I’ll be blogging all the way, says I, handing the house keys to Helen, charged to keep a watchful eye on the postbox and plants in our absence. ‘Blogging all the way’, it transpires, was a boast too far.
For the first seven rapid-fire days, we barely had time to draw breath, let alone write a journal of any description. Only by day nine, climbing slowly and steadily up toward the Rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer – Vancouver to Whistler to Quesnel to Jasper – have I had time to both think and type. In between regular deliveries of exquisite food, fine wine and entertaining anecdotes from our hosts, Ben and Tania.
Setting off from our hotel each morning at 6.45am sharp, we enjoyed three long days of Gold Leaf luxury, with only tumbling meltwater, snow-capped peaks, trees (plenty of trees), newly-awakened bears, big-horned sheep and osprey nests to distract us.
That and the occasional staccato alerts from our hosts, breaking the mesmeric roll of our glass-domed carriage along the tracks. Coyote! Grizzly! Eagle! Gorge! Elk! Full moon! (Yes, we were indeed treated to a number of bared bottoms along the way, proffered for our entertainment. A slightly more risqué version of our wavers – see later).
And trees. Did I mention trees? Lots and lots of trees. And logs.
So here goes… Canada Place and a sea front promenade for a history tour and a virtual flight over Canada, followed by a 360 degree bird’s eye view from the Vancouver Lookout: check. Cable car up Grouse Mountain for stunning views, lumberjacks, bald eagles, vultures, hoary marmots, squirrels and a pair of bears called Grinder and Coola: check.
Stop by Capillano Suspension Bridge for tree-slung walkways and a wobbly crossing of a deep, deep gorge: check. Vancouver Art Gallery: check. Leisurely bike ride through the green space, sea views and totem poles of Stanley Park: check. Shopping: check. Fit Bit foot falls? Off the scale.
Ferry to Victoria, Vancouver Island, via Butchart Gardens for a severe case of garden envy – and a moment of truth for the Gremlin (roughly translated as ‘OMG, What happened to me? I’m on my holidays, walking round gardens. And enjoying it.’): check. Whale watching: check. Afternoon tea at The Empress – where even the non-tea drinking Gremlin sampled the delicate rose-flavoured leaves billed as a favourite of Princess Diana: check.
The $26,000 marble polar bear in the extremely high-end Empress art shop, or the exquisitely carved wood burl, a snip at just $14,000? Definite rain check.
Yomp to the far end of the harbour, water taxi sprint across the bay and floatplane back to Vancouver: check.
Rocky Mountaineer: check.
And now Jasper. Phase Three of the adventure.
‘Wavers’, it seems are a regular feature along the Rocky Mountaineer journey. On their verandahs, by the road, on bridges, hanging from car windows, daily they wait to greet the passing carriages with a wave.
‘An interesting species of people’, says host Ben. ‘Not spectacularly busy.’
But so devoted are they that a couple of years ago, the marketing department invited them all aboard the train to enjoy the trip for themselves, from the other side of the glass. Quite how they were identified and contacted wasn’t clear. Can’t help but wonder whether they too had their own band of wavers.
Enough to make you scream
Shocked and saddened to see Manchester headlining not just the news, day on day, but every conversation we enter into, half way round the world. Everywhere we go, everyone we meet – whatever their nationality – on hearing we’re from the UK, asks if we ‘know Manchester’. The horror is universal. But so is the empathy.
There may be a great deal wrong with the world at the moment, but the warmth and common ground of so many concerned strangers, from around the globe – the realisation that there are many, many good people out there – makes it very clear (to me at least), that there is so much more that is right with it yet.
The Manchester Arena will recover. So, I guess, will Manchester. But my heart goes out to the families of those who died and to those who suffered life-changing injuries. They never will.
Hottest topic this week, next to Manchester, had to be Trump. Still gasping my way through Trump Revealed, and addicted to the late night musings of Stephen Colbert et al, it was fascinating to eavesdrop on the two American couples sharing our cable down to Whistler, discussing American presidents past and present – but mainly dead – and the US electoral system in general.
‘He’ll end up in jail,’ said one of the two gentlemen of their esteemed leader, with some conviction. Turned out the other gent was the brother of Terry McAuliffe, current Governor of Virginia, a Democrat and active campaigner in Hilary’s run for office. (You just never know who you’re sitting next to in a cable car!) So maybe it was more than idle speculation? I did suggest going round in the cable car once again, to continue the discussion, but they didn’t bite.
Over lunch on the Rocky Mountaineer, a lady from LA mused that ‘the world must be laughing at us’, hoping against hope that impeachment would come. And soon. Hanging out on the train vestibule, a Pennsylvania man wondered why nobody had yet taken a shot at Trump. And new friends from Minnesota recalled their horror and disbelief, the day after the election, on hearing Trump had triumphed. ‘What did we DO?!’ they asked. The ‘we’, they made clear, being the country as a whole, not them personally. They were Democrats. Hilary’s people.
The consensus seems to be, first, that he is completely bananas, and second, that he won’t stay the course. Ill health, boredom, impeachment, crazed assassin, a gathering descent into dementia… one way or another, he’ll go. But then there’s Pence…
But hope for an imminent downfall, I fear, may be premature. The extent to which that odious, ‘tiny, tiny man’ pushes people out of his way, both literally and metaphorically, to get what he wants, is alarming. But it’s nothing new.
Biographers Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher recount how, years before The Donald’s rise to popularity with The Apprentice, journalist Mark Singer had written in The New Yorker that Trump had ‘achieved the ultimate luxury, an existence unmolested by the rumblings of a soul’.
By his own admission, Trump wants to win and will ‘do whatever it takes to win’. Over the years, he’s had any number of failed investments and bankruptcies, made disastrous business decisions, taken enormous risks, ridden roughshod over anyone in his path. Yet somehow he always comes up smelling of roses – and richer – the only losers those foolish enough to trust, support, believe or invest money in his projects.
Cross his path and he will blacken your reputation whilst suing your pants off. Or simply plant a row of trees in front of your house, obliterating your view. Or build a two-storey hill at the end of your garden so every time it rains, your road becomes a mudslide, as he did with those who dared stand up to his Scottish golf course land grab.
And, speaking of bananas, there was Gord, our extremely chirpy, irrepressibly amiable, Chinese driver and host across to Vancouver Island – a shining example of the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, mutually respectful society which Vancouver displays with pride and which seems such anathema to Trump for his own country.
‘Here in Vancouver, I’m a banana’, said Gord. ‘You know what that is?’
‘Born and raised here. Born and raised! Yellow on the outside, white on the inside! Like a banana!’
I’m not entirely sure we’d be forgiven for using that particular sobriquet back in the UK, dining out at in a city centre Chinatown, but Gord was unrepentant. Fiercely proud of his heritage. Fiercely proud of his city. And he’s not alone. 47% of households in Vancouver are Chinese speaking. Up in Quesnel, we heard, 90% of the early Gold Rush prospectors were from China.
Yet even Vancouver, Gord’s home town, has had its moments, in a story still echoing further south.
In 1914, a Japanese steamship arrived in the harbour. On board the Komagata Maru were 376 passengers from India, who had travelled via Hong Kong and Shanghai, every one a British subject, legally entitled to settle throughout the Empire. But Canadian officials refused them entry, using a law requiring immigrants to arrive direct from their country of origin. It was a law specifically designed to keep out people of Asian descent.
Two months later, the ship was still in harbour. Conditions aboard were squalid. They had no option but to leave, assisted in their leaving by the combined muscle power of the police, their armed deputies, the army and the navy.
An abiding symbol of intolerance and bigotry, described as a ‘dark chapter in the Province’s history’, the Komagata Maru seems a million miles from the Vancouver we saw. In 2008, the government apologised for the incident, resolving that ‘such a disgrace will never happen again’.
Highlights so far?
For the Gremlin: the Butchart Gardens and everything about Grouse Mountain. For me: the virtual ‘Fly Over Canada’, clamped into a seat, twenty feet up, the sights, sounds and seasons of this beautiful country playing out beneath our dangling feet as we soared like eagles across mountains, waterfalls, glistening lakes and rolling forests. Breathtaking. Literally. And also misty wet in parts!
And the Rocky Mountaineer, of course.