Category Archives: Settling in

Getting Connected

Getting connected to the Internet proved to be a much bigger challenge than I expected. The plan was to get a SIM card in Calgary to be able to SMS (text as they call it here), do voice calls but most importantly be able to connect to the Internet. We agreed with the owner of the property we are renting to take over their cable TV and Internet subscription for the time we are in Fernie. So I expected to get there and start using the web at blistering speeds.

Things didn’t turn out that way. The first challenge in getting connected was with the 3G connection on my iPhone. When I purchased the SIM card in Calgary, I added what they call features to my prepaid account. Features are basically 30-day bundles you buy on prepaid to make it cheaper. I added a bundle for unlimited text, receiving calls (which you pay for otherwise) and unlimited voice calls after hours. I then also added a 1 GB of data on top of that.  The total for these two features was $70.

Thinking that the 1 GB of data would be more than enough I used my phone to navigate in Calgary. That evening while suffering from jetlag I tried to log into my TELUS Mobility online account. After resetting the password about 3 times I noticed that their site is “best viewed in IE or Firefox” and I was using Safari on my Macbook. When I finally got into the account, I realised that the features was not loaded and that I had used up all of the $100 in credit that I had loaded for only a few hundreds MB of data.

The next morning we returned to the TELUS store and after a call to the call centre they corrected it. Apparently it is a known and common issue when add features while activating new prepaid accounts. Clearly pre-paid is such a small part of the market here that they don’t bother fixing a known issue.

Getting Connected – The 3G speed at the house in Fernie

After all that the first part of getting connected was successful. When we arrived in Fernie, the owner of the house had left a folder with a bunch of information for us. Included were the wifi network name and password for us to use. The only problem was that I was not picking up the network.

There were a few others that seem to be available through out the house but the password didn’t work on them. The modem was in a one room in the house the owner had locked with all their personal belongings in there. I contacted the rental agency and after the delay in them chatting to the owners they send me the same information as in the folder again. They must have thought I was an idiot for not being able to connect to the network.

I later convinced them that there must be another problem, so the owner suggested to go to a computer store in town and renting another modem to set things up. They offered to pay for the rental. The store however did not stock cable Internet modems and they said that Shaw (the provider) would not allow two modems in the same house either.

So the obvious next step was to try and get into the room to see if there is a problem with the modem. However the rental agency didn’t have a key. So the locksmith came out to the house and tried to pick the lock but was unsuccessful. He then had the idea that if the owners could give him the number on the key he could try and make one. After a bit of a delay (the rental agency was having their xmas party that afternoon) we got the key number. The locksmith went back made and key and then returned to give it a try. But we had no luck with the key either. The next step was to drill the lock open, but he had to get permission from the owner first. By this time it was too late so we had to wait another day.

The next day he returned and took about 30 min to drill the lock open. When we got into the room the modem was unplugged. I plugged it in, and it all worked perfectly, although a little temperamental at times.

Getting Connected – The line is nice and fast!

Never thought getting connected here in Fernie would be such a mission…but now that we are, we love it! It is nice and fast and we stream video like a dream.

Opening a Canadian Bank Account

Update: Recently opened a US bank Account, read the post here.

Since we will be in Fernie for 5 months, I thought it would be easier to open a Canadian bank account. There were a few reasons for this. The first was the volatility of the rand. I find it easier to budget for the trip at a fixed exchange rate. This may mean I win or lose a little depending on what the Rand does, but this way I have a clear idea what the trip will cost us upfront.

The second challenge is the general hassle factor of using a South African credit card when overseas. I like to limit my cell phone charges when overseas so I usually divert my SA number to voicemail while overseas. After the first one or two transactions, the bank will try and reach me and when they are not able to do so, they stop the card for overseas use. Needless to say that leads to allot of frustration.

I knew it would take a few days before I got a Canadian bank account open. So I informed the bank before we left that the card will be used overseas for the next 5 months. Despite that when I tried to do the first important transaction it was declined. This was around 15:00 in Fernie, so already very late into the night in SA. It took a 30 min call back to SA to finally get the transaction approved.

Thirdly there are quite a few merchants here in Fernie whom charge you an extra 2% if you pay with a Credit Card.

Opening a Canadian bank account would help with all these. Before the trip I called the local TD Canada Trust branch and tried to open an account before we arrived, but that was not possible. I then tried online but also didn’t have any luck there. After a few google searches I was not sure it would be so easy for a foreigner that is a non-resident to open a bank account.

Where we opened a Canadian bank account

TD Canada Trust Fernie – Where we opened a Canadian bank account

But like most of our experiences here so far it was a breeze. It took me all of 5 minutes to open a cheque account. I left with my debit card and Internet banking profile all done.  The only hiccup was I needed two documents for identification, one was my passport, but they didn’t want my SA driving license, so they ended up using the Canadian Visa as the second document. Getting a additional card for my wife was just as easy.

What was interesting is that the ATM was inside the bank. So when I wanted to withdraw money on Friday evening, I was not sure if the ATM would be accessible. It was, they had a flimsy door separating it from the bank, and through it you could see the open bank safe. I wonder how long it would be before somebody breaks into the bank if this was in SA.

Once the account was open I wanted to transfer money from South Africa to the Canadian bank account. I had completed forms and gave the bank back home a copy of my passport and airplane ticket before I left, to finalize it as quickly as possible. Despite that there was a few days delay, luckily the exchange rate moved in my favour while I waited so it all worked out.

So far everything has gone great with the Canadian bank account. We have done a few transactions with the debit cards; I have downloaded the iOS app and the Internet banking works like a charm. Thank you to Andrea Gignac from TD Canada Trust – Fernie that made helped me to open a Canadian bank account.

If I knew it was going to be this easy, I would have opened a Canadian bank account when we were in Fernie in September when we were here to find a place to rent. That would have probably saved me a few thousand rand, but that is how we learn, I suppose.

Skis for Fernie’s legendary Powder

Most of the skiing we have ever done has been in Europe. About 6 or 7 years ago we decided to buy a full set of equipment. Back then we decided that we love skiing enough that it would work out cheaper to buy some equipment instead of renting every time we go skiing.

I think that first investment we made have shown a really great return. We have been using most of that equipment till now. We replaced bits and pieces along the way but most of the stuff is still from that first batch.

One of the challenges in buying instead renting is that your equipment, especially ski’s get outdated after a few years. The other big challenge is that travelling to all over the world with all the stuff can be a mission, but we have the hang of that by now.

Leading up to this season we realised through some of the nonstop (the instructor course) communication that conditions in Canada will be a lot different than what we are used to in Europe. The first change is that the temperature is much lower, so we needed to learn to layer our clothes. The other big adjustment would be for the legendary Fernie powder.

Here is a video where Jens (nonstop technical director) talks about buying skis:

This meant that we needed to get new skis for Fernie’s legendary powder, as our carving skis won’t work well in the deep and steep stuff in Fernie. So last Friday the day before opening day we wanted to go to the shop in the video (The Guides Hut) to have a look at what they had. It was our full intention not to buy anything yet but to just look around and learn about the things we need to consider.

When we were looking around, Mark (whom I now know is the owner) came up to us and started chatting and answering our questions. He was super helpful and explained everything we wanted to know. While we were still looking around, Jens came into the store and he started helping as well. He gave us great advice on skis that would work for us in the course and in the Fernie conditions.

It was a great experience and we ended up both getting new skis, I got new boots and Ankie layers and layers of clothes. Have a look at my new skis:

dynastar outland 87

My Skis for Fernie’s Legendary Powder – Dynastar outland 87

And new boots have been long overdue:

My new boots fit like a dream

My new boots fit like a dream – Lange Pro Booster 120

So far the service and help here in Fernie has been amazing, people are very friendly and always eager to help. Today we went out for the second time on the new equipment and it was amazing. The 24hours leading up to this morning had produced about 32cm of snow. This was on our balcony this morning:

About 32cm over night

Snowed more than 30 cm over night last night

As we got out of the car in the parking lot on the mountain, the snow started falling again. It was one of the best days skiing we have ever had. I was often knee deep in powder and once just before I planted my face in the snow up to my middle. It is a whole new feeling, skiing in such deep snow, but I am sure we will master it before the end of the season.

I am really loving ever moment! Make sure you get skis for Fernie’s legendary powder if you ever come over here.

Thanks to Mark Gallup from The Guides Hut and Jens Mende from NonStop for the help! You guys rock!

Buying a car in Fernie

One of Fernie’s challenges is that there is no Public transport system. The ski hill and our house is a few kilometers from town in different directions. So we decided the best solution would be to buy a car. It ended being much easier than I thought.

When we were in Fernie in September we stopped at the Fernie dealership in town to have a look at what second hand (pre-owned, as they call it here) cars would cost. While looking around one of the sales guys came walking out. He started to enquire about our needs and I reluctantly started to tell him our story. I have never enjoyed a hard sell approach, and Hal (the sales guy) handled it really well.

I took his card and started to do some research when we got back to the hotel. It looked like it was possible to get a rental for 5 month but that would be more expensive than buying, using and then selling a car. It was very noticeable that the favourite type of car in town was pickup trucks. I am not sure if that is because it is really a mining town or more as a result of the hectic winter conditions. It seemed like a good idea for us to get a 4 x 4 for the worst of the winter storms.

We ended up buying this Ford Truck in Fernie

We ended up buying this Ford Truck in Fernie

I also asked a few question around getting the car insured. They suggested I talk to the local broker, but also mentioned that I needed to get my claims history for the last 8 years to minimize my insurance.

Back in South Africa I tried to get information out of the broker in Fernie, but never got any response out of them. After a few attempts Hal referred me to another broker in Cranbrook named Ari Kupritz (Brothers Insurance Agency). Ari was actually born in South Africa, their family moved to Canada when he was 3. He had helped other foreigners before and was very helpful and answered all my questions.

Hal had also offered to fetch us from the airport in Calgary when we arrived. I am not sure if he realized what he was letting himself in for, because between the 5 of us we had 9 huge pieces of check-in luggage and another 7 carry-on. But somehow we fitted it all into the minivan.

After dropping everybody off at the house, Hal and I headed to the dealership to make the final pick of the truck we would take, do the paperwork and process the payment. The choice was simple and we decided on a 2006 Ford truck with about 90 000 km on. Paperwork was quickly done, although I forgot that all prices here exclude sales tax (ouch).

When we finally tried to process the payment we needed to call the green bank back in SA, they just said their system is offline and we needed to try again in an hour (this after I prepared them for the transaction twice). It was already too late, so we decided to try again in the morning when it was daytime in SA, since the registration could also only happen the next day. The guys at Ford gave me a loan minivan for the night and I headed back home.

The next morning the payment went through straight away and the Hal agreed to go with me to Cranbrook to do the insurance and registration. I did not realize that both those would be done with the insurance company, and in about 5 min the car was registered, licenced and insured. All done with Brothers Insurance, it was really easy and efficient. I even had brand new licences plate to go with it. It was very interesting that it could all happen without dealing with any government department. The insurance is also tied to the license plate, and is done mostly on an annual basis not monthly like in SA. I did manage to get my claims history and it saved me about 40% on the insurance.

Our Canadian number plates

Our Canadian number plates

Buying a car in Fernie turned out to be much easier than I thought, and so far it is driving like a dream. Hopefully everything else will go as smoothly over here. Thanks to Hal and the other guys at Fernie Ford for the help, and Ari for helping with the insurance. I hope everybody we deal with is as helpful.

Getting to Fernie – “Keep calm and carry on!”

Here we are in Fernie! It has been a really busy week and we are still settling in. The kids are still waking up at odd hours of the night, like 0215 this morning, but that could be the time zone change or just being a 2 year old.

Getting to Fernie was surprisingly easy. The kids were really well behaved and everything worked out great. Our first flight from OR Tambo to Frankfurt was completely full. The kids were very excited and intrigued by everything in the plane. After the meal and a bit of encouragement Sarika fell asleep in Ankie’s arms. Christopher followed a little later, and they both slept about 5 hours. The worst part of the travel was the decent into Frankfurt, Sarika cried all the way down; we practised the motto: “keep calm and carry on”.

There was some perks to flying with the kids: Frankfurt had a special line for families, with no queue and about 5 people helping us get through. What a breeze! The 5 hour stopover felt much shorter and before we knew it we were on the plane to Calgary (after boarding first, another perk of flying with kids). The second flight was less than 30% full, so we had a row of 4 seats for each of us. Sarika also slept about 8 out of the 10 hours, with a little prescribed Valegran.  We all got some sleep, stretched out over the seats!  It helped a lot having a third pair of hands, ears and eyes on our trip, and I know having Eunice with us (our holiday au pair) is going to be the best idea ever!

Slept 8 out of the 10 hours

Getting to Fernie: Sarika on Air Canada Flight, she slept 8 out of the 10 hours

Getting through immigration in Calgary took a little more time than we had planned and the officer wanted to see all kinds of documents. A family staying for 5 months must look a bit suspicious to them. But after all that we were through and into the rental car on our way to the hotel. Justinus forgot to book a GPS with the car we had to navigate the old fashion way, with a map, luckily that is one of his strong characteristics and I wasn’t worried at all!

Once at the hotel the first stop was to get local SIM cards so we could be connected to the world once more! We then went on to Mountain Equipment Co-op to buy some clothes for the kids, by this time they were hit really hard by the Jet lag, they fell asleep in the car. They did not think it was funny when we woke them to fit the clothes.  The shoes were fitted in their sleep!  So we rather left and went back to the hotel. We got some take-out (as they called it) on the way there, and everybody but Justinus fell asleep in the car.

At 10:00 Christopher woke up, wanting to go to the loo, Sarika woke shortly thereafter, wanting to know if she may have a sweetie!!?  I was praying that the kids will go back to sleep, as I was very tired myself; at 11:30 the battle was won.  At 3:30 I woke up with a thankful heart, with a kid on each side, upside down, their legs all over me, smelly feet in my face, holding their hands while they were still in dreamland.  Thankful that the travelling has gone much easier than anticipated,  that the kids, especially Christopher was so well behaved on the plane (Sarika was just busy J), that we’ve all made it safe on the other side, that we all kept calm and that everything worked out well.

Our Favourite Takeout in South Africa

We even found a Nando’s in Calgary! That is our favourite take out back home!

Well, with everybody up so early, there was enough time to sort out Justinus’ cell phone issues, exchange clothes at MEC and get something to eat!  We actually saw a Nando’s (our favourite) but it wasn’t open yet.  We opted for KFC that was close by our pickup to Fernie.  Sarika spilled a full glass of apple juice over Eunice, but she handled it quite well!  Hal from Fernie Ford picked us up, and we crammed everything in the minivan.  I slept for the better part of the drive to Fernie.  On our arrival we’ve collected the house keys at Fernie Rentals and were on our way to our new home for the next 5 months.  What a relief when we arrived, finally here!!

Getting to Fernie was the first part of our epic journey! That box is ticked, now the fun starts!