Friday, May 2, 2014

Vancouver 2014 – Day 1. What could possibly go wrong?

Can one screw up a Spring Break vacation to Vancouver Island?  No, one can’t. The city of Vancouver (in the mainland) and Vancouver Island are simply too perfect for anything to go wrong. But I can always give it a try, for example by flying to the wrong airport!

Alas, after years of arranging flights I got so excited about a great deal I found in the internet (Alaska Airlines, $250 for the round trip) that I overlooked the fact that BLI is not the signature of Vancouver International. How was I to know that Bellingham was not a Canadian hero or politician? Imagine, then, my surprise when I landed at Bellingham airport in Washington state, a good 60 miles south of my intended destination! (In retrospect I should have heeded the old advice that if a deal is too good to be true is because it isn’t).

Well, there was nothing to it but hustle and figure out a way to cover those 60 miles. Fortunately (or unfortunately as the case might be) I had taken the Milk Run flights, starting last night with the leg between San Jose, California and Boise, Idaho—which included a complimentary night spent sleeping on a bench at the Boise airport—followed by a very early flight from Boise to Seattle, Washington, and another short jump from Seattle to Bellingham, where I landed at 8:45 am. I thus had a whole day to find my way out to Vancouver, British Columbia.

I took a quick taxi ride from the airport to the downtown Greyhound station, only to find out that the first run to Vancouver was in the mid-afternoon. Ah, but that was just a teaser from Lady Luck, because 10 steps away the Amtrak station was open for business, and the train to Vancouver was due in less than 30 minutes. By 9:45 I was comfortably settled in a four-seat booth, with a table, on the west-looking side of the train. As I looked across Puget Sound, a bald eagle swung into view, floating by my side as if she were checking out the train and its passengers. The sun shines and the sound shimmers in the morning light, as locals take their dogs for walks along the pebble beaches, which is strewn with gnarly driftwood. The high tide must be in, because for long stretches it feels like the train is gliding over the water. On a day such as this I could see the appeal that the north coast of Washington has among retirees, a short ride away from beautiful Vancouver (but let’s not forget that they have to put up with dreary weather during the best part of the year!).

As we arrived in Vancouver the weather changed, which is very typical of this area, and I stepped out of the Pacific Railroad station to a light drizzle. Lucky once again, I realized the station was but short six blocks from the place where I was renting a scooter (Cycle BC Rentals at . The deal was quickly accomplished, and for $329 rental fee and $35 insurance I became the proud owner (for a week) of a bright yellow Yamaha scooter, boldly labeled “You Too Can Rent Me!” At 50 cc it is a bit underpowered, but is otherwise perfect for my traveling needs.

I quickly stopped at the hostel to arrange for my bed for the next two nights, and after parking my bike in the hostel garage I went out for lunch. I was looking for something inexpensive, but my eyes landed in a Malaysian restaurant where the dish of the day was Crab in Chili Sauce. The dish immediately brought me back to my trip around the world, and the delicious Crab in Chili Sauce I had eaten in Singapore (which, as I recall, was extremely spicy and messy to eat but absolutely delicious). So in I went, ready to spend a small fortune to feed my memories. Alas, they had not received the crab they had been promised, but would Lobster in Chili Sauce be a suitable substitute? Oh yes, it certainly would! The dish was just as delicious and messy as I remembered, and I spent a good hour licking my fingers and enjoying every bit of meat I could extract from that lobster.

I then went for a walk through downtown enjoying being back in crazy Vancouver. Just how crazy the locals can be was put sharply into focus when I sighted a throng milling around what looked like a framers market. I headed there and almost immediately my nose was assaulted by the acrid smell of Cannabis indica. I had just stepped into the largest open market of marijuana, carefully laid around the open grounds of the Supreme Court. The rally was to support the decriminalization of marijuana, and it sported two rock bands, at least a hundred dealers with big crystal jars with the best marijuana buds Canada produces, marijuana smokes for $2 a joint, marijuana cookies and brownies, and all types of paraphernalia associated to the growing, processing and consumption of pot products. I was tempted to buy some seeds (Seeds of the Best Plants on the Land) for a friend of mine, but thought better of it and simply took a picture of the catalog. And what about the police? you may ask. Oh, they were there alright, simply guarding the perimeter but otherwise respectful of the freedom of expression of the Vancouverites.

A little dizzy after inhaling massive amounts of secondary pot smoke, I headed toward the ferry terminal to walk along the waterfront and enjoy the views. It was a lovely walk, and gave me the exercise I needed to make sure I sleep like a tired traveler tonight.  

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