The change in landscape was huge after I finished the last bit of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. Mountains disappeared and forests changed into farmlands. Towns which weren’t more than a fuel station and a motel changed into standard North American towns with large stores on the main road. My first stop was the town of Terrace. Time to stop for diesel, food and a campsite. The next day I was off to Prince Rupert, a town at the Pacific coast. It’s in the wrong direction and I wasn’t planning to go. But quite some people on the way said it was nice and I had left Stewart earlier than planned because of the weather… I guess I should have gone with my instincts… Prince Rupert itself isn’t very exiting (not much history or nature in town) and the main attractions are nature boat tours and ferries to all the islands (All fully booked for that day). I went for a short hike outside of town that would get me to some rapids, but there wasn’t enough water for rapids. Last stop was an original Salmon Cannery. This was a great photo stop with beautiful old used wooden buildings in the pretty evening sun. However, no reason to stay here so I started heading back in the direction of Vancouver. It took me three days of driving through farmlands, three nights at not too interesting campsites (one evening spend trying to call my old landlord in Switzerland who kept sending me bills), but the weather was great. Then came the turnoff to the See to Sky highway leading into the mountains past Whistler and Squamish to Vancouver. Mountains… so many mountains… And that’s when the sun stopped and the rain and clouds came.
The drive to Whistler was full of nice curvy roads going up and down along the mountains. It was cloudy and rainy which ruined some of the views (what I didn’t know at that point is that I would drive this road another 4 times in the next week). Whistler was extremely busy. It was weird after all the time up North to see so many tourists in their hip and fancy outfits walking through an extremely touristy town. Near Whistler I went for the Garibaldi Lakes hike. It was quite cloudy but the hike and the green lakes very pretty. I also spotted an albino slug and some brain shaped mushrooms. It is clear that I’m getting closer to the big cities again since the hike was really busy. On the campsite in Whistler I met some Dutch people (wondering what a Dutch van is doing in Canada), some Belgian people (talking about travelling while waiting for the broken laundry machines to finish) and my Canadian neighbor (He asked me the very easy questions: Do you want a Alaskan beer? Yes. Do you want some Alaskan Whiskey? Yes).
The next few days I would spend in Vancouver with Maarten. He had to go to Seattle and Vancouver for work but would have loads of extra time in Vancouver. He had a hotel room for two people so I could nicely join him there (Thanks!). We had agreed to meet up at the hotel at 7 so I spend the day slowly driving from Whistler to Vancouver. I stopped at many viewpoints and lake and ended up at a beach just north of Vancouver. I found some rocks to climb over where I could enjoy the view and read a book with nobody around. While sitting in the sun two seals and a baby seal swam by right in front of me. I headed for the last 20min drive to Vancouver. Forgot about rush hour. The 20 min drive took me 1.5 hours. When I finally got to the hotel, it turned out that their parking garage was only 180cm high, too low for my van. Luckily I had spotted a 3.5m tall parking garage just a few blocks back. After some fights with one way streets I found the lot. Just when I drove in I noticed another sign saying the height was only 198cm. (the 3.5 was only for delivery trucks). According to the paperwork my van is 196cm tall but that is without my solar panel. So I drove into the garage very very carefully. But the van fitted! That night we went for an early/late birthday dinner for both of us at the ocean (Maarten had his birthday in Seattle a few days ago and I would have mine a few days after he left). We took the surprise menu which was five courses of fishy awesomeness with oysters, tuna, octopus, halibut and salmon.
The next two days we spend walking through the city. Exploring many (many!) beer bars and restaurants. We sat in Stanley park for an hour watching three cricket matches. On Friday night we went for beers with Matt and Mike at a great beer bar that had 150 beers on tap. On Saturday night we watched the first show of the Vancouver fireworks festival (this show was organised by the Dutch team).
Matt had organised a hike for Sunday north of Whistler. We had leave early because the highway north and south of Whistler would be closed for the Ironman. There were loads of cyclists and runners on the road but we got past the town just in time before the roads closed. The more scary bit were the last 20km before the beginning of the hike. The road had multiple steep long uphill sections of up to 15%. But the van survived and we made it all the way up. The hike was great. Beautiful weather and beautiful blue-green lakes. At the upper lake some of us couldn’t resist to go for a swim in the icy waters. But swimming between the mountains and glaciers was great. We went down to Vancouver too early and the roads were still blocked so we had to wait out the traffic at a coffee place.
On Monday Maarten went back home. Matt and Nataly had offered me to stay at their place for a few days (Thanks!!) which was an offer I happily accepted. Vancouver ended up being the relax week I had thought about taking but never did. After all the driving and travelling it was very good to not have to drive, not worry about finding a place to stay every day and actually have a house to sleep in. I did not do much for my trip and spend most of my time hanging around parks. On Monday I got a message from Shirley asking me what she should do in Vancouver since she couldn’t find anything about it on my website. I told her I was still there and I would send here more tips in a few days. She replied saying she and her sister were going to get to Vancouver the next day. So the next day we met up for lunch and decided to go kayaking north of town. The lady at the kayak center was happy to help us. She could get us a kayak at 6… (it was 2). So we kindly declined her offer and went for a short hike instead. That evening Matt, Nataly, Mike and I went for an early birthday dinner for me (Matt had to work on my birthday the next day) at their favorite sushi place. Awesome sushi!
On my actual birthday I met up with Shirley, her sister and their roommate from the hostel to grab some cake at the market. We spend the afternoon sitting at the beach where companies were handing out loads of free ice cream, sandwiches, etc, etc. Being Dutch we couldn’t refuse. That evening Nataly had made some great Korean food and we watched a movie at their place.
I decided I really wanted to see some more of the mountains so for the 3rd time I drove up to Whistler. I took the gondola up to Whistler mountain where I went for a nice hike spotting loads of marmots.You had to be quick to spot the marmots. The following scene describes why: random american tourist screaming: “Ow wow, look at that, a marmot! Hey mom, look a marmot!, Ow wow!, Hey, hey, Joe look a marmot! Hey Bob, look a marmot! Ow wow! Ow wow!. Hey, now he’s gone…” The cool thing at Whistler is that they have a gondola going from one peak to the next. It has an unsupported free span of 3 km and is more than 400m above the valley floor. As an engineer this is very interesting to look at (and of course it was build by a Swiss company). The only dumb thing about hiking here was that the cable cars start very late (the last stage up only starts at 11). Also I had forgotten that it was a long weekend in Canada so I wanted to go down early to look for a campsite. So in the end I had to hurry my hike quite a bit but it was still great. When I got down I drove by 4 campsites, all completely full with a queue. So I texted Matt and asked him if it was OK if I would stay one more night. It was (Very big thanks!). Mike also came over and we had some drinks.
The next day was going to be my last day in Canada. I was going to visit Utsab and Sue who had invited me when I saw them in Toronto. They live on the south side of Vancouver close to the American border. The day I was there the town had its yearly festival with fireworks. We went out for lunch, walked along the beach onto the pier, Utsab made some great lamb for dinner and we watched the fireworks from the roof of their house. The next day Sue I was off to the US but not before Sue could restock my supplies and Utsab and Sue drove along with me escorting me out of Canada.
That was a great week in Vancouver meeting so many friends. Thanks to everyone for getting me a place to stay and a place to park my van, for going for food and beers with me, for celebrating my birthday and everything else!