After a stressful time on Greyhound buses involving late arrivals, rude bus drivers and an almost missed connection, we finally arrived in Chase, the closest town to the HI Squilax Hostel and General Store where we would be volunteering for two weeks.
Trav and I signed up to a couple of websites, Workaway and Help X, to set up volunteering where the idea is to work a few hours a day in exchange for room and board. For all of you that have heard of wwoofing, it is the same idea but not restricted to organic farms. The Help X and Workaway programs have placements in Hostels, Lodges, at people’s houses as well as on farms.
We were contacted by Blair, the owner of the Hostel in the Shuswap Lake region of British Columbia, to work for her cleaning rooms and doing some odd jobs. I would love to own my own lodge, camping ground or hostel one day so we jumped at the chance.
Blair picked us up from the Chase Greyhound Station once she had closed the Hostel Reception at 10pm so we didn’t really see the Hostel on the first night, heading straight to bed on arrival. The next morning we explored and I instantly fell in love with this rambling, quirky place. I don’t think I have ever been to a Hostel quite like it.
We had one of the private rooms in the main building. The dorm rooms weren’t in the main house but were in fact old train cabooses that have been refurbished and now accommodate 6 bunk beds, a toilet cubicle, a fully equipped kitchen and a small dining/living area. Such a unique place to stay.
Instead of having a lawn mower to maintain their big property, they have pet llamas to eat the grass – aptly named Massey and Ferguson. There are also two cuddly kitties, Seventy Six and Halifax, and a big friendly dog, Samson.
Books were scattered all over the place so I did a lot of reading on the day bed of the hostel lounge, overlooking the river that connects Little Shuswap and Shuswap Lakes. I must have read at least ten books during our two week stay, it was book heaven!
The hostel is connected to a historic General Store where we were given $10 each credit a day for food. It was more than enough money and we ate very well during our time there including drinking San Pellegrino or Organic fruit drinks every day with chocolate, Kettle chips and fresh fruit for snacks. It was so nice to eat so much amazing food and not feel guilty about spending too much money. We also got to take advantage of the amazing guest breakfast which was fresh fruit filled cinnamon pancakes with real maple syrup. The fruit concoctions were different every day and included peach, pear and rhubarb, plum and banana and mixed berry. We had them almost every day for two weeks and didn’t get sick of them.
The hostel setting was pretty magical. There is a big mountain behind the hostel and the hostel itself is right on the water and has a private dock, which was perfect for sunbathing and swimming off during the day, and stargazing from at night. You can see so many stars out there, even the milky way, and we spotted a lot of shooting stars too. The sky was clear almost every night that we were there.
Our main job while we were working at the hostel was cleaning. We cleaned the dorms and private rooms and the kitchen and bathrooms. Blair went away for a couple of days so I was in charge of setting up breakfast and making the pancakes for guests. It was an early 7am start but I really enjoyed it, especially talking to the guests.
Because the hostel is not in a touristy area, it attracts a wide range of people and generally not the young, partying type who tend to frequent hostels in places like Banff and Whistler.
There were guests of all ages from different countries and we met some fantastic people during our time there. Most people were only staying one or two nights but we did meet a lovely Brazilian girl, Bruna, who stayed at the hostel for a week so we got to hang out with her quite a bit, hiking, canoeing, beaver watching and swimming. Bruna left a couple of days before we did and she gave us a cute plant sprout bookmark which I have already been using a lot.
We also met an older American guy, Mark, from Missouri who had driven all the way to British Columbia from St Louis. He took us to see the salmon with him and we played cards in the hostel lounge. He was a retired Maths Teacher and taught us to play Queens, a strategic game appealing to his Mathematics background. I was never very good at Maths and found it quite confusing.
It is great to meet people from a wide spectrum of society, people who appreciate quiet places and aren’t just looking at hostels as a place to party.
Another American guy we met was on his first holiday in something like 14 years! He was traveling for three weeks and his enthusiasm and excitement for his trip was plain to see. I never caught his name but I hope the rest of his trip turned out great and that he doesn’t have to wait another 14 years till the next one.
The closest town, Chase, is 10km away so the hostel is kind of in the middle of nowhere. Despite not having a car, we didn’t have any problems seeing the surrounding area as Blair drove us to a few places and we walked and hitched to a few more.
One fun way we explored the surrounding area was using the hostel’s canoe. We paddled out to Shuswap Lake, fighting the current. We pulled up to a deserted beach and went for a walk along the rocky shore, past a rust eaten barge and through the shallow water to a sandy island, scaring the flocks of Canada geese resting on the sands. The lake is quite warm so we went for a swim in the clear water.
I loved how quiet it is there. It felt undiscovered, it is undiscovered.
We needed to go into Chase to collect our bus tickets from the Greyhound station so we hitched in on one of our days off. Within 15 minutes we got a ride with a friendly guy from Kamloops who dropped us right by the station. After getting the tickets we walked along the highway to Chase Falls. It is a lovely waterfall in a small gorge right by town.
After sitting there for a while to escape the heat, we walked into town, along a tiny main street, past the tidy lawns and 1970’s style houses to the town beach and pier.
Chase is a quiet little place and we didn’t see many people around until we got down to the lake. There is a small park with changing rooms, a sandy beach and a long, striking red pier with a platform to swim off at the end. It was a hot day so there were a lot of people enjoying the breeze off the lake and swimming in the cool lake water.
We joined the throngs of local kids fooling around and throwing lake weed at each other at the end of the pier. Refreshing ourselves with a swim and lying on the dock in the sun was a great way to complete our visit.
Getting back turned into quite a trial. We tried hitching for over an hour with no luck. Just as we were about to give up and call a cab, a pick up truck pulled up and the driver offered us a ride. His little dog crawled all over us, licking us silly for the 10 minute drive.
Salmon Arm is another small, friendly town in the Shuswap area. Blair does Dragon Boating in Salmon Arm so we caught a lift with her one evening.
There is a lake side walking path that encompasses a rare natural inland marsh, created by silt dropped by the Salmon river as it empties into the bay. We saw lots of beaver evidence along the way including a beaver lodge, dams and lots of raggedy tree trunks that had been partially consumed, unfortunately the culprits were nowhere in sight. We walked along the wooden pier afterwards while the sun set.
Salmon Arm is a side inlet of Shuswap Lake, similar to a Fjord with mighty mountains rising out of the still waters of the lake. It is a truly beautiful place and reminded me a lot of Milford Sound in New Zealand.
We went back to Salmon Arm again to visit the massive second hand store when Blair needed to drop some stuff off. I bought a couple of books and was tempted to buy an old leather suitcase in mint condition that was really cheap. I decided against it in the end because it would just be another thing that I had to carry around that I don’t need right now.
Quoout Lodge is a First Nations luxury Lodge and Golf Resort about 4km from the hostel. We decided to walk there one day to check it out after being told it is has lovely grounds for a wander.
We walked over a bridge to the other side of the river then along a quiet country road to reach it. The lodge is located in a prime position on Little Shuswap Lake and has a beautiful sandy beach. A heavy rain shower was pelting Chase on the other side of the lake and we watched from the beach while it rolled closer to us. It hit and we ran inside to take shelter before it passed over and we could walk back to the Hostel.
Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park is famous in October each year when the Adams River, which runs through the park, is host to one of the largest sockeye salmon runs in North America.
The sockeye salmon are different than other salmon in an interesting way. When they come back to the river they were born in to spawn every four years, they develop a hump on their backs, their bodies turn bright red with a green head and their upper lip becomes hooked.
Every four years there is a dominant run where millions of sockeye come back to the river. Unfortunately we weren’t able to see the Adams River run as we were there too early but we did spend a day in the park, hiking and swimming at one of the beaches along the river.
Although we missed the big sockeye run at the Adams River, we did get to see a smaller run at Scotch Creek where the salmon come back in September. It was pretty incredible to see. The colour of the fish is so bright and doesn’t look like something that would occur naturally in the wild. The male salmon fought with each other, fighting over the females, zig zagging across the river with their humps rising out of the water like small red sharks.
Once the female salmon have laid their eggs, it is the end of their long journey from the ocean and they die soon afterwards. We saw quite a lot of dead salmon in the river on our visit. It seems tragic that they make such an epic journey, full of hardships only to die in the end.
There is a family of beavers that live five minutes walk along the shore from the hostel. We went by their lodge a few times, hoping to catch a glimpse, but to no avail. After a couple of guests saw them early in the morning on a couple of occasions, we set our alarm for 7.30am one day. Blair told us to make a lot of noise when approaching as they are curious creatures and would come out to see what is happening.
We threw some rocks into the still water and clapped our hands, trying to rouse them, and sure enough, one of them started swimming back and forth in front of us, slapping his tail on the water every couple of minutes. I was happy to see the little guy but it still wasn’t as close of an encounter as I was hoping for. I want to see a beaver knawing a tree down in front of me, or patting some mud onto a dam like spackle. Is that too much to ask for?
I did end up having a close encounter a week later. As I was preparing to step into the water for a swim off the dock, a massive beaver came out of nowhere and swam right underneath me! It gave me such a fright, I thought it was Samson the dog at first as I didn’t realise how large beavers actually are. About 10 minutes after he went under the dock, he exited the same way. Exciting stuff!
As well as the beavers, we saw bald eagles perched in the trees across the river, osprey in their big nests on purpose built platforms and an anxious squirrel living on the property that was the real life version of Scrat the squirrel in the movie Ice Age.
One afternoon we joined Blair to return her family’s houseboat to a marina off the lake. Me and Trav sat on the roof and enjoyed the view. Blair’s Mum picked us up from the other side and drove us back to the hostel. It was really nice to be out on the lake. I think we appreciated it more because we wouldn’t have been able to afford to go out on a boat with our current low budget so being able to do it for free made us feel really lucky.
On our last night, Blair made us an amazing farewell dinner. We started with rum cocktails and appetizers followed by Salmon Wellington with Spaghetti Squash then Chocolate Wine Cake and Nanaimo Squares for dessert. A fitting end to an amazing two weeks.
Before dinner was ready I sat out on the dock, watching bald eagles fighting each other high in the trees while the sun went down. Everything felt right.
I couldn’t imagine a better place to stop and stay a while than this underrated region in the BC interior. I feel like we got so much out of our time in the Shuswap, a place I had only vaguely heard of a month ago. It is now one of my favourite places in Canada.
After all, a big part of your travel experience is shaped by the people you meet along the way.