Round the world Day 7

Once again I had good intentions of getting away early, but somehow persuaded myself that there was no rush and ended up leaving at 8.45.  It seems that every morning has started with a bit of a pull up from the beach and this was no different, soon it flattened out and I was able to make a good pace. The marker posts seemed quite regular (some had often been missing) and I calulated that I was making about 3 kilometres an hour.  This made me pretty pleased with myself as the guides seem to suggest that 1 or 2 kph is the average pace.

The going was quite easy compared to previous days but I was aware that the bus left at 1 pm. so I had to keep a good pacee.  About 10.30 I caught up with a man about my age who was walking a bit slower and seemed to be finding it hard going.  We struck up conversation and ended up hiking together the rest of the way.  It meant that my aim of doing it by 11.20 and the four day mark was not going to be achieved but it was really good to have company for the last bit of the walk and the crossing of the finishing line.  Tom was from Seattle and worked for the water utility on software, the reason he was a little worn out was that he had done about 4 km more than me.  As he walked along the beach last night he had come across a bear and cub and being alone had decided to retreat to another campsite. This meant he had a 6 o’clock start today and extra kilometres to make up.

The cruellest part of the day was the ladders, there weren’t as many as in the first days but even in the last kilometre there were two sets of three ladders, one set up then one down to avoid a landslip that had taken the path out.

The last ladder(?) more than 60ft high!

The last ladder(?) more than 60ft high!

The end of the West Coast Trail, wearing my Happy Commuter hat and I was a very happy commuter!

The end of the West Coast Trail, wearing my Happy Commuter hat and I was a very happy commuter!

We arrived at the end of the trail at 12.10, so I had completed the walk in 4 days and 50 minutes.  Tom and I handed our registration slips in to the Parks Canada office and he made a report about his various sightings of bears,  I decided that they probably didn’t want to know about my squirrel, otter and garter snake sightings so went outside to take my boots off and change into fresh clothes to travel back on the bus.  I really hoped that they may have showers at the end of the trail or even a hot tub, what bliss that would have been, unfortunately there was nothing except two of the wooden “Outhouses” like at the campsites on the walk.  Though spacious they were just composting toilets made of unplaned wood with a plastic toilet.  At least it provided me with somewhere to change and a fresh set of clothes felt good.

The bus that should have picked us up at 1 finally arrived at 2 and drove us to Bamfield where we descended on the general store.  I got drinks, pastries and an icecream and sat on the step outside watching the world go by and waiting for the bus to return.  After 40 min we reboarded and headed off down the logging roads towards Port Renfrew.  We had to come to a halt at several points to allow huge trucks laden with logs to come past us the other way, the driver obviously had a radio that warned him when one was on its way.  We stopped at Cowichan to let passengers for Nanaimo tranfer to a taxi and the rest of us to raid another store and use their “restroom”.

We got to Gordon River at 6 and a disgruntled passenger made comment about it being very late, the driver was a bit hostile in his response and said he had never once been able to make it on time.  We then picked up more in Port Renfrew before heading off to Victoria.  We arrived soon after 9 and I headed up to the Ocean Island to get a room.  There were no private roooms left, they always assume that older travellers want private rooms, but I was the first bed in an unused dorm and was only joined by one other later in the evening.  He was a stonemason working in town and had missed his ferry home.  Ocean Island played a cruel trick on me as there was a bath in the bathroom with a shower over it but no plug, so having raised my hopes of a bath, it was a shower after all.

The first major part of my adventure was over and I felt pretty good about it as well as pretty tired.

Round the world Day 6

This morning I knew that I would be leaving Chris and Dirk as they were going to take a day longer than me to do the walk so I intended to be up and away early. The early start slipped from 8, to 9 to half past and I finally left at 10. It was a good morning though not quite as good as yesterday had been. I climbed the bank behind the campsite on to the trail. It was a disappointingly steep climb at the start of the trail and up and down for the rest, but not at all in the same league as the first days of the walk. My aim was to do 18km and get to the campsite by the wreck of the Michigan leaving me 12km of easy walk to do tomorrow before catching the bus at 1pm.

The first few kilometres were going well and I arrived at the beach access to find four people waiting for the tide to go down so that they could get along the beach. Two were a father and son from Bellingham doing the walk to celebrate the sons 18th birthday and the other two were a couple in their 20’s from Ontario. Sam, the 18 year old, was busy boiling water to make noodles for the two of them while his kept up the conversations. At one point we heard a noise from one of the trees above and Sam’s father said it was an eagle which Sam quickly spotted on the high branches. After a few minutes it took off and headed north up the beach.

At about quarter past 12, 40 minutes after I arrived, I was able to set off again as several people had made it down the beach. The going was a little hard as the sand was lose but it was easier than the forest trail had been and gave better views. At the end of the first beach the headland was impassable as the tide was still too far in but I got back on the next beach after half an hour or so in the forest. By now the day had become overcast, not as hot as yesterday was in some ways better but it is always nicer to see blue skies. The rest of the day was a mixture of beach and trail including the only unavoidable cablecar of the trip.

View from one of the high points on the trail.

View from one of the high points on the trail.

I hoped (vainly) that this was one of the last ladders.

I hoped (vainly) that this was one of the last ladders.

The unavoidable cable car.  Connell had said that they were going to be almost impossible by myself but getting in and across proved OK, getting out wasn't quite so easy.

The unavoidable cable car. Connell had said that they were going to be almost impossible by myself but getting in and across proved OK, getting out wasn’t quite so easy.

The briefing at the start of the trail had suggested that cable cars were going to be a big problem to do alone and I had managed to go across the creeks on each previous occassion as the water was low.  At Tsusiat River there was no alternative so I climbed the ladder (another!) to the platform not convinced that I would be able to anything except wait for other people to turn up.  Pulling the car from the centre of the rope to the side was not hard and by jamming one hand against the frame of the car and holding the rope I was able to use my free (left) hand to lift my poles and rucksac in then step in myself.  The ride to the middle of the river was easy as gravity helped.  Pulling the car up the other side was harder work and I was going quite slow by the time I arrived.  Next the problem of holding the car and getting my stuff out as now it wanted to go the other way.  Somehow I managed it though at one point I did think that I would be heading back to the middle in a mess.

New walkway made by cutting down and sawing into trees.

New walkway made by cutting down and sawing into trees.

Mid afternoon I met a couple coming the other way who told me that there were some chairs about a kilometre away.  I didn’t really understand what they meant and thought they were just winding me up but sure enough further on the trail there were two wooden chairs!  There were no clues as to who had put them there or why but they must have made lots of people smile before sitting in them to enjoy the view.

The chairs.

The chairs.

A Happy Commuter on one of the chairs.

A Happy Commuter on one of the chairs.

The view from the ladders down to the beach.

The view from the ladders down to the beach.

The last few kilometres of the walk were on the beach and were quite hard going, the sand and pebbles were mobile and the rocks quite slippy.  Eventually I reached the campsite close to the site of the the wreck of the Michigan though there was no sign of any debris.

Last camp of the West Coast Trail.

Last camp of the West Coast Trail.

Once I had set up my tent I cooked myself some food and used the last of the teabags that Debbie had given me.  In fact I used it to make two drinks.  As I sat and looked out across the sea I could see some Grey Whales diving down to the kelp beds and while watching them something dark ran across the beach towards the rocks.  I’m not sure what it was, it looked like a weasel or stoat but bigger and very dark, perhaps even black.  It followed one of the channels down through the rocks and caught the attention of a man armed with camera as he walked down.  Despite his best efforts it managed to avoid having its picture taken and amused me as it watched him from one side of a set of rocks as he tried to find it from the other.  I never saw it return but instead I was joined by a few birds which looked a lot like Wrens and did to me exactly what the stoat thing had done to him by flying off every time I got my camera ready for a picture.  Ah well, it wasn’t a bad last night on the trail.

Round the world Day 5

An early morning shot of the waterfall at Bonilla Point.

An early morning shot of the waterfall at Bonilla Point.

The campsite at Bonilla Point, the ladies tent shows but mine is hidden somewhere behind what looks like a goal post.

The campsite at Bonilla Point, the ladies tent shows but mine is hidden somewhere behind what looks like a goal post.

Don’t feel as well rested this morning as yesterday, seemed to be awake a lot during the night, perhaps the fear of being invaded by man-eating animals.  There was no evidence that we had been visited by any, not even mice, though last night I had bought my trousers inside the inner tent.

Did not manage a quick start this morning but it was pleasant chatting with Debbie and Barb and others like the German lads as they went past.  Eventually close to 10 o’clock the three of us set off up the beach with plans to get breakfast at Chez Moniques.

The start of the hike up the beach with the lighthouse showing through the gap in the rocks.

The start of the hike up the beach with the lighthouse showing through the gap in the rocks.

It was a beautiful, hot morning and walking with Debbie and Barb meant a good pace,  they were not planning to go far today, perhaps only 4 or so kilometres.  I was aiming to get to the 26km mark which was going to be about 18km walk.

Just about to set off, taken by Debbie.

Just about to set off, taken by Debbie.

Entering the bay of Chez Monique.

Entering the bay of Chez Monique.

Getting closer to Chez Monique.

Getting closer to Chez Monique.

As we walked up the beach there were actually three people surfing, they had arrived by boat, no idea where from, and were catching waves of about 10ft or so.  Seeing them made me think of Luke who commuted on the train with us and would soon be off to university,  I tried to take a picture but can’t find it now so may have accidently made a video.

Debbie with Barb and Chez Monique in the background.

Debbie with Barb and Chez Monique in the background.

After close to an hours walk and meeting many happy people going the other way with tales of burgers, we arrived at Chez Monique.  Famous amongst West Coast Trail hikers this construction of tarpaulin and various bits of wood bleached by the elements, provides a small conservatory dining area infront of an open-plan kitchen/servery. We were too late for breakfast so it was going to be burgers.  I had a regular burger with a hot chocolate and a cream soda, Barb had a Complete Works which added mushrooms, bacon, cheese and other bits and Debbie who thought she would not be able to eat anything due to her cealiacs had a specially made veggie burger with all the ingredients checked to make sure she could have them, a better service than you find at most restaurants and this on a beach that is only serviced by walking or boat.  The hostess was keen to tell me, when she took my name for the order, that we shared Irish lineage, her mother being Irish married to a Native American and showed me her green eyes.  I didn’t like to tell her that mine only extended to the name.

When the burgers arrived they were huge, think MacDonalds then go three times as big or more, to eat involved the dislocation of the jaw demonstrated by egg eating snakes.  Not only was it quantity but quality as well with top rate beef.

There are probably easier ways to enjoy a burger looking out over the Pacific in the sunshine under a cloudless blue sky, I am sure that there were people doing exactly the same many hundreds of miles south of us, but the fact that we had walked more than two tiring days before getting there and the cameraderie of the other hikers made it a very special meal.

It seemed a shame to leave but I felt that I must if I was going to get to the campsite I intended, so I said bye to Debbie and Barb and the other girls who had sat with us and headed north again along the beach.  After a few hundred yards I had to leave the beach and climb the first ladder of the day to cross the headland.  I didn’t bother to take the side path to Carmanah Lighthouse,  partly to save time and partly because I have seen quite a few lighthouses, so I continued along the trail and descented to the beach on the north side.  I was making good time and soon caught up with the two German lads.  Can’t have them beating the English!

I walked with Dirk and Christian for the rest of the day, for the first kilometres along the beach in blazing sun and then back on the trail.  The beach turned into a rocky shelf which was better going but wet in places and Christian got very excited at a few places when he spotted first anenomes and then large starfish in the rockpools.  Dirk was instructed to take photos and I joined in though it is hard to spot the maroon/redish coloured starfish at the top of the picture and impossible to spot the anenome.

Starfish hanging on below a bed of mussels.  Sounds like an expensive meal.

Starfish hanging on below a bed of mussels. Sounds like an expensive meal.

One of the few bits of wreck left visible on the shore.  Perhaps part of a mast.

One of the few bits of wreck left visible on the shore. Perhaps part of a mast.

We also saw some bits of wrecks as we walked.  There lots of wrecks marked on the map of the trail with details of each ship, its journey and number of casualties, but there are hardly any to be seen on the shore.  Today we spotted what looked like part of a mast and further on some bits of a steel hull with sections of rivets.

After a good walk along the shore we had to head back in to the forest in order to cross one creek by bridge and make it to Nininat narrows for the ferry across a river.  We mistook the route a little and ended up walking up the bed of the first creek to the bridge, but judginf by the footprints we weren’t the first.  The 2 km from the beach to the ferry were not hard compared to what we had done on other days but still a bit of an anticlimax after the beautiful walk along the beach.  We were pushing on a bit as we had been told the ferry stopped running at 4.30pm, in fact we made it by 3.45 and had chance to sit and drink some cans out of the cooler while watched another group dig in to meals of crab or jacket potatoes with salmon or halibut, all freshly caught.  The crab were actually stored in a basket in the water off the dock and you picked the one you wanted.

We took the ferry across at 4.15 and headed back on the trail then onto the beach again as soon as we could.  By this time we were beginning to feel tired, the Germans had done a few more km than me and had not intended to go as far so at one point Christian asked if we were going to keep going or find somewhere to camp on the beach and it was decided we should stop beside the next headland.  The site had obviously before as there was much evidence of fires and even the remains of a German guidebook to Canada, a little damp and chewed by mice.  I gave the lads a bit of grief about Germans littering which they took in good heart. As we came along the last stretch of beach we spotted a load of seals basking on the top of a rock and Dirk tried to get closer to get a better picture but came back a little disappointed as he had been blocked by channels of water.  Right beside the camp there was an eagle sat on a large rocky outcrop but this also refused to cooperate with Dirk and flew off.

Seals basking on the top of a large rock.

Seals basking on the top of a large rock.

As we set up camp there was more excitement when Dirk found a snake by their rucksacs.  This, like the eagle was a little camera shy, though it was having difficulty getting up the shear face of one rock it was still too fast for me, all I got was a pictured of a bit of body moving across a tree.

The middle bit of a camera shy Garter snake.

The middle bit of a camera shy Garter snake.

After we set up the tents Christian mouse-proofed theirs by piling sand up over the bottom of the fly-sheet. It seems thay had been kept awake the previous night by mice making a noise on the tent and when they got the courage to go out and face the wild animals the relef that it wasn’t bears was followed by irritation.

Finally they were keen to have a fire and we collected some wood of various sizes.  When it came time to light it I started to hunt for some dry seaweed or bark but Chris was keen to show me a trick and with a flourish produced his flint and steel to produce sparks and a tampon. “You know vat zis is?” he asked before breaking it apart and spreading it at the bottom of the fire.  With one strike of the steel it took and was a pretty impressive way of getting the fire going.  Another trick they showed me later was to fill a plastic bottle with water and put it in the fire.  Instead of melting the bottle the water keeps it cool but boils inside.

As it was the highest tide of the week we were a bit concerned whether we were high enough,  Dirk and I were confident but Chris decided he would stay up til after the high tide at 11.39 while I went to bed  about 11.

Evening sun on the forest.

Evening sun on the forest.

Bed time.

Bed time.

Round the world Day 4

Dawn at Campers Bay.

Dawn at Campers Bay.

Surprisingly after the long walk yesterday I slept well in my little tent.  I woke early and got ready to set off.  I got a surprise when I picked up my trousers from inside the fly-sheet of the tent.  In the crotch (on the outside) was a little mouse nest of tissue paper.  I have no idea where the mouse got the paper as I don’t remember having any white tissue paper in my pockets but there it was.

 

Most people I had spoken to the night before were going to Walbran Creek, I hoped to go further.  I set off about 8 but wasn’t the first to leave.  The trail through the forest was just as hard as yesterday afternoon and started with some long ladders.

One of the mornings longer ladders.

One of the mornings longer ladders.

Though it doesn't show well in the photo the cut end of this tree was almost the colour of a red conker.

Though it doesn’t show well in the photo the cut end of this tree was almost the colour of a red conker.

Another fallen tree as a bridge.

Another fallen tree as a bridge.

From the other end.

From the other end.

Another picture wearing the hat across one of the few well engineered bridges.

Another picture wearing the hat across one of the few well engineered bridges.

After a few kilometres of up and down through tall trees the trail broke out to a flat area with lower trees and boardwalks.  Here I was sure the bears were waiting, eating berries and just waiting to get me.  I didn’t feel comfortable singing as suggested at the briefing, but everytime I came to a bend I smacked my walking poles together and spoke so that they knew I was coming.  It must have been an effective method as I survived the day despite one of the campers I met last night telling me that he had seen two bears on his way south.

The bear infested flat area.  They are very good at camoflage despite being Black Bears.

The bear infested flat area. They are very good at camoflage despite being Black Bears.

Yet another ladder hidden in the trees.

Yet another ladder hidden in the trees.

As the land got lower after the heights of the first day there were still ladders, sometimes in sets of 3 or 4, one set dropped down to a suspension bridge and as I climbed down I saw what I thought was a squirrel running along the side of the creek.  It turned out to be an otter and I watched it as it ran along the side of the stream and then swam across and up it.

The suspension bridge can be seen above the fallen tree.

The suspension bridge can be seen above the fallen tree.

After yet another set of ladders I made it down to the beach at Walbran Creek, the spot that most people at Campers Bay were aiming to get to.  On the beach were two women and a man who had the inner of his tent up.  It turned out that he had hurt his knee and was waiting for a boat to rescue him.  One boat was off-shore with an inflatible across the deck which was being unloaded to get to him.  I left them to it and headed up the beach.

The beach between Walbran creek and Bonilla Point.

The beach between Walbran creek and Bonilla Point.

I always find walking on sand quite hard going and this beach was no different, I tried high on the beach, along the high tide mark and on the wet sand close to the water and it was the harder sand close to the water that I found easiest, though I had to be careful not to get too close.

After a couple of kilometres I reached Bonilla Point where the two ladies on the beach had said they were aiming to camp, there was a waterfall at the back of the cove and a group of people playing in the pool at the bottom.  Though it was still quite early in the afternoon I didn’t take much tempting to give up here and sat on one of the many tree trunks catching my breath as others passed on the beach going south.  A while latter the two ladies I had seen at Walbran turned up and introduced themselves as Debbie and Barb who were from Vancouver and both worked in a hospice.  They were good company and we chatted for a long time, I even cheekily asked for a teabag as I had made the mistake of not bringing anything to flavour water with.  Debbie gave me not one but 4 or 5 teabags some Peppermint and some English Breakfast tea.  Debbie was cealiac so had had to make all her own dehydrated food to bring with her which I found fascinating.  As we sat looking out across the Pacific we could see Grey Whales diving not far of the shore and Heron flying back and forth between the two sets of rocks at either side of our campsite.  The day ended with a beautiful sunset and we all settled to sleep with a little nervousness about the wild animals, Barb having found some wolf tracks near the stream earlier on in the evening.

Sunsat at Bonilla point.

Sunsat at Bonilla point.

Round the world Day 3

This morning my early start wasn’t a mistake.  I woke soon after 4.30 and finished packing, took some bags to be stored in the basement and left Ocean Island at 5.30 to get breakfast at MacDonalds on the way to the West Coast Trail Express pick-up point.  Another first for me this morning as I was asked by a man outside MacD’s whether I wanted to buy a Doobee (sp?) for $5.  It seemed a bit early in the morning for a joint so I refused.

The journey to Gordon River was uneventful, the coach was about half full and mostly quiet.  We weren’t going particularly fast, but the driver was having to brake and swerve often and more frequently as we approached Port Renfrew, not to avoid animals but damaged road surface.  We stopped to pick up some hitch-hikers who were headed for the Juan de Fuca Trail and then for coffee at a cafe in Port Renfrew. While we had a drink the driver took people for the Juan de Fuca to the start of their trail.  He came back and picked us up and we were still at the Parks office in Gordon River before 8.45 and had to wait for it to open at 9.

When the office did open I was lucky enough to get the last standby place of the day and was able to join the compulsory briefing at 9.30. The Powerpoint presentation was given by a young man called Connell who gave us all the information we needed for the trip.  There was information on the tides, parts of the route where fresh water could be found or not, ladders, where or where not to camp and cable cars which he said I wouldn’t be able to manage alone.  By the end he had repeated many times that people shouldn’t walk alone or even go to the toilet in the bushes without someone to watch out for them for fear of being attacked by Black Bears, Cougar or Wolves.  Most of the presentation seemed devoted to the dangers from animals and as we walked out I was not sure I would survive. I saw myself as a human sacrifice whose death was unavoidable,  I was sure to happen across a Black Bear or when crouching down to get water would be taken as a small animal by a Cougar or Wolf and attacked.

Feeling a little apprehensive I walked to the campsite to use the last proper toilet for a while and buy some matches and rope from the shop.  The rope would allow me to hang my food and any other perfumed items in a tree away from the tent so that bears would not be attracted to where I was sleeping.  It felt like I was only putting off the inevitable.

Putting a brave face on my imminent demise outside the Parks Canada office.

Putting a brave face on my imminent demise outside the Parks Canada office.

As there were so many of us starting off that morning, the ferry across the river to the start of the trail took two trips and I waited for the second.

The small grey boat mid-stream is the ferry with the first load of walkers.

The small grey boat mid-stream is the ferry with the first load of walkers.

I shared the boat with a family from Calgary who were doing the trail as a group, all were blood relatives except for the man sat next to me who had married in to the family.  They had already done hikes as a group in the Rockies but were going for a bigger challenge.

When we got to the other side at 11.20 I set off on the path at what I thought was a reasonable pace but found that I was overtaking everyone.  The trail was quite steep and through a pine forest with the trees well spaced but little view apart from more trees.  After a few kilometres (the trail is measured in km) I felt that I could have been in any forest in the world, Scotland, Norway or even Poland though the trees were bigger than in Poland.

One of the few relics on the trail.  A 20ft high steam engine.

One of the few relics on the trail. A 20ft high steam engine.

As I kept walking I caught up with two Germans who were also making good time and we chatted for a bit before they took off again, all of us agreeing that we could make Campers Bay by 6pm.  For a while I walked with a couple from Vancouver, she had visited England but only the south with her job as a travel agent.  He was an estate agent and a bit of a naturalist so was able to explain that the noise I heard occassionally that sounded a bit like a rattlesnake was infact a squirrel and the little piles of debris on the trail which looked a bit like petals ripped off a small flower were also left by squirrels.

The trail near the start.

The trail near the start.

At times the trail had boardwalks but, just as we had been warned in the briefing, they were sometimes very rotten.  At other times we had to duck under fallen trees, in fact one of the most awkward bits of the trail was when I didn’t think I could get back up having ducked under a low tree.

One of the bridges early on the trail showing the broken boards and at the far end a missing one.

One of the bridges early on the trail showing the broken boards and at the far end a missing one.

One of the broken boards on a bridge.

One of the broken boards on a bridge.

As we got close to the junction in the trail leading to Thrashers Cove we began to see more ladders.  We have similar ladders in England going over dry stone walls with perhaps 5 or 6 rungs, but these had many more and unlike the ladders on mountains in Europe which have safety lines to clip on to, these had none.

A small to medium length ladder.

A small to medium length ladder.

In some places the bridges are fallen trees which have been trimmed and given a tread pattern with a chain saw.

In some places the bridges are fallen trees which have been trimmed and given a tread pattern with a chain saw.

As I hoped to do the trail in 4 or 5 days I didn’t go down to Thrashers Cove, the path round the headland from the cove was impassible due to the tides and would be hard going anyway as the beach is boulders.  Instead I continued on to Campers Bay.  The trail by now was getting hardwork and reminded me how long it was since I had done any serious backpacking, at first it seemed to be a few years but as I did the calculations it turned out to be closer to 20, which didn’t cheer me up any.  I continued going through more and more boggy bits, sets of roots designed to break ankles and more ladders.  By the time I climbed down in to the camping area I was very pleased to arrive and found between 10 and 20 other people already set up including the two German guys.

Campers Bay, my little tent is invisible behind one of the fallen trees.

Campers Bay, my little tent is invisible behind one of the fallen trees.

This evening the moon was bright above the headland.

This evening the moon was bright above the headland.

Round the world Day 2

Woke after 9 and after a quick shower went downstairs to get breakfast.  The guy at the reception desk told me that it was at 7, I took this to mean that I had missed it and it wasn’t ’til I stepped back in the lift that my brain started to make sense of the fact that it was dark outside.  When I got back to the room I realised that it was 1.44 am in Canada and 9.44 am at home.  I got back in to bed!

When I woke again at Canadian breakfast time I headed downstairs and had cereals, juice, muffins and coffee in the bar area.  The hotel had once been a thriving place with lots of jazz music and posters around the bar remembered this.  I packed up and got information about how to get to Vancouver Island from the girl at reception who explained the cheap way and recommended a hostel in Victoria as well.  Following her advice I got on the bus and bought a $5 ticket which got me a bus ride then the Metro train and another bus ride to the ferry terminal.  $16 got me the ferry to the Island and $5 a day pass for busses round Victoria.  My original plan had been the coach which would have cost $40 plus the ferry so I had saved quite a bit and I always prefer to travel the way the locals do anyway. The only downside to the route was that the 620 service from the train to the Twassen ferry terminal was very full and I was stood all the way.  The ferry trip was good with nice views of the coast and islands but no sign of whales.  When we reached the terminal and docked there was another ferry departing.

Ferry departing Vancouver Island

Ferry departing Vancouver Island

Victoria was beautifully sunny and I didn’t regret my decision to skip Vancouver this time to see a new city.  It is famous for being “old” and “British” which it is relative to the rest of North America.  I headed to the Tourist Info where a very helpful girl rang Parks Canada to find out if there were places on the trail tomorrow and gave me some information about kayak trips.  At Ocean Island hostel I booked in to a “small double” room which was literally that, there was a double bed which almost touched the wall on three sides and no window.  Seeing as this trip is about economy I was quite happy. I spent the rest of the day walking round the city, bought a cheap phone on a Canadian network, a sleeping bag and a few bits for the trip.

The Legislature buildings with a statue of local wildlife.

The Legislature buildings with a statue of local wildlife.

The Legislature builidings with me.

The Legislature builidings with me.

The clock on what I think was the town hall.

The clock on what I think was the town hall.

Round the World Day 1

Image

After more than a month in tents at music festivals I spent last night in the luxury of the Manchester Airport Premier Inn, well its all relative.  Got a minibus to the airport at 4.30 am and boarded my first flight at 6.35 am, Easyjet to Rekjavik. Arriving over Iceland the view from the window reminded me of the north of Scotland or Lappland, the bit we flew over was quite flat and treeless.  An hours bus ride and finding a tourist info office with left luggage freed me to walk around the city, first breakfast at Laundromat, a cafe I had walked passed twice already.  There was nothing particularly Icelandic on the menu so I ended up with a stack of 5 American pancakes with maple syrup and butter. The waiter was a tall skinny young man who seemed quite keen to practice his english but had never been to England.

kikiqueerbar

Kiki Queer Bar

The city is not big with a population of only 115,000 and not wanting to spend any money meant not wanting to go in museums and attractions.  The new Harpa conference centre and concert hall was free and impressive architecture then I walked up to the cathedral which promised a good view of the city.  I took the back streets up the hill and passed some very colourful buildings, because most are made of corrigated steel or wood they are all painted.  One very colourful corner plot wasn’t shy about its trade.

The sign read Kiki Queer Bar next to a wall painted in rainbow colours.

Further on there was a tattoo shop inviting you to unleash your inner Viking and with a nice Royal Enfield motorbike outside which I had to take a picture of for Bill Fordy who is the proud owner of one in Ayton though I’m not sure how much inner Viking he claims.

Royal Enfield outside tattoo shop.

Royal Enfield outside tattoo shop.

Very colourful house, not sure how it would go down in an English street.

Very colourful house, not sure how it would go down in an English street.

Outside the cathedral I took my first ever “selfie” with my Happy Express hat on.rekcath

Next I called in a supermarket to get a drink then back down the hill to the town hall before Laundromat again for lunch. Being a cheapskate I looked for something cheap on the menu and smoked trout on toasted ryebread cost less than a burger so I went for that with a latte.  When it arrived it was a plateful, a nice salad next to roast potatoes on one side with two large thick slices of trout on ryebread filling the other half.

Graffiti covered car park, every bit of the wall was covered and looked great.

Graffiti covered car park, every bit of the wall was covered and looked great.

Panorama shot of the lake by the town hall.

Panorama shot of the lake by the town hall.

statue at the side of the lake had the bottom of a boulder carved as a business mans legs.

This statue at the side of the lake had the bottom of a boulder carved as a businessmans legs.

After lunch it was a quick return to collect my rucksac then the bus back to the airport for my Icelandair flight to Edmonton.  Rekjavik and Iceland will definitely stay on my list of places to visit.  There is more to do in the city and masses to do outside.

Unfortunately my prepaid credit card was not accepted onboard the plane so all I could afford to eat was a pot of porridge but the stewardess took pity on me and gave me a set of headphones free so I was able to enjoy The Hotel Budapest and Good Will Hunting.

Flying over the Arctic and Canada gave us a good view of icebergs and then the hundreds of lakes in the tundra.  Getting close to Edmonton we could see the flatness of the prairies and the patchwork of fields and roads.  The welcome at the airport was not great, it maybe that teachers are not popular as in British Columbia they have been on strike since June or perhaps the immigration officer had a bad time at school but I ended up having to unpack my hand luggage at the customs desk.  The lady at the second desk was much nicer and didn’t really want to see very much once I had opened the bag.

I had noodles and then an ice-cream in the airport before taking the final flight of the day to Vancouver with Air Canada.  I was lucky and got one of the seats next to the emergency exit so had some extra legroom.  At Vancouver it was the train into the city and then a walk through a very run down area to my hotel.  I wasn’t holding out much hope of a decent room but the Budget Hotel Patricia turned out to be tired but comfortable and having worked out that it had been more than 24 hours since I left the Premier Inn I was glad off the bed.

Day 17763. Back to more mundane things.

Arriving back to the UK and my sometime day job seemed to be the end of a blog about my travels but there are other things that people have said they hope I am recording so I will continue.  If I had to give it a specific start date my mid-life crisis happened the night before Leeds Festival 2003.  At the age of 38 it was my first music festival and I went only to give lifts to some younger people (teenagers).  Since then I have attended about 50 festivals, learnt to ride a motorbike and had two long rides round Scandinavia and the Baltic, moved from my house into a flat and lately into a coach that I am turning into a motor-home.  Perhaps mundane is not really an accurate description.  I decided that the best day to put was the day since my birth.  Can’t help it I’ve always been a nerd.

I bought the coach on e-bay in 2008 winning the bidding one day while supervising a detention on supply at a high school.  The young man in detention sees me occasionally and reminds me of the event.  It is a DAF 3500 chassis and engine with a Jonckheere Deauville body.  I bought it from a couple in Cheltenham and having taken the train down to see it and organising the bank transfer I drove it back to Scarborough.

It was quite pleasing when the coach took Whitwell Hill, a steep climb on the A64 between York and Malton, without having to go down too many gears, in fact it took it in 4th gear.

The first task was to take it to Carnaby Industrial Estate near Bridlington for several of the windows to be replaced by aluminium sheet.  I didn’t want to just blackout or block them on the inside as I want the coach to look as good as possible.  Unfortunately the coachbuilders didn’t follow my instructions accurately and instead of both rear windows being replaced only one side was done and the section in front on the near side was replaced.  My original intention was that a double bed would go across the back with solid walls at either end.  I decided to keep the bed along the back but changed some of the other plans.

The coach with windows blocked in.

The coach with windows blocked in.

coach5 coach4

Unfortunately the return of the coach coincided with the start of the festival season that year and work was abandoned.  It was not until the following spring that we started again having found a yard to park the coach in near Pickering.  The first job was to take out all the seats, at one point I planned to leave 4 pairs of seats in at the front, eventually settled on 2 pairs with the spacers taken out of the mechanism so that they can recline as far as possible.  I couldn’t find anyone that would take the 22 unwanted pairs of seats so they ended up being taken to the county recycling centre.coach3 coach2 coach1

Once the seats were out we took down the racking, the parcel shelf above the seats running the length of the coach on either side.  These contained the lights, air blowers and air conditioning units and taking them out was quite a fiddly job especially as they ended up as long sections which were awkward and heavy to move.

The empty(ish) space

The empty(ish) space

By now the inside was becoming a large empty space and it was getting easier to imagine how things may fit in.  I have wanted to do a project like this since I was about 11 and travelled daily on a coach to school.  Though I never knew him as such my Granddad was a bus driver before he retired and it was one of my childhood ambitions to get my licence.  It may sound daft but I was more pleased to get my licence than I had been to get my mediocre degree a few years earlier.  I suppose the degree was something that was just expected of me rather than something I really wanted.  So having had so long to dream and day-dream about it the plans for the coach were pretty quick to do even if there have been many versions since.

One of the early plans.

One of the early plans.

Day 16 The Journey Home.

Got up quite early today, had breakfast at 203 de Tham again (omelette and bread) and headed off to the bus stop about 10am.  We took a while to locate the right queue and by the time we set off the 152 bus had 4 people on it.  Two got off on the way to the airport leaving Ali and I and the driver who pulled over at one point to pick up his lunch.  We arrived at the airport soon after 12 and checked in early enough to get seats with extra leg room.  The check-in clerk also wanted to check our meals as we appeared to have pre-ordered baby food, we changed to his suggestions and spent the next few hours waiting for the flight.  Saigon airport is not very big so there is not much to do.

The flight was uneventful, my meal was beef and rice and I made a good move by ordering beer which meant I had a full can while others only got a glass full.  When we arrived at Bangkok we followed the instructions from the hotel and found a rep. waiting at a gate downstairs.  We had a few minutes wait for the minibus to arrive and a 20 minute journey to the hotel.

Our room in Bangkok was large with a kitchen and bathroom but unfortunately no bath.  Next morning we ate breakfast in a back room downstairs before heading off to the airport on the 8.30 shuttle.  I made a big mistake by leaving my new suit hung in the wardrobe in the room and the next minibus had to bring it for me.

We did not manage to book seats with legroom on this flight but managed to get some on the Istanbul-Heathrow stretch.

We arrived back at Muswell Hill in London at about midnight having taken a cab from King’s Cross station.  My body clock thought it was 7am.

This part of my adventure had been great and I have had to amend my plans for my Round the World trip to include another visit to Vietnam.

 

Day 15 Ho Chi Min City, Saigon

Today was to be a day of visiting the sights in Saigon and perhaps a little shopping.  In the light the area we were staying in did not seem so run down and perhaps threatening as it had in the darkness of last night.  The alley that the hotel was on was still narrow, with buildings towering 4 or 5 storeys on either side and a web of wires suspended across the gap.  We left the opposite end to that we had entered by last night and turned in the direction we thought the museum area lay.  The road at that end of the valley was obviously tourist quarter with bars, restaurants and shops to provide for them.  We found a bar serving breakfast  (203 de Tham) and ate looking out on to the road which was already quite busy.

Having eaten we found a shop selling postcards so that Ali could send more home we could buy a map to follow to the Museums.  Once again it was a sunny day and it was a good walk to the Museum of War Atrocities.  On the way we saw more evidence of western influence than we had seen in the cities further north.  Though there was still no MacDonald’s we did find a Burger King and a couple of Canadian food chains.  We didn’t buy from any, instead I got a shaped coconut from a street vendor who was carrying a cool-box full.  It had taken us a while to work out what they were, he was carrying white objects shaped a little like tribal nuts and when you purchased one he chopped in to the top and provided you with a straw to drink the coconut milk.

"Hut shaped" coconut.

“Hut shaped” coconut.

"Hut shaped" coconut with straw.

“Hut shaped” coconut with straw.

Having got a drink we headed to the Museum.  People who know me would perhaps tell you that I am rarely stuck for words, my main job as a teacher means that I am not meant to be, but at the end of the trip round the exhibits here I had nothing to say.  In fact I felt that to speak about it would almost be some sort of devaluation of the experience.

Some people from the West describe the Museum of War Atrocities as a piece of propaganda as if all museums in their own countries are entirely even-handed and present their exhibits without prejudice.  I would certainly not say that the exhibits are pro-American, why should they be? the Americans were the enemy of the Communist North Vietnamese and it was the North Vietnamese who were victorious.

The Museum house displays of munitions used during the war and captured tanks, aircraft and artillery.  The pictures show the destruction wrought by them and the effects on the population.  The most moving were those showing the results of the chemicals used such as Agent Orange.  These are obviously well known throughout the west but the concentration of images and to see children in the museum itself who have been damaged by their parents exposure to American Chemical munitions just left me feeling that to even speak would be in some-way to justify the West’s actions.

This picture reminded me of all the kids I work with who moan about the perceived hardships they suffer.

This picture reminded me of all the kids I work with who moan about the perceived hardships they suffer.

One particular display made me think.

“Nguyen Noc Ki’s arms were paralysed since he was little.  He lived in Nguyen My village, Hai Than district, Hai Hau, Nahm Dihn.  The two legs turned to magical arms.  Ki was good at school and at writing poems.  He then graduated from the literature department of the National University.  He then became a literature teacher in his homeland.”

Having spent most of my teaching career working with children who feel hard-done-to in various ways I wanted to take this off the wall and take it back with me so that I could put it on the wall and silently point at it when they started to feel sorry for themselves.

It was a quiet walk to the Cathedral and the Post Office which are impressive buildings from the French period.  Outside the Post Office (across the road from the Cathedral) there were a young couple in Wedding outfits being photographed.  Their clothes were disappointingly western in fact I thought they would have been more at home in Vegas.

The Cathedral on its road island.

The Cathedral on its road island.

The Post Office.

The Post Office.

Inside the Post Office.

Inside the Post Office.

After taking a few pictures and posting Ali’s cards we stopped at a noodle restaurant, one of a chain, and ate lunch.  Once again we had a young waiter who was keen to speak English so it wasn’t too adventurous though we did try Sugar Cane juice and would not recommend it.

Bikes outside the restaurant.

Bikes outside the restaurant.

From there to the National Museum where some of the items from the My Son were displayed.  This museum was much like any other showing displays of the history of the country, the tribes who migrated back and forth and the beliefs and art they brought with them.  It was interesting but not inspiring, perhaps it would have seemed better if we had visited it before the Museum of War Atrocities.

Some of the objects from My Son.

Some of the objects from My Son.

On the way back to the hotel  We wandered the streets and called at one of the Baskin Robins ice cream parlours for me to get a milkshake.  We bought some T-shirts and boxer shorts from tables on the pavement and explored the indoor market.  Found a tourist shop selling dried fruit and bought some to take back to the school I am working in at the moment. In our walking we saw a family climb on to a scooter and they were happy to pose for a moment for me to get a photo.  Once again I wondered what the accident statistics were here compared to the UK and whether all the laws we have to make life safer and faster make us any happier.  We found the bus stop and times for the trip to the airport in the morning and made it safely back to our hotel.hcmc18

A well loaded bike and a display of helmets.

A well loaded bike and a display of helmets.

We had a quiet last evening, watched a few movies and visited the Oakley shop for Ali to grab a bargain, ate at the noodle restaurant we had found last night and had a relatively early night.