Lion’s Head Provincial Park

In the last few months, whenever we’ve had the time, we drive north to the beautiful, pristine Bruce Peninsula, to hike, camp, and even swim in the warm, shallow waters of Lake Huron.

Autumn is a fabulous time to roam around the Bruce Peninsula, with the autumn colours changing literally every day to the most gorgeous shades of gold, yellow, orange, purple, and red. This time we did some hiking around Lion’s Head Provincial Park, on the east side of the peninsula. The trail is lush and covered with ferns and moss and mushrooms growing almost everywhere. You can feel the moisture seeping into your skin and hair as you walk.

 

Lion’s Head is famous for its trails which lead you to a really high lookout point, and because the walk is gently sloping it’s not until you are standing at the edge that you realize you’re actually hundreds of feet above sea level – or lake level, if such a thing exists. If you’re scared of heights, this is one hike you do NOT want to do!

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From the top you can really see how clean and clear the waters below are, turning from a bright turquoise to a deep, dark blue at the drop off. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen so far in Canada.

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Planning your own trip? Here’s my travel tip: We parked at the McCuddy Drive Parkette, took the main trail to the Giant’s Cauldron, and continued on the Lion’s Head Pot Hole Side Trail, which led us to the incredible and stomach turning Lion’s Head Lookout. From the lookout we turned around, went back on the same Pot Hole Side Trail, and then took the shorter walk back on the Moore Street Side Trail. 

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Dinosaurs in the Mist

About a month ago I was able to make a quick trip to Winnipeg, which is the capital of the province of Manitoba. This month I went a bit more west to visit two cities in the province of Alberta – Edmonton and Calgary – which are about a 3 hour drive from each other.

The Kid really loves science, and has an interest in dinosaurs, so Alberta was a great place to visit because it is Canada’s epicentre of fossil finds. There’s even a dinosaur named Albertosaurus, as well as an Edmontosaurus, for obvious reasons. While walking around in the dinosaur parks, it was hard to imagine that dinosaurs really did roam around the same area where we were standing.

In Edmonton we visited the Jurassic Forest, a prehistoric dinosaur park with dozens of life-sized animatronic dinosaurs hiding in the woods. As you walk on the path, a motion sensor signals the dinosaur, making it move and make noise. It was pretty entertaining, especially for kids, and quite well done. Except for the giant ants which clearly were not life-sized.

 

Next we drove south on a long, straight, flat, route on the Trans Canada Highway through endless miles of farmland to meet up with a friend in Calgary. Hour after hour the fields and haystacks just sped by, with lots of cattle roaming around. The prairies are picturesque in their own way, but boy was I happy to see the Rocky Mountains once we reached Calgary, just to have some variety.

The next day we all did a day trip out to the Dinosaur Provincial Park (‘DPP’). It was a long, long drive from Calgary to DPP, almost three hours out of the city, and into some of the weirdest looking landscapes I’ve ever seen.

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The DPP is located in the heart of Alberta’s badlands, where land was eroded by water and wind to form strange formations known as ‘hoodoos’ and awesome plunging canyons. The erosion also revealed close to 60 species of dinosaurs, dating some 75 millions years, making it one of the richest fossil sites in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a protected area.

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Unfortunately for us, we left Calgary too late, and arrived just after the last tour went out, which meant we would not be able to do any actual digging of actual fossils. It was disappointing but we made the best of it, doing all of the hiking routes and admiring the amazing scenery.

Nonetheless, if you are planning a trip to DPP, then take this valuable piece of advice: MAKE SURE YOU DON’T MISS THE TOUR or else the kids will be super bored and you will regret ever getting a car with them for three hours.

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ARE WE THERE YET

We saw quite a few other families doing the same thing as us – walking around slightly aimlessly, wondering where the fossils were. So whatever you do, don’t miss the tour!! 

One of the hiking routes does indeed show you the actual sites where fossils have been found. The fossils are encased in a glass room and if you are lucky you can see the palaeontologists working on the removal of the fossil with their brushes and tools, which is pretty cool.

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So what’s the verdict? If you’re in Edmonton, and your kids are small (maybe no older than 7), then Jurassic Forest is a surefire hit. The walking routes are easy and the animatronic dinosaurs are entertaining. If your kids are older, then book a fossil finding tour at Dinosaur Provincial Park and do it right.

And hands down, DPP scenery is a winner.

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We didn’t get eaten by bears

 

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Still alive!

Canada is bear country – let’s face facts. Once in a while in the local news you hear about bear sightings nearby, as in 20 minutes up the road, and you are reminded that Canada is one big-assed country with a lot of wildlife (unless you live in Toronto).

Nonetheless, we embarked upon our first, and definitely not our last, camping experience. Summer is short in Canada, and camp sites tend to get booked up fast, which is why we went just before the summer break. As a result we ended up having the entire campsite almost to ourselves, which certainly makes it easier to pee in the bush when you wake up in the morning with a bursting bladder.

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Zero neighbours

The Warsaw Caves are a natural wonder, with a forest surrounded by 350-million-year-old limestone which was carved away by moving glaciers and erosion. There are dozens of caves within the conservation area, though only seven are ‘open’ to the public. It seemed like a really unique place to go camping, because how many camp sites have their own spelunking adventure?

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Warsaw Caves is not a big tourist attraction like the Scenic Caves in Collingwood – there are few signs to lead the way other than a big number on a board nailed to a tree, there are no lights in the caves, and it’s easy to get the feeling that if you wandered away for ten minutes you might not find your way back to the campground!

While there are only seven caves, they do take some time to explore, because you can go into all of them. Some are large enough to stand up in, maneuver through, and then come out the other side back to the surface. Some you go down into, take a peek, and them come out again.

You must take your own flashlights, or even better, headlights, because you need your hands for climbing around. Some caves you would need to take off your backpack in order to squeeze through so if you get claustrophobic… well, you won’t like this. We left our bags in the car so that our hands would be free.

After the caves, there is another trail from the car park that takes you to see the lookout point and the ‘kettles’ – a pothole formed when granite stones trapped in the river current were spun around in place, grinding their way into the underlying limestone. Some are tiny, like the size of your palm, and dot the trail, but one in particular is HUGE and very deep. To get into it, you don’t go from the top; instead you go down into the valley, and then put yourself into the kettle.

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What I liked best about this experience was the natural beauty of the forest. Because the limestone had been eroded over hundreds of millions of years, it created so many caverns, cliffs and valleys, and from inside some very determined trees were making their way sunward. It made for very interesting terrain and scenery. We also came across loads of fossils embedded in the limestone which, if you’re a big nerd like me, was super cool.

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So, while we didn’t get eaten by bears, we were surrounded by wildlife, even if we could not see them, particularly in the wee hours of the morning.

The first night gave us wild, horrible shrieking of some animal in distress, perhaps a small mammal whose mother has just been taken away by coyotes, because the screaming echoed through the forest and lasted a good 15 minutes. The next morning we awoke to the sound of a bellowing moose somewhere nearby. It was surprisingly loud!

And of course there are other little critters like racoons, squirrels and chipmunks who want to climb all over the coolers looking for something to eat, or perhaps drink, as one morning we found two of our beer cans in the forest.

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Where’s the beer??

Despite the mozzies, the things that go bump in the night, and the lack of sleep, this was an awesome camping trip and I can’t wait to go camping again! Canada rocks!

Scenic Caves – Collingwood

Having guests is a great motivator to get out there and try somewhere or something new. So when some friends from Hong Kong came through Toronto, we headed a short drive north to Collingwood to visit the Scenic Caves.

Set in a beautiful forest, with an easy to follow though hilly trail, there are 17 caves in total to explore, as well as the longest suspension footbridge in Ontario (see above). It took well over two hours to do the entire cave trail as it winds through the woods and down into a fantastic steep canyon. Some of the caves are big enough that you can stand in, and some you just take a peep into the deepest part.

One cave in particular was a VERY tight squeeze – aptly named the Fat Man’s Misery. You could potentially go through the narrowest spot to come out the other side, but only if you are a small year old child with no body fat!

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Despite the heat, a number of the caves still had ice in them, such as the ‘Natural Refrigerator’ which apparently was used for food storage by early native tribes. There are also spots where the Petun tribe, which used to live in this area, held council and fought battles.

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The cave trail is a loop, meaning you start with #1 and finish at #17 which returns you to the car park and office. You definitely need proper shoes as the rocks can be damp and very slippery, but you don’t need anything like flashlights or headlamps as there are lights in the caves already. If you’re with kids, after doing this cave trail there is also a fantastic playground, and a large pond with ravenous seagulls.

Mono Cliffs – Instagram lies!

You can’t always believe everything you see and read about online, especially when it comes to travel.

A lot of times we see an incredible image and think, ‘Wow, I want to go there just to see THAT, to stand there and take the same picture of this exact spot’. 

Well, sometimes Instagram and Facebook can paint a picture of something that is not quite a true reflection of reality. Kind of like that article from Bored Panda about Travel Expectations Vs. Reality which lists famous sights that tourists dream about and then shatters the fantasy by showing the reality – overrun with tourists, dirty, crowded.

It seems people have been flocking to Mono Cliffs Provincial Park in recent weeks to find this one specific spot called Jacob’s Ladder, after popular Canadian website Narcity published an article with beautiful photography of the area. We were not the only ones drawn in by promises of limestone crevasses and ‘caves’, because another family we met on trail said quite bluntly ‘We read about these caves on Facebook and came to find them. Do you know where they are?’  At least for us it was just a 15 minute drive from home – but those people had driven all the way from Toronto!

We did indeed find it, and yes it IS scenic, but what the Narcity article doesn’t mention is that is actually just a tiny little area, really just a small set of steps through the rocks.

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It was nice to see, don’t get me wrong, but the article fails to mention that the bottom of the steps is COMPLETELY FENCED OFF and not even part of a trail! We were quite disappointed. It literally took 30 seconds to see and then that was it.

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At least one person isn’t disappointed!

Ah well, it was still a beautiful day for a hike. After going back up the steps, we did the loop called the McCarston’s Lake Side Trail which took us around a beautiful lake and back to the parking area. It was around 4km and took roughly an hour and a bit. The signs in the park do not give any indication of trail length. There were LOTS of mosquitoes out so if you go be sure to wear long pants and carry repellant.

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If you still want to see Jacob’s Ladder, don’t let me deter you. Mono Cliffs IS indeed a very beautiful provincial park with many different trails. So as my gift to you – other than the gift of knowledge that the ladder area is teeny tiny and fenced off and not some magical gateway to a hobbit’s village –  is the map which shows where the damn thing is.

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The red STAR is my recommendation on where to park. This is not the main parking lot, which is on the east side of the park. But this is the closest parking area to get to Jacob’s Ladder.

Park at the red star, walk straight on the path into the park, go to the Viewing Platform, and then after the Viewing Platform on your right is Jacob’s Ladder, the metal steps going down into the ‘caves’ (not real caves, sorry).  Jacob’s Ladder is marked with a red circle, above the word ‘stairs’.

You’re welcome! Happy trails. And, please, realistic photography.

 

Biking Island Lake

Since Island Lake is literally right around the corner, we’ve been there a lot for hiking and sightseeing. But this was the first time to do the entire lake, which is 8.2km long, on bike. What a great workout! And what a beautiful day.

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Island Lake is a 400 acre reservoir with a number of small islands in the middle which are connected by wooden bridges and walkways. Many people go for hiking, fishing and kayaking in the spring and summer, and ice fishing and cross country skiing in the winter. Unfortunately you cannot rent bikes there, which is a shame because except for a few uphill areas the paths are mostly very easy!

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We have walked the entire 8.2km before, which took more than 2 hours.

You can either pay to park inside the conservation area, or there is free parking at the Home Hardware on Highway 10. Then just cross the roads at the traffic light and join the Vicki Barron Lakeside Trail.

 

Belfountain Conservation Area

So the goal this summer is to go somewhere, every single weekend, rain or shine, and enjoy the great outdoors before the deep freeze returns, forcing people to hide indoors for roughly five months. There’s nothing like the threat of winter to make you carpe that god damn diem!

Last weekend we hit up Belfountain Conservation Area, which has lovely hiking trails, a big pond with picnic tables, and an iconic suspension bridge which draws in lots of visitors from the city, being quite close to Brampton and Toronto.  The trails are quite easy and the walk is fine even for small kids, and you pass over some very scenic parts of the West Credit River.

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What I do have to say, though, is that the websites all make it seem like the suspension bridge is really big – but it’s small! Not that it was disappointing, it was indeed beautiful, just a wee bit shorter than we expected.

If going, I’d really suggest you get there early in the morning, like before 10am, because by the time we left in the later afternoon, the place was swarming with people and the parking lot was completely full.

Here’s some info about the hike itself:

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From the parking lot, turn right and walk on the Pond Loop until you reach the suspension bridge on your left (Gorge Loop, purple). Cross the bridge, then turn right and do the rest of the Gorge Loops. It takes you back to the suspension bridge and the pond again.

Elora Gorge

It was a sunny Easter weekend, and rather than torture myself with dreaded kids activities such as an Easter Egg Hunt, instead we packed up the car and headed to the Elora Gorge, about a 30 minute drive from home.

Elora and Fergus are two quaint little towns with large Scottish populations, and classic old buildings built from limestone as there was once large scale quarrying in this area. The Elora Gorge is the most famous landmark.

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The Gorge was pretty easy to find – we parked by the main road in town outside the visitor centre (for free) and from there it was an easy 10 minute walk through town to Victoria Park  which has a walking trail to the look out point, with really impressive views!

 

Elora is full of little pubs and restaurants, and the old downtown area is quite pretty. You can see the area is getting more trendy as there is a large hotel and spa being built along the waterfront.

 

Yup, definitely better than an Easter Egg hunt!

Mono Cliffs Provincial Park

It is supposedly spring right now – despite the temperature hovering a wee bit above 0’C – so it’s time to do some hardcore exploring during the few short months when Canada is not covered by snow.

Orangeville is a great place to live if you like the great outdoors. There are dozens of provincial parks nearby, so we went to explore the Mono Cliffs.

 

The sign on the bottom right says ‘Mono Cliffs – A Hub of Activity’ but I can’t imagine how quiet it must have been when the settlers arrived here! Mono was the teeniest little town I’ve ever seen with probably 12 houses and lots of horses… if that’s what they consider a ‘hub’ then I wonder what they’d think of Tokyo?

Anyway, the train was quite muddy as the snow was melting, but the views were still incredible. From the top of the Carriage Trail you can get a panoramic view from a look out point. There are lots of wooden steps and the trail to the look out point was a bit slippery, but it was worth the climb.

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View from the top

In the actual valley there are other trails which take you past beautiful ponds and rivers. It would have been really lovely if it had not been so muddy!

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Come on spring – hurry up and get here!!

Life in a small town

Everyone knows of course Toronto, or maybe Mississauga and Brampton where there is a high concentration of West Indians. But tell someone you’re living in Orangeville and they look at you blankly. Either that or they say, ‘why the ass are you living out there in the countryside?’

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Indeed, it is countryside – Orangeville is a small town about an hour from Toronto, with a population of around 30,000.  Once you drive past the congestion of Brampton, you suddenly find yourself surrounded on both sides by endless miles of farmland, which comes as a bit of a shock. The hills roll up and down what is known as ‘The Greenbelt’, passing a few other small towns, and then at the very top you reach Orangeville.

The town is best described as ‘cute’ or ‘quaint’, but it has everything you need, and nothing is more than 10 minutes away. Every neighborhood has a nice school which the kids walk or ride to and from. People are friendly and kind and eager to strike up a chat.

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The core ‘downtown’ strip that runs through the town is called Broadway, and it’s got a lot of charm with old, red brick buildings dating to the 1830s. Many are now galleries, little cafes, pubs, and unique shops that the locals frequent.

 

 

It has been quite an adjustment getting used to life in a small town, after living in mega cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong, with the endless hustle and bustle, people everywhere, crowded trains and sidewalks and restaurants. But strangely enough, I don’t find myself dying to drive down into Toronto. Rather, on weekends, we find ourselves driving even further out to hike in provincial parks, and explore other quaint little towns. I’ve always loved the energy of big cities, but small town life has its own charms too.

In Orangeville, the main outdoor attraction is scenic Island Lake, with beautiful hiking and biking trails. I can’t wait for the summer to try out canoeing on the lake.

 

The Canadian geese have arrived in Orangeville which can only mean one thing – the big thaw is coming! Thank god we survived this first winter. Time to bring on summer!

 

Coming in from the cold

So recently I was contacted by a journalist at the Trinidad Express about writing a piece about little old me, because of my addiction to travel. It was a brief exchange, with a few questions sent back and forth, and a handful of pictures.

I did not expect to be on the front page of the Women’s Section! *feeling shy*

 

 

I just realised that both pictures have me holding a glass of sake. Oops! Ah well, I cannot hide my true colours.

THEN I realised… oh crap, I haven’t even updated the blog in a while! Better get writing.

So, what has been going on here in the True North, as I have fondly started to call Canada? Well for a few weeks in February it was brutal, with endless snow shovelling, which let me tell you is backbreaking work, especially when the bloody snow plough comes around the corner and DUMPS two feet of it on your driveway, and you have to dig your way out in order to go drop your kid to school, which takes an extra 20 minutes in the morning because you have to warm up the engine, heat up the car, scrape off the ice on the windshield and windows, get the kid in a snowsuit and boots…. phew! Winter is hard work!
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But, winter is nonetheless a beautiful and fun time. When a fresh snow has just fallen, the world is really covered in white glitter that shines and sparkles. But I’ve had to learn a lot very quickly, about socks, waterproof winter boots, layers of pants, good gloves, and good jackets. Because when it’s -15’C during the day, you better be prepared.

 

 

That said, the winter weather has so far not kept us indoors that much, and the area where we live has lots of walking and hiking trails to enjoy, even in the snow! And Canadians are tough people – even in the dead of winter they still go jogging outside, and walk their dogs, and get on with life. Because the alternative, which is staying inside for four months, is pretty depressing. Best to embrace it and GO!

 

Back with a new adventure

Dear readers, long time no speak. It’s been a long hiatus from the blog. A long, LONG break. The longest I’ve gone without updating, ever. Don’t worry, I am not dead.

But, I had good reason for not writing. At the end of 2017, all of a sudden a job opportunity in a new country came up, and we had to move fast. As in, pack up your stuff, sell everything within four weeks, right down to the very last day where we had no more furniture, where we were sitting on the floor and eating off of a cardboard box, and sleeping on a friend’s inflatable mattress. God, how many times have I done that?! Too many times to tell.

So, the day came when we actually said a proper goodbye to Hong Kong, and closed that chapter of our lives. We had tried leaving Hong Kong before, and had been pulled back twice. But this time, we weren’t moving somewhere close by, with Hong Kong as a backup plan or a base camp. This time we were moving really far, opposite time zone far, and I think this time, there really is no going back.

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Goodbye Hong Kong…. it’s been a fun seven years!

Now, where could this new adventure be happening? Somewhere exotic? Perhaps a coastal town in Greece, or a mountain village in Bulgaria? Maybe even in Kazakhstan, which was our last big trip? Riding camels in the heat of the desert in Oman? Some far off land where I don’t speak the language or can’t read the script? A place with interesting food and different cultures, bustling street markets, wild festivals?

Not this time!

It doesn’t get any more un-exotic than our new home….. drum roll please…. CANADA!

That’s right – we have finally moved back to the western hemisphere, in the ‘True North’ as the national anthem goes. We now live in a lovely little town north of Toronto, where everyone speaks English, where life is really, REALLY normal, where everything in the supermarket is recognizable, where I never have to use Google Translate to speak to a doctor or read instructions. Just nice, normal North America. Who would have thought?

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By the way, it is bloody freezing! How unlucky that this winter was the WORST WINTER ON RECORD FOR 60 YEARS. The news said that on certain days, it was the same temperature as it is on MARS. Welcome to Canada, here’s a POLAR VORTEX in yuh MC!

Anyway, stay tuned for a new chapter… I am afraid it will not be as exotic or exciting as blogging from Thailand or Japan or some other far flung land. But, I will do my best to keep exploring, and keep writing.

Vancouver Family Reunion

“Blink and you’ll miss it,” my brother in law joked. He was referring to the sun – something that we saw very little of in Canada’s most popular, least cold, and most rainy city. Indeed, during a 9-day trip where the family members residing in Asia (myself and my father), and the family members still residing in Trinidad (everyone else), met up in Vancouver, we were up to our asses in rain.

“Why does everyone want to live here?” my sister asked. “All the houses cost a million dollars, and it rains every single day. I going Toronto!”

A family on a mission

The family on a mission

This trip was partly family reunion, and partly a major immigration reconnaissance. The Trini contingency had recently applied for Canadian residency, and received it, and had therefore taken a big trip to check out Vancouver and see if it would be a good place to live. It was seven of us in total so we had a rent-a-car which we maxxed out, driving around various areas, taking a look at popular towns and districts, trying to get some ideas about what life would be like there.

Burnaby, where we stayed, is not a particularly interesting or charming area, popular only because of its proximity to the heart of downtown Vancouver where everyone works. The owner of the airbnb where we stayed told us that the house, which was well over 30 years old, was worth ‘about $950,000’. My sister’s eyebrows raised high as she imagined what she could buy with a million Canadian dollars in Trinidad.

They actually found the perfect area to live right on the second day of the trip. We had been blessed with perfect, unbelievably beautiful weather, and we drove east to the lovely little town of Port Moody, nestled by a small bay and surrounded by mountains. Burnaby was dark and gritty, but Port Moody was like a scene from Pleasantville. Everyone was out strolling on the boardwalk, admiring the view. Otters swam around in the bay, and kids played in a pretty park as moms chatted. The leaves on the trees were turning red and orange, and the sky was a deep blue. We had an amazing lunch at a local restaurant where the hot waitress served us with a smile. “Ah, Canada,” my brother in law said happily. “Everyone is so civilised here.”

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skate totem

After Port Moody, we also visited New Westminster, and drove south through Surrey, South Surrey, and down to White Rock. None of these towns really tickled our fancy, especially after our lovely day in Port Moody. White Rock was quiet, almost deserted. We walked along the beach, shivering in the wind, and then ran back to the car. I wondered how this gang of Trinis would adapt to life in Canada, especially if they didn’t end up living in Vancouver. (I actually did not think it was that cold – I’m always hot anyway.)

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Then, five days of rain. Five days! It rained, and rained, and rained. It was dark, and windy, and cold. It’s a good thing we had Netflix to keep us entertained. We got some arts and crafts stuff from the crappy dollar store across the street to keep the kids occupied. But really, what does one do in the rain for five days?

Then at the end, the weather cleared again, and we took the opportunity to spend some time downtown in Stanley Park. It was a gorgeous, blue sky day, but still cold. The kids ran around happily in the park, and were therefore warm, but the adults were freezing. The locals, however, were happy with the weather, biking around in short-sleeved shirts, rollerblading, and jogging. I’m sure they can spot the tourists a mile away – they’re the ones in jackets and scarves!

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After deciding it was too cold to be outside, we bundled back into the car and drove through the park and over the bridge to North Vancouver, to try to find the Lynn Canyon Park. The GPS was useless and sent us to the wrong side of the park, so that we were too far away to get to the Suspension Bridge that I’d read about.

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Tired of driving, and with daylight rapidly falling, we instead took a walk on a random trail into the forest. It was like being transported to another world. Everything was wet and mossy, a swathe of green growing over all the trees and plants. We were poorly equipped in our running shoes to walk through this moist world. But with the sunlight pouring through the gaps between the trees, it was incredibly beautiful.

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Then, just as we began to drive back down the quiet road through the forest, a big deer ran out of the forest and across the road. We stopped the car, and the deer stopped and looked and us. Much to my surprise, instead of continuing in its original direction and disappearing into the forest, it turned around and actually ran right back across the road, past us again. We were so lucky to get such a good look at this magnificent creature that had been walking around in the forest not too far from where we were.

Then, the trip was over, and we had to say our goodbyes until next year, and start the long journey back to Asia and Trinidad. My father, daughter and I took a taxi to the airport that night, where the Punjabi taxi driver poignantly and proudly informed us, “If there is a paradise on Earth, it is Canada. And if there is a paradise in Canada, it is Vancouver.”

I really do hope my sister and her family move to Vancouver, because then they’ll only be a 10 hour flight away. Heck, I hope we move there one day too. I still would prefer the rain of Vancouver than the -25’C snowy weather of Toronto, but this is up for debate. No matter where you move to, you’ll have to take some bad with the good and deal with it. And in such a beautiful, clean, green, safe, civilised, friendly place like Canada, there shouldn’t that much to suffer through, anyway.

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Five days in Vancouver

It’s my first time in Vancouver, and already I’m in love with the place. Everything is just so clean, and beautiful. The people on the streets all seem to be young, well dressed, slim and healthy, and overall look extremely pleased with the general state of things. The weather is a balmy 27’C and the sun is out until 10pm, which means downtown is all aglow with that happy feeling of summer. The sidewalk cafes are full of smiling, laughing well-to-do Asian students, and restaurants of every cuisine line the streets. At the lovely parks, fountains gush and the flowers bloom, while young mothers in pretty dresses and strappy shoes laugh and play with their kids. All along the waterfront people are hanging out, setting up picnic blankets, strumming guitars, smoking joints, and playing volleyball. Families go by on bicycles, and rollerbladers zoom along with a dog trotting on a leash. Cute little bathtub-shaped ferries shuttle people across the bay, and all the guys who drive the ferries are young, cute, and seem to be enjoying their jobs. At Granville Island, the market is bustling with fresh local produce, and outside a variety of musicians play their tunes and accept toonies as tips. We sit and have a delicious locally brewed draft beer by the marina where ridiculously energetic waitresses advise us on what kind of beer we might like. It helps that it’s Canada Day, and people are feeling patriotic and proud. Someone hands a little Canadian flag to our daughter to wave. If I didn’t know any better, it was like landing in a tourism board advertisement for Visit Vancouver.

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Oh Canada!

Now I know why the far away west coast of Canada is almost like a completely different country altogether. I went to university in Toronto, and can’t say that I found it to be anywhere near the utopia that Vancouver presents itself as.  Vancouver is considered by many to be the best place to live in Canada — a place where the weather is mild, snow is minimum, and the people are friendly, and helpful, and chatty and hip and liberal (and often stoned in public). Sounds good to me!

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We stayed at the amazing Sandman Suites on Davie, which is on the west side of downtown (and unbeknownst to me at the time of booking in the heart of the gay district). A great location on Davie Street with loads of bars, restaurants and shops, I’d recommend Sandman Suites whole heartedly because you get a kitchenette and a separate bedroom which is perfect if you’re travelling with a kid so you can stay up and chill in the living room while baby is sleeping in the room next door. Plus they’ve got a heated swimming pool which is a nice bonus!

 

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On Davie Street, the pedestrian zebra crossings are rainbow bright

The hotel also walking distance to the beautiful Stanley Park, a whopping 1,000 acres of public park land right next to the downtown area. So despite our jet lag, we decided to go spend the day there at the park, but being cheapskates decided against renting the $50 bikes for the day. “We are city people, we know how to walk for hours, no problem!” we said, foolishly. So walk we did. And it was fine until we realised we had walked almost to the furthest point of the park at Lions Gate Bridge, and now were too damn tired to walk back. Thankfully, one of the kind drivers of the hop-on-hop-off buses that tour the park took mercy on us when we asked them what was the best way to get back to the park entrance. Without his kind offer to sneak us onto his tour bus, who knows what we would have done! So my advice, if you don’t want to bike, or if the biking is too expensive and you’re on a shoestring budget, don’t walk further than you can handle!

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Siwash Rock, one of the icons of Stanley Park

Loads of dads rollerblading and pushing strollers

Loads of dads were rollerblading and pushing strollers

We only have five days in Vancouver, but it doesn’t take long for me to see why half of Hong Kong tries their best to move there. “Vancouver?” someone said to me once, with a dismissive wave of the hand. “That’s a suburb of Hong Kong.” And I don’t blame the rich Chinese for flocking to the city. Not many cities in the world can boast of having the perfect combination of city life and nature side by side. This is why, of course, you need upwards of CAD $800,000 to live there and buy a property, which is also why everyone there exudes an aura of well being and success. Money tends to do that, I suppose. CAD $1 million doesn’t get you a lot in Hong Kong, but you sure could live a sweet life in Vancouver for that kind of cash.

But, Vancouver is not all peaches and cream, as we discover one day while out walking.

First we ventured to the east side, to Gastown, a quaint old area of the city to walk around in, with cobble stoned streets, cafes, and trendy shops.

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Asian exchange students on a tour

Asian exchange students on a tour

From Gastown we continued to Chinatown to take a look, and much to my surprise found it to be a kind of dead area. The Toronto Chinatown is a big, vibrant, busy, bustling district, but the Vancouver one didn’t seem to really have any vibe. I suppose all the Chinese immigrants are in Richmond! All in all there is not much to see or do in Chinatown, so I’d suggest skipping it altogether.

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Street art in Chinatown

A minutes walk later we suddenly found ourselves in a dirty, dingy street, surrounded by homeless crackheads doing the methadone shuffle along the sidewalk and lining up for free clinics. We had accidentally walked through East Hastings — the dirty piece of gum stuck on the underside of Vancouver’s shiny new Manolo Blahniks. How do the poor and the addicted survive in the most expensive city in Canada? Coming from Hong Kong, it was quite shocking to see that such a valuable area of prime real estate was essentially much a big ghetto that stinks of piss. It’s not the kind of area you want to find yourself in at night, and even though it was only 4pm we got out of there as quickly as possible.

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Shh… don’t get too close… they want brains… braaaaains….

Thankfully, the downtown core is quite small, so in no time at all we were out of East Hastings and back in the shiny happy side of the city, watching the sun slowly go down over the kayakers at the aptly named Sunset Beach Park.

It was a short trip, and you can’t see that much in just a few days, but Vancouver certainly made a big impression of me.

I look around, and everyone looks so content. So relaxed. So healthy. It’s a far cry from the crowded, high-stress, noisy, polluted highrise chaos of Hong Kong. I breathe in the clean, crisp summer air, and imagine how nice it must be to call Vancouver home.

“Can we live in Vancouver?” I ask my husband, as an interracial gay couple strolls by, hand in hand. “Pretty please?”

Maybe we’ll find a way.

Up next — the summer trip continues to the Last Frontier, Alaska.