Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Canadia - It's not even a real country anyway

That's country number 15 people. I know, I know. You're not angry, you're just impressed.

There is something kind of familiar about this beautiful country, and it's not just the fact that we're in "British" Columbia, or that it's raining, or that "our Queen's on your money" as one of my favourite anti-Australian rugby chants goes. (The other being, quite fairly I think, "Get your **** stars off our flag"). It's just that it really does feel like home. They have beer that is drinkable, they have pubs, as in real pubs, not just diners with a pub sign hanging outside. And in Vancouver, some of the streets actually set off at jaunty angles, some even curve. As easy as the grid system is to navigate, it is pretty sterile and you can't really lose yourself in aimless meandering.

All the American cars we've passed have state number plates, and each one proudly displays that state's nickname. Nevada is the Silver State, Oregon is the Beaver state (chortle, chortle), Texas is the Sorry about Bush State, and so on. British Colombia, on the other hand, is just Beautiful British Colombia. And it really is. But it's not just the countryside, the place just feels happy. I absolute love the American's enthusiastic attitude, and Canadians have something similar, but just a little more understated. Or basically, just a little bit more British.

The Canadian border crossing had been the easiest yet as a short car queue turned into a 2 minute conversation with a single border official, a quick flurry of passports and car docs, and away we went. I do always get a slight pang every time they ask "Do you have any guns or weapons". "No" we say, but sitting neatly on top of our camping equipment box is our "camping knife". You could also describe our "camping knife" as Phil's 2ft machete that his sister brought / smuggled back from her travels. It really only qualifies as a camping knife if you are attempting to cook a bear, that is still alive, and trying to eat you. Still we were on our way and, after a short interlude in Vancouver to allow Phil to ruin his brother's wedding with his best man speech and general attendance, would be pushing on to the official end of the Pan-American Highway, Prudhoe Bay on the north coast of Alaska.

Vancouver is internationally recognised as one of the best cities in the world to live, and it definitely is a beautiful city with an incredibly friendly atmosphere. It's difficult to not get into a conversation with a friendly stranger on the bus and even harder to stop all the other passengers from chipping in. Does everybody know each other here or are they just genuinely that friendly? The latter it would seem. Friendliness is a national stereotype but it does seem to fit. I'm not sure if it's true of all Canada, but Vancouver does unfortunately have the Yin to its Yang in the form of the Eastern Downtown sector. Tom's Vancouver based friend had emailed to say it was a real horror show of lives wasted by drugs and prostitution and that we should really avoid it. Cool, let's go take a look was our less than surprising response. However the reality is a long way from cool. Whereas the laid back attitude to drugs and the homeless hippie attitude of San Francisco, Portland and even Camden in London creates a degenerate but trendy, free-living vibe, this place was where societies outcasts eeked out whatever miserable living their mentally disturbed and drug addled brains could allow. And very few looked like they had more than weeks to go although I'm sure their purgatory will persist for months and years to come. They're almost definitely beyond help, but they're certainly not beyond care, and as limited as our exposure is you cannot help but wonder what the city is doing about it.

One hundred and thirty kilometers north of Vancouver, presumably we're using kilometers because of le french influence, sits the world famous Whistler Ski Resort. Unfortunately, for me at least, the winter season has long since passed, but for our lover of all things mountain bikey, Tom was in his element. Actually in all honesty I had an absolutely brilliant time watching Tom disappearing into the distance ahead of me while careering down Moab's mountains, and it was only cost-saving that stopped me indulging myself again. Anyway we headed up to Whistler last weekend with Steffi, a backpacking German from Munster, to check out the start of the Crankworks festival, for those in the know which I am definitely not, this is the number 1 downhill bike festival of the year, with a week of various race disciplines, stunts and aerials, and general mountain bike mayhem. Actually, I'll let Tom fill in the rest of the details as there's only so much alliteration around the word mountain I can use.

Our hostel in Whistler was a potentially inconvenient 8km from the main village. However on the three occasions I tried to hitch a lift I was picked up by the first car to come past every time, now that's friendly! Subsequently we rarely needed the car but on our first drive back from the village we very nearly ran over a large, dark brown creature emerging from the few trees that lined the central reservation. The creature was incredibly bearlike, perhaps because it was bear. Quick, grab the cooking knife we cried. Luckily the bear, after a ponderous glance towards it's impending Barry shaped death, scuttled across the road and away into the forest. As you can imagine, we were stunned. This was not the wilderness, this was about 100 meters from the biggest bike festival on earth, at the mountain bike Mecca of Whistler, absolutely inundated with tourists. One of which was probably about to get eaten. Either these animals are a lot less threatening than they keep telling us, or I'm going to go phone Jimmy.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Massive congrats on country 15 boys! Well impressed! There's a couple of beers waiting here for you when you get back!

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