Discovering British Columbia and the US north-west
05.12.2008 - 30.12.2008 -21 °C
Back in August, I extended my trip by a few months after I worked out that I had enough budget to add some time to the tour. I spent an extra few weeks in Fiji and made time for the US roadtrip with Keith. But I decided it was also high time I visited Canada – the home of my aunt and uncle, and three cousins – two of whom I hadn’t seen since 1991. That’s a long time ago. So my new goal was to arrive in LA and after staying with Keith, head up the west coast and stop at Vancouver for Christmas.
Portland and Seattle
I left San Francisco, headed up the north California coast and arrived in Oregon. Portland is another great north west city. Its small in comparison to San Francisco or Seattle, but its got a great restaurant scene and a lively micro-brewery industry. I hired a bicycle for a day and went over the multiple bridges that cross the Columbia River from where the city draws its name, and on day 3 there - hired a brand-new Toyota RAV4 and charged down the Columbia River gorge to see the numerous waterfalls and Mount Hood, which was mostly snowed out anyway.
After spending a few days in Portland, I went on through to Seattle - going by Amtrak's scenic Coast Starlight option, and then staying for a couple of nights at the city’s famous backpacker lodge, the Green Tortoise, which is also situated only a short walk from the home of coffee franchises – Starbucks – its first branch, at Pike market. There are now about 12,000 franchises internationally. I also went to the Needle, built for the World Fair back in 19-something, and the amazing EMP (Experience Music Project) museum dedicated to the rock scene in Seattle (it's incredible how many stars the city has produced – Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Presidents of the USA, Foo Fighters) and did some high rise viewing from the Columbia Centre. Other than that, I found Seattle quite boring - perhaps it was the cold that prevented me from seeing too much (even the needle was covered in cloud half the time I was there) - I did spend a lot of time in coffee shops getting away from a freezing sea breeze. Next time, I'll visit in summer.
My uncle David met me at the train station, once I'd crossed the border and faced some rough questions at Canada's border immigration office. I hadn’t seen him for nearly three years since our last meeting in Cape Town in early 2006. Little did I know that David and Heidi had plans in store for me - shoveling snow in their driveway. Shortly after arriving, there I was, shovel in hand, skin frozen to the metal handle, back virtually breaking, sweating away in sub-zero temperatures - clearing snow off the ground and salting the driveway. I had to work for my meals...
Well, not quite. But I did get to shovel snow when bad weather came in, which was great because it meant that the ski-hills would most likely be getting a good dumping of snow. Plus, the whole snow-thing was quite a treat. In South Africa, snow is pretty rare, and a good dump is considered to be any snow, even a few centimeters. So watching the snow fall was something I found myself doing quite a bit of. Amazingly, there were still a few crazies around wearing t-shirts outside, when the temperature read as -4c. What would they wear if they were in the Caribbean?
Vancouver is an amazing city - its built along miles of inlets and bays, and is surrounded by pine and maple forests, and stunning mountain backdrops. Its a gorgeous city and although its meant to be stunning in the summer, I'm glad I went in winter, especially with all the snowfall. David took me on a number of walks and it was great seeing the natural forest splendor of the area. Trekking in snow was also something of a novelty. Its just incredible how much people have to adapt in those cold conditions - whether its the tyre treads of your car, installing a heating room for wet jackets, waterproof boots for a quick stroll outside, the brief hours of daylight, gloves in case you touch a metal surface - there are so many considerations and changes that come about with the winter season in Canada. And this wasn't even the east coast, where its far colder.
So I got to see my cousins Chris and Sarah - it had been a long time since our last meeting. I got to meet Lisa's husband Ken (cousin in law??) as well. So all-in-all, it was pretty good getting some well-earned catch-up time in. The highlight of the trip was heading to Kelowna, the family destination for Christmas. That place is cold! On Boxing day the cousins and co headed up early to the nearby resort of Silver Star, where after pulling some sic snowboarding moves (for me, thats turning left and right consecutively, without falling over) we would get onto the ski-lift and head back up the huge slope. On the way up, the temperature dropped to -22c.... It was COLD! No amount of gloves and scarves can prevent you from freezing! In the evenings, Chris and I would warm up in the hot-tub. After enough dares, I'd head out to the snow, jump in it, and get back in the tub. Its pretty weird having icicles grow on your head while the rest of you is relaxed in hot water. The occasional beer or bottle of wine helped matters.
Ken's folks organised a hockey game for us in Kelowna - the local team - the Kelowna Rockets were playing against some rival team. Ken bought me a puk-head. I got to wear this at the game, until people starting complaining that I was blocking the view. Anyway, I'll add it to my party-dress wardrobe, right between my Nepali Hindu holyman gear, and the Balinese fisherman suit.
My cousins - Sarah, Lisa, Ken, and Chris and Aunt Heidi (above).
It was great staying with family again - I've luckily had the opportunity a few times during the trip. David and Heidi made things very easy. But after 10 months on the road, it really makes a difference.
Just by the way - HAPPY NEW YEAR!!