A Travellerspoint blog

Wonderful west coast- part 1

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Hello from the USA! We're now well into the next big leg of our trip, covering the west coast of the US, all the way down from the Canadian border to Las Vegas in 3 weeks. There's already been a lot to see and do, so we thought it might be best to make this blog a two parter (Mark has also warned me that my blogs may at times be a bit text heavy, apologies!).

So our journey started in Seattle. Seattle isn't far from the Canadian border and has a bit of a reputation for being left wing and liberal so in many ways we were expecting an American Vancouver... we could not have been more wrong. Yes it's a liberal city - the smell of pot which is legal here hits you the moment you arrive and doesn't leave until you're well beyond the state border - but no it's not Vancouver. There's a reason Seattle gave birth to the grunge scene. It's a rough city, it's not pretty and homelessness and poverty are high here. Juxtaposed with this though is the fact that it is also the birth place and home of Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks, 3 of the richest and most corporate companies in the western world causing a social and economic friction in the city that you can really feel when you get there. It's these conditions though which have given the city it's edginess and you definitely still get the sense of a community that wants to be defiant, break the norm and challenge everything that Starbucks and Amazon represent. 90_F0195ED0CE9E2744EADE6029EB06F8A2.jpg

The definite highlight of Seattle for us was the EMP museum, which is about as cool as museums get, with exhibitions on Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, fantasy fiction, horror movies and video games. It also had a whole floor dedicated to playing instruments, which in our case involved Mark having a 20 minute jam on a full sized drum kit whilst I used the kids 'teach yourself to play drums' mini drum kit. I genuinely think we had equal amounts of fun. Another surprisingly interesting find was the Bill Gates Foundation centre. To date the foundation has invested $40 billion into charitable causes, many of them focused on improving opportunities for Seattle's own impoverished communities. Now you might say that Bill Gates has a lot of money to spare, but that is an incredible investment and its a whole lot more than Starbucks and Amazon are doing!
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Moving on from Seattle we headed to Portland, just over the Oregon state border and what a lovely city it is. If you ever wanted to know where all the flower power, Earth loving hippies of the 70s went, I would guess Portland. Even as we drove into the city we caught glimpses of old ladies with long white hair, dressed in bright clothing, floating down the street with glazed and very possibly drug induced smiles on their faces. As we discovered more of the city we found that whilst not everyone was quite that dazed, the hippy vibe was most definitely still there. Organic food was almost easier to find than non-organic, sustainable living was near compulsory, and yes marijuana is legal though perhaps not as present as it had been in Seattle. It was also the most un-city like city we've ever been to, with most areas feeling more like small rural towns, full of colourful wooden houses, independent cafes/ shops and lots of parkland - a great place to take a step back, relax and let the world pass you by for a little while. F024D382DDA6642FC5E12F3878CDD040.jpg

Sadly it poured with torrential rain the whole time we were there so mooching time was limited but we were able to fit in two pretty cool events. The first was discovering by chance that John Grant, a favourite singer-songwriter of mine and Mark's, was playing a small venue in Portland the night we arrived. It was a fantastic intimate gig and as John Grant is a bit of a gay icon, it was also probably the danciest, smiliest and beardiest (Mark didn't get a look in) gig we've been to in a long while. By chance his support act happened to also come from the Welsh valleys, which was pretty funny. Then on our second night we were able to catch an NBA basketball game, which was a show in itself full of flashing lights, big money giveaways and lots of scantily dressed cheerleaders. 180_F02E20B29236C48FFA90D969A5CEA941.jpgimage

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We couldn't help but feel our 2 day jaunt in Portland was over far too quickly but we had a big journey ahead of us. We'd given ourselves 2 days to get to San Francisco, approximately 600 miles south. Not only this, but we'd decided to take the coastal route, highway 101, rather than the interstate adding another 200 miles onto our journey. You might wonder why we did this, and the answer is simple, highway 101 is breathtakingly beautiful. We'd heard that it was a wonderful drive but nothing could prepare us for how beautiful it really is. Hugging the Oregon coastline, right from its Washington border to its Californian border, it takes in hundreds and hundreds of miles of rugged, beautiful and, best of all, untouched coastline. It's not a land of pristine white beaches, but rather high cliffs and rocky outcrops, interspersed with deserted but accessible coves. Every corner opened up a new and spectacular view, which never failed to cause an involuntary gasp of admiration. The only downer was that we'd given ourselves so little time to see it. If we could come again to spend a week on this coastline we undoubtedly would.
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Day 2 of our drive took us over the Californian border on a route which was equally as impressive but for a different reason - trees, or more specifically giant redwood trees. These are the trees you see pictures of people driving cars through, and yes they are enormous. The tallest one is 378 ft and they can reach 22 ft wide at the base. Perhaps the most impressive thing about them for us though is that some of them are around 2000 years old! There's something really awe inspiring about walking through a forest and knowing that 2000 years ago people were walking around in almost the exact same scenery. It really feels like it too. These trees are so big you very quickly feel like you could be hundreds of miles from civilisation.
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So after 2 long days, and 837 miles of driving (massive kudos to Mark), we reached San Francisco, entering via the Golden Gate Bridge, which is an awesome way to enter the city. There's no gradual urban build up when you enter this way, you simply exit a tunnel and then suddenly there it is, the iconic bridge and city skyline right in front of you. Definitely another 'wow' moment.

We'd allowed ourselves 3 days to see San Francisco, having high expectations for our time there and I'm glad to say it really didn't disappoint. It's hard to say exactly what it is that's so cool about San Francisco but it is. Visually it's a really beautiful and unique city with few of the metallic shiny skyscrapers you associate with most American cities. Instead you can really see the Spanish/ Mexican influence with most buildings built in soft Mediterranean colours. It's really protected its heritage, preserving its various cultural quarters and continuing to use the old cable cars from the 50's and 70's which really adds to its appeal. Then there's the landscape. The hills are ridiculously steep but it makes for some spectacular views. Plus there are the coastal lines which take up 3 sides of the city and provide beautiful beaches and great views out to its enormous bridges and Alcatraz. Finally, it simply has a good feel about it, the weather is wonderful and you get the feeling that the San Franciscans know their home is a great one and are happy to be there. The only bad point - it's expensive, really expensive.
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In San Francisco, we also had one of our trip highlights, seeing Alcatraz. Tickets to get to the island are limited because it's a protected national park (another example of San Francisco having the foresight to protect its history), but as we were visiting out of season, we were lucky enough to get some. Park Ranger Steve greeted us, happily filling every cliche you might have about jolly, bespectacled park rangers and then we were free to explore this island which has been a military fort, a Native American political holding in the 70s, a nature reserve and of course a high security prison. It truly is a fascinating place. Little has changed since it ceased to be a prison in the 1960s so you really get a sense of what it was like, seeing the entirety of the prison quarters and the surprisingly serene areas that the prison officers and their families lived year round. They've also integrated a really excellent audio tour narrated by the men who actually lived there (both prisoners and guards) which really immerses you in the place. Best of all, it's not at all tacky or over commercialised. Big thumps up San Francisco!
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On our last morning, we had another completely unexpected highlight, 2 hummingbirds came and hovered in front of us right by the seafront. Sparkling green, and hovering so still you could see every detail, they were absolutely stunning! And right in the city centre too. Mad.

I'll leave it there for now, but before I go it's time to quickly introduce you to Drew our camper-van for 2 weeks (not named by us I hasten to add!) . He'll be taking us on part 2 of our west coast trip, from San Fran to Vegas. We've been travelling in it for a few days now and so far so good, although last night we did get a midnight tap on the window from the police informing us that we were camping illegally. Let's hope it's the last!
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Posted by CunninghamScott 17:09 Archived in USA Comments (0)

More cheese please

The Okanagan Valley. 7th - 26th October.


View Scott's Great Expedition on CunninghamScott's travel map.

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The final stretch of our west Canada trip has brought us to the lovely Okanagan Valley, situated around 5 hours north east of Vancouver, but stretching all the way down to the US border at its most southern point. In Canada it's well known for 3 reasons, it's warm climate, it's fruit and it's wine, so much so that some even call it Canada's answer to the Napa valley. Perhaps not difficult then to figure out why we decided to finish off the Canadian leg of our trip here!

With such warm weather, as well as a large network of enormous lakes and a landscape of small rolling hills, the Okanagan is also farming central - something which is very clear from the moment you get there. There are farms everywhere! It's much more populated than a lot of Canada, but as most houses have land with them it still feels very open. It also means that as with many farming areas in the UK, there's a really strong sense of community, which we were quickly welcomed into with open arms. The friendliness bar had already been set pretty high in Canada, but we saw it reach a whole new level in the Okanagan. Within our first hour in the area a16 year old boy on a bus had approached us not to ask for cigarettes as I'd expect in the UK, but to welcome us to his hometown of Lumby, wishing us a pleasant stay there. All very surreal!

Farming was in part also a reason why we had chosen to come to this particular corner of the Okanagan. We had been keen when choosing our work placements in Canada to have the opportunity to learn new skills, and so when we came across this one in friendly little Lumby, which was looking for help on a family cheese business and small holding we jumped at the chance. And we are so glad we did! Our hosts were the wonderful Ruffa family, who had come to Canada a few years ago from Switzerland to teach Canadians a thing or two about what good cheese tastes like. Over the last 4 years, they had been steadily setting a base here, building their own house, acquiring a range of animals to increase self-sustainability and most importantly establishing their cheese business. Now here's the thing about Canada, their supermarkets do not sell good cheese - end of. What they call cheese is arguably not even cheese by the standards of any European, it's more a block of orange plastic with some flavourings in. So, it's fair to say that there was a definite gap in the market there and this family were doing a tremendous job of filling it. The business was very small still, but my did that cheese taste good! I don't think we've ever eaten so much cheese in our lives - but we didn't even care, it was that good we could have eaten it morning, noon and night (who am I kidding, we DID eat it morning, noon and night).C2008967ECCA65342E0F7B3FE2B1E8EF.jpgimage

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So here's some pictures of us and our cheese making. Sadly we are far from being able to come home and make wonderful cheese ourselves as its actually a pretty complicated process, which Igor, the cheese maker, had been refining for many years in Switzerland. I will say this though, it is a process of many steps involving heating, cooling, sieving, stirring, straining, washing (numerous times) and turning, so next time you eat a chunk of good cheese take a moment to savour how much work and love has gone into that wonderful taste, it really is a labour of love. 90_C2130E43EDD0C2A58683552F1244AC2B.jpgimage

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One of the other roles we took on with much enthusiasm was selling the cheese at the local farmers markets. This was the time when we really got to know the local community as farmers markets are a pretty big thing in British Columbia. The government even give market vouchers to families on low incomes so they can eat decent quality food - what an amazing idea! Even in the short period we were there, both the customers and other stall holders welcomed us into the community warmly, genuinely keen to know who we were and how long we'd be staying with them for. It helps that because Canada is still such a young country, many of the older people we spoke to were either born in the UK or their parents were and so we met a number of people with connections to either Wales or Hampshire. We also happened to be there over Canadian Thanksgiving, giving us a taste of how farming communities celebrate that particular holiday. It turns out that firing firework stuffed pumpkins out of catapults and playing tenpin bowling with mis-shaped squash is the answer. This is country bumpkin at its best! C21F0E9E9DB91F00E6992BF624AE2F34.jpgC21E3BC3EB51A16F71A811556B171B11.jpg

Of course it hasn't been all about work in the Okanagan. One of our first stops was of course the vineyards. We hadn't even realised that Canada made wine before coming here, but it's actually a pretty big industry out here and most importantly the wine is good...mostly. It all started about 30 years ago when a couple of European families had the brainwave of using the many fields of grapes which were already readily available to make wine, and now the vast majority of wine drunk here is home grown. So we were in wine heaven, able to pass from vineyard to vineyard, tasting lots of yummy wine, enjoying fresh local food and basking in the 20 degrees sunshine that the Okanagan still gets in October.
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We were also able to get out on some lovely walks. The landscape here is very different to the Rockies, so we were never going to get the breathtaking scenery we'd experienced there, but it was beautiful nonetheless. The lakes in the Okanagan go on for 20-30 miles quite easily and the walks are a lot flatter, which made a nice change! One particularly cool one went along an old rail track, crossing lots of trestle bridges that spanned deep ravines. A little hair-raising but lots of fun.
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One of the best things about this leg of our trip though was the lovely family we got to be part of for 3 weeks. Being a half German, half Swiss-Italian family living in Canada, it was an eclectic mix of cultures but that made it all the more fun to be a part of. They had 4 children under 10 and so there was never a dull (or quiet) moment and we were warmly welcomed into the family by all. We went to hockey games, went to church, played with the kids, shared many a delicious meal (home reared pork and chicken and of course lots of cheese, yum!), and had long chats where we shared common interests and knowledge. We even became pretty fond of the piglets and chickens who followed us around all day hoping for food! Our weeks there really did feel like home and we are already eagerly hoping to return again some day. A very special experience.
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Our last couple of days in British Columbia were spent back where it all started, in Vancouver almost 2 months to the day since we arrived. We can hardly believe it's been 2 months already but it was also a great way to reflect on what a fantastic time it's been. Thankfully, it won't be the last we see of Canada, as we'll be heading into the east side in late January to see what a proper winter looks like! For now though, we head for warmer climates as we road trip down the west coast of the USA through Washington, Oregon and California.
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As I finish off this blog, I actually write to you from the US. We crossed the border a few days ago with not a little trepidation due to some particular hostile answers from the US embassy prior to our departure. It turns out we needn't have worried. This is the Canadian border, they were far more interested in having a friendly chat about Mark's job than they were about stopping us crossing the border, which made a welcome change from your standard airport interrogation. So long Canada, we really are going to miss you!

Posted by CunninghamScott 21:04 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Heading to the hills!

The Canadian Rockies. 16th September - 7th October

large_E56DA02AE4AE8CF9D90A9CD83A052165.jpgSo blog three comes to you from the Canadian Rockies! And what a change from Vancouver Island it is. The mountains, the rivers, the trees, the trucks are still here, but on a MUCH bigger scale. When you're on the low ground here, you're already a good 1500 metres above sea level - on the high ground raise that to 2,800-3,000 metres. With that comes much more extreme temperatures. On any one day, you can wake up to -5 temperatures, hit 20 degrees by lunch time and plummet back down to sub zero in the evening. (Come here in the winter and you can easily lower that to -20, and even -40 on some days). And for us, there was also the return to civilisation! The Rockies are hardly what you'd call populated - the towns are small and you can find yourself driving a good hour before you reach one - but when you've been living somewhere with an average population of 4 and zero road access, it might as well have been London.

We did have to work to get here though. Leaving our island placement, at 9am on the Tuesday we reached the town of Golden in the Rockies at 3pm on the Wednesday after 2 boat rides, 2 very long coach rides, one time zone, and very little sleep. The breadth of scenery you get to see on the way though is spectacular, and I'll tell you now that any length of journey you have to take to get to the Rockies is absolutely worth it for what you get to see at the end. Truly this place has one of the most spectacular landscapes we have ever seen - but more on that in a bit.

What bought us to Golden specifically, was our next work placement. Again it was in cabins but these ones were bigger and with a more regular turn over of guests. Golden is just on the edge of Yoho National Park and in easy distance of Banff, Jasper and Glacier National Parks so a popular passing point for tourists and a great base for us to see the area. Our first morning at the cabins was a bit of a shock to the system mind. Part of our work here was to put out breakfast for guests in the morning. All very well you might think, except that the kitchen is outdoors and temperatures here rarely rise above about 3 degrees before 10am. Add to that the fact that Mark and I had barely brought a wooly jumper between us, naively believing it wouldn't be that cold in September, and you have 2 very cold breakfast servers. Luckily, a staple of every Canadian town is a good thrift store, which in an area like this is stocked full of second hand ski jackets and an 'interesting' array of wooly clothing, so we were soon dressed in giant shirts and jumpers, landing with a look somewhere between hobo and lumberjack and also convincingly local. The views from the cabins in the morning were also spectacular, so once armed with a good coat we came to really love those cold brisk mornings. Give me that over a grey English morning any day!E582A1959737D3413ED974BBC5DF27CE.jpglarge_E581C10A0C40ED17AC78CE62C6E8394E.jpgimage

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What also made this placement very different was the fact that in low-season it's entirely run by volunteers like ourselves. A bit of a gamble perhaps, but it does make for a very fun work placement. Whilst we were there we worked with other travellers from Scotland, Ireland, Guernsey, Brazil, Germany, New Zealand, USA and Israel, all of whom not only made work a lot more fun but also a lot more interesting as we got a taste of their culture and lives back home. These were the people who made the work go quickly, the dirty sheets more bearable (Let's just say our vaccinations were put to good use), and our evenings and days off so enjoyable. We climbed mountains with them, watched ice hockey, tried to explain the rules of rugby (limited success), drove the wrong way down a highway (bloody terrifying), shared many a beer round the fire and even partook in some table top dancing. Mark will deny memory of the latter, but it most definitely happened! 180_E5979B07D6F34F3F7C3540E8BBB9E20E.jpg
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Undoubtedly though, the thing which will really make the Rockies stand out as the most amazing of trips is the spectacular landscape. The mountains are enormous and snow capped and the lakes are the most beautiful we have ever seen, thanks to the fact that they are fed by glaciers making them the most vivid turquoise colour. Some of the more famous lakes like Lake Louise and Emerald Lake are a little too full of tourists, but if you're willing to work a little and climb one of many mountains above you are well rewarded with far fewer tourists and the most amazing panoramic views.
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I won't lie, the first hike was tough...really tough. It takes a little while to get used to walking uphill at that altitude as the air is thinner and you have the combination of brisk cold air and a strong sun beating down on you. But it is absolutely worth it and with each hike our stamina has improved. Perhaps our biggest achievement and consequently also our favourite walk was above Moraine Lake in Banff national park. Initially we aimed to complete the Larch Valley walk, famed at this time of the year because the larch trees you get at the top are all turning a lovely golden colour. It was absolutely stunning at the top but once there we could see way above us a ridge with a line of tiny people on it. It was a long way up but if we made it up there we knew we'd be rewarded with panoramic views of 10 of the highest peaks in the park. After a bit of persuasion on my part we decided to make a go of it. It was a steep scramble with little footpath and most people we passed carried walking sticks but with some determination and plenty of stops we made it. The sense of achievement was enormous and the views were even better than we could have possibly imagined (if a little scary as we saw avalanches being set off on distant mountains). The Canadians we met at the top told us it was one of the best walks to do in Canada, so pretty good for a whim!
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Our stay in the Rockies ended with a couple of spare days, which we used to cross the BC border and see a bit more of Alberta. We stayed in Banff itself, which busy as it is, is also vibrant, beautiful and fun. Our reward for hiking there was an evening spent in the natural hot spring pools located at the bottom of one of its major mountains - pure bliss! Another climb had a traditional wooden tea house at the top, which definitely took the award for most scenic cup of tea we've ever had. We also traveled over to Jasper national park to see the glaciers which was impressive, if a little depressing as you saw how much it had receded in just the last 20 years.
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So there ends our trip to the Canadian Rockies, and what a great trip it's been. The scenery is the most awestriking I have ever seen and simply never gets boring, the wildlife is great (we finally got to see our grizzly!) and the remoteness of towns makes for some great communities (we even adopted a local pub!) Weirdly though this remoteness wasn't enough for Mark not to randomly come across an old school friend in a tiny town of about 50 houses.
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As I sit here in the greyhound station waiting for the coach to our next destination, the okenagan valley, a man walks in and it takes me a few minutes to figure out what's so unusual. Then I realise what it is - the man is in a suit and it's the first I've seen since we left Vancouver, which also had very few suited people. It might seem inconsequential, but I think it actually says a lot about Canadians and what they deem as important. Things are, I think, just too relaxed to care what people wear and what those clothes represent. It's a lovely change and another reason to love the pace of life here.

Posted by CunninghamScott 17:23 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

The wilderness of Vancouver Island

30th August - 15th September


View Scott's Great Expedition on CunninghamScott's travel map.

Hello again! The next part of our trip has taken us to Vancouver Island, which lies to the west of Vancouver and is approximately half the size of Scotland. As well as this though it has hundreds of tiny islands surrounding it meaning that whilst on the main island things are a bit more condensed, some of the people who live out on the smaller islands are pretty out in the sticks. It was this small island life which we were keen to learn a bit more of and which bought us this way!

After surviving the rocky ride, our first stop was Victoria, British Columbia's capital. Traditionally Victoria has been sold as a piece of England in Canada - or at least what people expect England to be like. This didn't particularly sell the city to us but we were interested in seeing what this picture box image of England would look like so popped by for a night. Much of what we expected was there - lots of 'ye old shoppes' afternoon teas, and pubs named after Charles Dickens characters. But behind this facade there really is something quite British about Victoria in its architecture and layout because as recently as 150 years ago Victoria really was entirely British. It was Britain's first outpost on the west coast, and as the area developed into a major British colony in the late 1800s, it was Victoria that ruled the roost. Being a history nerd (and Mark being the dutiful husband!) we visited the Royal BC Museum to find out a bit more and genuinely had a pretty good time! What we found out was that as per standard colonial history, Canada thinks Britain cocked it up a bit, but that there's also a really interesting heritage in Canada's aboriginal community, the 'First Nations'. This area of Canada still has well over a hundred First Nations communities each with their own language still in existence. A lot of work is now being done to reverse previous damage and save this heritage, which meant the museum was just full of original First Nations artwork including the most amazing and enormous totem poles. Pretty cool stuff!
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The next day we headed four hours north to the town of Courtenay, where we'd be meeting our host for the next 2 weeks, who would be taking us on the next step of the journey by boat. One of the first things we saw upon arriving in Courtenay was a 'bear crossing' sign, making it well and truly clear that Vancouver was long behind us! Whilst we didn't come across any bears we did see plenty of jumping salmon and a fair few vultures, which to be honest was enough excitement to get us started with. Upon meeting our host we quickly found he was what you'd call a 'character'. Lots of noise, lots of back slaps and a very lax attitude to rules, safety or conventions (all terribly un-British!). We were picked up in his truck (we quickly discovered at least half of Canadian road users drive big trucks and most men also wear baseball caps as per stereotype), and experienced a slightly hair raising journey wishing he'd give more attention to the road and less to us, his phone and seemingly any other task that needed to be done! Some relief you might think when we arrived at the dock, but oh no as we soon found out that a pretty similar approach was taken to driving a boat as driving a truck! On the other hand we were also offered a beer, which we initially took as a celebratory arrival drink but soon learnt was an essential part of being in a boat in these parts. 4E2EDF6E062E0F93760D6642F34CFFB2.jpg4E2DD6300E31A3887066F69364BDBAD9.jpg

Our boat journey took us up between the coast of Vancouver island and the coast of mainland Canada. It doesn't feel or look anything like a sea journey at home though. The area is full of lots of smaller islands and so the waterways are more like broad rivers - calm, clean and full of fish! It is also spectacular to look at. The islands are mountainous and covered in forest, which set against the smooth wide waterways makes for a pretty breathtaking sight. After a 50 minute boat ride we arrived at our home for the next 2 weeks. Nestled in a cove and surrounded on all sides by thick forest, it's a secluded and truly unique fishing destination. It has just 4 small holiday lodges, sleeping 2-3 each, a larger cabin for the owners, a beautiful outdoor kitchen and well that's just about it! There is no road access, so you can only get there by boat or sea plane and the next nearest site of civilisation is 30 minutes boat ride away. The owners created it all themselves, building and landscaping it all based on their own ideas to create something which is both unique but also very down to earth and homely. Then of course there's the fact in a place with so few people, there are a lot more animals. The surrounding forests are home to birds of prey, chipmunks, bears and even the odd cougar. Whilst the waters are full of not only fish, but seals, otter, porpoise, dolphins and if you're really lucky a passing group of whales. Even in Canada this place is pretty unique!
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Our placement here was based on the principle that for 4-5 hours work a day we get free food and lodging and of course the opportunity to experience somewhere as special as this. It's a pretty great concept and this is the first of a few that we'll be doing across our trip. I won't lie though, it did take us a little while to get used to it! The fluidity of it means it can be tricky getting the balance right and so we spent the first few days unsure of what we should be doing and whether we were doing too much or too little! The owner was quite the perfectionist too, so there were quite a few occasions at the beginning where we definitely didn't get it right (I quickly found out that what I thought were my very adequate fire making skills were not up to scratch!). Mark has also become quite the wood chopper, which teamed with his beard and rekindled enthusiasm for baseball caps means he is becoming more Canadian by the day.

Alongside the work though there have been some really great experiences out here. The owners, a middle aged Canadian couple who have done plenty of traveling themselves and definitely experienced their fare share of partying are outgoing, fun, extremely hard working and definitely unique. Pete is the kind of guy who throws caution to the wind in his enthusiasm to get a job done and so whilst we were there we saw him nearly crash his boat in his enthusiasm to talk to a passing boat (whilst we were in it), make a daily hobby of shooting seagulls and my personal favourite, used a leaf blower to get a fire going with no thought to the canister of petrol attached to it, and loosing the front of his head hair in the process . All of this was of course done with beer in hand. Sarah on the other hand, whilst full of her own amusing stories was the person we went to for reassurance and and translation of Pete's instructions!

We also met some really great guests during our two weeks. An evening spent with 3 men from the armed forces taught us quite a lot about Canadian culture from one angle, namely that they love ice hockey, everything worth discussing involves a wager and in their own words Canada is built on beer and bacon. Another, really lovely couple also took us on our first fishing trip - never did we think we could get so excited about fishing! But out here there's a lot to make it fun, the scenery is beautiful, the weather is good, there is the obligatory can of beer and there are lots of fish... and the fish are big! We were impressed enough at marks first catch - a chanuck salmon weighing around 12 lb, but then when Alex managed to pull in a hefty 19 lb salmon we were pretty darn excited. Not bad for a first run!
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Which brings me onto a the other thing which makes this place special, and the thing which really bought us all this way - the nature. You really are engulfed by it up here. At times this has been scary- both grizzly and black bears are pretty common out here, and the owners have also known Cougars to pass through, all of which can definitely kill you... The one occasion we did think we saw a bear we ran away so quickly we failed to realise it was just a tree stump. A guest soon told us that was exactly the wrong way to respond as you need to make yourself threatening to the bear, so after that Mark carried a big stick and sang bear songs on our walks.

But it has also been really magical. We saw a school of a hundred plus dolphins jumping through the water right next to where we were staying. Seals and sea lions were a pretty regular sight and one evening we stood on the docks as a river otter climbed up just 10 meters away from us. Across the bay we were also able to see a small group of orcas swimming past at a distance. Then there were the group of chipmunks who kept us company whenever we sat outside - definitely a lot cuter than squirrels. Sadly our real hope to see a whale up close and maybe even a grizzly (from a safer distance!) didn't happen, but we live in hope for the remainder of our trip!180_4E5B6722A31BC6A230F3035D735A8B52.jpg

Our final night was spent in one of the most unique hot tubs you'll ever see. A bath tub in the middle of a beach surrounded by forest. If you're wondering why I look so amused in the photo it wasn't just the fantastic view but the knowledge that Mark was taking the photo wearing nothing but a pair of hiking boots - the privilege of knowing you're the only people around for quite a few miles! It also gave us time to reflect on our stay here though. The community out here is an interesting one. It's extremely remote, extremely beautiful and almost entirely built on fishing. For this reason though we gradually discovered it was also a very male dominated one. For example, Sarah told us one night that she was just one of two women who drove a boat out here. This was partly because of the small number of women who chose to live out here but partly because there are very definite gender roles. The men go out and take people fishing, the women stay on the islands and run the lodges. The idea that a woman might want independence to leave their island apparently not accommodated for. Certainly quite different to what we're used to. On the other hand, it's probably the most peaceful place we've ever been and there is real satisfaction in a lifestyle where your day is your own and completely unaffected by the interruptions of modern society. There's a lot to love about this lifestyle and the memories will definitely stick with us.
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So... Next stop the Rockies and Yoho national park for another work placement. 2 boat journeys and 18 hours of bus journey away. See you at the other side!

Posted by CunninghamScott 22:20 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

The adventure begins - Vancouver

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View Scott's Great Expedition on CunninghamScott's travel map.

Well here we are, the first of our blog entries! I write it whilst being tossed around on one of the rockiest boat crossings I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing, whilst we journey out of Vancouver (but more on that later).

Back to the beginning of the journey. After teary good byes to family and dog (if you've ever met Belle you'll know easily that sad face can break hearts!) we were on our way. Mark was picked up by security on the way through Heathrow and asked to stand like a tree in one of those jazzy new scanning machines, but nothing hidden away in that big beard so we were good to go. The flight from Heathrow to Vancouver was 9 hours taking in Iceland, Greenland and the far north of Canada, and wow did we see some beautiful scenery. The views over Greenland were truly like nothing we've ever seen before. Enormous snow capped mountains divided by great frozen rivers which would suddenly turn into flowing water. You couldn't help but reflect and marvel on what a beautiful creation our world is. Then as we approached Vancouver we found ourselves flying low over great mountain ranges, so close that if someone was stood on top you'd be able to see them (of course there were no people on them as the mountains are so ridiculously big!). Then out of nowhere the mountains stop and you're flying into Vancouver - just beautiful!
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Canadian customs was interesting. They weren't all that keen on the length of our stay and so we found ourselves in the bizarre situation of trying to sell Canada and all the reasons you'd want to have a 2 month holiday there to a Canadian immigration official. Similarly unimpressed looks were also given when we answered the question "what do you do in the uk". Apparently charity workers aren't what they want more of in Canada. But after a few shaky voiced answers and pleading looks we got there in the end.

Our first 4 days have been spent in Vancouver and what an amazing city it is. Think open clean city interspersed with LOTS of trees, surrounded by beautiful open waters, then throw in a few beaches for good measure and set that to the backdrop of enormous mountain ranges. Truly breathtaking.
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Our first day was spent wandering, or perhaps more accurately I should say getting lost around Stanley park. Stanley Park really is massive, taking up a huge part of downtown Vancouver and boasting the worlds longest uninterrupted sea walk. (10 miles). It's full of trees (of course), forest lakes, parks, beaches, totem poles and we even saw raccoons. It doesn't take long to forget you're even in a city. Our feet were pretty sore when we finally found our way and were well in need of something to eat and this is when we found the next thing to love about Vancouver - it is FULL of Japanese restaurants. We stuffed ourselves full of fresh super tasty sushi for the grand total of £12. Now find me somewhere in the uk that can offer that!

Day 2 was spent wandering around an area called Granville close to where we were staying. Granville is famous for its food market, which is located on an island that used to be one of the industrial docking areas of the city. In the 1980s two men decided that rather than letting it be an ugly abandoned part of the city they would persuade local breweries and food suppliers to set up there whilst still retaining the industrial look. 30 years later it's a a really cool, vibrant part of town with lots of great restaurants, bars and arts shops. Making the most of this we had some awesome salmon and chips and also visited the Granville brewery where you could order a tasting platter of all 7 of their locally brewed beers and ales and they were pretty darn tasty! Which brings me onto the next thing we loved about Vancouver- they really know how to brew good beer. British Columbia has quite a few really good breweries and so when you walk into a bar here you don't just get standard mass produced rubbish, you get a wide selection of locally sourced beers and ales, which really do taste great (and that's coming from someone who doesn't usually like beer).
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For our last full day in Vancouver we headed into downtown. What really struck us was the absence of chain shops and cafés compared to cities in the uk. The chains existed but there was also a big selection of unique, quirky shops and coffee shops...such a lot of coffee shops. Our visit to downtown also exposed us to a not so bright side of Vancouver though. There are high levels of homelessness in the city and most of the homeless people we saw showed signs of extreme drug use. We walked down streets that were full to the brim with people who were not only completely high but who looked seriously unwell, on top of being homeless. We both work with these groups back home, but what we saw in Vancouver was on a scale we hadn't seen first hand before and was a stark reminder that in the brightest cities you can also find the unhappiest people.

On Saturday we said a sad farewell to Vancouver, and it's fair to say we've loved it more than any city either of us have ever visited. It's a beautiful, open, laid back city with far fewer signs of commercialism than most major cities. And this is reflected in the people who are relaxed, friendly and seem to spend a lot more time doing the good things in life like having a decent coffee, going out for food or going for a bike ride.

Which leads me back to the beginning and our boat journey out of Vancouver and over to Vancouver Island for the next leg of our trip. You'll be pleased to know that we made it. It was pretty rocky though! As we embarked the boat we were nearly blown off the gang way as one of the crew members manically laughed and warned us "don't blow over there, will ya!". The captain then cheerfully advised us over the tannoy to "grab a seat, hold on tight and don't get up unless you have to because this ship will roll!". In true Canadian style this was of course followed by a chirpy "make yourselves comfy!". On our boat journey we also met a Canadian couple in their 60's who were on their way home after a cycling trip in the Rockies. As if this wasn't impressive enough we then found out that the previous summer he had cycled the whole width of Canada on his own, pitching up in any open area, including cemeteries, along the way! (Usual and Xav, I fear this is the direction you're heading!). This love of an adventure is, I think, fairly standard over here. Something to learn from perhaps.

So We leave you in BCs capital, Victoria. From there we'll be heading north up the island for our first work placement in a remote salmon fishing resort for 2 weeks. Before we go though, a note on what we've learnt about Canadians so far.

1) they are INCREDIBLY friendly and helpful. I have already lost count of how many times people have gone out of their way to help us without us even having to ask. You only need to start looking puzzled before a stranger offers help. The public transport staff are cheerful and helpful (oh what a welcome novelty!), and I think we've already been waved across the road by drivers more times in one week than has ever happened in the uk. One man even apologised for frightening us by driving too soon!

2) They love trees...really love trees. You'd think that when the vast majority of their country is covered in dense forest, they'd be satisfied. Nope, definitely not. Not only are there also trees across the city but there are trees on the top of their blocks of flats. 20 stories up and they are big fully grown trees, I kid you not! That is some dedication to trees.

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Posted by CunninghamScott 18:41 Comments (0)

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