared around here, but I never actually expected to see any. 

However, as I got closer, what I'd thought were fins became pebbles, and shiny bodies became reflections of the sunlight. Turns out it was a part of the sea where the seabed rose up and the water became shallow, waves from two different directions coming together and clashing causing foam. Or, you know, dolphins... 

Smuggler Cove 

This was absolutely my favourite place we visited, and we stumbled upon it almost by accident. We'd had to change our campsite at the last minute, so instead of sticking at the Home Site campground, we headed up to Smuggler Cove. 

An easy half hour trail through the swamp will bring you to the cove and it's amazing ocean lookout points. The first we came across was so amazing we couldn't tear ourselves away. We scrambled down to the beach and into the freezing water in our clothes, before letting them dry in the sun and just enjoying the surroundings. It really felt like paradise.

Skookumchuck Narrows 

Head to the more northern part of the coast,near Egmont and Ruby Lake, and every man and his dog will recommend that you visit the Skookum (rough, in Chinook) chuck (water), which is home to to some of the fastest Rapids in the world. Kayakers come out here to play in the feisty white water, which reaches its peak activity once a day so make sure you check online for peak times. You'll walk for an hour through the forest to get here, and past the whirlpools. It's fun to arrive half an hour early from peak time and watch as the rapids pick up speed - this will help you miss the crowds too. 

If you're looking for something to eat after all at walking, head to the West Coast Wilderness Lodge just  across the road. The food is the lovely but the view out over the coast and its many little inlets and islands is the real draw. 

Ruby Lake 

One of the best things about volunteering at Ruby Lake Resort (more on this coming soon!) was being able to take full advantage of the beautiful Ruby Lake, one of the warmest lakes in BC. Go canoeing, paddle boarding or swimming in its pristine waters, and go swinging from the makeshift rope swing if you're brave. There's a cute little beach too (Dan Bosch Park) and plenty of walking trails. 

It gets its name from he fiery colours of the water come sunset. Trust me, you don't want to miss it.

Sunshine Coast Campsites 

When you're finally done with exploring for the day, it's time to set up camp. There's lots of campsites on the coast to choose from - ranging from those with an office and amenities, to secluded little clearings in the forest with a pit toilet. Here are a couple that we tried and can recommend.


As it was our first time camping, we chose somewhere close to civilisation and with showers and flush toilets to ease ourselves in. Creekside does the job nicely - it can host tents, cars and RVs in its 30 odd slots and is open year round at 25 bucks a night. 

It is quite close to the highway though, so if you're looking to completely escape from civilisation this might not be the one for you. It is just 20 minutes walk from the beautiful Davis Bay, though. 

Klein Lake 

Our second night was supposed to be spent at the Home Site campground, but after turning up there, finding no one and getting a bit of a creepy feeling, we changed plans. (I'm sure that when it's properly open, Home Site is a great campground. We just didn't fancy being so remote).

After a bit of searching, we found Klein Lake, which is 14 bucks a night for a basic site. Again, we found no one else there so we had it completely to ourselves, but by this point we were eager to just set up camp. Plus, Klein Lake is beautiful. We had our pick of the sites so went for one which led right out on to the jetty, with a couple of tables, a fire pit and easy access to the pit toilet. It's beautiful here and waking up to the lake is lovely. 

For us, our second night didn't go quite so smoothly - it rained hard during the night, and at approximately 03:04 I was convinced bears were sniffing around the tent. But we lived to tell, the tale!

Sunshine Coast Camping essentials 

- Torch 
- Anti bac 
- Tent pad 
- layers 
- Portable washing line 
- Marshmallows and roasting sticks 
- A pack of cards 
- Music speaker 

Have you ever been camping on the Sunshine Coast? What did you think? 
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