As you probably know, I am kinda in love with Vancouver so it was only fitting to end our Americas trip in one of our favourite cities in the world.
Originally we were going to be spending a few nights in Victoria and were only going back to Vancouver to catch our flight, but as we would be arriving in Victoria just after Thanksgiving, no one could host us for couchsurfing. After sending numerous requests with no luck, we gave up and decided to go back to Vancouver for our last five nights instead. We have visited Victoria a couple of times before a few years ago so didn’t mind not being able to revisit this time, there will always be a next time.
With me and Canada that is definite.
It was quite the Odyssey getting to Vancouver from Quadra. It involved seven hours of travel involving two ferries and four hitched rides. Hitching in Canada has been really good to us despite the mountains of stuff we lug around and although it took us four rides to get from Campbell River to Nanaimo, we never waited for longer than one hour and everyone that picked us up was so friendly and helpful, dropping us places where we could pick up another ride easily.
Our second driver dropped us in Courtenay near the highway heading to Nanaimo. As we were crossing a road someone started beeping at us. It turned out to be our Host David from Denman Island with Tippy and Skipper! He comes to Courtenay every Tuesday to attend a Photography class and do his shopping. We went to Tim Hortons with him for a donut and a catch up. It was really nice to see him again one last time. He dropped us at the entrance to the highway and we got a ride within minutes, all the way to the ferry terminal.
We had only been away from Vancouver for 3 ½ weeks but the weather had changed dramatically since we were there last. It was as cold as Quadra (read: very cold) and the trees were shedding their crimson leaves. Nicole took us out to dinner to a Vegetarian Restaurant called Federation in Mount Pleasant on our first night back. They had the most amazing nachos and great craft beer on tap. It was a nice, relaxed evening after a long day of travelling.
Being back at 261 W 19th was like a home coming of sorts. When you are travelling long term, only lingering in one place for a matter of days, somewhere where you have friends and feel comfortable can very quickly feel like home. We had evenings just chilling out; watching movies, sipping tea, cooking dinner and talking trash. That flat and everyone in it has such a great dynamic and it is such a fun and lively place to stay. Nicole, Bridge and Ed: We miss you guys and your glorious share house!
We met our friend Jasmine in Chinatown for a dim sum lunch one day at our favourite dim sum place, Jade Dynasty. I love this place despite its no frill décor, because the food is really delicious while still being affordable. I had my 27th Birthday here back when we were living in Van. We got a mix of small dishes and shared them and it was even better than I remember. After bidding farewell to Jasmine we headed to Dr Sun Yat Sen Park.
The Park is a small oasis with bonsai trees, bamboo groves and a koi carp pond; a sanctuary from the crowded and shabby streets of Chinatown. There is a manicured garden next door to the park which costs $15 to enter. The Park is free so we skipped the garden and soaked up some Autumn sun, watching the turtles beached on logs in the pond doing the same.
After a detour through the cobbled streets of Gastown for maple based souvenirs for family, we headed to the Yaletown Farmers Market before walking home. Markets are just the best. The free taste tests, quirky food stalls (vegan and wheat free grain and seed pate anyone?) the delicious organic vegetables, live music and sweet treats. I tried the above mentioned pate (actually damn good), Masala Chai and organic brownies. There was a lovely Quebecoise stall holder selling homemade maple products and I bought a delectable mini maple pecan pie from him. What I will do when I can’t get maple favoured treats anymore – I can’t bear to think about it.
To work off the daily Cream Sodas and Maple delectables, Ed and Bridge kindly leant us their bikes. Gloves were needed to combat the chilly wind but the sun was shining and the sky was the bluest of blue. We biked the classic False Creek and Seawall route. I could bike this route every single day and not get sick of it, it fails to disappoint. It truly encompasses the best of Vancouver: incredible water and mountain views, coastal rainforest, rugged Pacific beaches, colourful totem poles and racoons, bald eagles, seals and otters abound.
When it isn’t raining, Fall is the most beautiful season to be in Vancouver. The green landscape is at its greenest, the leaves are bright and colourful, there aren’t the crazy tourist numbers of summer and it is the perfect temperature to bike and hike without overheating. Not to mention the Pumpkin spice lattes! We stopped for lunch at Fatburger on Denman Street for lunch. It is a small burger chain that started in the States and does AMAZING burgers with delicious ingredients.
We used the bikes again another day and set out through the low fog to Granville Island for lunch. As I mentioned in previous posts, Granville Island is one of my favourite places in Vancouver and I love exploring the galleries and shops and eating in the covered market. We had lunch at the market food court and for once it wasn’t a bum fight for a table. Our table overlooked the water and we felt warm and cosy in the bustling market hall while it was cold and misty outside. I really wanted to get some art prints of a particular First Nations Artist that I like so we searched the small Art Galleries for his work, but unfortunately didn’t have any luck.
We biked on to our old hood, Kitsilano, and stopped to warm up with some authentic Masala Chai at East is East on Broadway. Our insides toasty with milky, spicy goodness, we biked down to Jericho Beach and along the coast to Locarno and Spanish Banks beaches. The fog drifted even lower the further west we pedalled and all was quiet. It felt quite eerie as the silence was only broken by the fog horns of the mist shrouded cargo ships, close to shore but invisible, encased in a blanket of grey.
We biked through the suburban streets of Kits, along towering tree lined roads with sidewalks coated by a thick layer of crispy leaves. We got a bit lost amongst the mansions of affluent Arbutus Ridge, where the roads which had been on a grid system in Kits, suddenly went haywire. However, we managed to make our way back to the house after a few wrong turns.
Vancouver has more than its fair share of Breweries and after sampling the wares at the fabulous Parallel 49 in summer, we decided to visit a new Brewery in Mount Pleasant: Brassneck. I think half the population of Vancouver had the same idea as us because there was a massive line of people getting their growlers (beer jug) filled up (gotta love the name, well maybe not if you are British) as well as a mighty long wait for seats in the Bar.
Brassneck Brewery doesn’t have a food licence so they have a different food truck parked outside each evening where you can line your stomach before some beer tasting. This is a popular partnership in Craft beer meccas San Diego and Portland and it is a great combination – food trucks and craft beer – easily two of my favourite things. The long wait was worth it and we ended up with a screened off private table for the four of us. We all got a paddle of four small beers to try a variety. I was disappointed that they didn’t have any fruit ales but I enjoyed their Multiweizen 5 grain and Saison beers.
When we saw the weather forecast for our time back in Vancouver was going to be sunny, we decided that we must do a hike. Back in 2009 on a sunny Autumn day in Vancouver we hiked the Grouse Grind and I loved hiking in the crisp air. This time around for our Fall hike we planned to do the Lions Binkert trail with our friends Shaun and Brittany.
The Lions are a pair of pointed peaks in the North Shore Mountains which are visible from Vancouver. It is a 16km return trail with an elevation gain of 1280 metres – so pretty difficult. Vancouver was foggy when we were picked up at 8am. We drove across the Lions Gate bridge (named after the Lions) to Lions Bay (also named after the Lions) where the hike began.
The trail started out slowly, ascending along a gravel road through the forest. After crossing a small bridge the trail quickly became a lot steeper. We climbed steep steps, over fallen tree trunks and rocky terrain, up through the forest till we reached a viewpoint, well above the layer of soupy fog coating the city below. It was hard work getting up there and we still had another hour of climbing to go.
We ate lunch and rested our weary bodies in the shade of the West Lion, towering over us. Pushing on, we scrambled over sharp shale and scaled large boulders to get to the end of the trail, right across from the sheer rock face of the West Lions Peak.
The view was truly spectacular with snow covered mountains in all directions and the layers of fog well below us now. The fog had cleared in West Vancouver and we could see the sparkling waters and small islands of Howe Sound. Shaun had brought a couple of Granville Island Lions Winter Ale up so we had a drink of Lions at the Lions.
Some crazy thrillseekers weren’t just content in getting to the Lions, they decided to scale them too. That is some serious rock climbing so we decided to give it a miss. Hiking back down was hard going on the knees and I could barely walk by the time we got back to the car. Such a fantastic hike and highly recommended if you want a challenge.
Our last (sore) day in Vancouver we enjoyed one last delicious and cheap sushi lunch with our friends from 261, a fitting farewell to Sushi obsessed Vancouver.
Our flight to San Francisco was uneventful. When checking in for our second flight to New Zealand, we were told that Trav needed to have a flight booked to leave NZ within three months or they wouldn’t let him in! We only had just over one hour between flights so we frantically searched for flights and managed to find one that wasn’t too expensive. It took thirteen hours to fly to Auckland from San Fran and it was pretty painful, with both of us feeling zombiefied on arrival in the early hours of Trav’s birthday.
So that is the end of our epic adventure. I don’t know how I feel about it. I am really sad to leave Canada but I know that it isn’t the same when it is cold and grey so it is a good time to say goodbye. I haven’t been home to New Zealand for two years and eight months. It is the longest period I have been away in my life and I am yearning to go home.
We will be back in New Zealand for three months to apply for Trav’s Australian visa then we will be moving to Sydney for the foreseeable future.
It may be the end of our Americas trip but it certainly isn’t the end of our travels!
Long term travel has been a life changing experience and has really tested our resolve and patience, but has given us the gift of a truly liberating sense of freedom and priceless memories. We have learnt so much both from experiences we shared and the people we met along the way.
It truly was an epic adventure.