Near the end on May, I quit my job and fled to Canada for two and a half weeks. The first week was spent sight-seeing with Erika. The second week involved backpacking down the West Coast Trail. The last few days were spent riding the Amtrak down the coast to L.A. This entry will focus on Week One.
British Columbia. No, it isn’t part of the U.K. and it isn’t in England. It is Canada’s Southwestern province (kind of like a U.S. state). B.C. is known for being strikingly beautiful and full of bad-ass outdoor activities. Nearly half of the most gorgeous and exciting ads I see in adventure travel magazines tend to depict British Columbia. It is also known for rain and we got plenty of it. For every day it doesn’t rain in Los Angeles, it does in B.C. That’s a lot. But, hey, if you want a region to be green and full of life, it needs lots of rain.
Erika and I had been wanting to visit the area for a while and we aren’t afraid of rain. We wanted to see as much and do as much as we could in a week. Thus, we did a little research, but didn’t make any definitive plans. When traveling, that can work for and against you. We flew into Vancouver—so barely in Canada, you can throw a rock and hit Seattle—and rode the train downtown. The B.C. tourism website recommended a very inexpensive place near downtown. Awesome. We made our way there. We ignorantly assumed anything the tourism board listed in their literature was kosher. We learned otherwise. The hotel we stayed in for two nights was in an area of Vancouver called East Hastings. If you didn’t just get goosebumps, you’ve never been to or heard of East Hastings. We should have known better when a slightly crazed and possibly homeless woman tried to talk us out of going there. The Olympics allegedly rerouted their parade to keep it away from East Hastings. While in B.C., every time I mentioned the words "East Hastings," the person I was speaking to would grimace and relay their own horror story of the area. When we arrived, the streets were packed. Every type of prostitute was accounted for: young, old, transvestite, ancient. Nearly every person on the street was disheveled, high, and desperate for something—mostly for another hit. Some were picking at the crushed roaches on the concrete hoping a little grass was there among the mashed paper. Some were yelling belligerently at others across the street. Others conducted "business" in alleys or on the sidewalk. We strode through and entered the hotel. After assuring them Erika was not a whore and we intended to stay the whole night, they gave us a key to a shoddy room three floors up. We spent a bit of time in the attached pub downstairs (which was quite likable) and decided not to venture out after dark. The next morning we saw two teen girls passed out in a doorway with bloody needles in their arms.
Vancouver wasn’t all junkies and sex workers. We spent a few hours at the Capilano Suspension Bridge and went zip-lining at Grouse Mountain. Northern Vancouver is the lush wonderland we expected from B.C. We wanted to see as much of the region as we could and we didn’t want to spend a third night in East Hastings so we hopped the extremely inexpensive ferry to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Do not be fooled, Vancouver Island is no tiny piece of land off the coast of Vancouver. It is an enormous 12,000 square mile island over an hour from the mainland. The ferry that takes you there is basically a mini-cruise ship with small restaurants, arcades, and a playground. It carries many passengers, their vehicles, and various big rigs each way. As you cross the channel, you have ample opportunity to admire various small islands and sea life.
Nanaimo is a small city. We had heard it had good SCUBA diving and a small island called Newcastle Island. We were saddened to find out no diving trips were available on short notice, but we were able to ride a small dinghy to Newcastle. There, we hiked along beaches abundant in purple stars and through woods filled with banana slugs. We had a seafood dinner on a floating restaurant in the harbor accessible only by boat. As we walked back to our room, we came upon a rabbit warren in a small seaside park. From Nanaimo, we rode a Greyhound bus to what would be my favorite of the three cities we visited—Victoria.
Victoria is a beautiful city. It is the capital of B.C. It has beautiful architecture and—as one of the oldest cities in Canada—has a rich history that is visible all around. We visited a museum, watched IMAX documentaries, toured Craigdarroch Castle, took a ghost tour, and walked all over town admiring the city itself. Unfortunately, even Victoria has a junky problem as I saw a man surreptitiously shooting up on the steps of a Community Christian Center. Local parks also had small trash bins for used syringes. We spent two days in Victoria. Steven met us there the second night. The next morning Erika would return to the U.S. and Steven and I would begin the six day journey called The West Coast Trail.