Dipping a Toe Back Into Travel

By Catherine Dunwoody

I was nervous. After 4 months of lockdown (yes, I started even earlier than Dr. Bonnie suggested) my new normal consisted of barely leaving the house and a hyper-vigilante way of living safely. I have always been a bit of a ‘Niles Crane’ when it comes to germy stuff. I pull my sweater sleeve around my fingers to open doors. I wipe down the chair and the table in a café with a napkin before sitting. Hand-washing multiple times a day? Of course, doesn’t everybody? Niles was clearly onto something.

During this pandemic I feel blessed and proud to be a BC resident. We are flattening the curve. Phase 3 means we can travel within our province, if we do so with care. But my deep desire for a change of scenery and to escape the Coquitlam rainy, cold, June-uary weather didn’t outweigh my concern about how to travel safely. My 90-year old mother lives in a locked-down nursing home. My goal (ok, obsession) has been to stay healthy, so I can see her again one day. Me climbing the walls aside, did I dare dip a toe into the travel pool again?

My husband Neil reminded me that our wellbeing includes our mental health too, and that some vitamin D in the Okanagan could do us both some good. Hell, a round of golf and glass of BC rosé wouldn’t hurt either.

A Cathartic Drive Into Canada’s Desert

Photo Credit: Catherine Dunwoody

So, we hit the road. Even the drive was cathartic. Entering Canada’s desert had us downshifting into relax-mode and as we wound up the hill towards Osoyoos’ Spirit Ridge Resort, the late afternoon light dreamy and welcoming. Check-in seemed like the usual thing, other than some handy ‘stand here’ floor stickers and a stanchion that reminded guests to keep their physical distance. I felt, dare I say, quite seen, and quite safe.

Wellness, especially during these challenging times globally, is crucial. Self-care is important, sure – but I’d like to hope that this crisis has brought about a shift where we realize that our individual wellness keeps others well too. To me, wearing a face mask symbolizes not just the physicality of how we can protect each other, but it shows we are mindful and kind. Perhaps a little less self-centred, and a little more heart-centred.

Our lodging was lovely and tastefully renovated since Hyatt Hotels took on operations in 2017. One of the features I like about this resort is that all rooms are suites in the adobe-style buildings, and each has a full kitchen. Being able to prepare one’s own food if preferred, especially when social distancing is encouraged, is a good thing.

However, after a stroll along the adjoining Nk’Mip Cellars’ vineyard, past the stables and down to Osoyoos Lake and back, we opted to let someone else cook for a change. The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry is Spirit Ridge’s new restaurant – and that ‘someone else’ cooking is none other than rockstar Canadian Chef Murray McDonald, founding chef of the famed Fogo Island Inn that was named #3 Best New Restaurant by Enroute Magazine. The restaurant name is a nod to the fact that Spirit Ridge sits on the traditional land of the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation. A chaptik story passed down through the generations believes the Four Food Chiefs; Black Bear, Chinook Salmon, Bitterroot, and Saskatoon Berry, represent the key elements of Indigenous cuisine. The menus capture that spirit and abundance of locally grown and produced ingredients meant to be celebrated. I enjoyed the Three Sisters salad and sage-wrapped venison on the patio during sunset, with tables all well distanced and servers keeping up protocol for safety. So far, so good.

Touch-Free Golf with Spectacular Views

Photo Credit: Catherine Dunwoody

To me, wellness is a very personal matter. For instance, I find golf somewhat meditative. Rather than get rattled chasing a tiny ball around, I feel it is the ultimate ‘get your head into it’ sport. Neil and I shot nine-holes at Sonora Dunes Golf Course, situated right on the Spirit Ridge grounds, and with views that kept getting more and more spectacular as we climbed up the hill to each hole. Deep breaths in a desert landscape taking in Anarchist Mountain, Osoyoos Lake, and the sloping vineyards were our kind of ‘ommmm.’ When it comes to cleanliness and safety during these crazy times – golf, and especially this course, seem to have it figured out. No partnering-up twosomes, sanitized drive carts, elevated holes with flags that stay put, and no rakes. About as touch-free as one could get.

Lunch on the Patio (& More Jaw-Dropping Views)

Photo Credit: Catherine Dunwoody

Lunch on the patio at Nk’Mip Cellars followed, with a jaw-dropping view, a memorable local charcuterie platter and glass of their own rosé. Before we entered, we were warmly greeted by a woman behind plexiglass who asked a few questions pertaining to Covid-19 and our possible exposure. I appreciated the extra measure of safety. Ask away.

On the roof top deck of the Desert Suites back at the resort, Daniel Bibby, Executive Director and General Manager of Spirit Ridge, told me about the property’s wellness offerings. “We’ll continue to offer yoga classes up here, and at the beach with our SUP yoga classes, but now physically distanced of course.”

Come August, “a new artist in residence program will be in place, each week featuring a different BC artist. Painting classes will be held in the vineyard, with one artist working with guests to create their own beautiful journal,” Mr. Bibby added.

No wellness visit to this sacred land would be complete without some time spent honouring the people that went before us. Bibby tells me that partnering with the nearby Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre allows guests to experience “First Nations interpretive ceremonies tied to the significance of the land we are on,” including guided interpretive hiking trails to a teepee village, smudging ceremonies to cleanse negative energy, dances and songs, and various teachings.” During these times of raised awareness regarding systemic racism worldwide, it’s even more important to learn directly from our Indigenous people, and this opportunity seems like a gift.

Having fed my body, mind and spirit for just a few days here in Osoyoos, Neil and I sit huddled by the fire cauldron on the Spirit Ridge property. I’m reminded that Daniel mentioned a “star gazing event in September” that I would like to return to experience, “where the skies are crystal clear. It feels magical. There is a reason it is called Spirit Ridge.”

To learn more about the area, visit https://www.destinationosoyoos.com/.