Sunday, August 2, 2009

Zee Germans Ah Komeenk!

Every summer, the Yukon is flooded with canoes and kayaks and RVs full of German tourists. Even though Ross River sits on a point of the highway so far from Carmacks and Watson Lake that it is really the destination, and not a point to pass, we still get our fair share of Germans.
They arrive around June, and you can tell because the population of fair-skinned people nearly triples in Ross.
More clues:
-There are more RVs pulling up to the hardware store to fuel up (not realizing that the slightly hidden pumps at the Dene store are about 20 cents cheaper).
-There are people walking around town at normal waking hours.
-I don't know them.
-They sound German.
-When I drive into Whitehorse in the summer, I am almost always stuck behind some giant vehicle with a canoe attached that won't pull over to let me pass on roads that are familiar to me.
Last week during the heat wave, I felt, for the first time, like I wasn't an outsider. We showed up at the river to cool off, greeted the kids by name and nodded or waved to the adults. They waved or nodded back. And then there were The Foreigners, a group of travelling Germans also enjoying the cool, clean water, also swimming and frolicking. But they were not from Here. And I am. And that was kind of a nice feeling.
This summer, we had the chance to make a personal connection with the one and only tourist demographic the town can count on. His name was Timo, and we saw him at the side of the road with a sign that read "Ross River" at the entrance to the Robert Campbell Highway, just after the Coal Mine Campground. Rich and I looked at each other and shrugged.
"I'll just pull over and see what the story here is," he said. I feared a murderous bush man might enter our truck and be driven crazy by Abby's cries, resolving to stab us all to death. To my delight, however, in hopped Timo: a German tourist who was trying to get back to Ross to meet his wife and start a paddle trip down the Pelly River to Carmacks, where he had left their truck to wait for them. Timo was a watchmaker, and he and his wife were on a year-long camping honeymoon up and down North America's western coast. He was a comical guy who reeked of bug spray but who had many stories to tell us about life in Germany.
He explained that in the Fatherland (my words, not is bahaha), there lived over 82 million people in a land mass nearly 100,00 square kilometers smaller than the Yukon, which is home to only 30,000 people. The draw to true, relatively untouched wilderness is understandable to me, but enough to necessitate a nonstop flight service from Whitehorse to Frankfurt each week in the summer? Apparently, Timo explained. It is almost a right of passage for a German man to spend a summer paddling the Yukon rivers, camping and living in harmony with nature and all the items of the North Face catalogue.
The drive went well and he was very patient with our unhappy little traveller. When we pulled into Ross River, we drove straight to the river where his cute little wife had set up a tent and a camp fire. She was relieved to see he had come back the same day he had left. After all, she did not know if he would return soon, or a week later.
He gave us his contact and vowed that if we were ever in Germany, we were to contact him and he would return the favour, and show us around some of his favourite sights. With flight service to Frankfurt cheaper than a ticket home, we might just venture to Deutschland.

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