For the first time ever, we lived the same day twice. No, not Groundhog day—the International Date Line. We left Tokyo at 7pm on 1st July and woke up in Vancouver at 10am on 1st July. After a grilling by the Canadian authorities, we saw our first Canadian emblem—a real Mountie called Roy who was in the airport as it happened to be Canada day. Awash in a sea of red and white Vancouverites, we got the SkyTrain monorail to our hostel C&N Backpackers, which we initially managed to walk past as it’s cleverly disguised as an antiques shop.
When we planned our world trip, “following summer” was somewhat of an influence, and we assumed that by the time we got to Canada we’d catch a pleasant summer into autumn. What we hadn’t anticipated was that Vancouver would be experiencing a heat wave when we arrived, and not expecting 35+ degree days, our hostel had no air con, so we spent most of our time sat by the window in the “living room” to catch a slight breeze. After seeing the Canada Day fireworks in the harbour, we experienced our first jet lag of sorts: Canada’s night was Japan’s afternoon so we found ourselves asleep in the day and awake all night.
Our 3 weeks in Vancouver were up and down. We’d planned to buy a campervan for the rest of our North American road trip, so most days were in spent in pursuit of that. In an actual Groundhog day fashion, most of our days in the sweltering hostel involved perusing Craigslist for vans, Peb trying to find work and working out at the Andy Livingstone field while I edited, calculating what we could afford and spending more than we wanted to staying in what was somehow the cheapest hostel in Vancouver, trekking out on the SkyTrain and buses to Greater Vancouver, in the blazing heat, to see numerous unsuitable vans.
One particularly bad time, we ended up at a dusty crossroads in the middle of nowhere when someone’s poor directions landed us on a bus almost to the American border, and with no Canadian phone contract or map, we resorted to trying to call the seller from a casino. Finally, so lost and late, we gave up and got back to the hostel at 10pm, having wasted an entire day.
It wasn’t all bad though. We managed to get out of the city for my birthday weekend, to Coquitlam in Greater Vancouver. We went to Mundy Park, had a picnic with the turtles at Lost Lake, then cooled down from the 34 degree heat in an outdoor pool that looked like something out of a movie. We went to the movies, the mall, and ihop (the International Home of Pancakes).
Although the days in the hostel were frustrating, we were delighted when my mom and aunty H booked flights to New York to meet us for New Year! We also made a friend, another English sports-lover called Faye, who we hung out with most days watching the Blue Jays. Luckily, C&N had the Sports Network and I transformed from a baseball hater into an obsessed Jays fan. For a treat, we occasionally went to “London Pub” (our very un-English local), though venturing out of the hostel at night was an interesting experience…
C&N is on the edge of Chinatown, the modern-day slums of Vancouver. In the day time, it’s a smelly, crumbling, and litter-strewn area of town with some cheap souvenir shops. At night time, it looks a scene from Shaun of the Dead, taken over by a staggering number of drunk and/or drugged-up homeless people, needles scattered on the floor, ranting and raving at each other. The local police allow the drug-taking to continue to reduce the crime committed by the homeless community, a classic case of papering over the cracks.
It’s a shame, because Vancouver is ideally situated surrounded by mountains and water, and has some wonderful parts. Gastown is one of them, complete with vintage steam clock, adorable old fashioned street lights, and original Victorian buildings. The best part is Stanley Park, less of a “park” and more of a wilderness, almost as big as the city and surrounded almost entirely by water. There, I was overjoyed to see my first raccoons, a mom and her cubs, as well as my first beaver, black squirrels, bald eagles, herons, and starfish. We even got a display while eating our lunch on the seawall as a couple of local harbour seals kept swimming past us on their backs, sunbathing.
When we were starting to lose hope for our road trip, things came together. Another European couple had been road tripping around North America and were flying home that weekend, so needed a quick sale. Their retro 1985 Chevy was exactly what we needed, kitted out with everything we’d need, and they’d managed to live in it for a year, so we could too. Plus, the van looked awesome.
As a fitting farewell from Vancouver, Peb went for his final training session and happened upon a murder scene at the field. Thankfully, we were getting out. I finally saw a bit of “real Canada” at Bunsen Lake, a valley of alpine trees with a millpond lake and a bald eagle perched in a tree. Though, after three months in Australia, a country that is practically set up for nomads, we quickly discovered that finding camping in Canada wasn’t as easy. The first weekend, we went back to Coquitlam and “camped” in Mundy park car park for want of finding anywhere better.
It was Peb’s 30th and what he really wanted for his birthday was to see a bear, our favourite animal. After a bit of Googling, we chanced it at Minnekhada Regional Park. Before we’d even reached the park, Peb was shouting “Bear! Bear!” as wandering around a field of machinery was a black bear. We took a hasty walk up a path in the adjacent field, where the bear promptly crossed the path ahead of us, had a wade through the river, then wandered off into a blueberry field … because as Paddington taught us, bears love sweet things.
We took a walk a little further up the path, a popular spot for joggers and cyclists, and heard a splash. I thought it was an overweight duck, but it turned out to be another black bear coming to wish Peb happy birthday. At a humid 35 degrees, the poor furry creature was trying to cool down in the river. About 10 feet from us, he took one look at us, then promptly ignored us and continued to have a lengthy wash, even having a good old scratch under the pits. We stood in amazement, watching this bear have a bath, then listened to him huff off down the river. After that birthday treat, we took a stroll around Minnekhada, which smelt like Yankee Christmas candles, fir trees, and chocolate, and discovered the wonder that is Boston Pizza, a cool sports bar that does more than just pizza.
After a few days in the country, we headed back into Vancouver to meet Nick’s aunty George, who had come for a holiday. We stayed in a cool basement apartment in Kitsilano, the arty area of Vancouver, and for the first time in a month, it rained nonstop for George’s arrival, and was a chilly 13 degrees. Typical! Nevertheless, we walked to Granville Island, accidentally wandering through the middle of a film set in our rainbow of waterproofs, and in true English style, had a barbeque despite the weather.
Luckily, the weather picked up and we hired bikes (me and Peb on a tandem due to my Rottnest accident) and cycled around Stanley Park. At the seawall, we saw an eagle catch a big fish, then fed some adorable Douglas squirrels and some incredibly domesticated raccoons (big love for raccoons). We spent an afternoon at Jericho beach (nicer than the more popular Kits beach), and to end our time in Vancouver, we watched China’s impressive entry in the World Fireworks competition, which had smiley faces and hearts in it!