Day 96-97: Whales in Tofino, Vancouver Island

I woke up in my bachelor pad Airbnb and used the restroom. Coming back to my room, I noticed my key inside the keyhole. I was very confused as to how it got there. Was that my key? Was it the owner’s second key? I was pretty sure I took the key out, but I couldn’t find mine. Great, I slept with the key inside the keyhole so anybody could have just walked inside.

I drove to downtown Vancouver so I could check out a store called Long Tall Sally. They make clothes for tall women and closed all of their US locations several years ago. I’ve had to order clothes online and this was my chance to try on some clothes in person. Driving through the city was frustrating and I was realizing more and more that I don’t want to live in a large city any longer.

I hate trying on clothes. It seems stores put the worst lighting in there. Plus, my weight is always fluctuating and it makes me feel depressed when clothes don’t fit. After purchasing a couple of items, I walked over to a coffee shop. The girl behind the counter rounded down the total because I was paying with cash and Canada got rid of the penny. She said they’ll probably get rid of the nickel soon.

After I got my coffee, I drove to the ferry terminal to go to Vancouver Island. I arrived at 1:50 pm and the next ferry left at 3:30 pm. The attendant said if the ferry was full, I’d have to wait until the next one at 5:30 pm. It cost $75 and I patiently waited in my car, praying there was a spot available. Thankfully, I was the last car allowed to board!

The ferry ride was beautiful. In the distance, I could see the high-rises in Vancouver. I love taking ferries as a mode of transportation because it has the added bonus of being a scenic boat ride. I wandered outside to take in the view. It was a clear day and the sun reflected off the water. We passed islands and mountains that reminded me of Norway.

The announcer made the call to return to our vehicles, so I made my way down the stairs to the lower car deck. A girl around nine years old was yelling and said, “F*ck!” Her mother said, “I didn’t think it could get any worse, but you just did it. Don’t talk like that.” The young girl started to hit her mother and the mother calmly replied, “Don’t hit me.” The girl hit her several more times as the mother kept saying, “Stop hitting me.” When we arrived at the car deck, the girl ran off as the mother shouted, “Stop!” I couldn’t resist any longer and I got right behind the little girl and sternly said, “You should show some respect.” She turned around at me with a shocked look on her face as she slowly walked back towards her mother.

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When we arrived, I started driving towards Torino. It would take a few hours to get there because it was on the other side of the island. The drive was beautiful and felt undiscovered. I drove through the tree-filled mountains, passing still lakes as the sun disappeared.

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During the drive, the Brett Kavanaugh hearing was taking place and Facebook offered the option to watch it live. I still had cell service so I played the video and I listened to it while I drove. I had the time so I was able to listen to most of the hearing. In my regular life, I wouldn’t have the time to listen to the whole hearing and instead would have to rely on news outlets to recap it. It felt awesome to be able to get the whole picture and to make my own conclusions. I didn’t have to rely on a reporter’s opinion about what happened. Most news outlets in the US unfortunately no longer report the facts without adding their personal opinion to it.

When I studied broadcasting and film in college in 2000, we were taught not to add our opinion. As a reporter, you are to remain neutral and report the facts. You shouldn’t cry when reporting about murders, for example. You just report the facts and let people come to their own conclusions. I don’t know of any news outlet in the US that simply report the facts without including biases. So for the first time in a very long time, I could simply listen to testimony and make up my own mind. I was surprised by how many people on Facebook used the phrase “believe all women.” Personally, I believe in listening to every case (testimony and evidence) before I will simply believe something.

It got dark at 7:30 pm and I didn’t arrive at my Airbnb until 9:00 pm. I had a hard time finding it on the dark country roads. The owner talked with me and helped me find it. It was more like a small lodge or a motel. I had my own room, complete with a creepy spider in the bathroom sink. At this point, all I could do was laugh since a spider was in almost every single place I stayed.

I updated my blog and went to bed late that night, so I slept in the following morning. When I opened my front double-doors I had an amazing view!

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I found two hikes in the temperate rainforest that were just a five-ten minute drive. I drove there and started to hike “trail A.” It was humid outside, but still slightly cool. I prefer temperate over tropical rainforests because they’re much cooler, but offer all of the greenery.

The trail had a wooden bridge path that wound its way through the forest with steps guiding me down and back up. Once I completed that trail, I walked across the road and did “trail B.” This was a similar trail that had a boardwalk. I passed giant trees, climbed lots of stairs, and listened to the birds sing.

Once I completed these trails, I hiked on a small trail that led to the ocean. I couldn’t have asked for better weather.

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I signed up for an afternoon whale watching tour so I drove to the meeting place. The guide said this was their last tour of the season and I was happy I made it just in time. Our group put on full-body life jackets and we walked towards the boat. There was a family of four with adult children, two couples, and another single female. They were all from Germany. On the walk over, I talked with the single female. She said that she and her partner shipped their RV from Germany and are spending a year in Canada and the US. They started in Baltimore and explored a little bit of the east coast and then drove the Trans Canada Highway to the west coast. They planned to spend the winter in Carmel, California.

We boarded the small inflatable boat and rapidly took to the ocean. The boat was loud and the quick motor meant the guide didn’t talk while we were in route. The ride was so fun! We blasted through the water, skipping off waves in search of whales. At one point, our guide got a call that there were some whales in a specific area so we waited for them to surface.

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As we sat there waiting patiently, the boat rocked up and down with each wave. I get motion sickness on boats when I can feel waves. I tried hard to convince myself that I was fine, but I was on the verge of throwing up. I slowly reached into my water-tight bag to find my Dramamine. I didn’t have any water with me and even with water, I struggle to swallow pills. However, the motion sickness was so bad, I gathered spit in my mouth and was able to get the pill down. Thankfully, it worked pretty fast and I avoided having to chuck over the side of the boat.

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All of a sudden, a whale popped up from the water! We mostly just saw the water being sprayed from his blowhole, but then we were able to see the top of his back as he went back into the water. We stayed at the spot for around 30 minutes and were able to see two whales from a distance coming up and back down a few times.

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Our guide received a call saying a baby whale about three years old was in a nearby cove. They knew of this whale and our guide was excited as he raced over to the cove. We were the only boat there and as we patiently waited, the baby whale popped up right beside our boat! Normally the guides stay farther back so they don’t scare or injure the whales, but they said this baby whale liked to surprised boats like that. It was so awesome to watch him swim around us.

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Next, we went over to some rocks sticking out of the water where a lot of sea lions were sunbathing. After watching them jump into the ocean, we drove over to an area where otters were hanging out among seaweed and logs. They looked like little stuffed animals just playing around.

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The sun was setting and we sat there watching it sparkle on the water. We made our way to shore just in time to watch the sun make its final descent.

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I said my goodbyes to the group and drove over to a fish shack that had good reviews. I ate outside in the dark with a dimly-lit light above the table. As I ate, I surfed Facebook and saw post after post on both sides of the issue about the Kavanaugh hearing. I tried to tell myself to stop reading. Stop surfing. It was only making me angry and ruining the good feelings I had from whale watching. Eventually, I put the phoneaway and tried my best to be in the moment and enjoy my fish.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 37: Airbnb and Dairy Queen in West Vancouver

After making it through the Canadian border, I headed towards Vancouver.

I couldn’t check into my Airbnb until 5:00pm and I was hungry so I stopped at a Dairy Queen for something to eat. It was in downtown West Vancouver, close to my Airbnb. It seems Dairy Queen is very popular in Canada – they’re everywhere and people eat the warm food, in addition to the ice cream.

On the menu board, there was something called poutine. I asked the young guy at the register what that was. He said, “You’re not from here, are you?” I said I was American and had never heard of poutine. He described it as french fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. They have poutine eateries, which is their specialty, but he said Dairy Queen has one of the best poutines around, compared to places like McDonalds. As intriguing as the poutine sounded, it seemed heavy and like a big bowl of fat.

I ordered a burger and fries (I know, not much better) and forgot I did not have Canadian money. I used my Chase Sapphire card, which has zero foreign transaction fees. I asked what their money was called, and the guy said, “dollars”. “Oh, that’s interesting. So it’s just the Canadian dollar.” I replied.

I used a money conversion app on my phone to see the difference and thankfully, the US dollar was stronger than the Canadian dollar. For every $1 US dollar, it was around $1.30 Canadian, so my money stretched a little further. It was really nice when I’d look at my credit card and see the amount I was actually charged in US dollars was always slightly less than what I was charged in Canadian dollars. The higher the price, the larger the difference. If I was charged $75 Canadian dollars, it would actually only cost me around $57 US dollars. This was a nice change from traveling to Europe, where the US dollar has always been much weaker than the pound and the euro (when I’ve visited).

I ordered the meal, which came with a soda (they call it pop). I don’t usually drink soda, but decided to get one that day. The guy behind the register proudly told me their soda doesn’t have any high fructose corn syrup like the US soda has.

I sat down at the high counter that looked out the window, near the registers. The guy who took my order started talking to me. Then another employee came over to talk as well. The first guy was the supervisor, slightly overweight, in his late 20s with light brown hair. The 2nd guy was in his mid-20s, skinny with brown hair.

We talked about the differences in the US and Canada with healthcare, politics, and the housing problems. The guys thought banning straws was ridiculous and a small battle to be fought. They described Vancouver as being in a crisis with affordable housing, and the government wasn’t doing anything to stop it. They said the reason it’s become unaffordable was because of foreign investments in the housing market, mostly from the Chinese.

The supervisor was very passionate about this topic. He pointed out that every city needs workers at places like Dairy Queen, and managers of those places. The employee level jobs at these establishments were good jobs for people in college and high school. But he pointed out that they also need managers and if managers (and employees) can’t afford to live in a city, they will move. There will be nobody left to do those jobs. That’s why it’s a crisis.

We also discussed guns because they had the impression that the US loves guns and nobody in Canada has a gun. It was interesting because the supervisor said he has a friend whose dad lives in an old mill town in the US that has gone down hill because the jobs disappeared. The man sleeps with a gun under his pillow because of the crime level. The supervisor told the story and said, “I understand why he has a gun there; it’s not safe in the US.”

I told the guys that they should be careful of the impressions they get on the news. Yes, there is crime in the US, and some cities are unsafe. However, most places in the US are safe and you don’t need to sleep with a gun under your pillow. It was eye-opening to see how impressions of countries are made by watching the news.

The guys also told me how Vancouver has become the second Hollywood where movies and shows are filmed regularly. This is because the city is tax friendly, has relatively good weather, and now has a lot of skilled workers in the film industry living there.

The conversation with the guys was fun and interesting. They seemed to enjoy talking to an American and discussing the differences in our countries.

It was now 5:00 pm and I was able to check into my Airbnb. You might recall from a previous post that when I searched for an Airbnb days earlier, I found some pretty crazy places – like a couch in someone’s living room. I got lucky and found a room available in a 9-bedroom mansion on the side of a mountain in West Vancouver for about $52 (US) a night.

I drove up the mountain and parked my car in one of the three spaces available in the small driveway. I followed the instructions to get inside since the owner doesn’t live there and rents out all of the rooms.

The house was large, with a spiral staircase, but had a very minimal look inside. The furniture was very basic and there weren’t any decorations. I climbed up the spiral staircase to the 2nd floor and found my room. My room came with a shared bathroom, which was directly next to my bedroom.

There was no air conditioning and there happened to be a heat wave. I opened the window for some air and discovered there was not a screen. “That’s strange, Seattle didn’t have a screen either”, I thought. I also opened the sliding door, which opened to a small private patio to the backyard. Again, no screen door.

The room had a bed that was low to the ground, two night stands, and basic desk. There was not a TV in the room, which I was getting very used to.

I walked around the house and discovered the dining room and kitchen, both which had amazing views out their giant windows to the ocean down below. The top floor had more bedrooms and another spiral staircase leading up there.

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As I was unloading my car, a couple in their early 30s pulled up in hiking clothing. They were staying in the suite that had a separate entrance. They asked me if I could let them inside the main house because they hadn’t been able to see it yet (they were only provided instructions for entering their suite). I let them in and they were in awe of the view.

I got settled into my room and then walked to the kitchen to get some water. In the dining room, I noticed a large, creepy-looking spider handing in the window. I hate spiders, but there was something fascinating about this spider. I thought it was strange that my previous Airbnb in Seattle had a spider web with a spider in the window. As you’ll see in future posts, this would be the start of having a spider in almost every single place I would stay.

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I retreated back to my room and hoped a spider would not crawl through my open window. I could handle the random flying bug making its way inside. I searched for things to do in Vancouver and booked a bike tour for the next day. I was excited to be in Canada as this felt like the real start of my adventure – unknown territory.

Post Edited By: Misty Kosek

 

Day 31: Seattle Sights, Friends, Uber Rides

After my parking debacle the previous day, I ordered an Uber Pool to take me to downtown Seattle to do some more sight-seeing. It only cost about $6 each way, making it a much better option than driving myself.

If you’re not familiar with Uber Pool, it’s a shared Uber ride. Uber will find other riders nearby who are going in the direction you are going. If you select “express”, you have to walk about a block so that you’re on a main street or a pick-up point. Same with the drop-off. You might walk a block or two so the driver can drop you off in a spot that’s convenient for them. It makes the ride cheaper and I don’t mind walking so I choose it when it’s available.

When I got in the Uber, there was a man and a woman in the backseat who did not know each other. I sat in the front seat and couldn’t really see the man behind me. But when I got in, I saw that he was very tall and very muscular with large blonde dreadlocks. I had to move the seat back a little so I could fit my legs inside and he was very friendly – joking how he’s used to being in small cars. The woman next to him was around 25 years old with long, straight, blonde hair.

I talked about how hot it was outside and how I traveled north so I could avoid the hot summer in southern California, but the heat seemed to be following me. The man said he’s an archeologist and at a recent world conference he had recently attended, one scientist said people are flocking up north to live, if you look at the data. He said they want to be away from the equator because their natural instincts are to flee the heat, and biologically, they’re getting ready for climate change. I thought that was pretty interesting. Maybe it’s in our DNA to escape the blazing heat and we can sense the changing weather.

The Uber ride was only about 10 minutes long and I was dropped off first. I had a great time talking with them. The thing about Uber pool is that you get a chance to meet and talk with people you might not meet otherwise.

I arrived at the Museum of Pop Culture, which looks like the future on the outside. On the inside, a huge guitar sculpture greets guests. The museum is a nonprofit museum dedicated to contemporary popular culture. It has multiple sections that showcase different categories. For example, there is section on Nintendo, Grunge Music, and famous sci-fi films.

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After being awed at the museum, I walked down the street to a little coffee shop to meet a friend for lunch. I ordered a coffee and a sandwich and sat at a table outside. Jinah, a friend I met at work, had recently moved to the Seattle area. Jinah arrived and we caught each other up on our lives over the last six months – when she decided to leave the company.

Jinah had been enjoying Seattle, but recognized that while the summer was nice – winter might be another story. She told me about jobs she was considering as she hunted for employment. Being a Recruiting Manager for four years, I was surprised to hear about how some companies treat candidates – especially in this market of low unemployment. Companies were taking weeks to get back to her and left her sort of hanging. Jinah is incredibly smart with an impressive educational background, so I have complete confidence she’ll find a job soon.

It was really fun catching up with Jinah and sharing stories about our last six months. We said our goodbyes and I headed to the Space Needle. My ticket allowed me to go to the top during the day and again at nighttime. In line, I chatted with a family from the Midwest who was on vacation. They were only there for a few days and were exhausted doing all of the sightseeing. We agreed that as exhausting as it all was, we couldn’t miss the Space Needle.

The Space Needle was built in 1962 for the World’s Fair. It’s such a cool design so I took the elevator to the top and walked all the way around it – seeing the entire city. It was a clear day with blue skies but it was sort of uncomfortable getting around all the people to take pictures.

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After the Space Needle, I went to the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum. This museum features the studio glass of Dale Chihuly. If you’ve ever seen glass-blowing, it’s that, but like the best there is. The galleries feature beautiful pieces and share the story of his work. Some of the pieces are so big, they are suspended from large ceilings; one even hangs from a glass ceiling that looks up to the Space Needle. The garden outside also includes some the pieces and the colors are spectacular.

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I was ready for dinner after all of the sightseeing so I walked about a 1-2 miles downtown to the harbor and ate some fish and chips. I strolled around the giant Ferris wheel as I ate some ice cream. Those are the moments I wish I had a partner to enjoy the sights with.

The sun started to set so I walked back to the Space Needle to see the views at night. The line wasn’t bad at all and I quickly made it back up there to watch the night time views (with hundreds of people crowding around).

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On the way back to my Airbnb, I ordered an Uber Pool Express. This time I sat in the backseat with a woman in her early 20s. Another woman in her late 20s was in the front seat. The woman next to me had on a very tight red dress, lots of make-up, and big curls in her long black hair. She looked very unfriendly – the type that only talks to people she deems acceptable. She had her window rolled down and the wind coming in was very cold. I desperately wanted to ask her to roll it up but she didn’t seem to be getting any of the clues that the other woman, the driver, and myself were all giving indicating we were cold.

The driver was having a hard time finding her apartment so she was giving him attitude about where it was. When we arrived to her apartment and she was close to getting out of the car, I said, “Could you roll up your window when you exit?” She very rudely said, “You could have asked me to roll it up earlier if you were cold.” Then she rolled it up, and got out of the car. I thought, How rude! However, once the window was rolled up, I realized the driver had on such strong cologne that it was making me sick. I was happy to get out of that car. Hey, they can’t all be great Uber Pool experiences.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek

Day 30: Sightseeing in Seattle, WA

Visiting a city like Seattle means going to a lot of tourist sites. The city felt like a mini-Los Angeles due to the amount of people there. Being the largest city in the state of Washington and in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle has a population of 725,000 people. The metro area, however, has 3.87 million. As one of the fastest growing cities, it’s the 15th largest city in the US.

In addition to the amount of people located there, the city has a lot of tourist attractions – such as The Public Market, the original Starbucks, and the Aquarium. They also offer harbor boat tours. You can buy a “city pass” and get a discounted price for the top attractions.

I headed downtown, after making a quick stop at a park that Aaron (the guy I had met the day before) told me about. Parking in downtown proved to be as bad as most major cities in the US. The parking garages were around $25. Now that I’m unemployed, that seemed too expensive, so I searched and searched for parking. In addition, the garages had low clearances around 6’8”. With my roof-top cargo unit on top, I was pretty sure my car wouldn’t fit. I think I needed around two more inches.

I eventually found parking on the street, but it had a three-hour time limit. I walked to the original Starbucks, but there was a line of about 70 people. It was hot outside and standing in line didn’t seem worth it. I continued on and made it to the Aquarium.

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My friend Trudy who lives in St. Louis was visiting the aquarium with her family that day. I joined them as we watched the seals, fish, and penguins swim around. It was nice seeing her kids’ reactions to each exhibit.

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After the aquarium, I walked back to my car to put more money into the meter, then walked to the Public Market. This is the famous outdoor market that you probably think of when you think about Seattle. Opening in 1907, it’s one of the oldest public farmers’ markets in the US. I walked around and resisted the temptation to buy anything. Getting into minimalism and not having a house to go back to help with the desire not to purchase anything.

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Living up to its reputation, I watched vendors do a little show where they threw fish to each other. The overall atmosphere was great – although hot. I ate a fresh-caught salmon sandwich at a bar stool at one of the vendors and people-watched.

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On my way back to the car, I stopped back at the original Starbucks. This time the line only had about 25 people so I joined them. However, the line slowly moved as I continued to bake in the sun. After what felt like an eternity, I made it to the inside of the store – which only made me angry. The line was worse inside because people were all spread out and others waiting for drinks. I saw the merchandise on the wall that customers could buy to prove they had made it to the original Starbucks. I took a picture of a plaque, realized I didn’t need a souvenir, and I’d only end up ordering a regular Starbucks drink, and left.

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Minimalism teaches people how not to consume just because society expects you to. The reality is that if I bought a souvenir cup, it would have sat in one of my bags, making it even harder for me to carry everything around. It’s also not something that would bring me joy, so I passed.

I’m not against buying souvenirs, by the way. But when I cleaned out my house, I saw a box full of little souvenirs from when I went to Europe. I bought limited items while there, but still ended up with a box of stuff – sitting in my closet. Considering I no longer have a closet, I’m trying really hard to resist buying those things that are “so cute!” or the things that are “a unique representation of that city.” Honestly, most souvenirs are made in China and aren’t actually made locally. Anyway, in my attempt to reduce my consumption, I walked away from that Starbucks empty-handed – and it felt good.

I put more money into the parking meter where I parked, calculating how much I paid in that stupid machine (in an attempt to not pay $25 for parking). I think I ended up paying around $18. I absolutely hate paying for parking because it feels like such a waste of money. The bigger issue, however, was the low clearance of the garages. I decided that I’d take an Uber Pool next time I came downtown.

The city pass that I purchased included a harbor cruise so I walked down to the dock to board. I sat on the top and enjoyed the breeze. The hour-long cruise showed off all of the high-rises and the Space Needle.

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I learned a little more about the city, see the giant barges up close in the port, and watch as the sun started to set behind the ocean. It was a perfect way to end the day.

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Post Edited by: Misty Kosek