Oh Canada! Bear sightings in British Columbia.

Trip Start Mar 15, 2008
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Trip End Oct 02, 2009


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Flag of Canada  , British Columbia,
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

VANCOUVER

Ben Reporting: We arrive in Vancouver, after a reasonably short bus trek a couple of hours north from Seattle USA, across the border into Canada. This is our fourth country since we started, not including Australia, and we're excited to be offered a different culture, if only slightly. While Canadians don't do things all that differently from their southern brethren, there are a few exceptions. I find Canadians a little more courteous and laid back (not to say that the American's weren't friendly) but in customer service situations in Canada, we didn't feel like we were in the way. Also, in Canada they use one and two dollar coins (which the Canadian's for some odd reason call Looneys and Toonies) instead of dollar notes as in the US. This may seem a small difference, but it really helps in being able to manage your money, especially in being aware of how much you have on your person. There's also a slight accent difference between America and Canada - Canadian English has definite influences of Scottish and French in it. So even though the variances might be inconsequential, being in Canada allowed us to feel we were venturing into new and undiscovered territory.

So to Vancouver; our first, impressive impression of Canada. The bus drops us off at Vancouver airport, where we pick up a rental car, which we've rented for one week. The reason we've decided to rent a car in Vancouver is to allow us the opportunity to explore British Columbia, the province in which Vancouver is located. Excitingly, the Rocky Mountains are also located in British Columbia, so we are hoping to see something we don't often get to see in Australia: ascending landscapes. But more on that a little later.

Our time in the city of Vancouver then is brief, which is a shame. The city is one of picturesque beauty, like none I've seen. The suburbs each resemble the neat and green streets of some perfect Hollywood suburbia, the houses and gardens each mirroring the next in class and cleanliness. The Downtown area itself, where we spend most of our time, I could never have imagined. Thrusting up above the skyline, in the foreground, are the unique glass buildings that make up the Vancouver city area. Vancouver does, in fact, carry the nickname the 'City of Glass', for the strange all-glass design of its impressive CBD. With further research I was unable to find a reason for this odd urban fašade, so the look just left a strange magical impression on me. Even more incredible is the background to the city: sitting behind Vancouver, eminently visible, towering above this metropolis like some huge, dormant monster, is the snow capped mountain/ski resort: Whistler. The mountain sits so high above and close behind the city, making it's presence all the more looming and incredible. Forgive me for being so gob smacked over a mountain, but Whistler's positioning in relation to the city gives it a powerful and unforgettable visual presence. Sadly, by the time we'd come to take photographs of city of glass, with huge mountain astride, the notoriously grey and low Canadian cloud cover had descended. So you'll have to make do with the descriptive imagery.

After finding our hotel, we spent our only full day in Vancouver searching for winter clothes for our approaching time in Alaska. This did afford us some quick time in Downtown Vancouver, and overall the city seemed like it might be a nice place to live. Oddly, we kept bumping into Australian's all around Vancouver, and, despite our limited stay, this helped shape our impression of the city. One Aussie, a ski instructor, who we gave a lift from the airport, told us that Vancouver had been voted the world's most liveable city in some worldwide Newspaper report. Melbourne was voted second, which isn't unreasonable, if you take all factors into account. Another Australian we spoke to was less positive. She spoke of the drug problem in Downtown Vancouver, which was severe due largely to the lack of general medical and financial support the Canadian government allocates the working class population of the country. The drug problem was isolated, in fact, to one street in Vancouver, where a needle room and support facility is located, the only one of its kind in all of Canada.

So it was then, that the only two sights we visited in our brief time in Vancouver were, the Steam Clock, and the drug addled East Hastings Street. We drove down East Hastings (not really wanting to walk) to view this reputed drug street, and were given a depressing glimpse of the problem: a large cluster of homeless people, huddling under shop verandas to keep out of the rain. It was greatest number of vagrant people I'd ever seen in one place (Leah has been to India, but I'm sure this is second place for her). It seems surprising to see so much human devastation in an internationally respected Westernised nation like Canada, and it reminded me a little of the obvious homeless problem we'd encountered when in San Francisco. I guess the places where the most privileged people live also seem to collect the poorest. After viewing the sad sight that was East Hastings we turned a couple of corners and found the Steam-powered Clock. The Clock is a famous sight in Vancouver-an old Grandfather clock on a street corner that has steam pouring from valves around its face. As the clock struck 11 am, various tubes and whistles on the clock belted out a tune while piping out steam, like some old, musical steam contraption from the Willy Wonka factory. The Lonely Planet guide did note, though, that the Steam Clock was actually powered by electricity, but the effect is still pretty cool. And so, with a steaming chime of the clock, we were on our way, out of Vancouver, into the British Columbian countryside.

DRIVING AROUND BRITISH COLUMBIA

Leah says: We set off in our hired car to brave the wilderness of the Canadian province of British Columbia... well at least we headed off on the highway once we bought a map and found it! Our first day on the road we headed East on the 1 and encountered a fair bit of low hanging cloud and some rain, while we wound our way through the Rockies. Every so often we'd catch a glimpse through a break in the clouds of the massive snow-capped mountains that surrounded us. There were also at times waterfalls running down the cliffs and twisting ice-cold creeks running along the roadside. Basically everything was either lush and green or bright white still covered in the winter snow.

After winding our way around about 300kms and having stopped at Dairy Queen for lunch along the way we stopped at the town of Osoyoos (pronounced oh-sue-yous). We found a great motel room kind of within our budget with our own spa. We spent the evening catching up on emails and doing some blogging with the free wifi. We then headed out to a local brewery and restaurant for dinner and phoned home before collapsing into bed after our long day.

The next morning we rose in time to grab some brekky then packed up and headed off to catch a few wineries as we'd discovered we were in the Okanagan wine region. So figuring it was after midday somewhere in the world we headed off for our first tastings at 10am. We found ourselves at the Inniskillin winery and got a chance to try a specific style of wine that is unique to Canada: Ice wine. This type of wine is produced by picking the grapes while they are still frozen on the vines. They are then processed and produce an amazingly sweet dessert wine, which is pretty pricey ($60 - $80 a 350 ml bottle) but tastes like liquid honey and very delicious! We continued on to another winery before coming across one called the Golden Beaver. According to the owner it was named as a play on Yellow Tail wine from Australia. By this time the day was getting away from us and we headed off East again.

We got more amazing views better than the first day as the weather had kindly picked up for us with blue skies and white fluffy clouds. This made for spectacular views of the mountaintops and the Okanagan valley. We even managed to see a Groundhog!
At one point we stopped to check out the snow that was along side the road thinking we could go for a bit of a wander and maybe experience the snow a little. That lasted about 1 minute before we sank up to our knees in snow and laughing, quickly retreated, back to the safety of our car, content to admire the snow from afar.

We made it to a little town called Nelson and decided to set up camp (in a hostel) for the night as it was almost dark and we were getting weary from another full day of driving. Nelson was a very quaint little mountain village with everything you would expect. From the friendly locals and wooden buildings, to the breathtaking backdrop of the mountains every which way you turned. We had a wander through the town before calling into a restaurant that had been recommended to us, called Red Fish grill. It was a great recommendation and we had some of the best chicken and salmon I've ever had!

The next morning we hit the road again after changing our plans the night before as we realised we wouldn't be able to get as far as we had planned. So we set off on our way to Revelstoke. Along the way we were treated to some more breathtaking scenery and stopped for lunch to have poutine and some chicken strips. Poutine, for those who don't know, is a dish unique to Quebec consisting of hot chips, gravy and cheese or curd chunks. Yum! After a full day of driving we arrived at Revelstoke around 4pm and checked into a hostel that luckily had room. We headed out to explore the town and found a lovely river walk that takes you around the edge of town. We wandered for about 2 hours admiring the scenery and the wildlife before heading back to town. It's funny because this was the most 'bush' walking we have done since we left, and since we've been travelling through the US, Canada and even Japan people assume that we are wilderness hikers. They assume this probably because we have mattress rolls strapped to the tops of our bags and so we are constantly getting asked where we have been camping and how do we manage to hike for so long with big packs!
We headed back to our room and splurged on some cheese, crackers, olives and pepperoni to go with our bottle of wine we had bought at the Inniskillin winery.

The following morning I was excited because we were heading off to see some wolves at a sanctuary and were planning on checking out Glacier National Park which would hopefully have some walking trails. We stopped off for Ben's introduction to Tim Horton's for breakfast, which is my favourite Canadian invention. Tim Hortons: basically think Starbucks, Canadian style, but they serve great soups, chilli, sandwiches, doughnuts and bagels all pretty cheap and all really yummy! The intro went well and I am pleased to announce he is almost as hooked as me when it comes to Timmy's!

On the downside of the day we didn't get to go on any walking trails. We were a bit early for the tourist season and so the roads had only just been opened and hadn't been cleared of snow, along with the walking trails. We were also unable to get to see the wolves as I misunderstood and thought they were on our way to Glacier National Park instead they were an hour further on, and we didn't have enough time to get there and get back to where we were staying for the night. On the bright side the mountains were spectacular and we managed to find a couple of places where we could get out and play with the snow a little at lookouts.

As we headed back west we came across a little museum of buildings, advertised as a 'ghost town', attached to a hotel in the middle of nowhere. We decided to go in and take a look as it was only $10 each, including a free personal tour guide to show us around. They had an amazing collection of buildings from all around Canada through various historical times. The collection included a school, saloon, a house made of bottles and various shops. They also had heaps of vintage cars, trains and antiques. We managed to see a weasel run across our path and a hummingbird, which we both thought, was some sort of large bug or cicada due to the tiny size, speediness and buzzing sound. It wasn't until it stopped at one point that we could see it was a tiny bird! It was a great stop to learn some of the history of the area and made us marvel how any of Canada was discovered and settled by people considering the conditions they had to go through to do it! All in all it was a great day and we made it to a place called Penticton, which is back in the Okanagan Valley, to stay the night. We got Pizza and finished off the bottle of red wine we had bought at the wineries earlier on, before settling back in our motel room in front of the TV.

The next morning saw our last full day with the hire car, and we had to head back to Vancouver to catch our flight to Anchorage, Alaska, the following morning. Along the way we got to see the amazing Rocky Mountain's again as we drove back. We were only about an hour or so out of Vancouver and I was doing the right thing and watching the road, when I suddenly hear Ben yell out and point to the right side of the road. I looked where he was pointing and saw a brown flash, as we whooshed past - and it was the most exciting thing we had seen the whole trip... A REAL LIVE BEAR! In a panic, I didn't know what to do. "Turn the car around. Don't worry about the double yellow line!" Ben yelled with near hysterical excitement. I quickly did a U-turn and went back and stopped about 5 metres away from a Black bear. The bear was just sitting on the side of the road eating grass, but we couldn't believe how close we were! He was so cute and I was so glad we were in the car so we could feel safe about getting that close. We took about a million pictures while the bear put up with us snapping the camera in its direction. I swear I could almost see its eyes roll and it think "gosh not MORE tourists. Can't a bear eat in peace??" It really was a huge highlight and gave us at least a half-an-hours conversation re-living the experience, which took us pretty much back to Vancouver.

Back in Vancouver, we had to brave the one-way streets and stupid highways in peak hour traffic before finding our guesthouse for the evening. It was a little pricey but right near the car rental company where we had to drop off the car in the morning. It was a really nice place to stay however it was classier than what I'm used to, with cream carpets and artwork for sale on the walls. I kept imagining myself traipsing mud on the floor or breaking something so I had a bit of trouble relaxing although we completed our stay without damaging anything. We got up bright and early the next day to head to the airport and catch our flight to the new frontier of Anchorage, Alaska!
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