Travel Diary: Nelson, British Columbia

Hi all!

I’m sorry I’ve been MIA all this month, but it’s all for valid reason. This month I went on my very first trip alone. I went across the country to British Columbia, in a small city called Nelson. I’ve had this in my plans since about October of last year, and the fact that the trip finally came to fruition was really exciting!

I went to Nelson for an experiential learning opportunity through my university, as a course called “Community Through Choral Art”, where I would take part in two different choral opportunities. A mass community choir (in an event called “Fireworks”) and an outdoor performance extravaganza (in an event called “Ripple Effect”). Since I was there for work purposes, I spent a lot of time in rehearsal and doing work related things. However, this didn’t mean that I didn’t have time for fun! The experience was one of the best of my life, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

First things first, the travelling. I’ve gone to many different places, the Caribbean, the USA, even the Philippines, BUT I’ve never gone travelling by plane on my own. Thankfully, since I was flying domestically, it was a breeze. I went from the Toronto, ON airport to the Calgary, AB airport, and then from Calgary to Castlegar, BC. Our plane to Castlegar was so little, there were only 13 rows! We got to fly over the mountains for about an hour and it was so beautiful to see! Ontario is quite flat, so high mountains like these aren’t a sight I normally see.

And then it was a 45 minute drive to the lovely city of Nelson, where I would be spending a majority of my trip. Nelson is host to about 10,000 people, tucked into the mountains. Yet, despite their small size, there was plenty to do there! The infamous Bakers Street is in the heart of their small downtown, playing host to many different novelty clothing boutiques, restaurants, and novelty stores. I arrived in Nelson around 11am, and spent the day touring around with the two other girls from my group that had been on the same plane.

At around 6pm we met at one of the churches to meet our billet families. Basically, a billet family is a family kind enough to open their homes (for free!!) for travelers like me. The billet families for my group were volunteers from the surrounding choral society and the like. My billet mom was a sweet lady named Janet, who welcomed me and another girl I was travelling with into her small home. Oh how cozy it was! I was nervous to be staying in someone’s house who I had never met before, but I immediately felt welcomed there. What a great opportunity it was to spend a trip in a home rather than a hotel. I really started to feel integrated into this wonderful, tight-knit community. One of my fondest memories is making our first dinner together (which was this incredible mushroom/swiss chard pie thing that was DELICIOUS). Nothing says bonding like having a meal together!

Over the course of my time in Nelson, I spent many hours in rehearsal (rehearsing both for Fireworks and Ripple Effect), but also exploring and having many new experiences! I tried going kayaking, but I fell out while I was trying to turn (lol). The lake was still freezing in early/mid-June!! The next day, I took a hike up A MOUNTAIN. I actually made it the whole way (though I had to take many breaks and wheezed the whole way through), the adrenaline rush was quite exciting! Needless to say, the view was amazing.

After our climb, we went home and got ready for our very first performance, Fireworks! It was probably the most low-key, chill, performance I’ve ever been a part of, but it was extremely rewarding, because of what it was. Basically, Fireworks was a massive, one day only, mass choir performance. People from the community had registered and been given 5 songs they were going to perform for everyone else that bought tickets to come see. Some of these people had never sung before in their lives and some people were well seasoned choir folk. This incredible mix of people and experiences ultimately made for an out of this world experience. In the choir, there were probably 465 singers. We had to do the performance in the hockey arena, since it was the only place big enough to hold us all! We had about a 2 hour rehearsal before our 20 minute concert. Hearing the music come alive with the sound of voices young and old was incredible. I was seeing so many different people from this community all come together with only one goal: to sing with each other! It was an awe inspiring moment of community. The concert went without any problems (by some miracle!) and so many people from the community came to see their fellow neighbours sing for others. Many people were so moved, I couldn’t believe how many hearts we had touched in just the span of 1 day.

This is just a glimpse at our massive choir rehearsal, you can find a video of us rehearsing here!

From then on, it was full steam ahead for our next performance, Ripple Effect, which would take place across the lake at the Yasodhara Ashram. We left in the mid-morning, taking Canada’s longest free ferry to the other side of the lake. Oh how beautiful the water and the mountains were!! And when we arrived, the Ashram was just as beautiful! I had no signal and only limited Wi-Fi (when I was in the library, which I didn’t get much of a chance to do), so it was quite the unplugged way to experience the beauty.

The experience at the Ashram was an interesting experience of its own. One of the things that really spoke to me was their hospitality to welcoming so many people! The Ashram is a retreat centre for yoga, amongst other skills including self-reflection, etc. The people there are accustomed to a quiet environment and simple life, yet here they were allowing us rambunctious singers to stay and run around their property as we were preparing for our multi-stage concert. One thing that I thought was really interesting about the Ashram was their silent meals. They eat all of their meals in silence, as a means for self-reflection time. As someone who talks A LOT it was a very interesting and different experience to have. Regardless, the food they served every day was delicious, the property was absolutely gorgeous to take in, and every day we slaved away, tracing the steps and singing our hearts out to prepare for our one day only but FOUR performances of Ripple Effect.

To get into what Ripple Effect is and all the parts that made it would take a blog post in and of itself, so I will briefly summarize it the best I can. For Ripple Effect, we would be leading the audience through many different locations outside on the Ashram property before leading them into the Temple of Light (a GORGEOUS building in the shape of a Lotus flower) for the final songs of the concert. In total, we learned 11 songs for the whole program, talk about a crazy amount of music! The journey started on the beach, up the trail to the lavender field, into the forest, out to the orchard, and into the temple. And there are no words I know to use to explain how powerful and charged the program was. I desperately wished I could be a performer, so I could just take the whole thing in! Our performance day was so exhausting, but totally worth it. We did 1 hour performances 4 times, with about 30 minutes break in between. Not to mention our dress rehearsal that morning. We were walking and up on our feet all day, but I fell asleep that night feeling whole and rewarded. So many people came to see us sing that day. I watched so many people let the music move them in their own ways. It was beautiful.

And of course, all good things must come to an end. After Ripple Effect, we spent a day at the Ashram to re-cooperate after a long 5 days up on our feet preparing, and then after that we headed back on the ferry to Nelson. We spent one more day in Nelson, where I wandered downtown with a friend to do some last minute shopping, and then went to a small get together with all the friends I had made both through the course for Western, and with Nelson’s youth choir (who were with us this whole time), Corazon. I went home with high spirits, though saddened to leave such a beautiful place.

Overall, I had such a fun time in Nelson, BC. I would do the course all over again if I had the chance. This was my first time across the country, and what a different world, but the same world all at the same time. I got a chance to make connections and community with so many locals in a way I wouldn’t have, had I gone on a regular hotel vacation. I got to see the connections people make through music, with performers, directors, audiences, and each other. What a rewarding experience to have!

Would you ever go travelling alone? If you did, where would you go? What would you do?

– Carole