We made our way to Vancouver from Manchester on August 26th. Customs, thankfully, was quick and easy, and even had a little chat with the customs officer about Lewis Hamilton's chances of winning yet another F1 champion title.
I gave our friend Rex the wrong time for our arrival, so him and Marz showed up a little later than we expected, but still had no trouble finding us. After introducing wasp we were all on our merry way to Surrey, past Tim Horton's for a quick bite. Xolani has become quite a fan of Timmy's over those three weeks we spent in Canada. Luckily enough, they're expanding into the UK soon!
After that we met with Trapa and Silver, which was where we would be staying for the week. The very next day after our arrival (Aug 27th) Rex, Marz, myself and Xolani set off to Whistler for a day hike up Whistler Mtn. To get to our final destination it took a long uphill trip via a chairlift all the way to Rendezvous Lodge near the top of Blackcomb Peak. After a nice hour-long walk in the vicinity of the lodge, we set off for the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. Just before that there was also some marvelling at the red snow I scooped up from a glacial valley nearby. Apparently the color is the result of special algae bloom. Go figure!
The Peak 2 Peak Gondola took us to the Roundhouse Lodge, and from there our final lift up to Whistler Mtn continued. While the Gondola offered some amazing sights between the two peaks, the final lift was more thrilling owing to the fact that we were suspended on a chairlift with the jagged mountain ridges, sudden drops and remnants of the glacier tens of meters below out feet. And then the summit itself offered some absolutely amazing views. To be honest, due to the height (2,181 m) there were some symptoms of altitude sickness but they went away fairly quickly.
At the very top we had one of the massive Inuksuk statues, and hundreds of smaller makeshift version spread across the whole mountaintop and surrounding areas. We even built our own to leave a mark ourselves. Still, one of the most impressive sights was The Black Tusk mountain, an extinct volcano.
A day of hiking and picture-snapping, followed by more hiking on my own as the guys went for another spin on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, we all got pretty hungry, which is why our meal at the Roundhouse Lodge went down so well. It included trying a local beer called Kootenay, which I can definitely recommend to lupestripe!
The second day of our stay (Aug 28th) included a trip to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in downtown Vancouver, where an animated and knowledgeable guide told us all about the history of the place, Chinese gardening traditions and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen himself. A very engaging hour-long tour packed with facts. Highly recommend.
This was followed by a trip to the Bloedel Floral Conservatory, a famous local tropical garden. I have been there before but Xolani was a first-timer. Suffice to say he loved every bit of it, the fully-grown tropical plants as well as flocks of parrots and other critters frolicking around. At the end of the day we retreated to the new favorite sushi place for the bunch, Kisha Poppo, where a meal for 11 took place. Being stuffed with prime quality sushi, which includes the local sockeye salmon sashimi, is definitely a fun experience even if walking after the meal comes as a challenge.
Sadly, Marz had to leave the following night on account of work but even with that we still got to see the tiger before we left the following Saturday. But even then we had a great time the following Monday (Aug 29th) having visited the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in the Fraser River delta. Abundant bird life, sunshine and a nice leisurely walk made this a very enjoyable day, which included myself stuffing my face with blackberries and wild peas despite a sign saying not to do that (only noticed upon our exit). We even bought some seeds to feed the ducks with, and boy oh boy, they were really going for it. I've never fed ducks straight from the hand and I have to say the sensation of their beaks nabbing at my palm was so strange!
Tuesday (Aug 30th) was the grand day for me as I took on the Grouse Grind hiking trail up Grouse Mountain with the goal of setting my personal best. The hike itself is 3 km long, leading up to the summit which reaches an elevation of 1,231 m. With the official record standing at 25:01 s, I managed to scramble to the top in 48:26 s. My next goal is to make it under 45 minutes or less.
Xolani also attempted the climb, having taken longer to complete it in order to admire the forest and the views on the way. I will admit, taking the cable car down felt great. I have walked down from Grouse Mtn via a side trail and will not do that again. It is extremely steep and really makes you appreciate flat ground. I mean really.
After the climb we met with Trapa for (yes!) another sushi dinner and rounded the day off with a fantastic walk around the ever gorgeous Stanley Park. Wasp was much impressed, especially the totem poles and such a vast natural space in such proximity to the downtown.
What made it even more awesome was our stop at the Hollow Tree, and then the Third Beach crowd who were drumming away, dancing the smoking pot. Thought I'd fit right into that kind of group. The amazing walk concluded around the Siwash Rock which is a natural sea stack and a sacred place for the local Squamish native tribes.
Wednesday (Aug 31st) was partly a working day for me but we did manage to make our way to Abbotsford in order to visit the all-time favorite Castle Fun Park arcade. That was preceded by a stop at a local beekeeping shop where we purchased honey and had a lively chat with one the beekeepers tending to his stock. Especially interesting and educating for Xolani, who is a amateur buzzykeeper himself.
The next day (Sept 1st) was a nice day outside the city, with the intention of travelling to Hell's Gate and taking the airtram to explore the bottom the canyon. Before that, we stopped at Chilliwack so that Xolani's initiation could take place. By initiation I mean the (in)famous Mud Pie at the Airport Coffee Shop, where me and Rex had breakfast too. Xolani soldiered on bravely though and finished the whole pie like a champ.
Annoyingly, having travelled a total of 200 km we found out Hell's Gate was closed due to a power failure. Having gone that far we weren't going to waste the day, and instead opted for The Hope Slide, which is the site of the largest recorded landslide in Canada, as well as the Othello Tunnels, an example of marvellous engineering from the 19th century where a series of railway tunnels had been carved out along the steep walls of the Coquihalla Canyon. I have been there before in 2009, my first visit to Canada, so returning there felt oddly sentimental. Hah, I've been to Canada so many times things start feeling sentimental to me XD
The sight of the temperate rainforest, the sound of the Coquihalla River crashing down in the gorge were all amazing. I was less impressed with Xolani who managed to slip up and get his butt wet in the river when we went down to explore the part just before the canyon entrance.
Friday (Sept 2nd) was our last full day in Vancouver, and that was spent perusing the city, including Gastown, with Xolani and a visiting friend of Trapa's from Germany. During the day we bought some food for a homeless lady who genuinely looked like someone in need (no signs of drug abuse), and then afterwards took the Sea Bus to North Vancouver and enjoyed some local beer in the Alibi Room, a bar which my friend Daveco introduced me to a few years back.
The day was rounded off with another outing to Kisha Poppo for sushi, where we made our way on our own (the restaurant is based in Richmond), and this time we were joined by Marz too, who had travelled all the way from Seattle to see me and Xolani off. Bless him <3
The last day (Sept 3rd) was the day for perusing the Granville Island Public Market, a huuuuge market spread on the eponymous island under the massive Granville Street Bridge. The five of us spent three hours browsing the numerous art galleries, food stalls and shops. One of my buys was some salmon jerky which I will definitely be getting next time we visit. It's delish.
The trip would have been rounded off perfectly fine at a famous ice cream shop called La Casa Gelato (our third time there in that one sole week) but unfortunately upon arrival Marz found out he had left his wallet behind. The three of us stayed behind while Rex and Marz travelled back to the market and luckily were able to retrieve it. That was some relief. And after that we enjoyed the ice cream!
Since that was our last day in Vancouver, we sadly had to say our goodbyes but this also meant another part of our journey began - Calgary - which will be elaborated in the next post!