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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 10 Oct 2007

Location: British Columbia, Canada

MapFriday 5th
And so we leave Ireland after 11 magic days. My impressions of the place … as I sit in Dublin airport after just having my shoes shined by a big, friendly Bulgarian guy. The Irish are fiercely patriotic, and love the colour green – it’s everywhere - the national airline Aer Lingus’ planes, the Irish rugby team shirts, their city buses, etc. We didn’t sense that patriotism in the north, however. Lots of references to Ulster (which are the six counties that make up Northern Ireland, but also include three counties in the Republic … hmmm, a bit confusing). The north is also very Scottish, and English (Union Jacks flying everywhere), but Sinn Fein offices and posters can be seen around towns. The north has BBC Radio, and Radio Ulster. The south has RTE and Irish stations. Belfast cherishes the Titanic, George Best and Van Morrison, Dublin has U2, The Corrs, Thin Lizzy, several famous writers (like George Bernard Shaw, Jonathan Swifte and Bram Stoker), Croke Park (seats over 80,000), Trinity College and Guinness. And of course Daniel O’Connell, who lead the revolution that formed the Republic.
We drank in a Dublin pub called Fagan’s, and were told that the Irish Prime Minister Bertie A’hearn drinks there regularly. He only lives up the road, it’s his local pub, and he was only there the night before. His minders sit in the corner, leaving him standing at the bar talking to the locals and drinking Guinness. I can't see John Howard or George Bush doing that. (Fagan’s is in Drumcondra Road, in Drumcondra, if you’re interested.)
We’ve just met a guy in the airport carrying an Aussie football. Turns out he was a member of the Irish Aussie Rules team, heading to Denmark to play them in a game of Aussie Rules. He was also in the team that toured Oz last year playing exhibition games, including a game at the MCG.
A tour guide told us that a very high percentage of the Irish population are under 25 years of age, and 75% go on to tertiary education. You sense that this is a country surging ahead and staking its claim in the European Union, while at the same time very conscious of its history and tradition. The Irish (or Gaelic) language is compulsory in schools, and all road signs are in both Irish and English (not so in the Northern Ireland) but only 12% of the adult population speak it. I admire them for persisting with it, and hope they succeed.

And so we leave Ireland, an hour's flight to Heathrow and 9 hours later we arrive in Vancouver, Canada. Unfortunately, our luggage didn’t. A major stuff-up by Aer Lingus in Dublin. Oh well. We left British Airways to sort it out, and they gave us $120 Canadian, and we got on with our holidays. After being met by our Sydney friends Mike and Denise at the airport, they whisked us off to an ice hockey game – the Vancouver Giants vs Chilliwack Bruins. Quite an experience – only a small crowd with just over 6,000 people – but with all the usual showbiz elements – loud rock music, big video screens showing instant replays, and as many references to the sponsors as possible. But seeing the game live shows you how fast it really is, with ten players and three referees on the ice at any one time, all traveling very fast in all directions. By the crowd reaction, this is a very popular pastime in Canada, and a perfect introduction to the country for us. We felt a world away from Ireland – which we were.

Saturday/Sunday 6/7th
Rain. Boy, did it rain today. It bucketed. Unperturbed, we set off for the north, having a look around Vancouver first, including Stanley Park. This large area is both parkland and forest, right in the middle of Vancouver city. The forest was very thick, amazingly dense. The city skyline across the river would have looked spectacular, if the rain had not created a dense mist to block it out.
Heading out of the city and suburbs, we came to Horseshoe Bay, where a ferry takes you across a large coastal inlet to the other side, so you can continue your journey north. A cheap overnight hotel at Porpoise Bay (near Sechelt) and then on the road again, heading north. The road came to an abrupt end at the water’s edge, but there happened to be a ferry to allow you to continue your journey. Soon we found ourselves driving through areas of forests, with scenery so breath-taking that it’s hard to describe. Essentially, what you’re looking at are three elements in abundance – mountains, lakes/waterways, and trees. The mountains are all around you, and the ones to the right are part of the famous Rockies. The water comes from the jagged coastline that form huge inlets and bays. The trees are everywhere. Forests and plantations of pines that stand so perpendicular that they look like silent soldiers standing at attention. Covering every mountain, and right down to the water’s edge, and the roadside. The occasional non-pine tree is starting to change colour, giving the forests a colourful range from greens to browns, reds, orange and yellow. While driving along, we were constantly on the lookout for the local wildlife – moose, caribou, bear, cougar, deer, raccoon and skunk. Quite different to an Aussie drive in the countryside.
We found accommodation in Powell River, and spent the last bit of the day exploring as far north as we could. At the very end of the road, we ended up in a tiny village called Bliss Landing, which consisted of a few houses and a small marina. All around was forest, and water. There was no denying how this place got its name. While we watched two seals at play in the bay right in front of us, a head popped up from a yacht moored at the marina to say “hello”, and we got chatting to the yacht owners, Jack and Dianne, Americans who sail their “mobile home” around the world. They had decided that they were getting too old for this lifestyle, and planned to settle down and build a house, choosing Bliss Landing for their retirement home. Couldn’t blame them in the least. Heading back, we stopped at a little fishing village called Lund for a meal in the pub. We sat there all evening, watching the sun set into the water to the west, drinking, eating, conversing with the locals, and watching the seals frolic in the bay.

Monday 8th
Another ferry – this time over to Vancouver Island. Our aim was to get to the northern most town on the island – Port Hardy. The scenery was …. well, perhaps best described a “very B.C.”. Each bend in the road gave us the view that you’d see for any picture postcard from British Columbia. Mountains, water and trees. And all three were simply magnificent. Our goal for this trip was to see some Grizzly bears (sadly whale season only recently finished, so we couldn't see them up close), and so we booked for an adventure tour over to mainland Canada to see Grizzlies up close.

Tuesday 9th
Up at 5.30 for the 30 minute drive to the Grizzly tour departure, only to find it cancelled due to a hurricane-strength storm later in the day. Oh well, the Grizzly is proving elusive for us. So we're sitting in a Subway with wireless internet available, having breakfast and disappointed about the Grizzly tour no-show. And it's pouring rain. And still no luggage. Life sure does happen to you while you're busy making other plans.