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Can't see the town for the logs
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On our way to Vancouver, always west

We left Merritt having our suspicions confirmed that this is a small town with not a lot to it except lumber. There was a sizeable lumber yard on the way back to the main road and we stopped for some photos. The smell of wood and sawdust had a sort of homey feel and quality to it.

On the way down to Hope it was more hills and valleys with long slow roads up and what seemed like even longer roads heading downhill. I cannot recall ever being on a road that kept going down, down, down for such a long time.  We finally reached a valley floor and for a short time were back to long straight roads stretching out ahead of us. Here though they were two or three lanes wide all the time, a sure sign that we were heading back to dense population and urban sprawl.

Bright clear sunny skies kept us company along the way and even the trees still had leaves. The last lingerings of autumn colours were still to be seen making us feel like we had stepped back in time to the drives we did in late September/early August on the East coast. The lift to our spirits that the sunshine had brought was short lived though. As we passed Abbotsford the road again started to crawl down hill and with the lower elevation the fog came back. We had hoped to see Vancouver in the sunshine but it was not destined to be.

With temperatures in Vancouver higher than where we have been for the last two weeks we have opted to leave hotels/motels behind us and get back onto campsites while we still can. Our site for the night is at Burnaby, a town outside of central Vancouver but part of the greater Vancouver suburban sprawl. It’s a big RV ground with well maintained sites and a small swimming pool and hot tub. Even though it is low season there are plenty of people here.

Having switched Morty over to winter time running (i.e. no fresh water on board) it was time to reverse the process and to flush the anti freeze out of his tanks. It was an easy enough process it just took time as pink, frothy water seemed to come out of the tap for ages. We were both though looking forward to spending the night back in Morty.

We headed out to the local Lougheed Mall to restock with food and other essentials (wine!) and also booked Morty in for a thorough clean tomorrow. He is now well and truly covered in muck and grime again having spent the last week or so going through snow and fog and as the time is approaching for us to sell he needs to be spruced up.

Back at the campsite we cooked for ourselves for the first time in a while (one of our favourites – sausages, cous cous and what we call Mediterranean vegetables) and spent a pleasant evening on board before crashing out.

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Made it to a hockey game at last
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Go Nucks! (good guys are in red)

Knowing we had to be at the car cleaning place for 9am, we set an alarm to get us up and about in the morning. It duly went off but as I stood cleaning my teeth looking at the clock in the washroom I was puzzled to see that it was an hour earlier than I had thought. Yet again yesterday we had passed through a time zone, from Mountain to Pacific time, and I had not changed the time on my phone (alarm clock). By that stage I was too awake to go back to bed so it ended up being a very early start.

We dropped Morty off to be cleaned, or “detailed” as they call it here. It should take about four hours as they will clean all the door wells, upholstery and the engine as well so it looks good to sell. The chap from the car wash dropped us off at the Lougheed Mall so that we could get the Skytrain into downtown Vancouver. The Skytrain connects the outer suburbs to the centre of town with four coach trains that whiz you around. It’s a pretty good service and for $8 you can travel all day on the train and buses. Again it’s an honour system, not what we are used to in the UK.

From the Lougheed Mall to the centre of town it takes about twenty five minutes. It is just one big urban sprawl with shopping malls, housing estates and a few tower blocks along the way. We had heard that there were waves of high immigration to Vancouver from China and south East Asia and this is evident on the train. A high proportion of people are of Asian origin and we were surrounded by new, and unintelligible to us, languages.

We spent the day running a few errands and doing some shopping but mainly focussed on where we will go next. Stef has agreed that Indonesia can wait until it’s a safer place to go to so we now need to look at alternatives. We headed for the downtown branch of Chapters, a big bookshop chain, and looked around for options. The most likely combination is to replace Indonesia with a trip from Hong Kong, through southern China and then through Laos and Vietnam, hopefully also still going to Malaysia. We bought the Lonely Planet books so we can firm up plans and then headed down to Tourist Information.

Here we got the usual selection of booklets and leaflets about what there is to do in town and what is going on. This weekend is the Grey Cup, the final of the Canadian Football League, so town is likely to be full of footie fans from across Canada. Having seen a game in Toronto neither of us are that bothered but we are still keen to see an ice hockey game. The Vancouver Canucks are playing tonight and Thursday but with no hockey last year, games are sold out for the year.

Our only option is probably to turn up at the game and see what the touts (scalpers) have got to offer. We went across to the Ticketmaster booth to get a seating plan for the stadium so that we would know whether or not we were getting good seats only to find that some tickets had been released this afternoon for tonight’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Stef threw all caution about budget out of the window and opted for the best available seats.

We dashed back out of town on the Skytrain to go and pick up Morty knowing we had to be back in town in a short while for the game. When we got to the “detailing” shop they were still finishing off. He looks very clean and sparkling new but we were told that the seats and carpets were still not quite dry. I had a sneaky feeling that we should have told them we would pick him up in the early afternoon rather than last thing as I think they did not start work on him this morning.

Their definition of “not quite dry” matches my definition of sopping wet! The carpets were dripping water onto the floor and the cushions that we sleep on were also pretty wet. I had a feeble attempt at trying to dry them with a hairdryer but to no avail. The friendly lady in the campsite office had finished her shift and when I asked the night person if there was anywhere we could leave bits to dry I was met with a dismissive and unhelpful shrug.

Time was not on our side and we had to leave to catch the game. At the Skytrain station, and at each stop along the way, hockey fans were gathering and heading down town. As with the football there was good natured humour and banter going round and a definite sense of excitement building with some of the fans.

Our tickets had set us back a bit but it was worth it for the seats we got. They were in the Siemens Club area and we were eight rows away from the ice, just to the left of the sin bins and referees box. The chap next to Stef seemed happy to explain the rules of the game and to give some insight into the teams. One of the Canucks players has just started playing again having been suspended for over a year for an attack on a player from a different team. We have had a quick look around on the web and whilst what he did was wrong, there is a history of the other player also making violent attacks on Canucks players. The impression I have about ice hockey from the little I have seen on TV in the UK is that it has the same reputation as rugby for fights breaking out.

The game itself was mesmerising. It is so fast paced it is hard to follow the action. Players are continually swapping over, averaging about a minute on the ice before they change. It is easy to see why, the game is so fast they must quickly get out of breath. There were the odd occasions where tempers flared but nothing really of note. These guys whiz from one end of the ice to the other, slam into the Perspex screens when they are battling to get the puck, and then whiz back down the other end again.

Before the game started an announcement said that if in the audience you got hit by the puck, to stay where you were and someone from the stadium would come and attend to you. The screens are a good couple of metres high so I thought it unlikely this would happen but these guys flick the puck up into the air pretty high so I am sure it must do in some games.

The home crowd really got behind their team and after what to me seemed like a close match, the Canucks secured a much needed point scoring win at the end of the third twenty minute period. If there was one thing I did not like, which was the same as the football, it was the unsporting way the teams were introduced. Both national anthems were played at the start but while the home team came onto the ice in full floodlights with their names read out, the away team simply sidled into their bench in the dark. At the end of the game there was no shaking of hands and cross team camaraderie, both teams simply disappeared. When the “man of the match”, well three of them, announcements were made, the crowd booed when one of the Chicago players were nominated.

There were 18,630 at the game and as with the football, people started to leave before the game was over. Outside the police and Skytrain people had the crowds well under control and we probably only waited about five minutes before we were on a train heading back to the campsite. Having enjoyed the game it was a pain to come back and find the carpets and cushions still wet. In desperation the carpets went into the campsite laundry room, as there was no way we could dry them inside Morty, and we spent the night sleeping on a slightly soggy bed!

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Mysterious Morty in the mist

We left home six months ago today. Its seems strange that we are now in effect on the homeward leg of our trip. We have seen so much on our travels so far and still have so much more to see. I sometimes feel as if my brain is full and that there is no room for new experiences!

Today our plans revolved around Morty and researching how best we can sell and get a decent price. Our adverts on line and in the local second hand RV press have so far yielded no results so we are faced with the prospect of going through a dealer rather than a private sale. While it may work in our favour on the one hand in terms of speed of process, inevitably we will get a lower price through a dealer than privately. Our other option is to store the van for the winter and come back at the start of the season next year but even then we have no guarantee of a successful sale.

We worked up a list of dealers from on line searches and the phone book and then camped out in the lounge at the campsite to make our calls. It was a long, tiring and frustrating day. The stock answer was to quote a price based on the listing in US second hand RV magazines. This is about half the amount we paid and we are sure we can get more than that.

Most dealers do not seem to buy stock off you to then sell on, they work on a “consignment” basis. They will display your RV on their lot, advertise it, keep it clean, show potential buyers around and basically act as a broker on your behalf. They either work on a commission basis or agree a price with you up front that they will secure for you, any excess being profit for them.

We learned a lot during the day and it reinforced our views that we had perhaps been too eager to buy in the first place and had not really considered all the options. Most dealers offered us the list price on a consignment basis, some seemed interested, others not. We ended up with an offer to buy for cash at the listed (half of what we paid) price or to sell on consignment getting the amount at the lower end of our acceptable price scale. The latter dealer is a Roadtrek dealer based on Vancouver Island and sounds very interested but what we do not yet know is how realistic his offer is or whether it is just a ploy to attract us in. We are heading there next week so we will just have to wait and see what happens.

It was one of those necessary but boring sort of days and we were both in need of something interesting to do to round off the day. We hunted around to check cinema times to go and see the latest Harry Potter film and found one that was showing the film on an Imax screen. It was at the Langley Colossus, about twenty kilometres away along the main Trans Canada Highway, ironically very close to most of the dealers we have been speaking to today. The downside of going to Langley was that we had to drive and it was foggy and rush hour when we left.

The film though was well worth seeing and it was all the better for seeing it on an Imax screen. It had us both chuckling away in parts and I was surprised that what to me seemed to be very British humour went down well with a Canadian audience. I am looking forward to the next instalment!

Today seemed to come and go in a blur of I do not know what. With our books and information about alternatives for Indonesia to hand our aim was to come up with some rough plan and route to follow. It was not to be though and thinking about it now I am struggling to understand why.

Not knowing anything about these countries I had settled down to start to read through the books and look at places I fancied going to. I find it hard to do because you are taking in a lot of information and have no context to frame it in or ideas about where different spots are and how feasible it is to get from A to B. Realistically though, as we will need to get visas and money sorted before we go, reading the books and surfing the net is the only way to do it.

We spent the day trying to formulate plans but both realised that neither of us was really in the mood, so we called it a day knowing that it would still have to be done. Our main concern is getting visas for China, which a quick phone call to the embassy confirmed that we can do in Vancouver. The rest we will have to sort either in Hong Kong, China or when we get to the border of Laos/Vietnam, depending on which bits we eventually decide to go to!!

One good point from today is that finally, after two days in the laundry, Morty’s carpets are finally dry so it meant we had warm feet. Its amazing the difference a bit of carpet can make!

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Next destination
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Swanky lunch at the Vancouver Art Gallery

Our main focus for today was to get our visas for China sorted. We headed into town to get passport photos done, bemused when we were asked what size we wanted as I thought they were all the same. Seems that Canada photos are about twice the size of what we call “standard” passport photos. There was no sitting in a booth and getting blinded by the flash here. We were in a photo shop and they take your picture with a digital camera and let you decide if you are happy with it. Each picture gets stamped on the back with the name of the company who has taken it and the date it was done – most unusual!

We knew we had to get to the visa section before one and as usual time was not on our side. We hopped in a cab, driven by an Indian guy that I could not understand. He assured us he was taking us to the right place but we both knew he had not when we turned up at a house out of town. He seemed peeved that he had to take us back somewhere else. Stef by this time was well and truly boiling with frustration. He had been twitchy enough when the photos were being done that we would run out of time but now we only had ten minutes before the visa office shut.

A quick stop at a shop with lots of signs in Chinese on the door pointed us in the right direction and we made it in time. We filled in our forms, attached our photos and handed them over. I think we had both expected to be met by very stern and bureaucratic people but the lady behind the desk was very friendly and laughed at our attempts to say hello, thank you and goodbye in Lonely Planet Mandarin. Hopefully all will be OK and we will get our visas by Wednesday next week.

We stopped for a coffee at a café just down off Broadway before heading back into town. At Chapters we added to our book collection with dictionaries of Mandarin and Vietnamese, Stef being convinced that these will be more helpful than phrase books. It is going to be quite a challenge being in a place where the language not only sounds different but also looks different. Before we left we bought a small book full of pictures of every day items that you can point at to make yourself understood if language fails you and I think it will finally come into its own over the next few months.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around Vancouver’s Art Gallery. We had been attracted by the current main exhibition of works by Picasso but compared to exhibitions we have seen in Europe it was for us a poor relation. The exhibition was mainly etchings and sketches rather than paintings and sculptures. They seemed to fall into two broad categories, those of, for the most part, naked ladies and those where he was making a personal statement.

Without doubt his talent shone through but neither of us walked away feeling inspired. We both left feeling that he hungered to fulfil his own primeval desires and Stef in particular did not find the works intellectual enough. I struggle to understand how the mind of an artist works who produces what to me is a visual jumble of images and yet to them portrays a clear message and meaning.

Unusually for me, most of the rest of the collections in the gallery also left me cold (or perhaps I was just in a non-receptive frame of mind). The other main exhibition focussed on the different ways that people archive and store information. The gallery’s information leaflet ha d a very fancy description which basically said that some people like to go through the process of archiving and storing while other try to make meaning by accruing material.

Some of the exhibits were interesting to look at, like the vast array of paper cut outs collected through a project in China. One exhibit was responses to a questionnaire given to school children from a town not far from Vancouver. While I now know that even at eighteen their spelling and handwriting is bad, they are all bored where they live and that most kids drink, smoke, do mushrooms and other drugs I struggle to understand how a collection of responses individually framed and stuck on a wall constitutes art. Perhaps I simply need to broaden my own definition!

On the top floor was an exhibition of paintings by Emily Carr, a Canadian painter who focused heavily on the local landscape and also First Nations culture. I am sure she is a very talented artist but again I was left cold as her style does not appeal. I think the best description of a work though was for Neil Campbell’s “Base”. He is described as having an interest in a “phenomenological approach to art making – an inquiry into how we perceive the world”. Essentially, the windows on one side of the gallery are lit up in different colours at night. This is Campbell activating “… the building as an abstract perceptual field… to stimulate a consciousness of the physical site of the passer by”, or, perhaps in lay terms it is just a way to make people see the building.

As we pondered what to do for the rest of the night, neither of us feeling like going back to the campsite and cooking, a local man stopped to see if we needed help. He cautioned us against going to Gastown, the old part of town, at night as some bits are dodgy, and pointed us instead to Robson where there are lots of restaurants and bars to choose from. We popped into the Keg Steakhouse for a drink and to think about where to head for next but ended up staying there for a very tasty and filling steak dinner.

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Friendly locals (harmless too)
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Strong winds eh?

A first for Vancouver, we have woken up to clear blue skies and bright sunshine. We headed into town to go and explore firstly stopping off at The International Travel Maps shop on Broadway to buy maps for Asia and Africa. They are a Canadian company and produce what we think are some of the best maps around.

With the Grey Cup (football final) festivities kicking off today the buses from here into the main downtown are affected by diversions and we, and other local people, could not work out where we needed to go to get a bus. We finally got one heading down to the waterfront which is where we wanted to be. What we did not realise though is that it went flying past where we wanted to get off!

We ended up east of the Gastown area and worked our way back. At the corner of Pender and Carral we stopped to find the smallest building in Vancouver, at just 1.8m wide. We walked up and down expecting the building front to be narrow. In fact we were walking along the building, it is only 1.8m deep! The area between here and the main section of Gastown on Water Street is not one of Vancouver’s best. The buildings look slightly seedy and run down and the people walking about matched the environment.

The area is full of old Victorian buildings which must have been magnificent in their day. The old Terminus Hotel building and its neighbour are both in a very sad state of affairs. Their facades are being rescued while the buildings behind them have been knocked down and are in the process of being rebuilt. We were in time to see the Gastown Steam clock do its stuff. Powered on steam provided by the city is chimes the Westminster chime (think Big Ben) on the quarter hour and on the hour its whistle also goes off. It was very amusing watching it work.

We stopped off at the Steamworks Brewery for a bite of lunch (best burger I have had in a long time if not ever) and a spot of their local brew before heading along the waterfront. The west end area of Vancouver is a mass of tower blocks, mostly apartments rather than offices although one, the Shaw building, is a mix of both. Construction work is underway, partly to extend the conference centre and partly by the Fairmont chain building new apartments rather than hotels. All afternoon the sound of piles being driven down into the ground echoed back and forth around the tower blocks.

Although it is at sea level, Vancouver is still a hilly place and North Vancouver is set against a back drop of snow covered mountains. Just looking at the snow brought back memories of the Rockies, the only difference here being unfrozen water and the continual stream of float planes taking off and landing on the bay. There seems to be a steady stream of people wanting a quick route to Vancouver Island rather than a drive and a ferry. We checked the prices of sight seeing tours and decided it would have to wait until a future trip.

There is a pleasant walk along the front leading down to the marina. Lots of boats were moored up, mainly motor boats rather than sail boats. As in the UK they came in all shapes and sizes but there did not seem to be the really huge and motor boats that we see on the south coast in the UK. At this time of year they are perhaps all in sunnier and warmer climes further south.

The number of apartment buildings is staggering. They are quite hemmed in and I suppose are really vertical villages. Some have balconies but most seem to be fully enclosed air conditioned blocks. There is not much space between them and it looked to me like you would be able to see into the windows of the people in all the blocks around you, great people watching but not my choice of living accommodation.

We headed back around into town and had a brief stop at Canada Place, just missing the chance to have a tour on a cruise liner which would have been interesting. By this stage we were both feeling foot sore. It was about five o’clock so it was too early for a film or a show and neither of us felt like just killing time in a bar. We were simply at a bit of a loose end.

Taking the sensible route we headed back to the campsite and hit the pool and hot tub. Walking back through town to the Skytrain station we passed the downtown branch of HSBC bank. There was a big atrium in the building and in the atrium a huge clock pendulum. It was something like twenty metres high and one metre square, made of brushed aluminium. On the ground was an aluminium stand and on the pendulum's downswing it grazed gracefully just over the top of the stand.

We spent most of today at the campsite catching up on diaries and other paperwork only heading into town late in the afternoon. We had decided to head for the pictures again, this time to the Tinseltown cinema in the International Village.

The village seemed to mainly be a shopping mall with smart looking clothes and furniture shops on the ground floor and art shops and a food hall on the second floor. The food hall reflected the international taste. Based in Chinatown it was a selection of Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and, oddly, Mexican, fast food outlets.

At the cinema we saw Goodbye and Good luck, based on the true story of CBS news reporters standing up against McCarthy’s anti-communist activity in the US. In black and white it combined old news reel footage with modern cinematography and told a chilling tale. For a supposedly free and democratic country, McCarthy certainly seems to have made life difficult for many people, unjustly accusing them of crimes they did not commit.

After the film we headed back to the Steamworks Brewery for a bite to eat. This part of town was full of people streaming out of the Grey Cups final as the stadium is just by Chinatown. We spent a pleasant couple of hours eating, drinking and pondering how to spend our last week in Canada. We are heading over to Vancouver Island tomorrow and want to spend most of the week there. The only problem is that we have to be back mid-week to pick up our passports and Chinese visas. We decided to try the Consulate tomorrow to see if they can push our applications through their express route and pick them up tomorrow.

It was a clear night sky and stars were out twinkling away. The downside was that it was very cold, so cold that when we got back to the campsite we had ice on the inside of the windscreen and skylight windows. As it was late already, and beyond the "quiet time" cut off, we could not start up the engine to thaw out and went to bed with extra layers on hoping we would not be too cold overnight.

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Ferry to Vancouver Island
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Breathing in the scenery

It had stayed cold overnight and outside everything was white and covered in a layer of frost when we woke. We still had ice on the windows at the front and even those at the back by our head and feet had a small, thin layer. We had slept soundly enough though and were glad that the switch for the furnace/heater was by the bed so we could warm the inside of Morty up before getting out of bed.

We left the campsite earlyish planning to get to the Chinese consulate as soon as possible. It was a long drive into the centre of town and it took as long to get there as it would do on the Skytrain and the bus. By the time we arrived it was a little after 9:30 and there was already a sizeable number of people ahead of us. Stef went in search of food while I waited in line. Before long we were walking out, passports and visas in hand. The visas were already prepared and our passports were simply sat in a back office waiting for the official collecting day. For the privilege of picking them up early we had to pay an extra $70, a bit hefty considering they had already been processed but worth it for the flexibility and freedom it now gives us for our last week.

It is unlikely that we will be back in the centre of Vancouver. We have got a feel for the area and there are still bits we can see and do if and when we come back again. For now though our focus has shifted to Vancouver Island and hopefully an enjoyable last few days. We headed out of town to Tsawassinn to catch the ferry across to the island. In contrast to the mountains that surround Vancouver itself, this area was a flat plain reaching out to the water.

A long man made jetty led out to the ferry terminal. Here we paid our dues and sat in line waiting for the ferry. There is what looks like a new terminal building here with shops and a variety of different fast food places to get something to eat and drink. We had just missed the eleven o’clock ferry and had two hours to wait until the next one left but the time quickly passed by.

The ferry itself was pretty big with two car decks and it was quite full. Lots of people looked like they had gone to Vancouver for the weekend for the Grey Cup final and were now heading home. We had our obligatory walk around outside but kept it short because there was a biting wind blowing in off the water. The crossing was short, about ninety minutes, and wiggled down through the smaller islands off the main Vancouver Island. It was a beautiful trip passing tree covered islands with evidence of small local communities dotted about here and there.

At Swartz Bay we were one of the first off and were soon heading down to True North RV, the dealer we are probably going to use to sell Morty. Our attempts for a private sale have so far yielded no results and time is no longer on our side. This company will sell on the same basis to those on the mainland but have quoted by phone a much higher sale value (to us) than any of the others

Kevin, the chap I had spoken to was not there today but Waldo de Groot, a South African with Dutch parents, took us through the process. We got the inevitable “oh, I think what you were quoted on the phone is far too high” and “all those extras, nobody really wants them”, but by the time they had looked Morty over we left agreeing a sale price higher than we were originally quoted. Fingers crossed that the people they have on their books who have been looking for a Roadtrek 170 buy and do so sooner rather than later!!

From here we headed down the main road, turning off and back up northwards to Nanaimo. The road followed the coast of the island, twisting and turning around and up and down. Through the trees we could get glimpses of the mainland, mainly the lights from downtown Vancouver but it was not long before we were again driving in the dark. I have a feeling that the scenery on this part of the coast will be stunning to see in the day.

At Nanaimo we made our way to the Living Forest Oceanside Campground and booked a spot with an ocean view for the night. The girl behind reception was very friendly and took the time to talk to us about the island and what would be good things to see and do while we are here. It looked like a big site and true to its name each individual plot was carved out of the forest. In the summer this must be a fantastic place to stay. We headed into town to get some food for dinner and then settled in for the night, hoping to get some great sunrise views tomorrow morning.

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Contemplative mood, looking across the Pacific, where the next continent awaits!
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Made it to the Pacific! (again...)

The overnight forecast had turned out to be right - we woke up to a blanket of snow about five centimetres deep. It was very beautiful but odd to be curled up under our sleeping bags looking out at the snow. As we had breakfast all we could hear around us was the dripping, slushing and sliding of melting snow. The shower block was on the way out of the campsite so we were very American this morning and drove there rather than walking. A snow plough had been round to clear the road but even so it was still a bit slippery.

We left the campsite and headed for Tourist Information to check the road conditions across the island. We wanted to head for Tofino on the west coast but this would take us over high mountains so we need to be sure we can get there and back. The people at the information centre were incredibly friendly and helpful and phoned to check the conditions for us as well as looking on line. They confirmed we should be OK.

Leaving Nanaimo Stef was in search of coffee. As we pulled in to go to a Tim Horton's we saw a sign for Nellie's Dutch Deli and the temptation was too great so we stopped off to have a look. A sign on the door said that Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet would be stopping in on Saturday for St Nicolas day celebrations, a bit of a Dutch tradition. Inside, it was like an Aladdin’s cave of all the Dutch treats and specialities that you have as a kid – gevulde koek, speculaas, drop, chocolade letters, hagelslag to name a few. It also had a good range of Conimex “Indonesian” foods and a wide range of Dutch cheeses.

From here we carried on across country, deciding not to stop and sight see today but expecting to stop on our way back. Our route took us through Coombs and Port Alberni before winding across the mountains. The views here were stunning again. To me they combined the majesty of the Rockies with the tree covered beauty of Quebec and Ontario. Lakes inevitably traced our route. The water was so still and calm it looked like glass reflecting fabulous views of the snow capped mountains either side.

We stopped again at Port Alberni to check the road was OK and were told it was clear but there was some snow so to take care. The “some snow” was a light dusting in the corners of about three bends so we had a clear route all the way. We passed one part called Cathedral Alley/Grove which is about a one hundred metre stretch of road lined on each side by huge redwood style trees creating a very tall green canopy above. It was stunning and had a mystical quality to it.

A short but steep downhill brought us out alongside Kennedy Lake, a huge still expanse of water. This, and other sections we have passed today, is typical of the images you see of Canada. Beautiful scenery and lakes reflecting the surroundings stretching away as far as you can see. When we were in Newfoundland we bought a CD of Newfie folk songs. One of them really sums up Canada in its title “Thank God we’re surrounded by water”. Everywhere you go, even in the cities, water is never far away.

Out of the mountains we turned north again towards Tofino. A few miles south of town we pulled into the Crystal Cove resort and RV park and got a spot for a couple of nights, the only RV in sight! They mainly have log cabins that they rent out and they look really cosy from the outside. We resisted the temptation to take up the offer to have a look inside one as I doubt we would have wanted to stay in Morty if we had.

With an hour or so of daylight left we headed down onto the cove to watch our first pacific sunset since we left South America. There is a wide sandy bay with beachfront cabins and apartments from the next two “resorts” further up the coast. To the left is a smaller bay that leads up to the beachfront cabins for the Crystal Cove resort. This bay is more rocky with outcrops of rock on either side and a mound of rocks at the (current) waterline. Clinging to the rocks are trees that have been shaped and twisted by the winds coming in off the pacific.

Clouds marred a clear night sunset but they somehow always add their own dimension with the sun playing games against the clouds as if they were a big kaleidoscope. We stood and “oohed” for a while watching the sun, the clouds and the waves. There were a few other people around but not many. It seems that its only recently that Tofino has stayed open as a resort all year round. People now come here in the winter to watch the storms and resulting high waves they bring.

As the sun went down and the temperature dropped we abandoned our plans for a campfire and barbecue, opting instead for dinner cooked inside. By about seven o’clock it was a pitch black night. Stars were out, but they seemed faded and dim compared to night skies we had in Newfie and South America and they were not bright enough to light our way. We were treated though to the sight of a shooting star. Even though I have seen quite a few now I still feel they are something pretty special.

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Waves rolling in at Tofino
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Feeling the sunshine
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Lichen hanging off the tall trees

We are now at the most westerly point that we will reach in Canada and the furthest west that we have ever been. In fact, we are now as far west on land as we will be. Our next landfall after Canada takes us to Hong Kong, the Far East.

Today we headed south a few miles from Tofino and into the Pacific Rim National Park. The coast here is renowned for its long beautiful beaches, a great draw for surfers. Where in other National Parks they have had swing-o-meters reflecting the potential fire hazard, here it was the level of danger of the waves (moderate, high and extreme). This mornings rating is high so we expect to see some good surf.

We opted to go to Long Beach, a recommendation from people we met by the Rockies and in Nanaimo, and it was a great recommendation. Popular with surfers, signs at the car park warn against swimming and for the surfers explain about the dangers of the tides and what to do if you get caught in a rip tide.

The sun came out and it felt like we were walking on a spring day rather than a morning in early winter. There were a few other people out and about but not many and it was as if we had the beach to ourselves. Huge logs lined the beach along the shore, one had holes at the top and bottom and looked as if it was a ships mast. Beyond the logs, dense forest stretched back to the road, too dense to try and get through if you got caught by the tide.

We spent a couple of hours walking along the beach, enjoying the sunshine and stopping briefly on the way back to watch a couple of surfers. Despite the “high” rating I did not think the waves were that big until I saw the surfers out there. They looked tiny against the spray so I think the waves must have been reasonably high. Although Canada is full of water it has been some time since we heard the crash of waves onto a beach. There is something almost hypnotic about it, as if time has stopped still and a single moment has been expanded.

From the beach we carried on further south into the Park to follow two short trails through the rain forest. Neither of us had expected rain forest here, both only associating it with hot and humid climates so it was interesting to see. The trails were both on boardwalks that had been built above the forest floor. The wound around a short circuit dropping down to the forest floor and then climbing back up to road level.

Along the way were information panels that explained the lifecycle of the forest and how it was constructed. The trees are cedars and firs and the mature ones must be thirty metres high. The trunk of one of the cedar trees has a circumference of eight metres and it is about seven hundred years old! As the trees die or fall down, they provide a home and habitat for all sorts of bugs who gradually break it down. Saplings from other trees fall down onto it and one in a thousand will survive to maturity, spreading its roots down and around the dead tree.

The forest is home to a diverse range of wildlife from bears, cougars and wolves through a range of small mammals, birds and insects. One of the best bugs, which we did not see, is the Banana Slug. Fully grown it is about nine inches long and weighs a quarter of a pound. In the canopy above us we could hear birds squawking and twittering but it was too dark for us to be able to see them. A small stream runs down and through the forest which is home to salmon and at the right time of year you can see them here spawning.

With darkness setting in (on the way out of the trail there was not enough light to read a sign easily read about twenty minutes earlier) we made our way back to the campsite, stopping briefly at Tofino along the way. It is again a very dark night sky and whereas it must have reached over 10C on the beach the temperature has dropped consistently during the afternoon.

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Magnificent tree (our canopy)
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Surf dads
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Future nursery logs
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So that's where Ken's been shipping them all to!

Before we left Stef headed for the beach to try and get the perfect shot of some of the trees on the shore. They are well and truly wind beaten, with branches and leaves only on one side where they have been blown over the years. Unfortunately, the tide was in and whilst he has some good shots they are not the one he was after.

We took a quick detour into Tofino and then stopped again at Long Beach for a last look at the Pacific. When we were here yesterday there were two surfers in the ocean, today there were many more. Next to us in the car park an SUV was parked up and three chaps were struggling into their wetsuits. They claim that at this time of year it is warmer in the water than it is standing on land. They chatted while they got ready to go and then skipped across the sand and into the waves.

It was a warm and clear day when we left the coast and turned inland to head back over the mountains and down to Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia. Before long the warm dry landscape had given way to colder temperatures and snow covered grounds and we were back in winter as we drove along the shore of Lake Kennedy and up into the hills. We have been lucky enough to see some really stunning parts of Canada on our trip and for me this drive rates highly as one of our best for views.

We stopped at Cathedral Grove, named for the church like experience you get walking through a grove of enormous Douglas fir and cedar trees. This area of forest is relatively new at three hundred years old and it has a serene aura about it, probably helped by a lack of people due to the cold temperatures. In height, these trees match the giant redwoods we have seen in California but whilst their trunks are broad, they are not a patch on the redwoods.

In 1997 a high wind storm swept through the area. It came after a period of rain and the ground was damp underfoot. Many trees were uprooted and simply flattened, others had their trunks snapped in two. As with the trees we had seen in the rainforest at Tofino, the fallen trees were now nurseries providing a source of food and lodging for a variety of insects, birds and plants including new tree saplings.

From here we carried on stopping again at Coombs. This is a small village renowned for its local market. It’s a typical log cabin style building with a turfed roof. On the roof is a small hut and in the summer goats graze on top of the roof. The goats are on holiday for the winter while their turf is white and snowy. They would probably slide down and over the edge if they did try to graze. With one more stop to snap a collection of old London buses we finally made it back onto route 17, the main highway stretching down the east coast of the island.

Before long the skies had turned a dark grey and we were back driving through a snow fall. On our way up this road it had been night so I had hoped for a clear view this time around. Ah well. Arriving in Vancouver we made our way to the Esquimalt area and to the West Bay RV park. Here there is a small marina with a few floating houses built on the pontoons. The RV park is part of the marina complex and was small and very full of what looked like people who stay here year round.

We headed to the Post Canada office at the local mall, bought a couple of boxes and then started the process of sorting out our stuff. Living in the same place for four months we have acquired some extra bits and pieces and we need to send them home before we get back to living out of our packs. We had a great meal at the little restaurant on the harbour and then headed for bed.