023. March 2002. Woops. Really out of sequence. We go to Canada…
Donnis had already left for Canada about 10 days before me. She telephoned me and explained some traveller’s tips. So this diary record is really about my adventures as I left Oz and travelled far from home.
We got a good deal through JAL but it involved flying out of Cairns. It meant a bus trip to Townsville followed by a flight to Cairns and a biggish sort of wait as my Townsville flight arrived late morning and the flight to Nareta Japan left late in the afternoon. Of course I was dressed for usual hot tropical weather. Once I arrived in Cairns and settled into the terminal waiting for the tickets to open I used tip number 1 from Donnis. So I crept into the disabled toilets with my bags. There I changed into warmer clothes but stayed within the air-conditioned terminal. Later as I boarded the plane it was still air-conditioned and a Qantas plane with a mix of Qantas & JAL crew.
Free drinks. Even in pleb class.
Rum & Coke and peanuts supplied along with as much bottled water as you can handle. Soon we were landing at Nareta. Well it only seemed like soon. Luckily we had dinner on board but I saw a sunset as we were landing. By the time I was through customs and onto the eight-lane concourse it was dark and a chill wind was blowing. Thanks for the tip Donnis; I was dressed reasonably well for the cold. Found the bus stop with Donnis tip number 2. Within minutes the bus took me to my hotel. It seemed to be in the middle of the world’s largest car park. Nice room but I was not tired so went for a walk. I had changed some money at Cairns so had some Japanese coins in the money mix. In my nighttime walk I discovered the Japanese love of vending machines and put the coins to good use. At least I was able to have something to eat as by now it had been many hours since I ate on board the plane.
Tip number 3. Try the local foods for breakfast. I was a little hesitant about raw fish but tried it and some of the other things. Also tried fresh fruit and bacon and eggs.
Tip 4. Get the first free bus into Nareta. A busy bustling crowded part of Tokyo. Rail lines and major highways and so many people. Tip 5. Cross the railway lines and go for a walk and find yourself in the old part of Nareta. The old village has pagoda’s and street front bakeries and old traditional houses. Also have lunch in the village and choose from the many tiny noodle bars scattered around. I also found a large shopping centre with a chemist in the supermarket and put my language skills to the test to buy Paracetamol for my headache. On reflection I probably had a headache because I was not drinking enough water. After much talking amongst themselves saying “paracetamol”???, I finally suggested aspirin. Aaah so. They understand aspirin. Headache remedies are not available on the shelf like they are here. You have to get them from behind a sealed counter from the chemist. Tip 5 catch the 2 o’clock bus back to the hotel to pack and a couple of hours sleep before the bus leaves for the airport at 5.
On the 11-hour flight to Vancouver I got another tip from a young well-travelled Canadian. How to sleep sitting up. First quickly get three stiff drinks into you. Eat dinner. Put in the earplugs, put on the eye mask and the booze kicks in and sends you to sleep. Three rum and cokes later plus wine with dinner and I saw all the movies until we landed to a wan sunrise at Vancouver.
On arrival as I was walking the long walk from the plane I saw a female passenger ahead of me get pulled to one side by security, suddenly she was surrounded by at least 6 security people and one was one the radio calling in re-enforcement’s. Welcome to Canada. My first weird experience was at customs when I was asked the usual questions. Why are you here? How long will you stay? Where will you be staying and a contact address and phone number? I could not even remember where Donnis sister Joan lived and did not have her phone number and I was not sure where we would be staying anyway. Eventually the interrogator understood I was on holidays and planned to travel and stop when I felt like it and yes I would not overstay and I was allowed through. Once through customs I found Donnis and Errol waiting and I was quickly whisked away to the 4WD Errol had borrowed from his Uncle Doug. First stop was a supermarket for groceries as we were going to Uncle Doug & Aunty Linda ski resort unit at Blackcombe Mountain Whistler. As we drove out of Vancouver I could see the snow capped mountains in the distance while Donnis and her son Errol pointed out interesting places. We stopped at some highway multi take-away food place for a bit of lunch then on the road again. As we got nearer the mountains and there was lots of snow around and frozen ponds and lakes and the motion of the car put me to sleep. The heater was on and it was cold outside. I woke as we pulled into the underground secure parking of the units.
Right in the middle of the ski fields. I fell asleep in the foyer, as the room was not ready. I was woken later and taken to the room guided to a king-size bed and it was goodnight from me!
I woke during the night, probably 2am and walked to the window overlooking the street. I could see a light falling of snow. The cars were covered and so was the road. Before I arrived I was told it would be spring and most of the snow would be melting and I would not see snow falling or in large amounts. Over the next two weeks winter returned and there was lots of snowfall much to the delight of skiers. This was exciting to see and at 2am there was nobody awake to share my excitement. I dressed and went outside to feel the snow on my face and hands. Then back to the room and into bed where I fell into a contented sleep.
Next day we went for a walk up to the chair lift. I learnt about layering clothing and why I was given certain articles of warm clothing by my Brother in-law, John Winner before I left Oz. First there were long john underwear, followed by a t-shirt followed by a shirt then a warm jumper or jacket followed by a bigger heavier quilted parka.
On my legs there were really thick socks then jeans or track pants and my usual hiking boots. Oh of course there is the scarf wound around my throat and face and a thick woollen beanie. Every day for the next 2 weeks this was the dress routine before I went out. Coming inside where most places are centrally heated you start taking this stuff off and hanging it near the door. Sheesh.
We hired some cross-country ski gear with Donnis, Errol and myself ready to tackle the trails. Errol is a gifted sportsperson (youth) and just naturally put on his skis and was running around us as he waited. Donnis used to ski but has not done so for some time. I was the rank amateur who had trouble simply standing. Errol was off and would check on us from time to time.
After an hour of fall, slide, re-stand, fall, slide etc we had covered 200 metres. I was mindful of having a bad back and decided I had had enough and youth was no longer on my side. I probably could have done this easily when I was 20!
I convinced Donnis and Errol to continue without me. I took off the skis and managed the difficult walk back to the unit carrying the skis and walking in boots, which make you stand unnaturally. I had my first encounter with black ice on a footpath and managed an undignified fall, dropping the skis, which slid down the hill all by themselves!
After getting rid of the ski stuff I went for a walk by myself and managed to get into a deep snowdrift but it was OK. I did a penguin on its belly impersonation and finally found solid ground. On returning to the room the scarf wound around my face was stuck to my nostrils by two little exhalation icicles!
Donnis arrived in a bad way having fallen on a downhill section and broke her coccyx!
One day we visited Green Lake where in the summer months there is Jet Ski and paddle and sailboat hire from a floating office.
Today the floating office is tilt
ed slightly from the frozen lake and a huge weight of snow on the roof. As we stand looking at a horse and sleigh jingle- jingle its way past, small snowflakes began to fall. In moments it is falling so hard the lake is almost obscured.
We visit a little shopping village where all the stores are made from timber – pine to be precise with some Oregon thrown in. I could smell the timber as we walked in. It delightful but in the back of my mind I considered it a huge fire hazard.
While at Whistler I took the cable car to almost the top of the mountain. I could not go further except by chair lift and non-skiers were not permitted. It was amazing travelling in the cable car and getting off at the chalet with thousands of skiers. Then joining a queue for a lunch of chilli inside a crusty bread-roll.
After three days in the snowfields we caught a bus back to Vancouver and onto the ferry to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. The ferry service has cafeteria type foodservice on board and the queue was enormous as we arrived. A chain called Red Spot supplies food and I tried their Seafood Chowder. Great warming meal with chunky crusty bread-roll and a hot coffee. Great cold weather type food.
Donnis sister Joan met us in Nanaimo and drove us to her home in Duncan about 90 minutes away.
The capital of British Columbia and Vancouver Island is at Victoria on Vancouver Island. During the night at Duncan Joan told me there would be no more snow. I woke about 2am look outside and it was snowing. In fact I saw a little squirrel run across the roof of Joan’s garage and leave little footprints in the snow.
Next morning I got my first taste of shovelling snow off the driveway. That night Joan took us to a little seafood place down on the waterfront at Cow Bay to sample their version of fish n chips and a local cold beer. In the daylight next day I found the place really appealed to me. Especially the floating houses.
After a few days seeing the sights of Duncan, we took a ferry ride to Victoria where we visited the capital planning to see an I-Max movie but saw a museum instead. Then on another day we visited Sidney across the bay. I enjoyed travelling on these vehicular ferries. Scenes from the movie Double Jeopardy flashed in my mind. We also saw Killer Whales in the distance.
Joan took us to downtown Duncan and gave us a free Totem Pole Tour.
Joan is a registered guide and has written a small booklet on the Duncan totems. While lunching we saw a huge mound of snow slide off the 2nd story roof across the street and narrowly missed a pedestrian.
By now I was ready to take a trip on our own. We were given the PT Cruiser and I drove.
I wanted to see the most Westerly point of Canada, Tofino. It is also on the edge of a wilderness reserve so it is pretty much the most northerly point to be reached by car on the west side of the island. Tofino is on a spit of land open to the North Pacific Ocean on one side and a huge tidal basin on the other.
We arrived late in the afternoon to witness big messy surf on Long Beach. The beach itself was jumbled with logs along the beach. There were people surfing, wearing heavy-duty wetsuits, and avoiding logs in the water! The inlet side of Tofino also had floating houses and for some reason the Popeye movie with Robyn Williams came to mind.
In the nearby town of Ucluelet beside the Pacific Rim National Park we visited a lighthouse and later in town a ship which had been floated into a bay beside a park then bolted to the sea floor and became a fancy hotel and restaurant.
It was also in this cold windy place I called home to find my next door neighbour noticed water coming out my front door. She had my key and soon found the hot-water system had burst a fitting and all downstairs was flooded.
All meals we ate out.
I did not like the extra’s Canadians and Americans add to their prices. On top of the advertised price you then have to allow for;
PST – State Government – Provincial Sales Tax. – Unavoidable
GST – Goods & Services Tax – Federal Government Tax. – Unavoidable
TIP – Minimum 10% imposed by storeowners to supplement the wages they pay to their staff. Avoidable, but most Canadians pay up without a murmur.
The advertised price quickly escalates so a simple burger at $3.50 can end up being $6 or more!
The ritual as you entered the dining place was to remove gloves, scarf, beanie, parka, jumper or jacket then put it all on again when you leave only to turn on the heater in the car and take it off again. The PT Cruiser had heated front seats. Loved those heated seats. Especially on cold grey mornings which most mornings were.
Driving through deep valleys with steep snow covered mountains on both sides and a rushing river beside the road was just awesome spectacular scenery.
Also stopped at a clear placid lake, with mountain peaks as a backdrop and a railway line complete with trestle bridge.
We headed to the east coast of Vancouver Island and drove up to Mt.Washington another snow covered popular ski resort but not in the same class as Whistler. Then it was down the mountain to the coastal city of Campbell River where we stayed the night. This city is almost the most northerly point on the east coast of Vancouver Island with only one road meandering northwest into the wilderness.
Next day we drove down the coast visiting little coastal towns such as Bowser where there is only one petrol bowser and a large colony of sea lions. At Bowser there was another ship driven up on a beach in an old oyster lease area.
The ship was turned into a restaurant but went out of business. I could understand that, as it was a bit of an out of the way location. Besides the smell from the sea lions in the bay may have put people off their food. So there it sits, gradually rusting until somebody takes responsibility for the wreck and removes it.
We also took the opportunity to visit some National parks and see the huge redwood trees covered in moss. They were also dripping with moisture from the snow so the ground was always wet and boggy.
Next we found ourselves on a bus heading to Nanaimo and the ferry ride to Vancouver where we would stay with Donnis other sister Linda in her 9th floor penthouse overlooking the water-front in the centre of Vancouver.
Hmmm. So much to see and do and so little time.
When finances permit we will do the trip together again.
I want to see Tofino and Cowichan again.
Perhaps in the summer.