Posted from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
(Or: All’s Well That Ends Well)
Photos can be found at the accompanying photo post.
Sunday morning we left our lovely Canmore Help Exchange host and began the drive to British Columbia, the final Canadian province on our trip. Our first stop was actually a place that wasn’t even on the itinerary a couple of weeks ago, a little town called Nelson, less than 50 miles from the U.S. border. But Erik remembered that when he was in Costa Rica eleven years ago, he was told that if he were ever in that area that we would really enjoy this little hippie town of under 10,000 residents.
After approximately seven hours of driving up and down and over and across the Canadian Rocky Mountains, we arrived in the charming and alternative town of Nelson. What a fun place! Even though it was Sunday afternoon and many of the businesses were closed, we had a great time exploring the town. It had an easy and fun energy, the pace is a little slower, there are great small shops (but quite different than the boutiques in Canmore): everything from yoga and New Age shops to stores wanting to help you in your efforts to live more green. There were dozens of cafes and restaurants that touted their use of local and organic foods and their vegan options. There was even a local brewery that made organic beer, which, after buying a six-pack we deemed to be excellent. All around town were on-foot travelers: people who were walking (or maybe hitchhiking) their way around Canada, carrying their tents and all their supplies on their backs. (Upon seeing one, Erik said, “That could be us,” to which Joe replied, “Uh, no, it couldn’t.”)
Our campground in Nelson was a little different: it was really more like a parking lot made of dirt in the middle of town, but it worked fine. But the really exciting part of being in that campground was that we saw – for the first time ever on this trip – one of Maggi’s ancestors perched upon another truck. It was an older model, but it was definitely an Autohome. Unfortunately, we were never able to make contact with its owner or, because of the time of day, snap a decent photo of it.
Monday morning we walked around more of Nelson and then made the spontaneous decision to leave. We had originally planned to spend two nights in Nelson, and although there are many fun activities like parks and trails outside of the city, we felt that we had seen enough inside the city to get a feel for it. Plus, by leaving a day early it gave us another day to spend in…BC wine country! After hiking the Rocky Mountains, blowing out knees, falling off ladders, and inhaling toxic deck-stripping chemicals, it was time for some wine.
So we packed up and headed to Oliver, where vineyards have been booming for only a couple of decades. Probably 50 years ago, they were no vineyards at all there, but now there are dozens and they are very passionate and excited by what is happening in that region. Along the way, we stopped at one of the numerous fruit stands for supplies: 2 tomatoes, 2 plums, 2 yellow plums, 2 apricots, 1 peach, and a bunch of grapes (the best grapes either one of us has ever eaten) – everything ripe and in season. The damage: $3.58.
We visited three wineries that day for tastings, two of which were free and the other cost $2. Can’t beat that! The final vineyard we visited was called Black Hills Estate Vineyards, and we chose it mostly because we thought it would be a fun picture for Erik’s dad, who loves the Black Hills in South Dakota. The woman who greeted us (shout out to Tasha) told us about an educational tasting they were having the next day, where several varieties are sampled while a very knowledgeable representative discusses each, along with a mini-tour of the grounds and an explanation of how they process their grapes and make their wine. Since this was absolutely something we are interested in, we signed up and decided to return the next day, even though it meant that we would probably not be able to enjoy other vineyards because of our schedule. (More spontaneity!)
That evening we found our campground and went for a walk around town. The night before we arrived in Oliver, the high school burned to the ground. We checked out the site, still smoldering. After just completing a $20 million renovation, the school is totally destroyed. No joke. Although there wasn’t yet an official cause, it was looking a little suspicious. That night at the campground we had a record SIX of our neighbors come and ask us questions about Maggi.
Tuesday morning we went back to Black Hills and really enjoyed our experience. We learned about the climate of the area (actually part of the Sonora Desert, which starts in Mexico) and how it’s the hottest region in Canada, the types of grapes, the soft, sandy dirt in which the grapes grow, how different varietals of grapes are grafted together, stuff about sugar and yeast and oak barrels, etc. It was way fun, and the wine was very delicious. After our class was over we hit the road again, driving through an incredibly scenic terrain of desert and mountains, and spent the night camping in Manning Provincial Park near Princeton. That one was the prettiest campsites we’ve ever had – right on a flowing river – and it was unquestionably the coldest night yet. Good thing a week of sleeping indoors, in conjunction with southward travel, lies in the future.
Although we were moving very slowly on Wednesday morning (it’s hard to be fleeting when your extremities are numb), we managed to get packed and begin the trek to Vancouver, our very final stop in Canada. On the way, we stopped at the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls in a park outside of Vancouver. In the afternoon, we arrived in wonderful Vancouver. Our hosts in Vancouver came about through a SERVAS connection: two ultra-cool guys who just, out of the goodness of their hearts, offered to let us stay with them when they found out about our trip. (Canadians rule!)
After a rather lengthy period of hot and sunny days, our arrival coincided with a new season of cloudy and cooler weather. Vancouver’s seasons work a bit differently: they rarely get snow, just rain. And the leaves don’t turn pretty colors, they just fall off the trees while still green. Our host gave us a fun car tour through town to help us get orientated, and then we spent a fun evening with wonderful food and great conversation inside their gorgeous house.
Thursday was the soon-to-be-patented Joe and Erik Big City Walking Tour. We took the sky train into downtown Vancouver in the morning and just walked all day. We did the same thing in Chicago and Manhattan; it’s the best way to get a feel for a city. And since we are not shopping for clothes or carrying a checklist of sights to visit, it is really time well spent. We walked around the seawall, downtown, all the fun neighborhoods and streets with their individual characters, we took a short ferry ride to Granville Island with its shops and galleries and artisans (and tourists) and just had a great time. Vancouver is a fun and interesting city teeming with lots of nifty people, but because it is a more recent city, the overall architecture (including the skyline) is not all that fascinating. So, it may not be the most stunning city visually, but it has more than enough other redeeming qualities to make you look past that minor detail.
On Friday morning we said a sad goodbye to our wonderful hosts (whom we will get to see in a few weeks when they coincidentally will just happen to be where we are at the same time!), ran a couple of errands, and then headed to Stanley Park, which is inside of Vancouver. It has walking trails, beautiful trees and plants, a rose garden, and other activities, such as an aquarium. We just walked and enjoyed nature for a couple of hours. Like parks in Washington, D.C. or New York City, it is a forested oasis inside the big city that makes you feel as though you are hours away.
After the park, we spent the last of our Canadian cash, all $20.60 of it, on gas for Apollo. And $20.60 doesn’t go all that far in Canada when buying gas. But it was enough to get us over the border and back in the U.S.A. First stop: Seattle to reunite with several of Joe’s friends some high school, college, and other activities.
Our time in Canada has come to an end. In our original plan, we were not even intending on going to Canada; we were just going to drive to Central America. But after our Newfoundlander-in-Minneapolis friend convinced us to meet her in Newfoundland for a week, we reconsidered skipping Canada and started establishing Help Exchanges all over the country. We would have saved time and money by cutting back across through the U.S. during some of our travels, but we wanted the adventures of driving across Canada from east to west. Even Canadians who have heard about our trip were impressed that we were able and wanted to do this. Most Canadians have not driven this much of Canada. Sure, they’ll fly to Ottawa to visit the Capitol or fly to Vancouver to see the Pacific Ocean, but driving such a vast country is an investment of time and resources that most people understandably cannot usually commit to. But we did and we loved it. Yes, the gas prices blew our expenses out of the water, but we planned for that. So far on this trip, we have spent absolutely zero money on hotels, and our per-night camping fees are generally around $20. (No, Apollo has no interest in spending the night for free in a Walmart parking lot.) And oats, peanut butter, and bread are cheap, so we did what we could do to make it work.
But moving forward: the West Coast of the U.S.A. awaits and along with it hopefully some warmer temperatures.