Travel planning and Traipsing through Canada

Current status: hanging out with Kim Crawford on the couch, listening to Spotify and mucking about on the internet. Not all that different from a typical Tuesday night except that I am in an Airbnb in Ottawa and there are no dogs.

I’ve quit facebook, quit my job and taken leave of my husband and animals and home to travel to India and Nepal but I lined up a bit of “practice” traveling, wrapping up work remotely and visiting friends. The day before I left a friend told someone I was off to India the next day and I had to explain a bit ruefully that I wasn’t going to be in India for a little while still. Leg #1 was Seattle to White Rock, leg #2 was to Vancouver, leg #3 Montreal, leg #4 Ottawa, leg #5 Toronto, leg #6 London (with a layover in Iceland) and then Mumbai from where I will make my way north to Delhi (as well as east and west and a bit farther north, and finally home through Hong Kong. I can write that now because although I’ve been on the road for 10 days, I only just booked my flight home.

It’s kind of exciting, really. As a project manager and therefore usually a super-planner. I often make reservations months in advance but this trip I am kind of making things up as I go along and that has meant some scrambling (for visas, passport renewal, giving my company enough notice, figuring out outfits that will work across cultures and climates and landscapes, etc.) but it turns out that most of these things can be done in a rush and / or online – something that I am finding out at a whole new level now that I have lost my wallet.

New credit and debit cards overnighted to me? Don’t mind if I do. New green card and Nexus rushed to me so I can get back in the country later? Yes please.

I’m consider myself a fairly seasoned traveler so this is an embarrassing and rookie mistake but I had an errand at the embassy where they require you to bring no bags, sunnies or cell phones so I was literally carrying everything in my pockets, in the pouring rain, in a country that I feel safe in so I wasn’t really on my guard. And so I’m grateful for these weeks of practice travel while I ramp up and get my sh– together.

One gets old and set in one’s ways and even in my home town I was glad of free public Wifi, Google maps and friendly bartenders. In Montreal even more so. as I spent a good portion of the week dealing with rudeness, apathy and ineptitude as they tried to fix my notebook. In Ottawa the response to me losing my wallet was “not my problem” or “I need to get paid” but I’m sure it will not be long in India before I’m laughing at how infuriated I have been about the noise and construction and lack of WiFi, customer service and kindness. It’s tough out here in the world.

Travel is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly. That is how we grow.

Instead of grumbling, here are some of the many new and / or cherished experiences I’ve had this week:

VANCOUVER:
Sorting through all kinds of old nostalgia and photos with my mom, a great sleep with her tiny dog curled up in my armpit (as compared with my mediocre sleep most nights cramming between my two enormous, snoring bulldogs), a ride to the bus stop on the corner (literally 3 blocks away) so she could see me off, the ahhhh-mazing Apple customer service and quality program fixing my laptop on the road – for free, high quality delicious and sustainable sushi at Hapa Izakaya, inventive vegetarian Chinese comfort food at Bao Bei, delicious and creative cocktails in beautiful rooms at Nightingale and The Botanist, and finally a ride to the airport from my sister.

MONTREAL:
Being met at the airport by my lovely friend who I’ve not seen in a while, who fed me all kinds of delicious food and wine, snuggles and kisses and playtime with the second loaner dog of the trip, happening across an amazing Chagall exhibit at the art gallery and another Amazonian one at the archeology museum, surprising sunshine allowing for wine and burrata on a terasse with a good book, more wine and deliciousness at Vin Papillon, and then even more wine and more deliciousness at Nora Grey, teaching the loaner dog to waltz, brunch at the spectacular Satay Bros. and finally coming across an urban “cabane à sucre” in a park.

OTTAWA:
Arriving at my Airbnb to find it so charming and lovely and heart-warming that I didn’t even want to leave – and that was before I saw that my hostess had left me some chocolate, ducking in out of the rain at a cosy pub to have some seriously good pizza and beer.

TORONTO:
Having said credit cards arrive over night – with a photo that my husband had included of him and all of our animals, catching up with more good friends I haven’t seen in a while, delicious cocktails and dinner at Byblos, mind-blowingly amazing peach beer at Momofuku (and lunch to go with), the availability and ease of hailing cabs, interesting and sumptuous flavours at Banu Iranian restaurant and cafes with good coffee that haven’t minded me hiding out from hours from the rain. And tomorrow we dance! I can’t tell you how excited I am about that.

I am feeling very loved, cared for and connected…and this is another reason one must travel – so that we can spend time connecting with people in person. As I have learned from working from home this winter, video chat and IM just don’t cut it.

Finally, being away from home is an opportunity to appreciate the things one normally takes for granted. I am so happy to have my high quality pack / boots / Goretex with me, my Canadian passport, to be free of allergies and allergies and have a relatively good ability to adapt, to be hosted by so many lovely people (both because it helps my travel budget but also because it’s a new perspective on how others live, not to mention extra time to catch up). Conversely I have loved and needed the downtime in between staying with friends, appreciated the flexibility to work remotely…and of course to have enough health and wealth and courage to be able to take this trip in the first place.

Next stop: Londontown.

Yukon adventure

Dawson City

I have wanted to go to the Arctic for practically my entire life. When I was a kid my aunt and uncle went to Tuktoyaktuk (in the Northwest Territories) for a year to work with Inuit artists and they came back with two huskies, a cool nickname for my cousin and a pack of stories – I’ve been hooked on the north ever since. It’s not a travel destination that many share, however. When I suggested that I wanted to spend my 40th birthday ice diving in the arctic, Matt just laughed his ass off. So instead I went to the Yukon.

ice road

It’s practically the Arctic…parts of it are. A few good friends had taken serial trips to Dawson City to photograph the Northern Lights and I figured that my penchant for taking photos (mostly with my iPhone), combined with my fondness for adventure plus my obvious expertise as a Nat Geo explorer wannabe made me an obvious candidate for the trip. I packed my DSLR, my tripod, my warmest toque and the Pacific Northwest equivalent of a parka but fast forward a few months and I found myself on top of a mountain at 4 AM, jumping up and down with my fists jammed into my armpits trying to keep warm.

It occurred to me – not for the first time – that I am not cut out to be a landscape or wildlife photographer. Too much sitting around. I am more the type of photographer that takes a selfie out of a train window on a mountain switchback and hope it works out.

Yukon wallpaper

But let’s back up to a few weeks previous. I went down to the beach by our house to try and glean as much photographic knowledge from my husband as possible. He made a valiant effort but per usual I was more interested in the nighttime beach happenings than the dials on the camera. I knew that my eye for detail was not going to help one whit with nighttime pics but eventually I decided to wing it anyways and set off for a little-visited part of the YVR airport.

Dawson City

When my friends and I arrived in Whitehorse I was surprised by the desolateness and big-town-in-the-outback feel. Instead of advertising the usual spas and kiddie attractions, the brochure in the hotel room was a mining directory. There was also a Tim Hortons, a CIBC bank, lots of government buildings and monuments and, of course, a bar. It’s called the Dirty Northern Bastard and we spent the majority of our time in the city there – all of us keeping watch on the cloud cover and refreshing the NOAA forecast for the Aurora Borealis in the hopes that we would get lucky.

Yukon

The first time I went to Las Vegas I drove from Phoenix and the city appeared in the desert like a lit-up oasis. To compare Dawson City to Vegas would be ridiculous but the surprise reveal was similar; after driving for hour through a bleak and desolate landscape, we turned a corner and entered a gold rush town, revived. I roused myself from the nest I’d made in the back seat and started oohing and ahhing at all the old buildings.

The top 10 things to do in Dawson include drinking at Diamond Tooth Gerties’, looking at Robert Service’s log cabin, visiting the Jack London museum, walking by the S.S. Keno (an historic steamboat displayed beside the river), walking by the dilapidated St. Paul’s Anglican Church partially sunk into the ground due to the permafrost, and eating at the Greek restaurant (one of the only places open through the winter. we went there twice). Aside from eating and drinking, this doesn’t take very long so we added in a drive across the ice road to take photos from a bluff and hanging out with some sled dogs that were in town for a race. There’s not much open over the winter in Dawson.

Northern Lights

But after a short rest we bundled up and headed out to a mountain top outside of town. Notable for its height, lack of streetlights and relative proximity to the sky show, it was also seriously cold. I set up my camera on the tripod, hopped up and down a few times, and then stared at the sky. I didn’t have to wait long – a green glow appeared on the horizon, stretched out into a curtain and then hung there shimmering. It was utterly magical.

Northern Lights

Words like ‘awesome’, ‘mind-blowing’ and ‘extraordinary’ were invented for wonders like the Northern Lights but have become dull and common with overuse. So we have no words for what happens when the sky comes alive and dances with color. Aliens have been mentioned and most Inuit have some folklore around the lights being spirits of the dead kicking a ball / walrus skull around the sky…staring skyward for the better part of the night with my friends, it all seems believable. One of the most profound experiences of my life.

Northern Lights

The next day we ate at the only restaurant that was open, explored the dredge and then took a nap so we could do it all again.

Yukon

Check out the story I wrote for Steller stories:

Spring (break)

Long Beach

Certainly somewhere girls were going wild last week but I spent my spring break being relaxed and restored; surfing, sleeping, diving reading, walking in the woods and on the beach. I had a trip planned to go surfing in Tofino with some girlfriends that got extended into a dive trip to Barkley Sound with some personal time at the Black Rock in Ucluelet in between. Spoiled, right? I know. I often lament that I don’t spend enough time exploring B.C. and in a way that seems laughable because more than anyone I know, I am the one who will hop in a car and head to Cape Scott (just to see what’s there) and who has stopped to fill up my motorcycle at most of the small towns within a day’s riding distance. But where I excel at going, I lack at sitting and soaking. Holidays for me are a time to see all the things there are to see, and then write about them on the train to the next place. This drove me nuts when I was a kid, that we would vacation over and over again in the same place and stay for weeks at a time, but it’s come to be something I appreciate and it feels good to settle in to some of the places that I’ve been visiting for a long time (starting with Seattle) and settling in a bit farther into myself too.

Good friends

Spring means ducks and bunnies and flowers and rain and enough cat hair in my apartment to make an entire second cat but of course it also means new life. The Persian new year celebrates spring and renewal and I just think that makes so much more sense than trying to be resolute and rejuvenated in the middle of winter when everything is dead. I may adopt it. I LOVE spring and inevitably I change my Facebook picture to the one of me playing in the cherry blossoms and post something about the world being mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful and run around all giddy, but I found this quote recently that I just love:

“Spring, spring! Bytuene Mershe ant Averil, when spray biginneth to spring! When shaws be sheene and swards full fayre, and leaves both large and longe! When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces, in the spring time, the only pretty ring time, when the birds do sing, hey-ding-a-ding ding, cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-wee, ta-witta-woo! And so on and so on and so on. See almost any poet between the Bronze Age and 1805.”
-George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying

because everyone loves spring!

Sunset

And you could see it on the island. There were many people out on the beach and in the waves, shedding winter. The goats weren’t on the roof in Coombs yet but the dogs were bounding up and down the beaches, full of joy and later in the week I saw grey whales on their migration north, a black bear out of hibernation and a transient mother orca with her calf.

Wild Pacific Trail

Surfing in Tofino felt like summertime, it was so nice out and we had a beautiful cabin with a hot tub and filled it with great people and lots of wine. I didn’t realize that it had been so long since I was surfing last and I was quickly reminded that I’m out of surfing shape but surfing is one of the only activities where you can have fun no matter how good you are. Even just bobbing in the water in the sun, it feels like a great day. But I decided take a lesson a few days later and not only was that very educational but my instructor was great and we had a fantastic time in the surf. We even saw a grey whale breaching.

Birch

Then the weather turned stormy and I sat on my deck at the Black Rock (or in the hot tub) watching waves pound the rocks over and over again. I read my books and wrote. I also tried to work in a hotel room without a desk but just never mind that, the rest of the week was great. I was hoping to be able to dig deep and think about some things on the horizon; my acceptance into grad school and the MDM program and how that would shake out with our move to Seattle and Adience, an art project I’m working on, etc. but all I realized was how burnt out I am. Whenever I tried to think about what I wanted to do, all that came to mind was surfing and diving (because I am almost never too tired for that), making bread and reading and walking dogs. So more resting is on the horizon, as well as a puppy.

Bamfield

For stage 3 of the adventure, I went to pick up Talia from Nanaimo so that we could go diving in Barkley Sound. When I was hiking around the Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet, I realized just how close we were to Bamfield (16 nautical miles across the bay) and that just made me laugh* to think about driving all the way across the island and back to almost the same spot but there you have it. The drive was beautiful in any case and although it’s an active logging road with several clearcut areas on it, there are also many stands of silver birch and some rivers and lakes. On our way out we saw some beautiful deer in the trees.

*Now that I’ve seen Revolution about how I’m not laughing anymore. Go and see it please, it’s important.

The cut

Diving in Barkley Sound has been on my radar for a while but there are no operators in the area any more so you have to team up with a trip going from somewhere else. We went with Amanda, a photographer I know, and Ogden Point and stayed in a cabin owned by the operator. The town is divided into east and west, with the west side only accessible by boat and has some interesting amenities – there’s the marine research station which puts on talks and events and a bunch of cat cabins built for the feral cat colony. It was my first time in Bamfield since I hiked the West Coast Trail in university and I had forgotten how beautiful it was. Of course back then I didn’t even get out into the sound, which is where I really fell in love. By the end of the weekend I was noting prices and locations of cabins for sale. It’s a bit far from Seattle but I’m still thinking about it.

Undersea garden

Underwater was even more beautiful. Incredible surge on the first dive so that when we were sometimes moving 6-9″ back and forth through the water, and rounding the rock to swim through the cut where the surf anemones are, we were flung through so quickly that all we saw was the wall of green. I was tempted to go around and do it again but surge in another direction pushed me too far up to the surface (this was a very shallow dive) and I saw a wall of mussels and kelp blocking my way back down again so I waited for Talia and we went over to the another rock for a similar ride. I described it afterwards as like being at the aquarium and Playland at the same time and kept giggling into my regulator I was having so much fun. The rest of the dives were considerably calmer (although far from flat) with still the same amount of colour. Pink and purple urchins up against blue and orange sunstars, bat stars, leather starts, lime green surf anemones, soft purple corals, pink and purple hydrocorals, iridescent blue seaweed, green eelgrass and red-tinged kelp, huge abalone, lurid orange scallops, nudibranchs the size of rabbits and so many more things.

Orcas

For dinner the first night we had a moose roast (my first time eating moose) and then we were back out again in the morning for more of the same underwater splendours. A huge sea lion came and played with us for a while, jumping completely out of the water three times after we had surfaced to see where we were at, and then on our way to the next dive site, we encountered the orcas and spent some time with them before moving on. In every photo of me coming out of the water, I have a big grin on my face. It was just so incredible and I can’t wait to go back. Our captain described the sound as a place where you could dive every day for a year and still not dive the same site twice (see my earlier comment about buying a property there).

Beautiful BC

A friend described it as a perfect B.C. vacation (especially if I could have snuck in a trip to Whistler!) and it was just so wonderful to spend that much time out on the water surrounded by amazing beauty with some great people. I’m very grateful.

Here are all of the photos:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157633215145771/