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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Oh Canada, Here I am

CANADA | Wednesday, 18 September 2013 | Views [707]

For days I bugged Brian and Bree for us to take a trip to Victoria. Admittedly, logistics are a bit tough for getting there from Seattle. First you have to get across Puget Sound (either by auto ferry or via bridge in Tacoma) and then drive about two hours or so to Port Angeles and then take the ferry to Victoria. A somewhat easier option would be to drive to Canada and then jump on the ferry from Tsawwassen, British Columbia (BC) but it wouldn't be that much cheaper. Bree and her family have lived in Seattle for 15 years and she's never been to Vancouver! That's unbelievable, though I shouldn't talk much since I've lived in LA longer than that and have never been to the Grand Canyon. Yesterday we decided we'd go to Vancouver instead of Victoria since it's a simple matter of just driving there and vehicle matters are just a formality. Bree brought along Wheaties, Crunch Berries (Brian's favourite), chips, and so forth. We made a pit stop for some Red Bull at the store, and even though I wanted to go healthy and get pears and bananas I didn't want to risk them being confiscated at the border. After a rather uneventful drive to the border, I got some wine at a petrol station in Blaine. By petrol station standards they have a lot of alcohol for sale; the attendant told me alcohol is more expensive in Canada and that now is the time to get some. A bottle of wine for tonight sounded good so that's what I got. After passing the Peace Arch we were in Canada and when we pulled up to the customs booth the official was like "Christopher, you've never been here before?" They made us park and go inside, and immediately Brian snapped a picture! It's foolish to take pictures inside a customs office but this was Brian's first time outside the US so it's a new experience for him. An official made him delete the picture and then we were told to wait. I was called seperately and asked "you attempted to enter Canada in 2010, what happened?" I explained they had denied me entry due to hitchhiking to the border but they stated it was because I didn't have enough money. They told me to pull out all the cash in my wallet, and I had $160. In 2010, I was planning on visiting a friend whom I worked with briefly in New Zealand. I explained that I was completely unaware it was about a week before the Olympics, therefore security was tightened. Admittedly I was nervous they'd deny me entry again, but about 20 minutes later we were called to the counter and the official proclaimed "you guys are good to go!" Brian joked with the official about getting his "virgin passport" wet and then asked for ideas for a bar or club in Vancouver. Oh Canada, Here I am! I've flown over you at least a dozen times, and I have photos of nearly all of your provinces from the air, and I once came knocking on your door and you denied me entry, but you finally let me in! We stopped to use the bathroom, which is now the washroom with a sign stating "toilettes publiques". French is the other official language of Canada. Miles become kilometres, gallons become litres, and checks become cheques. Toward Vancouver we drove with all our might, and it was sunny and a bit hot. A hot day in Canada is about as common as a snowy day in Cuba; it's unreal. We pulled into a Starbucks and hung out whilst trying to figure out a place to stay for tonight. I got a croissant with American dollars; the Canadian and American dollars are about on par, and just about everywhere will accept the greenback. Even parking metres will accept American coins. Even though I paid with the greenback I received my change in Canadian money

Brian searched for a hotel, but many of the cheapest places are about a 30 km drive from the city. At $70 a night split between three people isn't bad but factoring in petrol it can get pricey. Brian booked a place at $93 per night but unintentionally booked it for tomorrow night! He had to call and get it refunded and all. Then I suggested looking for a hostel but Brian objected, so I stood up and proclaimed "Who's the authority on travel here?." Realizing I'm the authority, Brian and Bree went for a walk whilst I worked my magic. Only a minute of searching landed me a hostel slap bang in the centre of town for about $70 for a private room, so I gave them a call via Skype and told them we'd be there by 6 PM. Now where was Brian and Bree? I was itching for them to get back since it was a beautiful sunny day and that I had found a place. I was a little disappointed that I spent about my first three hours in Canada in Starbucks. When they returned Brian was like "I knew a place would be set up." He's one of the few people who listens to my brilliance. We got to the hostel in time and had to find a parking space. Part of the reason it's good that I don't drive is that I'd get seriously annoyed at many of the small issues that come with driving, such as having to find a parking space and having to pay for parking. Once inside we had the coolest little room! It's Brian's first time staying in a hostel. He wants to go to Europe next year with a friend but I told him that if he wants to travel he needs to understand the art of hostels, and the movie Hostel is a grossly inaccurate depiction of hostels. We went out for a drive and were told about a great place to watch the sunset. Parking is rather expensive in Vancouver but at least the metres take American coins. Vancouver has somewhat of a weird layout. The suburban section of the city is a grid pattern and the downtown is on a small peninsula that juts out from the rest of the city. Futuristic-looking high-rise condos dominate the Vancouver skyline.

Bree and Brian gazed and I went for a short walk. Volunteers were out and about picking up trash on the beach. Like Seattle, Vancouver is a remarkably clean city. I came upon this rock sculpture on my stroll

After watching the sunset we went out in search of a bit to eat where we called in at a place called Uncle Fatih's Pizza. A slice costs a toonie ($2). The highest valued Canadian coins are a "loonie" and a "toonie" ($1 and $2 coins, respectively). Vancouver has all the places you'd expect in the US: Wendy's, Best Buy, Whole Foods, Michael's Crafts, etc. After our first Canadian bites, we were back at the hostel. Even though I'm turning 29 in a couple of days, I've been to 28 countries: one country for each year of my life! We all had an attitude of "We're in Canada, what the fuck, YOLO (You Only Live Once)" so we all sipped wine straight from the bottle! A night of good times it was! It's so awesome travelling with friends! Brian and Bree are receiving a crash course in how I travel, although not totally the way I do it. If I were here alone I'd be seeking out a CouchSurfer to stay with, but it's difficult to find a host for three people, especially since Brian and Bree don't have CS profiles. The hostel is called C&N Backpackers, and Brian thought I was talking about CNN, and what a great vibe it has!

The next morning I was ready for more of our "Canada Crash Course". I was up a bit early than Brian and Bree and I went next door the corner store for a coffee. My coffee intake has gone up substantially since arriving in Seattle! I've been drinking more like four cups a day rather than the one or two I have when at home. It took awhile to get them moving, and I was nervous about either losing the key deposit (checkout is at 11 AM) or the car being towed (2 hour parking after 9 AM). There are flyers for hostels in Alaska and postings for jobs in Vancouver. If I had more time, I'd be out there with my thumb out headed toward Alaska! That's one of my dream journeys, yet I won't be able to undertake it until I can get out of the corporate world. I have many journeys planned for when I leave that world. This morning I was talking to a couple from Quebec: Sarah and Frank. Frank is from Belgium yet was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. When I mentioned Kinshasa, Kisangani, and Lubumbashi, he was immediately impressed. I mention them because we were at Blenz Coffee a half hour after we left the hostel and we ran into them. They told us they were headed toward Stanley Park so we offered them a ride. That's another lesson in my "crash course" since hostels typically have a vibe unlike anywhere else. Friendships are formed, people are connected, and travellers are united. Brian will really discover this when he's in Europe next year! All packed into the car, we were off to Stanley Park. We got lucky to have two sunny days for our time in Vancouver. Mr. Hanley told me about the totem poles, so that's what we drove toward. Finding a parking spot was tough, and even in Stanley Park you have to pay for parking! Totem poles are unique to Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, and the Alaskan Panhandle, and the word totem comes from an Algonquin word meaning "his kinship group." These tall poles are usually carved from cedar and depict either people or various kinds of animals. All five of us got in a photo together in front of the eight totem poles.

In addition to these huge poles, Stanley Park is littered with Canada's national symbol: the maple leaf. As a child I used to collect unique leaves at school to take home. My teacher would yell out "drop the leaf" and I'd be like "please, I'll put it straight into my backpack." Whilst I didn't have a desire to bring home a maple leaf, a photo of one will act as a perfect Canada album cover. Sarah and Frank wanted to hire a bicycle, so we drove around a bit and I spotted a fish & chip place. When we parked, a woman told us we couldn't park there. At first I figured she was just someone being nosy but she was actually really helpful: she advised Brian that where he parked is a space in which the person pays $75 a month to use, but going only a few dozen metres ahead we could park for free for as long as we want. She then said "I have a gift for all of you" and gave us each a Canadian flag pin. I can proudly wear the maple leaf! The three of us walked toward the fish & chip restaurant and I was amazed at how sunny and beautiful it was today. With an all-you-can-eat deal I opted for that, although I couldn't eat much more than fill the plate. It allowed me to share some with Brian. Before leaving Canada I wanted a Canadian 50-cent piece but it'd be fruitless effort trying to find one. By mid-afternoon it was time to start heading back toward America. Bree said we might as well fill up but I advised not since petrol is about $1.50 more per gallon than in Washington, and within Vancouver it's even more expensive than in the rest of BC. Through Bree's sun roof I snapped one of my best city shots.

With my maple leaf pin proudly attached to my belt loop, the three of us drove south. Instead of waving Canada goodbye, we proudly said "see you again."

My first trip to Canada was short but gave me an excellent first impression of this gigantic country! We had beautiful weather, had some good food and met some great people! I would love to visit many parts of Canada, though if I could pick one place it would be St. John's, Newfoundland but I'll see where I'm at and how my future travels unfold. Oh Canada, I shall return.


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