“Coddiwomple!’

It’s fascinating what we are learning about ourselves and about each other. Situations we’ve not encountered before are showing us things about ourselves we did not expect. Back home in Sydney I had been living a regimented life, whilst Paul had been laid-back and unruffled. So it’s a huge surprise to be experiencing this ‘role reversal’…

We had been staying with Aunty Ruth and Leonie in their beautiful little paradise just outside of Longview, Washington. After not seeing each other for over 30 years, it was simply amazing to catch up for a few days. Time with them at their home in the forest was soul food – chatting about ‘the old days’ when we were kids, cuddling puppies, watching the squirrels and hummingbirds or fishing in the creek were such beautifully simple pleasures.

Paul and I had agreed to leave this morning around 10am hence I anticipated a relaxed departure, so I was surprised when he became fractious last night that we had not planned our route for the following day or secured the next night’s accommodation. A heated debate made us realise that we were simply approaching the journey differently. Paul was stressed at not having a fixed plan and I was stressed at being committed to planning. We spoke at length and with much laughter about our observations and feelings on this journey – fascinated at what we were discovering about ourselves and each other. The upshot was that we decided to take a more ‘relaxed’ approach to our journey, planning less, allowing more random ‘discovery’.  We agreed on a general destination South and a route which would take us through the State Park towards the 101 coastal road. Although we had decided on less planning and fewer ‘rules’ we agreed about looking for accommodation by the early afternoon if we had not secured accommodation ahead.

“You’re shitting me!” Paul said surprised, via the Sena intercoms in our helmets. I was leading our ride at the time, so had seen the ‘Welcome to Longview’ sign a few seconds before Paul had …and my mind was reeling. Paul’s exclamation pointed out the ridiculous and the hysterical: We had left Longview hours earlier and Paul had recently just said “we must be nearly there”…referring  to our destination South along the coast.

We pulled into the nearest garage to refuel and struggled to contain ourselves, we fell about laughing. Checking the map we were incredulous to realise that we had been riding for hours in a perfect loop which had brought us back to Longview! The ‘loosely planned’ ride led by me had been simply spectacular and Oregon is amazing, but we had made no progress in terms of heading South. The irony was also not lost on us that considering the time of day by then, that sticking to our ‘rule’ of finding accommodation by early afternoon that we should really just head back to Aunty Ruth and Leonie!

We discovered a lot today. It’s obvious I should plan more or not lead any more rides and Paul said he had the best day, getting ‘lost’ with me and being random. We eventually made our way South (with Paul back in the lead) and decided to stop at Seaside and look for accommodation. We found a hostel which is basically a beautiful shack on the beach. It has prayer flags strung about and the poster at reception says: “Today’s Word: ‘Coddiwomple’ – To travel in a purposeful manner toward a vague destination.”

Amazing Alaska

A tour guide told us that the United States bought Alaska from Russia for around 2 cents per acre. As I sat chatting to Lisa, a Russian lady who ‘escaped’ to the US, I was mindful of the irony that this spectacular wilderness once was Russia and now is part of the US…

We traveled to within a few kilometres of the 60th Parallel North, daylight starting around 4:30am and ending around 10:30pm. The nights extremely short, so not ideal for seeing the Northern lights, but this did not deter us from trying. Despite the icy cold, we had spectacularly sunny days all week. Experiencing the wilderness of Juneau, Skagway and Glacier Bay left me craving more, longing to venture further north and staying longer. We watched a documentary on the Alaskan interior and eskimo history and I was overwhelmed with emotion…the beauty, harsh wilderness, human tenacity and the realisation that this is where the world still is largely as God originally made it, untouched by man’s greed.

There are 100,000 glaciers in Alaska and we experienced a few. In Juneau we hiked to Mendenhall Glacier and in Skagway we took a boat across Chilkoot Inlet, then a bus to a camp in the spruce forest, hiked to a river, canoed to a lake in the Tongas National Park, then hiked some more across silt left by the retreating glacier, to eventually stand on Davidson Glacier. We revelled in Alaskan experiences: sang with a cowboy in the Red Dog saloon in Juneau, sampled spruce tip beer in Skagway and marvelled at the tidal glaciers of Glacier Bay, where huge chunks of ice break off into the ocean. We noticed ice flows drifting past when we woke in the morning and a few hours later stood watching in awe as pieces of the Grand Pacific Glacier smashed into the ocean with a roar. The John Hopkins and Reid Glaciers were just as spectacular.

I asked Paul what he was thinking, as we sat on the balcony watching the magnificent wilderness pass by. He was thinking about the irony of all the fuel the ship had burnt, the plastic cups consumed and the waste created… by us coming on this journey…

I shouted: “Whales!” and we all stood up and gathered at the window to see a pod of Orca, blowing and showing off their white bellies as they surfaced, then dived. This is how the conversation with Lisa started, this shared experience and excitement created a type of intimacy that got us really talking. We had been lying on loungers in the Spa, which has a 180 degree view of the ocean and we had been discussing the wildlife we’d seen: sea otter, sea lion, whales, a pod of dall porpoises (which look like mini Orcas!), bald eagles, wild mountain goat, porcupine and a myriad of bird life on the ocean… but as yet no Orcas. It was not very long after saying how much we would really love to see Orcas, that we actually got to see them!

Lisa was very excited to hear about our journey on the bikes, our focus to “just say yes” and shared that she felt destined to meeting Paul and I. She went on to explain: She had been a doctor in Russia but when she arrived in the US with a paltry $500, she needed to find another way to make a living. She had built a new life and had not stopped working, until this trip which was to eventually rest after a life threatening illness. Her husband has been asking her to stop working, but she has felt unable to do that, because of fear that she may never be able to work again. She acknowledged how irrational her fear is, in light of their financial security and that she had been meditating on that reality during this journey. We spoke at length about fear, about our health …about love, time and opportunity. Lisa shared that meeting Paul and I had encouraged her about exploring new possibilities.

It feels wonderful knowing we may have inspired another life but what I’m most mindful of is being reminded of ‘the power of the spoken word.’ I’ve always believed that what I say in my life is what I create in my life. Not long after Lisa and I had voiced our dream of seeing Orca, was when we actually did…

With people from over 60 countries on the cruise, we enjoyed many interesting conversations – asking people about their countries, their lives and their views. It has proved a powerful approach, telling a stranger that we do not have a point of view on their local affairs, that we are simply curious to hear about their reality and their thoughts. A conversation that stands out for me as most thought provoking was with Dave from the conservative South – he voted for Trump and whilst he’s concerned about a few things Trump says, he’s confident that he backed the right candidate. He appreciated us just listening …to his story, his concerns and his hopes. Dave believes that ultimately all we really need to do in this world to ‘repair the mess’ – is to take time to truly listen to each other and try to understand.

 

Welcome to the USA!

As I write this I’m sitting at the front of the ship, with a 180 degree view of the ocean passing by as we cruise towards Alaska. It’s a wonderfully meditative way to reflect on the past 6 weeks and all we’ve experienced, seen and learned.

One of our main thoughts has been how our VISA limitations do not allow for adequately exploring any country and how tough it has been deciding how to spend the time we do have. Ask any local for advice and you get so many conflicting suggestions – you end up just deciding based on what your gut feels is right and knowing you can’t possible see and do it all… Our main approach has been avoiding cities and tourist destinations where possible, preferring nature and off the beaten track. That having been said, we’ve enjoyed experiencing a number of typical ‘tourist’ attractions, such as the Boeing Manufacturing Facility in Everett, near Seattle, Washington and Whistler in Canada, B.C.

Our greatest joy thus far has been the people we’ve met and spending time getting to know individuals, being allowed a glimpse into their lives and communities. We keep our minds and hearts open and have marvelled at discovering so many new ways of living. We’ve had to learn to accept the many offers of help and get out of our own way in terms of our mindset which has been erring on the side of politely declining. An offer of a futon in the lounge becoming the greater gift of sharing a special moment in the lives of an amazing family. Alex and Kristi have been hosting us near Seattle and storing our motorcycles whilst we cruise to Alaska. The best way to describe Alex is “a massive 6 foot 6 of energy, enthusiasm, generosity and mischief!” He has laughed at our naivety and curiosity as we’ve been exposed to things we’ve never experienced before such as gun shops and weed shops. He has enthusiastically helped us with last minute preparations and showcased his neighbourhood, including a trip to the local weed shop, which has been sheer fascination.

As we arrived off the ferry from Canada we passed the first psychedelically painted weed shop. I wanted to stop for this ‘rare’ photo opportunity but was soon agog when this became a regular occurrence – weed shops or pot shops are all over Washington State, as recreational marijuana is legal! It is common to see road signs saying “don’t drug and drive” whereas we are used to seeing signs saying “don’t drink and drive” in Australia. In British Columbia, Canada we had often smelled weed in public places. Chatting with locals we were told it is ‘tolerated’ and ‘not enforced’, although marijuana is currently still illegal. New laws have recently been passed towards legalising marijuana in BC.

In Washington State in the US recreational marijuana has been legal for about 2 years and Alex showed us the stats in terms of dollars generated for the State in taxes and the money made by growers and retailers is astounding. We debated the pros and cons endlessly and found ourselves talking in circles about informed adult consent and ‘other addictive and harmful drugs’ such as alcohol and tobacco, which have been legal and widely accepted for ages across the world. Interestingly the local laws stipulate that you cannot advertise cigarettes, yet bill boards advertise recreational marijuana – as a result of regulatory considerations for marijuana still being in early stages.

After reading more about the marijuana trade in WA, we realised that regulatory frameworks, branding and marketing is what it’s all about. We found outstanding examples of brand loyalty created through clever marketing campaigns. Amazingly consumers are informed by and invested in marijuana brands. I found it really bizarre to experience something I’ve only ever known as ‘illicit’ – suddenly so openly accepted and talked about. Visiting a weed shop in WA out of curiosity, I was acutely aware of my emotions and thoughts…’personal views on marijuana use aside…in another place I’d be committing a crime for what I was doing in Washington State.’

 

 

 

Canada is just too cold…so we’re heading to Alaska!

It’s a month now that we’ve been on the road and can count on one hand the days it’s been ideal for riding. We’ve had to ride at times out of necessity, but in insanely crazy weather, so mostly we’ve been hunkering down, waiting for the weather to improve. Our reality is that Canada has experienced the worst winter in decades, delaying Spring by about 2 months and frustrating our plans for traveling North. (As an example of the extent of the delay, friends who did the same trip a year ago were by now riding across the Rockys.) We are constantly monitoring the weather North and it’s not improving so we’ve made the really tough decision to head South. We are just not prepared to risk riding extensively through snow, across these vast distances.

Through Help-X we are currently working on a free range chicken farm on the South West Coast of Vancouver Island and having a blast! Clara, Crispen and their children Juniper, Jasper and Camelia are wonderful, as are their farm dogs Indigo and Lucky. Lucky growled at us for arriving on bikes wearing helmets for the first few days, but we are now close friends, through bribery with treats. Help-X assignments have offered us the experience of living Canadian lives, just for a moment and it’s been a great saving too, in terms of accommodation and food.

The farm is insanely spectacular, heaven in fact, located in the forest on the top of a mountain near Sooke with views across the ocean. Our duties are varied – feeding and watering chickens, collecting eggs, fixing the swing, carting fire wood, planting potatoes, gardening and building a stone wall for a strawberry patch…oh and reading to the kids! I’ve had many moments of reflection about my dad and the things he taught me as a child when we lived on a small holding. I did not appreciate it at the time, but because of him I know how to look after chickens, build a vegetable garden and a stone wall…

We have found the manual labor meditative and relaxing and we’ve loved seeing what we’ve achieved! Today Paul and I went into town in the truck to get cement from the hardware store. It was great fun to experience riding in one of these massive trucks, driving on the right (wrong?!) side of the road and seeing the massive hardware store which had lanes to drive your truck through, depending on your need. (We are used to things being much smaller in Australia and getting out of our vehicle to push a trolley through Bunnings!)

We work until 2pm, so with the long days this grants us about 4 hours for exploring each afternoon. We’ve loved riding through this area, which is incredibly beautiful and with much milder weather. I’ve yet to succeed at fishing, but Paul has mastered the art of catching a nap at lakes and rivers whilst I try yet again. We rode up to Port Renfrew yesterday and it was a beautifully clear (yet freezing!) day – offering us spectacular views across the ocean of the United States.

A few nights ago we were debating what to do, considering the weather. I am really longing to experience Alaska, so my disappointment at heading South instead of North was huge. Crispen offered advice and mentioned ‘last minute deals’ on Alaskan cruises out of Seattle. We struck gold – managing to get a ‘last minute deal’ on a cruise to Alaska for 80% off the usual price! I laughed at the irony once we’d secured our booking…saying: “Canada is just too cold…so we’re heading to Alaska!”

 

 

Flying with eagles

We explored the north of Vancouver Island for a few days, meandering through coastal villages such as Campbell River, Telegraph Cove and Port Hardy. Telegraph Cove’s tiny community of 20 was a former fishing village and sawmill. Today you can hire one of the original wooden houses which stand on stilts on the edge of the ocean. Each house has a plaque outside, relating it’s history and taking you back to primitive and harsh times. It’s a prime tourist spot now because of its accessibility to ecological reserves, where you can view orca whales and bears. We were fortunate to have been allowed to view the whale museum, despite it being under renovation. That’s where we saw giant whale skeletons and a bald eagle display.

From Port McNeill we chose a logging road to get to Port Hardy and being off the beaten track gifted us our first bald eagle sighting in the wild! To see them up close and in their natural habitat was simply Devine!!! The bald eagle is the national bird of the USA and quite impressive, being the largest raptor after the condor. It’s body is about a metre tall and it’s wingspan about two metres wide. Our first sighting was of a juvenile and its parents, then we saw so many more eagles flying above us as we were riding over the coming days…

Our accomodation in Port Hardy was a backpackers which served the most divine tea, the host saying he was very familiar with Aussie, Kiwi and British tourists. He advised us about things to explore, so we set off first to visit Fort Rupert, a First Nation Reserve. Totem poles are prominent all over British Colombia, but in the reserve we saw them in their most common forms within the community. They’re monuments created as signboards, memorials or genealogical records. We saw them outside homes, the community hall, in front of the school and in a grave yard. They were relating stories and it was just a taster for the history we were to learn about later at the museum in Campbell River.

Campbell River Museum is a little gem in an idyllic setting, with stunning views of the ocean. We loved walking amongst the exhibits, reading and learning about First Nation history and marvelling at how unfairly it plays out in comparison to Settler history. We touched a tree stump which was over 1000 years old, another story played out unfairly due to logging.

We crossed the 50th Parallel in Campbell River, the circle of latitude 50 degrees north of the equator. It was a reminder of just how far we are from home…>12000km… the long days and cold weather testament to that!

Paul reflected on how prominent the eagle is in the First Nation art and totem poles, saying he could relate to it’s overwhelming beauty and power. It was simply incredible for us to see so many of these beautiful creatures in nature, looking up at them flying ahead of us as we rode along…feeling like we were indeed flying with eagles.

 

‘Badass’ women

At last we were gifted a few hours of sun and we headed towards the bikers’ must-do route – Highway 4 to Tofino. The conversation amongst bikers a few nights ago had been weather proof gear. We had been shopping for heated vests and were discussing the importance of having the right clothing for the insane weather conditions in Canada.  Every conversation with a Canadian includes “this has been the worst winter in decades…it’s never been this severe… spring’s never been this late…” and ”you should see how amazing Canada is in summer!” Claire had just got back from a freezing (and treacherous!) 250km ride from Tofino in the pouring rain. She laughed at us and said: “My footwear is weather proof. I wear two pairs of socks, then put plastic shopping bags over my feet and duct tape them at the ankles before putting on my boots!” Claire then offered to ride with us along Highway 4 to Tofino…

Highway 4, also known as the Pacific Rim Highway,  traverses Vancouver Island from East to West Coast, snaking around lakes and across the spine of the Vancouver Island Mountains. We stopped for a walk at Cathedral Grove, a magnificent stroll amongst giant Douglas Fir and Red Cedar. The oldest tree is over 800 years old and the biggest Fir 75 metres tall. As we walked I chatted to Claire about her solo motorcycle trip through parts of the US, in awe of her bravery. I asked her how she dealt with the challenge of completing such an adventure alone, saying that it would scare me. “One kilometre at a time…” she replied and we were soon discussing how that philosophy is such a metaphor for tackling any of life’s challenges or indeed, any of life’s dreams. In Africa we have a similar saying, which comes to mind: ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time…’ It’s not about tackling the whole thing at once, it’s about simply ‘getting going’.

There are no words to adequately describe the majesty and beauty we experienced on our ride to Tofino. Claire and Paul rode ahead and I described to them how they looked like motorised fleas riding a ribbon of road, compared to the sheer size of the snow covered mountains and vast lakes. The road was windy, bumpy, steep, narrow and with sheer drop offs in many places. There was so much rain and melting snow that water literally ‘smashed’ in frothing white torrents through the granite canyon. I felt quite overwhelmed and emotional, actually teary, at the majestic beauty all around me and at realising just how small and insignificant we really are as human beings.

A dear friend (Ken) has ‘famously’ said: “Driving a car, is like watching a movie. Riding a bike is like being in the movie.” You physically feel every thing, every change in weather conditions, smell every scent in the air. You’re vulnerable and super alert to everything around you. It’s exhilarating, exhausting and an insane sense of freedom. Add to that the gift of majestic terrain and you’re starring in movie heaven…

We were discussing how amazing the ride was and I said how grateful I am for the experience. “You’re so badass!” Claire told me, saying she was amazed at how I’d had the courage to pack up my life to come on this journey. In reality I’m a fearful cautious woman, who simply knows how to get going.

Someone else’ shoes

“Living here, Salmon have taught me not to be afraid of death. I’ve watched them as they showcase how they live their final moments… when they know ‘it’s time.’ They live in the ocean all their lives yet when ‘it’s time’ they make their way back to where they were born. It’s a last fighting struggle to head upstream, up waterfalls, against the current. They’re emaciated and dying, yet they fight on, heading upwards…having sex for the first time in their dying moments, so the cycle goes on. That’s how I would like to approach my own death…and hopefully having sex for a final moment of ecstasy as I say my goodbye.” Laughing, this is how Serena answered my question with her story about Salmon and the beautiful stream in her backyard.

The other life lessons she’s shared have come from Mason Bees. Paul and I are working at Monika and Serena’s Organic Mason Bee Farm, in Courtenay on Vancouver Island. It’s a HelpX exchange of work for board and lodge and getting to live like a local, experiencing another life, walking in someone else’s shoes. When I was a child my father kept bee hives on our farm, so I am very familiar with farming bees for honey. I’ve discovered there’s so much more to bees than honey…and slowly I’m also discovering an alternate way of life.

Mason bees are solitary and do not have a hive. Every female is fertile, there no are no worker bees and their sole purpose is to be pollinators. Our timing is perfect, because it’s Spring, time for the bees to emerge from their winter cocoons and the bee farm is in full swing. Drinking home made organic blackberry-merlot wine to stimulate our creative-thinking we had a fun-filled evening of assembling bee nests for the Farmers Market.  On Saturday we set off early, to sell and share the story of the Mason Bees.

The market was beautiful and something unique. Paul and I had a wonderful time sampling the local delights: honey vodka, chocolate truffles, medicinal mushrooms, water buffalo yoghurt, blackberry-merlot champagne, turkey sausages, caramel waffles, strudels, pastries and cheeses. We sat on the grass listening to the band, watching people go about their usual Saturday morning lives. Paul reflected on how wonderful it was just sitting there, not focused on doing anything, but just being there, just being present. With a cheeky grin, he said: “That’s what we were made for after all, that’s why we’re called human ‘beings’ and not human ‘doings’…”

Paul’s comment was lovingly aimed at me, encouraging me towards my greatest lesson which is learning to enjoy every moment, to stop focusing on achieving and getting things done. Serena had spoken about the very same thing when she explained how the Mason Bees had taught her about the liberation of not working in a hierarchy, for a queen bee. It seems they’re designed to go about their lives on their own terms. Unlike honey bees who serve industrial agriculture, mason bees go about their lives solo, just for pollination.

Paul and I are enjoying spending time with locals, walking in someone else’s shoes, so to speak. For us this journey goes beyond seeing the sights, and spending time with locals is granting us an understanding of alternate ways of life.

 

 

Focusing on the destination, or the journey?

It was below zero and late at night in Cheakamus when we stood naked out in the forest. Arms stretched to the moon and inhaling the scent of cedar, I had accepted Paul’s ‘dare.’ Teeth chattering, I was also the first to buckle and scamper back into our cabin’s warmth.

Our prior discussion had been heated, had been hard. Two strong individuals at the outset of a journey – discovering new worlds as much as ourselves. Being confronted by challenges amplifies our weaknesses as much as our strengths and Canada’s extreme winter this year had frustrated our plans. With a myriad of options of what to do next Paul suggested we start with ourselves and answer the question: “Are we focusing too much on the destination instead of the journey?”

Defining the journey we wished for ourselves was a profoundly intimate discussion and a very special moment for me. Articulating what we value we realised many things. We value experiencing people over places and it’s those experiences that count, not simply reaching destinations pre-set in our minds.

So we decided to stay awhile and do some local exploring, then head back to Vancouver Island until Canada warms, before attempting to head north to Alaska. It has been wonderful to slow down and open up to what’s around us. Yesterday we enjoyed an afternoon picnic on the pebbly banks of the Cheakamus River, fly fishing and snacking on salmon, crackers & cheese and a bottle of British Colombia red. Today started with a fresh dusting of snow and after a breakfast of pancakes and bacon we explored the back roads. Riding ‘till the dirt road ended and I was just too wet and exhausted from falling too many times.

Journeys are a bit like making loving. If you’re too focused on the destination rather than the journey, you often stand in your own way of ‘getting there’ I think.

 

Breathtaking, rugged and wild

The town mayor was on stage, wearing a cowboy hat and introducing members of the band: The local accountant on trumpet, estate agent on drums, school counsellor on saxophone…and so it went, a band of locals gathered for the night. Then they started playing – oh boy! what a band –  there was hardly a bum left seated, most got up and danced. Invited by our hosts near Squamish to watch the ‘Blues-berries Band’, last night we were educated on how Canadians party!

Earlier that day, with no alternative to packing the bikes in the rain, we had left Vancouver in the foulest possible weather and I was exhausted from not having slept the night before.  But simply NOTHING could dampen our sense of excitement and of being alive – because after a year of planning, we were finally “actually on our way!!!”

The Sea to Sky Highway was spectacular, as we cautiously made our way towards Whistler. Our first experience of the insanely wild weather was a shock to the system. No amount of reading about it could have prepared us for actually riding loaded motorcycles through torrential arctic rain. The scenery was simply magnificent, breathtaking, rugged and wild.

Today we were gifted with a most spectacular day – clear blue skies which showcased Canada, the most insanely beautiful place. We rode out to Whistler, eating burgers for lunch as snow flakes gently floated down on us. Stopping at a view point on the way back, we saw two other bikers and as is customary, greeted each other as old friends would. Carol and Richard invited us home, offering some spare parts they had from a previous overland trip which may come in handy for our journey north.

Our experience of Canadians is that you could not find friendlier, more courteous or generous people. Paul and I are loving the way each day simply unfolds, holding plans loosely, soaking it all in.

Horror in our backyard

I don’t presume to know all the facts or answer the questions left hanging. What I can share is what we saw and what we felt. It is a subject so incredibly sensitive and complex, so I approach sharing our experience with a great deal of respectfulness for the lives lost.

Our morning on Friday started with final preparation of the bikes. Paul was getting them ride ready whilst I packed and brought him cups of tea, as he was forced to work in the rain. By midday we were set, so with some time to spare we decided to walk and see a bit of Vancouver.

We had been told of a great coffee shop in downtown, so headed there first. Being Nina’s birthday, I thought it would make a special birthday gift if I could find an instant photo shop to make prints of the portraits I had taken the night before. The barista told us the way and we headed off Downtown East…

We now know from Wikipedia that Downtown East is “notorious for its open-air drug trade, sex work, poverty and mental illness, homelessness, infectious disease, and crime.” The decline is allegedly due to a combination of things: ‘an influx of drugs, de-institutionalisation of mentally ill people and no funding for social housing.’

Respectfully, the best way I can think of how to describe what we experienced is ‘like walking through a zombie movie’: People staring vacantly as they cowered on a sidewalk, scratching themselves raw, rocking and moaning at demons in their head or shouting abuse at something only they could see. It reminded me of the time I worked in a psychiatric hospital, but these people were more vulnerable and out on the street. I noticed a man holding open a door, as he ushered two others inside. As we passed and the door closed, I noticed it had no handle on the outside. Shivers ran up my spine and I felt fearful for those who had entered. It was distressing and confronting to witness these scenes, feeling helpless and anxious for someone’s daughter, someone’s son.

We found our way to the waterfront, where we stood in awe of the view across the bay – snow capped mountains in the mist. We walked and walked and walked some more, talking about what we had seen earlier, trying to shake it out of our heads.

In the evening we spotted a little bar which looked nice. As I stood outside looking at the menu a man arrived, came over to me and said: “I highly recommend you join us, the food is great and I should know, as I’m one of the musicians playing tonight!”

We had a wonderfully relaxed evening, listening to the band playing jazz and drinking a beautiful Australian Shiraz. During a break the lead singer came over, saying hi to the crowd. He identified us as hailing from Australia but once he heard more about our journey we soon became “mini celebrities” being introduced to other locals. He presented us with two of his CDs and copious hugs and smiles.

Going home our thoughts were about how very differently two worlds played out today. At the station we spotted a poster advertising the ‘Take Home Naloxone Program’. Naloxone is an antagonist medication that reverses the effects of an overdose of opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, codeine or morphine. Wikipedia explained the context: “As of 2017, critical issues (in downtown Vancouver) are an epidemic of fentanyl overdoses, a shortage of low-cost rental housing, and a high prevalence of severe mental illness which often co-occurs with addiction.“

Even now, our thoughts are still very much about what we had witnessed the previous day. It had simply been so confronting, seeing so many lives lost to addiction and in the cold, out on the street. We concluded that the problem likely exists in our own country, albeit it on a different scale. But perhaps as ‘locals’ we just never venture out to places where we’d see it like we had.