Well, we had a tremendous drive on Saturday. We left the "desert" around Osoyoos and headed west on B.C. Route 3 into the mountains. The desert resembles the Mojave in flora, with scrubby brush including yuccas and sage, but is much less arid. There were patches of snow on the hillsides, and extraordinary views of the high mountains. The presence of snow was a function of altitude. We forgot to mention a sign earlier, in Washington where the dirty icy patches have stuck around since before Christmas: stuck into a mound at the end of a driveway "FREE SNOW YOU HAUL"
The first thing to tell you is we saw eagles. First a pair of golden eagles, then a bald eagle. They were soaring in the river valley. We stopped at a Wildlife Viewing Area and read about mountain goats but they were elsewhere. A little further up into the hills we did see mule deer. They were in the snowy woods by the side of the road. Finally, we saw (we think) emus at a farm. So we feel that the day started out as a Big Bird day, but nothing to do with Sesame Street. Oh, yes, in Vancouver the Canada Geese just walk across the road in front of traffic. But that's getting ahead of the story.
The sun came out and fairly glistened off the snowy hills. As we moved west the land grew wetter, with denser, taller forests. The sight of the towering mountains was also incredibly beautiful. Route 3 was a beautiful drive.
We passed some huge factories as we moved west: immense gold and copper mines, and a large Weyerhauser mill. The highway was an engineering marvel, and we passed the place where three miles of the highway was wiped out (along with three cars and five people) by an earthquake-induced landslide in 1965. That's about 10 miles east of Hope. A tall stone wall guards the road from the slide, but after such a long time the rocks look just as settled as elsewhere; not so reassuring, since we passed almost a half-dozen signs warning of possible avalanches.
In Hope we stopped for lunch at a small cafe; of special note is that in the Women's Rest Room a shelf on each door holds a couple of magazines!
Soon out of Hope we picked up the Fraser River, which is full of commerce. For miles and miles the banks of the river were lined with logs and small mills. We finally figured out the reason for the many arrays of posts we have seen near the river banks; they hold logs upriver from the mills. We also saw log rafts. Areas of small fir trees show efforts to reforest after both clear-cutting and forest fires.
As we began to approach Vancouver we rather abruptly changed from small-town, back-woods, lumber-mill-and-river life to the MODERN BIG CITY. Traffic got heavy, shopping centers and malls lined the road, new houses were springing up. We had expected this about Vancouver, but it was still a great surprise, after two days of driving through eastern Washington and British Columbia.
It was (for us) a long day's drive and we found a motel just inside the Vancouver city limits. Perhaps we'll mention one initial impression. Vancouver is much less "Canadian" than Montreal or even Toronto. The stores and businesses were more like those found around Seattle than Toronto. And nobody speaks French. In fact, it's the sixth most common language spoken in Vancouver. But more about that tomorrow.
(Next day) We're planning to stay in Vancouver a month. We bought the paper and were pleased to find lots of ads for furnished apartments at affordable off-season rates. We drove around town, and had two over-the-bridge experiences. The first was when we were driving west on Georgia Street trying to turn left. Well, you can't turn left off Georgia Street, so we should have turned right, but we were in the leftmost lane of three, so we got whooshed with the traffic into Stanley Park. But the exit to Stanley Park was out of the right hand lane, so we missed that, too, and the next thing you know we were over the high bridge into North Vancouver. We retraced our steps and continued our explorations.
Vancouver neighborhoods include both the seedy areas, like the downtown Skid Row and some shabby residential areas, as well as many districts of well-maintained houses and apartments and skyscraper towers.
Our small motel contains mostly train workers making the Seattle to Vancouver run, coming in to sleep before turning around again.
We went out again in the afternoon, after looking at ads for apartments on the internet, and leaving the hotel we turned right to go around the block only there was no street to turn right on and it looked like it was a freeway entrance and we could have turned left but to do that we would have had to be in the left-hand lane, and we were in the far right lane of three so again we got whooshed along with traffic and found ourselves on the Second Narrows Bridge (or Mineworkers Bridge) and over into North Vancouver again. This is getting old, we thought, and turned around and retraced our steps.
There are a lot of amazing things about Vancouver. It is beautiful -- perhaps more beautiful than other Pacific Coast cities. Surrounded by blue water and snow-capped mountains, yet with a comfortable temperature in the low 50s in March, it is just lovely.
Another amazing thing is that Vancouver is 30% Chinese. That means that 30% of the store signs are written in Chinese, 30% of the people speak Chinese (as well as English). It appears that Chinese Canadians are found throughout all areas of the city. Our motel is next door to a Buddhist Temple. Yesterday afternoon a mother and two children were out picking up trash from the temple lawns. In the little variety stores the stacks of newspapers are mostly in Chinese.
Everybody was out and about this lovely Sunday -- walking, shopping, cycling, driving, playing soccer (we saw three or four very serious games with uniforms and officials) eating, and bringing the family with them.
Looking for lunch, we found our way to a huge shopping mall and a Japanese restaurant. The central feature is All You Can Eat Sushi. A little conveyor belt carries sushi (usually two pieces, sometimes more) in plastic dishes covered by a transparent plastic dome. Seated next to the belt you can pluck off the dish you want, or you can stand at the end, like waiting for your suitcase at the airport, and watch for the version you want. We chose to order from the menu and have decided to eat exclusively at Asian restaurants from now on -- we'll surely have a vast selection to chose from!
We have sampled British Columbia wine. Wherever there aren't orchards, there seem to be vineyards in the rural areas, with several small wineries offering tastings. The inexpensive cabernet wine is quite pleasant, noticeably lighter than the trendier heavy cabernets and merlots (earlier in California a wineseller commented that often unfermented grape juice is added to cheaper red wines to increase the color and sweetness). We plan to continue this research as we move through the province.