North America 2013: Back to Vancouver!

On The Road Again

In August of 2013 I quit my safe and secure, well-paying, flexible job that gave me a lot of time to travel for… the incredible uncertainty of starting a company with a close friend but no clients lined up.

There is unlikely to be much international travel in my near future.

So, there was only one thing for it: one final excursion in between comfort and the unpredictable future. The only question remaining was where. A number of options were suggested or otherwise came to mind: back to South America perhaps, or to see friends in the Tyrol (and I still haven’t seen much of Europe!). In the end though, I decided to go to another great continent I’ve barely touched: North America.

I booked flights into Vancouver and out of LA, with a vague plan to work my way across Canada then back across the US. In amongst that I thought I could mix some of the classic cities and areas on offer with the majestic national parks, and with any luck catch up with a few friends scattered around the area. Any attempt at a more detailed plan only made it clear that 3 months was not going to be sufficient, so I just took off to figure it out along the way and take what opportunities presented themselves.

Apart from the general across-and-back opportunity afforded by this schedule, Vancouver was the first stop because I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Vancouver over the last few years, and I still love it and still have friends there (although a few are starting to migrate out, sadly). My starting point was thus always going to be more a social visit than anything touristy, although I did mount a decent investigation of the thriving espresso culture in the city (more on this aspect of my travels later!)

Victoria

The main exception was a quick visit to Victoria on Vancouver Island, the capital city of British Columbia. I splashed out on the sea plane across as well, well worth it for the views of the stunning coastline and islands.

Victoria itself was really pretty, plenty of good cafes if you’re in to that, a rather touristy but nice historical area, and an attractive harbour.

My biggest win by far here was whale-watching, which wasn’t even on my radar before visiting. When I realised it was a possibility I spent a bit of time at the hostel researching the options in their brochures, set off down to the harbor to ask more detailed questions… and promptly went with the first operator I met, who offered a discount and immediate departure (it turns out there are a lot of whale-watching operators, lining the harbour on both sides). Never have I made a better impulse decision! The guide explained that there are a couple of resident pods and also a transient pod of Orcas in the area, and that we would check in on the latest siting of the transients before moving on to hang out with the residents. As things transpired though, we quickly found the transient group and in a very playful mood, with only a couple of other boats for company so we spent all our time watching them. They repeatedly came quite close to the boat (one passed right under), and I even saw one do a 3/4 breach (not even close to being photographed though). Photographically it is another story, as anyone who has been whale-watching will probably tell you: most pictures you grab are the result of a quick swivel just in time to catch the animal on its way down again—the famous black humps.

Mark Hepburn 22 December 2013
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