The Okanagan – More than Peaches and Beaches

The Okanagan – More than Peaches and Beaches

By Katja De Bock
Kerrisdale Playbook Contributing Writer

When Kerrisdale Playbook editor-in-chief Keiko Honda suggested an article about my summer stay in the Okanagan, I found myself in a dilemma. The Kerrisdale Playbook is a local blog, and its readers are people who live in, and love Kerrisdale. Would they be interested in reading a piece about peaches and beaches, glowing hills covered by orchards and cool, but never cold lakes? Would they be offended by the revelation that my summer in the Okanagan was the best Canadian summer I’ve had, so far –incomparable to overcast, rainy summers in Dunbar-Southlands and Kerrisdale?

I was relieved to hear that Vancouver was blessed with a wonderful summer this year, so there is no need for me to be smug and for you to feel rejected. And I bet most of you who have visited the Okanagan are equally enchanted as I was.

After graduation from journalism school earlier this year, I decided to find a summer internship at a media outlet in the Okanagan, to try and find out if I would like living there. I grew up in a small town, but I have lived in large cities for most of my life. I was lucky to find a niche publication, which suited me perfectly. Mokeham Publishing Inc. in Penticton serves Dutch expats and their descendants in North America with two remarkable publications: bimonthly, English-language Dutch the magazine and a monthly Dutch-language newspaper De Krant.

Finding a place to stay during the peak of summer was more challenging. Pentictonites are not ashamed to ask for $400 a day (!) for an apartment and at least $100 and up for a B&B room.

Thanks to Castanet, I found a wonderful and affordable attic apartment right in downtown, only blocks away from work and the beach. My landlady Gayle Eidet was a lovely, hospitable person who introduced me to her wide circle of girlfriends, all of them working at Canadian Tire. They invited me over for coffee and tapas nights, took me to Penticton’s gigantic farmers’ market and told me funny stories about some of their customers. Did you know there are people who hoard hundreds of dollars worth of Canadian Tire money and bring it to the store in a huge bag?

Apart from the weather and the size of the town (Penticton has a population of about 32,000), I would say the makeup of people is somewhat different from Kerrisdale. Most notably, instead of Lululemon-clad “real housewifes of Vancouver,” I saw plenty of tattooed bodies and smokers. Instead of detecting various Asian languages, I overheard a lot of French on the streets, spoken by the young fruit pickers from Québec.

It’s the Okanaganites I will remember most fondly. Apart from the Canadian Tire girls club, there were my colleagues at work: Mohrea Halingten, a Dutch-Indonesian who graciously shared her wealth of knowledge with me and my Dutch publisher Tom Bijvoet, whose family of six came to greet me every day, each of his four children friendly and polite, and perfectly bilingual. There is Nassir Ilneaimi, the owner of the Cleopatra café on Westminster Avenue and Power Street, who served fantastic Turkish-Iraqi food –I only tried the vegetarian dishes– and used to study at Poland’s renowned Lódz film school, instructed by veteran filmmaker Andrzej Wajda. I was also happy to meet up with Ivan Gayton and Sayaka Toyoshima-Gayton, the Médecins sans Frontières workers featured last August in Kerrisdale Playbook. The couple’s first daughter, Kaede (Japanese for maple) was born in Summerland this summer. Congratulations!

A freelance gig for the local newspaper The Penticton Herald enabled me to engage in other activities than the usual tourist outings like cycling the Kettle Valley Railroad (KVR) trail, floating down Okanagan River and visiting the ship SS Sicamous (all of which enjoyed).

The assignments sent me out to cover a Mr. Muscle Miss Bikini contest, including a wet T-shirt contest, organized by JCI Penticton for local charities. Needless to say, I was intimidated by the idea of spending five hours in the sun surrounded by near-naked body builders, but the experience turned out to be a good one. I didn’t see any sexism or bad behavior. All contestants were in a jolly good mood and said they were happy to contribute to charity.

Other assignments had me interview tourists about their Penticton experience (you guessed it, the peaches and beaches topped the list) and cover a sandcastle competition. The winner, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, donated its $500-prize to theSouth Okanagan Trail Alliance, which maintains the KVR and other trails of the region.

Everybody associates different memories with the Okanagan and mine will no doubt forever be linked to the summer of 2013. And maybe I’ll return. According to Tourism Penticton, the meaning of the word “Penticton” in the local aboriginal language is “a place to stay forever” (it actually refers to the Okanagan River, which never dried up during the summer and flows through Penticton from Lake Okanagan to Lake Skaha.)

If you want to know more, I recommend Okanagan Odyssey by Don Gayton (incidentally, the father of Ivan Gayton, but I did not know that when I got the book). The book describes the geography and ecology of the Okanagan, including additional reading tips and recommendations of the best Okanagan wines to enjoy on a hot summer night.