Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

by Sharon Spence Lieb

Turquoise Lake Beauvert dazzles from every cozy corner of our Jasper Park Lodge cabin.

“Turn off that TV,” she demands. “Don’t answer your cell. Forget email. Come. Someone wants to meet you.”

We ignore the pretty lake. Read on the couch, nap in bed. Flip through fifty cable channels of bad news. Finally, we obey.

“Here’s your canoe Mr. and Mrs. Lieb,” says the ponytailed woman at the boat rental center. “Bright red. Have a peaceful morning.”

Yellow paddles dip quietly. Table sized rocks decorate the lake bottom. Mountains point to a Day-Glo blue sky. A curious loon swims to our canoe, then leads us to her mate. Their love songs echo across the lake. Come closer, they flirt. We paddle faster to catch up. Just as we can almost stroke their black and white wings, they dive underwater, reappearing at the far end of the lake.

We paddle over to continue the game. The loons are motionless, peering into perfectly shaped pines, the kind you dream of decorating at Christmas.

He emerges from the forest. Ambles towards us. Wary, but unafraid. Greenish gold eyes. He stares. We stare. A gorgeous grey coyote is out for a walk on his lake trail. He invites us along. We paddle. He trots. Sympatico. Grins all around. Brother coyote is quite the hospitable gentleman…

The Highway

On our drive to The Fairmont Lake Louise, a highway sign announces “Bear Warning! All bears are dangerous. Stay in your car if you encounter one.” Our guidebook laments, “Only sixty grizzlies and sixty black bears live in Banff National Park.” I doubt we’ll be lucky to see one.

In the car I peruse a dramatic book, Grizzly Seasons, by writer/photographer Charlie Russell and artist/photographer Maureen Enns. While studying wild bears in Russia, the couple rescued and raised three orphaned brown bears. They taught the cubs how to live in the wild, then set them free in Russia’s Kamchatka Valley. Each page entrances with photos of Maureen and Charlie walking with the bears, reclining in fields for a bear chat, fishing with bears in Russian rivers. The most astonishing photo: Charlie’s fingers entwined with one bear’s claws. A shocking embrace between man and bear.

My kind of love story.

Yet, bears are never to be romanticized like cuddly toys. Today’s newspaper headline reports how a woman hiker on a forest trail accidentally got between a mother grizzly and her cubs. Mother bear nearly tore the poor woman’s face off. The stunned hiker is now recovering in the Emergency Room. No lonely trail hikes for us!

If a bear lumbers into your kitchen, don’t think he’ll wait patiently for dinner. He’ll eat everything in sight, including you.

Driving three hours, looking for bears, the scenery is mesmerizing: ancient glaciers, jagged peaks, sheer black cliffs, mysterious undulating valleys. Incredible that millions of years ago, these mountains were the ocean floor, teeming with marine life.

I’m stunned into silence. My little life, my to-do list, my challenges, have no importance to these mountains. They were here long before I was born, they’ll be here long after I’m dust in the wind. My stewardship is to respect wilderness, caretaking it for the next generation.

Scanning the dense forest, I say a little prayer. “Sister Bear, will you allow me a glimpse of your magnificence? Just one wild moment?”

In a blink, she’s there. A small cinnamon hued bear dashes across the road. Our eyes meet for a breath. Can I jump out for a bear hug?

Silly woman.

Like a shadow, Sister bear melts back into the forest. She flees for her lair. I flee for mine.

The Priest

“These are sacred falls,” explains our guide Dalianna Sawka. “The glacial waterfall is so powerful here, it’s carved the rock into a Natural Bridge. Imagine, water carving a bridge out of rock. Pretty cool, huh?”

Green foaming river hurling over ancient boulders. Drowns out my heartbeat.

A family of Indian Sikhs pose for photos near the rushing water. Wearing blue, purple, and green turbans, they’re like beautiful dragonflies. I wave hello, feeling somehow we’ve met, though I’ve never been to India. The woman runs to greet me.

“Hello, I am Avinash Minhas. We live nearby, in Edmunton.”

I introduce myself, a traveler from Charleston. We chat about the astonishing beauty and power of this place.

“Who is that gentleman with your family?” I ask. ” In the white robe and turban, with the long beard?”

“Balvir Singh. A Sikh Priest. Our friend visiting from India.”

“This is an unusual request,” I stammer. “But would he pray for me? I’m not of your faith, but I revere wise men. He is wise, isn’t he?”

“Oh yes,” Avinash laughs. “Very wise. What is it you wish, my friend?

I pause. “Serenity, Avi. I’m in need of serenity.”

“Oh, he is very good with Serenity. Yes, indeed. Balvir can help you with that. No problem.”

Balvir shakes my hand. Nothing has been said, but he senses my request. Avinash wraps her green scarf gently around my head. “Remove your shoes, Sharon.” She relays my message to Balvir, who nods with a bemused understanding.

He and I face the roaring falls. Shoulders touching, he speaks quietly in a language unknown to me. Like an electric current, his magnanimous kindness flows into me.

I feel giddy, like I’ve had too much champagne. My spirit flies over the waterfall into the cloudless sky. In the forest, brother coyote and sister bear are feral and free.

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When You Go

The Fairmont Banff Springs, The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, and The Fairmont Jasper Park have teamed up to create a road trip of a lifetime, “Cruisin’ the Canadian Rockies.”

Fly into Calgary, Alberta Canada, pick up your rental car, and drive to Banff and Jasper National Parks. Admire spectacular scenery by day and relish unparalled luxury by night.

“Cruisin’ the Canadian Rockies” includes two nights’ luxurious accommodations at each historic hotel, complimented by three gourmet meals. During the day, enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing, white-water rafting, horseback riding, golfing, shopping, and sightseeing. You’ll receive a map of Alberta Canada, and an informative CD to play in the car, describing the history and geography along the way. Bring your camera and your spirit of adventure.

Each hotel features a unique ambiance.

The Fairmont Lake Louise is elegantly glamorous. We loved room #5927, a haven of serenity, with opulent fabrics and furniture, a deep soaking tub, and thick terry cloth robes. Our view: snow capped glaciers, towering peaks, and turquoise Lake Louise.

The Fairmont Jasper Park is a charming rustic lodge, with Native American rugs, wildlife motif chandeliers, handmade log chairs. Lunch near the roaring fireplace, swim in the outdoor heated pool, shop the galleries, or golf 18 lush mountain view holes on Canada’s #1 Golf resort. Our private log cabin #502 was almost too cozy to leave, but the stunning lake lured us out for canoeing.

Fairmont Banff Springs, aka “The Castle,” is near Banff’s legendary natural hot springs. The hotel’s Willow Springs Spa is an oasis of waterfalls, steam and sauna rooms, outdoor mountain-view Jacuzzis, and a relaxing Hungarian mineral bath. A cornucopia of massages, facials, and body treatments are offered. Our room #721 featured cozy reading corners overlooking the stunning Bow River Valley and the hotel’s renowned golf course.

For more information, call 1.800.441.1414 or visit www.Fairmont.com.

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Mountain Galleries at Jasper Park Lodge and Banff Springs offers outstanding Canadian Rockies art. Clay, glass, bronze, stone creations, and paintings by over sixty-five renowned Canadian artists are featured. We loved splendid landscapes by Doris McCarthy, considered Canada’s Georgia O’Keeffe. Take home Charlie Russell and Maureen Enns’ amazing coffee table book, Grizzly Seasons. Call toll free 1.888.310.9726 or visit www.mountaingalleries.com.

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Photos by Warren Lieb.

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