Touchdown in the last country, eh?

Trip Start Nov 07, 2009
Trip End Jun 17, 2010

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Where I stayed
Chez Troy and Connie! (and Olga!)

Flag of Canada  , British Columbia,
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

And so on to our final country...sniff
Gaby has spent a fair amount of time in British Columbia and I was here last year and loved it. So arrival was more like coming home than pastures new. Adding to the feeling of home was the hospitality of our friends in Vancouver and the Slocan Valley who have been absolute stars - so good seeing you all again guys!
We touched down in Vancouver after our longest trip yet - about 30 hours. Having crossed the dateline we arrived on the same day and approximate time that we left; a new experience for us at least. The flight from LA to Vancouver was incredibly scenic. There were only a few high clouds and the route follows the coast so we had great views of the Rocky Mountains the entire way. Very humbling to see such vastness.
We arrived and were met by our friend Troy who escorted us Zombies to his place and more or less straight to bed. A good nights sleep did the trick and jet lag was more or less non-existant. OK, we've not had the toughest year...
I have to mention our friend's baby - Hercules the French Mastiff (pics below). This dog is the biggest thing you've ever seen weighing more than Gaby and standing pretty much as tall as me (on its back legs, obviously!). Its also really gentle and friendly but its good fun walking him and watching some people cross the street to avoid getting close whilst others are all over him. On the first night I thought I heard, through the bedroom wall, Troy snoring the most congested deep-bass, gargling old-man snore you can imagine. Turned out it was the dog, Sorry Troy!!
Our friends from central BC had kindly offered to lend us a car so after a couple of days hanging out with Troy and Connie we raided the now dwindling airmiles account to get a hire car and set off to pick it up. This is a drive we'd done just last year, but its also the kind of journey you'd never get sick of. Its about 700kms through some breathtakingly scenic countryside with mountains, glaciers, lakes, and even a desert - awesome.
Our trusty steed for the next 3 weeks was going to be Olga. Olga the Oldsmobile - a '91 Sierra Cutlass. Our friends Sile and Jason had been telling us how old and battered she was, but she was perfect. Like any North American car of the 90's, its much like driving, nay sailing, a big, comfy couch. So armed with a few instructions on Olga's 'character' (runs hot sometimes, drinks like a racehorse) we set off back to Vancouver...and ran our of petrol after about 50kms. OK, another thing to remember - 1/8 tank means empty! Being in separate cars I no longer had the benefit of the queen of comedy for entertainment and instead had a single CD which I was ready to snap in half by the 8th time around.
Back in Vancouver we had set aside a few days to get around all its main districts. For me this is a city above any other. Having all the comforts and entertainment you expect of a big city, Vancouver manages to be incredibly energetic without being stressful. Its location is stunning; set on the coast next to huge snowcapped mountains. With the grid street system, even from the heart of downtown you can see them - a surefire way to put any stressful day into context. Quality of life in a city just doesn't get better. Great beaches, islands, winter sports, forests and hiking all on the doorstep and that's before considering its location in one of the most beautiful places on the planet that is the rest of BC
All in all, we approve! 
With Whistler being on the doorstep we decided to go and check it out for a day. Sure enough - 2 hours drive away and you're in the middle of one of the best ski areas in the world. We had a bit of a walk around in the slushy end-of-season snow and wished just for that day that it was winter so we could have gone out on boards. 
On the way home we got stuck in the rush hour traffic. Not normally a problem, except that Olga wasn't happy this time. We'd crawled along for 20 minutes, still outside town trying to get over the Lions Gate bridge but not really going anywhere when we spotted steam coming from under the bonnet. We made our way across the traffic and parked on the pavement to get out of the way with the plan of letting the traffic and Olga calm down before carrying on. You couldn't write comedy like the events that happened next. Bear in mind that this was an out of town slip road from the highway so being on the pavement didn't really seem to be a bad thing; i.e no pedestrians. So we were settling into a game of iphone Scrabble when there was a thud from behind. I shouted "what on earth was that loud bang darling" (or some more french-sounding variant) and looked around to see that we'd been hit by a pensioner in an electric wheelchair who was staring through our open back window and looking a bit scared. She was touching our car on one side and on the other was a steep crumbling mud bank. I jumped out of the car and helped her get past by standing on the bank and holding her wheelchair up so it didn't fall, all the time apologising for being in the way and telling her that we'd broken down. In the end she was offering us help! "Is someone coming to help you dear?", "Do you need to borrow my phone?". Anyway, episode over and with no pensioners any the worse for us being there, we got back into Scrabble. 10 minutes later - same thing!! From the front this time. Again we explained why we were on the pavement, watched an excruciating 25 point turn as she decided to turn around and then fended off more enthusiastic offers of pensioner help. We were sat there almost 2 hours and didn't see a single pedestrian but two ladies in electric wheelchairs - typical!
We spent the next couple of days indulging in the various things you can do in Vancouver; soaking up the coffee culture, rollerblading the water front (and wiping out twice about 200 metres from the car), running on the Kitts and Jericho beaches and sampling restaurants with our friends. 
With our city-fix consumed we decided to head out and see some more of the province - starting with Vancouver Island. The ferry is a short car journey away and then an hour later you're on the island. From the BC capital, Victoria to the remote little villages on the pacific facing coast its just amazing. One highlight is Tofino, a tiny fishing town on the west coast of the island which is a good whale watching spot. We booked onto a morning trip and managed to spot a humpback and grey whale - or at least their back fins! Still pretty amazing to be next to such huge creatures. One brilliant part of the journey was standing in an ancient forrest. Some of the trees here were saplings in medieval times. Incredible. Also a bit sad that this is one of the only bits of old growth forrest in BC though - tut tut.
On this leg of the journey we'd decided to camp having borrowed a tent along with Olga. First night we set up on a picture-perfect site surrounded by trees and bedded down. 5am we both realised that the ground was so cold that which ever part was facing down got cold and we couldn't sleep so we moved into Olga. And here was the other thing that's good about American cars from this era - bench seats. We got such a good sleep with one laying across the two front seats and one across the back that we didn't unpack the tent again. The relationship with Olga was becoming serious.
On the way back we came off the island further north and onto Powell River on the mainland and headed down the Sunshine Coast. Again another spectacular drive, and on another short ferry ride watched a massive school of dolphins swimming past - very cool. That's just reminded me:  The South Park episode about the Japanese and dolphins - look it up if you haven't seen it - pretty funny. Faaacking dolllpiiiine! I digress...
Next update from the polar opposite of Vancouver - the beautiful Slocan Valley.
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