The smoky smell of big juicy steaks grilling on the BBQ wafts over me, making my mouth water, but I am not ready to eat yet. I am focused on getting my newly learned steps right as I line dance in my borrowed cowboy boots, too busy to glance at the amazing 360 view from this rooftop of one of the tallest office blocks in downtown Calgary. Eventually I stop for a rest, grab my cold beer and head over to grab one of those steak sandwiches. Did I mention this is breakfast?
The Calgary Stampede.
The Calgary Stampede every July is one of my favourite festivals from around the world, its one of the world’s largest rodeo’s, and it’s another week long excuse for a party. Thanks to my lovely hosts Ant and Karen, I have my borrowed cowboy boots, which are de rigueur at this giant rodeo, although I have declined the opportunity to add a stetson as well – it’s just too hot in mid-summer Calgary to be wearing a big heavy hat. I am lucky enough to experience the corporate side of this festival as well, as my host Karen works for one of the big firms in town and has enough invites for us to party for free every breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week. And every single event has the same core attractions -it’s held on a high office rooftop, and it has beer, BBQ and line dancing. Maybe not original, but definitely fun. After a few months greyhounding around the States and Canada, staying comfortably in a friend’s house and having all this free hospitality feels like I’ve joined the Calgary 1989 A-list.
We spend a couple of nights at the Stampede showdome, which is part country show, part fairground and part rodeo. There’s all the good old fashioned thrills of bull riding and steer wrangling, as well as my favourite, the suicidal seeming chuck wagon races, those things were not built to stay upright at speed. The remaining evenings are mainly line dancing and beer drinking in various bars around town. Now normally I would have to be tied down and gagged to listen to country music, let alone line dance, but there is no point in coming to this festival and not going for the full immersion experience – maybe it’s just something in the beer but I have to confess that I loved every second of it. And although there is a huge influx of visitors for the Stampede, its does seems like the old adage of having an accent from the other end of the world definitely ensures your popularity, I feel like I got to dance with every cowboy in town. (disclaimer: since everyone in town is dressed like a cowboy for the week, I suspect I danced with very few real canadian cowboys but that in no way diminished my enjoyment)
Even in breaks between all the hospitality during the day, it seems impossible to walk down the street without coming across a spontaneous outbreak of line dancing somewhere. For something a bit different we escape for half a day and drive out to Drumheller, the “badlands” where some of the best dinosaur bone discoveries in the world have been made. The landscape is weird, so un-inviting that its almost beautiful. The nearby Royal Tyrrell museum is one of those places that is going to bring out the awe-struck kid in any of us. It is home to two real tyrannosuarus rex, which seems positively greedy, and a huge variety of other pre-historic species, all discovered in this area. It’s easy to see where Hollywood got a couple of it’s movie ideas from. Now it’s time to head back into town for another evening of dancing with the urban cowboys.