Victoria is the capital of British Colombia and located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. On our way there, we stopped in Chemainus and Duncan. Whereas Chemainus is known for its many murals telling the history of this region, in Duncan there are several totem poles scattered around the small town, created by artists with a past in Duncan.
Arriving in Victoria, we met up again with Thomas and Sima and together we had a nice evening. We strolled leisurely through the centre of Victoria and looked at the city’s parliament building beautifully situated on the Inner Harbour. The outline of the building was lit up with hundreds of lights so we got into a bit of a Christmas mood already. We had a glass or two in the local Irish Pub and got to know each other a little better again.
The next day we had planned to discover more of Victoria. We started our walk at Fishermen’s Wharf. A section of the marina has been transformed into a kind of ‘food truck festival’ on the water. There are even houseboats on which people live permanently. Along the waterfront, we walked back to the Inner Harbour, the place we had visited yesterday in the evening light. Water taxis sailed to and fro, sharing the water with sailboats, whale-watching tour boats and seaplanes. It was a bit strange to see seaplanes using the harbour as a runway. Slowly we strolled through the streets of Victoria.
At the small, but oldest Chinatown in Canada, Fan Tan Alley reminded us briefly of Amsterdam again. A small alley where ladies used to sell themselves on the left and right and where a number of Chinese boutiques and studios are now gathered. Via Government Street, we walked back and enjoyed a very good street musician with a killer voice!
We drove out of town towards Sooke and hiked part of the Coast Trail in beautiful weather. Beautiful weather it already had been here for a while. We read on a news report that it had not rained for 63 days in a row! Along the rugged rocky coastline, we were enjoying beautiful nature. Humback whales could be seen in the distance and closer to the shoreline, sea lions swam back and forth looking for food. After about six kilometres, we put on our swimwear and braved the cold waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Just to cool down before we would start the last four kilometres back through the forest to our car.
On the advice of Thomas and Sima, we decided to drive further west along the coast to spend the night. They had promised us beautiful sunsets and whales and we were up for that. We were a bit late for the sunset. It was already starting to dusk and, according to the navigation, we were still 30 minutes away from the chosen spot which ultimately meant we arrived in the pitch-black. Only the next morning did we see what a beautiful spot this was with unobstructed views across the Strait. With binoculars, we immediately went in search of whales which we unfortunately did not manage to spot. We enjoyed an extra day with now enough time to prepare for an amazing sunset!
Our last day on Vancouver Island had arrived. Actually, we hadn’t really felt like we were on an island the whole time. From north to south, it is 500 kilometres long, making the island as big as Switzerland. On the ferry back to the mainland, we were lucky enough to greet a whale before docking in Tsawwassen. Here we had arranged to meet Margrit. Margrit is a former colleague of Romy’s who has lived in Vancouver for more than 15 years. In the evening, Margrit took us for a drive through Vancouver to get a first impression of the city. We drove right through downtown and via the Lions Gate Bridge we ended up in North Vancouver from where we had a great view of Vancouver’s impressive illuminated skyline.
The next day, we bought a day ticket for public transport and went by Skytrain to downtown. Just before we got another view of the skyline, it continued underground and we got off at Yaletown station from where we explored the city on foot. What struck us was the abundance of greenery. Despite the hustle and bustle, the city breathes and therefore we can imagine that Vancouver is a pleasant city to live in. We walked along Waterfront where several cruise ships were docked. Immediately adjacent is the Gastown district with its many souvenir shops and where the only steam-powered clock can be admired. Every 15 minutes this clock plays a tune and after waiting for this for a few minutes we turned right towards Chinatown where we were shocked!
It is abundantly clear from the houses and cars on the streets that rich people live in the city, but of course, big cities also attract poverty. We passed a few ‘blocks’ until we had to wait at the traffic light on East Hastings Road and looked left and right. As far as you could see, there were pieces of plastic stretched across the road under which homeless people were sheltering or sleeping. Poverty in big cities we have seen before, of course, but the scale on which it was present here impressed us deeply. What they all probably had in common was that they were drug addicts. Some people we walked past were completely passed out and sitting was already too much of a task. It was harrowing to see and kept us busy for days to come. How is this possible in a western country? Doesn’t Canada have a shelter programme for this? Questions we ultimately found no answers to.
Along False Creek, we finished our walk through the city and were on our way to an Iranian restaurant where we had agreed to meet with Thomas, Sima and Moni and Rudolph. During dinner they told us that the overnight spot they were staying at was very nicely located on the beach and close to town. Tsawwassen is about 40 minutes drive from Vancouver Downtown. So the next day we decided to also drive towards this place for one night so it was easier to visit another part of the city. We parked the car at Spanish Banks and walked from the car park along the beach in the evening sun towards the Botanical Gardens of Vancouver University. Along the way, we had a cup of coffee before walking back to the car. By now it was late September. During the day we were still enjoying temperatures of around 20 degrees which was very pleasant.
After dinner we all gathered on the beach and had a pleasant evening.
The next morning, we had a lovely breakfast on the beach in the sun and it was not long before the rest joined us again. We shared the latest news and just before noon we left the group again. We wanted to see a bit more of Vancouver and for this we drove to Stanley Park. This city park is the largest in North America and is visited by more than 8 million people every year. We walked for an hour or two past big red cedars and Douglas fir trees and back to the car via the Seawall Dike trail.
The park is so big that we thought it would be better to find another parking spot on the other side of the park via Stanley Park Drive, the road that circles the entire park in 12 kilometres. At Brockton Point, we came face to face with the skyline and looked at a number of totem poles set up here, reminding us that the park used to be the hunting grounds of the First Nations who lived here. Today the Coast Salish constitute the largest group of First Nation in British-Colombia. Traditional fishing and hunting remain important activities. Vancouver First Nations own fisheries operations, land development businesses and eco tourism ventures. They continue to keep their independence.
Already during our stay in Yukon, we had promised ourselves that we would eat sushi in Vancouver. Looking for a Japanese restaurant, we ended up on Granville Island. We combined Granville with a stroll along the Marina and before arriving at the restaurant we enjoyed the cosiness of the island where small shops and cafes entertained people. In the accompanying food court, everything was open and you could choose from pizza, wraps, tacos, burgers or spagetti. Everything except sushi, which was closed. So we opted to stop by the Chinese and eat it outside in the setting sun before driving the 30 kilometres back to Tsawwassen where Margrit lives.
Margrit had suggested to go hiking in the Vancouver area. It was Saturday and the weather was super so the three of us could go out and have some fun. Margrit had chosen a hike near Buntzen Lake and we left Tsawwassen before breakfast. The trail went up and down on the shores of Buntzen Lake and slowly the sun appeared behind the tops of the mountains. We couldn’t have started the day more beautifully. On the other side of the lake, we took a small break. From now on it went steeply uphill. Margrit had also brought her SUP boards so we could enjoy the water after hiking, but first we worked up a sweat. At the top, we looked out over the Indian Arm. A fjord that extends from the ocean past Vancouver deep into the hinterland. Looking out over the water, Vancouver was still clearly visible in the distance. We walked on and with some scrambling between rocks and trees, we arrived back at the car park after five hours! We felt we deserved some fun on the water after having 13 kilometres in our legs. We ended the day at a Japanese restaurant and finally ate the sushi we had been promising ourselves for so long!
This not only marked the end of our stay in Vancouver, but we would also be heading to the US the next day. After four and a half months, it was time to say goodbye. Canada and Alaska offered us everything we had expected, and perhaps even more. Particularly surprising and impressive for us was the abundance of wildlife and how many of these animals we were actually able to see. So many beautiful encounters that we will never forget! Now we are on our way to the Lower 48 of the USA!