Author Tags: Outdoors, Travel
"The world is my pumpkin, Prince George is my home." -- Vivien Lougheed, CBC Radio, 2003
Vivien Lougheed spent her first five years living with her Polish-Romanian grandparents in northern Saskatchewan. At age five she didn't speak any English. Her mother remarried and home life was difficult. At 16, Lougheed quit school and left home, hooked on travel. She has since visited approximately 50 countries, mostly developing nations. "My mentor and constant companion is John Harris, fiction writer," she says.
Lougheed has written a weekly travel column in the Prince George Citizen, contributed to the anthology Exact Fare Only and published short stories. Her quickie, where-to-stay guide to Belize is a follow-up to her anecdotal volume Central America by Chickenbus and her book on Tibet called Forbidden Mountains. Accompanied by her friend Joanne Armstrong, Lougheed visited Tibet by illegally entering from Pakistan. "We feared we would starve, that we would die. We suffered from malnutrition. We had a lot of fear. We didn't imagine it would be that tough." She has also written about Bolivia, Mexico and central British Columbia.
Increasingly active as a photographer, she contributed some images to Alan Twigg's Understanding Belize: A Historical Guide (Harbour) prior to publishing her own book in the same series, Understanding Bolivia: A Traveller's History (Harbour), an illustrated overview.
CITY/TOWN: Prince George
DATE OF BIRTH: March 24, 1943
PLACE OF BIRTH: Winnipeg
ARRIVAL IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: 1970 (Prince George)
ANCESTRAL BACKGROUND: Romanian
Understanding Bolivia, a Traveler's History (Harbour, 2008)
From the Chilcotin to the Chilkoot: Selected Hikes of Northern British Columbia (Caitlin, 2005). 1-894759-02-8
Adventure Guide to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Hunter Publishing, 2005, ISBN 1-58843-395-1
Adventure Guide to Bolivia, Hunter Publishing, 2004, ISBN 1-58843-365-X
Adventure Guide to Belize, 2002, Hunter Publishing, USA
Diary of a Lake, 2002 Repository Press (co-edited, with John Harris)
Tungsten John: Being an Account of Some Inconclusive but Nonetheless Informative Attempts to Reach the South Nahanni River by Foot and Bicycle, 2000, New Star Press (co-author with John Harris)
Kluane Park Hiking Guide, 1997, New Star Press (co-author with John Harris)
Fobidden Mountains, 1996, Caitlin Press
Central America by Chickenbus, 1993, Repository Press
[BCBW 2005] "Travel" "Outdoors"
Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Sidetracked: The Struggle for BC's Fossils
Diary of a Lake (Repository Press $22)
John Harris and his partner Vivien Lougheed have edited and produced Diary of a Lake (Repository Press $22) about Crystal Lake, a mecca for rock climbers in the heart of the Mackenzie Mountains, off the upper South Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories. It contains the published work of American and Canadian scientists who came to the lake, plus their journals and photos, from 1934 onwards. 0-920104-24-X
[SUMMER 2003 BCBW]
Forbidden Mountains (Caitlin $16.95) is Lougheed
When Vivien Lougheed was growing up in Winnipeg in the 1940s and 1950s, her two favorite escapes were the vast outdoors and the indoors of the local library.
“I used to take off on my bicycle and spend hours exploring the countryside. My mother was so busy at work that she thought I was safely at home,” says Lougheed.
Her other passion was looking at the faraway places featured in the glossy pages of National Geographic — not the regular reading fare for a young prairie girl. “My mother actually thought the magazines were pornographic because they showed bare breasts,” says Lougheed laughing.
These two childhood pastimes set the foundations for a life of unconventional travel. “I came from a very poor background so I didn't think I could ever travel,” says Lougheed, who has visited five of the seven continents during the past 25 years. “I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to do that.”
When Lougheed, 54, and her friend Joanne Armstrong decided that they wanted to see Tibet for themselves — without paying the exorbitant fees charged by the occupying Chinese — they snuck illegally into Tibet from northern Pakistan.
Forbidden Mountains (Caitlin $16.95) is Lougheed's autobiographical account of their year travelling into Tibet from Delhi via Pakistan, over the Karakoram Highway into Kashgar in Western China, and east toward Xian along the northern train route across the Takla Maken Desert in the early 1990s.
“Tibet has long been the ultimate challenge for addicted travellers,” says Lougheed. “It has been the Shangri La of travel because it encompasses the physical and cultural isolation that has not been available elsewhere.”
En route to their destination, Lougheed and Armstrong endured all manner of setbacks...
Rickshaw robbers in New Delhi take them down an unlit alley where they barely escape with their packs. A nasty sinus infection causes Lougheed to snot up blood while malnutrition makes her hair come out in clumps.
“At one point, we were very sick with altitude sickness and could have died,” says Lougheed. “Thanks to some amazing truck drivers from Kashgar — who fixed a clutch in the middle of the desert and used hot coals to seal inner tubes — we got to the border.”
In Tarchen, Tibet, Lougheed and Armstrong stayed with a Tibetan couple, Ringin and Terzin. They were treated to traditional food, such as yak butter tea and momas, unstuffed wheat dumplings. After spending a few days with the Tibetan couple, their hospitality seemed to wear thin.
Late one evening the women were unceremoniously kicked out by a drunken Ringin, who started shouting at them, waving a knife and flicking a thick wad of bills at them. When Lougheed tried to pay him for the day's lodgings, he angrily crumpled up their money and threw it back at them.
“Ringin obviously didn't want us in his home,” writes Lougheed, “but we didn't know why.” With hindsight she realized that Ringin was scared because he had collaborated with the Chinese by servicing high paying tourists and trying to show that there's nothing wrong with Tibet.
“We stayed on longer than others had and saw a side of life in Tibet where most people didn't have what Ringin and his wife had,” says Lougheed. “We made him nervous. We were reminding him that he had collaborated against his people.”
After Lougheed and Armstrong left in the middle of the night, they staggered into the darkness without a flashlight, stepping over broken glass and past chained dogs. When they arrived at a monastery nearby, they were greeted by five monks offering them food, drink and a place to stay for the night.
During the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese destroyed monastaries, closing some permanently. Others were spiffed up, polished and painted for profit — tourists.
At Mount Kailash, one of the holiest places in Asia, one monk pulled Lougheed aside and said, “What you see is not happening, it's not true.” A second monk pulled the first one aside, reprimanding him.
“It was very dangerous for anyone to criticize the system like that,” explains Lougheed.
Although Lougheed acknowledges that there are huge problems in Chinese occupied Tibet, she says that the political issue is far from clear cut.
“To disturb such an ancient culture is problematic. But I can't take a side. Culture is always moving, changing, being influenced by trade, politics and the outside world. I can't judge what is happening in Tibet and we won't know for 200 years what the effects will have been,” she says, pointing out that both the Chinese and the Tibetans treated them with kindness.
Lougheed, who lives in Prince George with her partner John Harris, has previously published Central America by Chicken Bus and Kluane Park Hiking Guide.
ISBN = 0 920576 61 3
From the Chilcotin to the Chilkoot (Caitlin Press $24.95)
There is a bit of the gypsy in Vivien Lougheed, who traces her heritage,through her father, to the nomadic clans in Romania. Born in Winnipeg in 1943 and partially raised in northern Saskatchewan, she has visited more than 50 countries and written guidebooks about Mexico, Bolivia, Belize and Central America, plus stories about Tibet and Iran. When her grandfather bought her a bicycle at age nine, she was gone. “My mom would say don’t go off our street,” she says, “and I’d be on the other side of the city.” At 16, Lougheed quit school and left home, hooked on travel. At 18, she took the Greyhound to the Rockies and decided she would one day have to live in the mountains.
Lougheed moved to Prince George in 1970 and co-wrote the Kluane National Park hiking guide with her husband John Harris in 1997. Together they have hiked in the Tatshenshini River area just below the Yukon border, as well as in the wilderness parks, Mount Edziza and Spatzizi, and they spent years exploring Nahanni National Park (during which time she and John Harris co-wrote Tungsten John: Being an Account of Some Inconclusive but Nonetheless Informative Attempts to Reach the South Nahanni River by Foot and Bicycle). Now a travel columnist for the Prince George Citizen, Lougheed has restricted her wanderlust to home turf for From the Chilcotin to the Chilkoot (Caitlin Press $24.95), a guide to the mountains and hiking trails of Northern B.C. With a bright photo of children on her cover, Lougheed hopes From the Chilcotin to the Chilkoot will encourage Mr. and Mrs. Motor Home that they, too, can do the trails in places like Tumbler Ridge, Mackenzie and Haida Gwaii. “I want to get them out of their vehicles at 100 Mile House and walk around their 45-minute trail,” she says. “Too many American motor homes on their way to Alaska barrel past my favourite spots without taking the time to stop and look around. It want to entice the guy from Alabama who is going to Alaska to stay a little longer.” Lougheed got her start in the travel writing game during the mid-1980s with a self-published title, Central America by Chicken Bus, which she says has sold over 10,000 copies in three editions. As a lab technician on vacation in 1986, she crossed from Mexico into Guatemala, then into El Salvador. She and her traveling companion Joanne Armstrong coined the term chicken bus to describe the converted school buses in Latin America that transport passengers and livestock. “I used to travel as cheaply as I could,” she says, “so I could afford to do more. I don’t like the beach scene. I like to get into the mountains. I like to do the hiking and learn some of the language. And try and get off the beaten path.” Lougheed says she doesn’t travel to change the world. During a recent lecture to a secondary school class, she advised, “You have no power, you don’t know the culture, you are a foreigner. What you can do is learn there without judgment and come home and make sure the things you don’t like don’t happen in your own country.” She is currently working on a novel that takes place in Winnipeg and Cuba. 1-894759-03-8
by Heather Ramsay
Sidetracked: the struggle for BC’s fossils by Vivien Lougheed (Creekstone Press $21)
from Margaret Thompson
Most people will admit to a fascination with dinosaurs. They can understand the thrill of stumbling across skeletal remains preserved in rock or being the first to follow the ghostly tracks of some ancient creature since the day it squelched across a muddy shoreline millions of years before.
As Vivien Lougheed makes clear in Sidetracked: The Struggle for BC’s Fossils, paleontology owes a great deal more to amateur enthusiasts than most other branches of science, for they are the ones who often make the discoveries.
But who should govern control of fossils? How quickly must amateurs cede ground and findings to experts?
“Paleontology,” according to Stephen Jay Gould at the outset of Sidetracked, “though imbued with the usual swirling debate so characteristic of all interesting science, is a relatively friendly profession.”
True enough. And there are lots of examples of cooperation and even altruism in Sidetracked, but “swirling debate” is an understatement to describe the tug of war over the Monroe Dinosaur Trackway in Kakwa Provincial Park, 44 miles north of McBride.
That conflict is at the heart of Lougheed’s closely researched account of the discovery and ensuing battles over the Kakwa trackway—first discovered by Bryan Monroe and Garnet Fraser on a hunting expedition in 2000.
The first chapters whet the
reader’s appetite by recounting the discovery by amateurs—two of them small boys—of a number of fossilized remains, mainly in north-eastern BC.
Lougheed establishes the importance of the vertebrate fossil record in the area, as well as the fragility of some of the finds, including another trackway which simply collapsed and disappeared before it could be documented and studied.
Like amateur enthusiasts, readers will find themselves confronted by the maze of regulation and professional practice governing the extraction, study and disposition of fossils.
Having made this background clear, Lougheed returns to the story of the Kakwa trackway.
This is a saga of hope and frustration, of compromise offered and either ignored or obstructed, of promises made and broken, of the politics of grants and municipal ambition, of academic turf wars and the mighty clash of egos.
These conflicts culminate with an illicit field trip made by Fraser in 2005, born of frustration, after which all casts and tracings made were confiscated.
With scrupulous fairness and objectivity, Vivien Lougheed has written a gripping cautionary tale about human mismanagement.
Sidetracked raises important questions about the roles of the amateur and the professional, about acknowledgement, about training of para-professionals, and the responsibilities of government.
It explains the need for consistent definition and legislation, and timely protection of fragile remains from the elements and mercantile interests.
Without clearly defined legislation, amateurs, who may or may not have paleontological expertise, and who may want nothing more than recognition of their part in the find or some minor role in its extraction, will continue to come up against professionals with their own concerns, often legitimate, but sometimes venal, and a bureaucracy that by its very nature is inflexible, confusing and glacially slow.
As Lougheed makes clear, science—the pursuit of knowledge—is all too easily “sidetracked” by human frailties.
Margaret Thompson has written numerous non-fiction books, most recently Adrift On The Ark.