Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Vancouver Island Experience

My Dad has lived in Canada for 6 years now and moved to Campbell River, Vancouver Island a year ago with his wife Wendy. He had been asking me to fly over to Canada for more than a holiday for a few years, and having graduated, I thought I should take up his offer. Faced with more months stacking fruit and veg and Nigel moaning to me about 'nights not doing enough', it wasn't hard. So thanks Nige. I originally looked into getting a work permit, but found out that in order to get one, you need to have a job offer. And of course it isn't easy getting a job offer for Canada in the UK. So I thought F*ck it, I just booked a flight for January 1st and flying back to the UK on the 28th May and I will do some voluntary work.

Before I came, I had a bit of a cough and a chest infection. Yes Mother, yes Charlotte, I should have listened to you both but that would have been sensible. Because I didn't go to the doctor in the UK, thinking it would clear up (as I'm NEVER ill), when I got to Canada it only got worse, and this resulted in me having to fork out $66 to see the doctor (in Walmart, seriously) . So after touching me up and down, and asking me to breathe in and out (I thought I already did that automatically) he gave me some antibiotics, and so I spent my first few weeks on Vancouver Island mostly resting.

I didn't know what to expect of my temporary new home, but I was more clued up than Gary from work who told me not to come back as a 'Queer French dude', not sure where he got that misinformation from, or that it would snow the WHOLE time!! (A few people). Well it did snow, a few times but the weather changes quite quickly here. Only twice was I woken up at 530am by my Dad to clear the driveway so he and Wendy could get to work.

My Dad's house is massive, the houses here are generally cheaper than in the UK as the land isn't as scarce, and of course there are a lot less people here. He shares it with his wife, and Rosie and Farley, a St Bernard and a Scottie dog. Rosie is a big clumsy dog who delights in running up to you, and wiping her stalactite like drool all over you. So I knew I was going to have lots of fun with her.

So after getting better, I took a few trips into town. It took an hour to walk into Campbell River, and bear in mind this  is a town with a population the same as Altrincham (but 5 times larger) but you don't mind if you're walking along the ocean when it isn't too cloudy. From my Dad's lounge window, there is a beautiful view of Mount Washington if you look forward, and a big forest to to the right so I never got tired of looking at any of that.

So I arranged an appointment with the voluntary organisation here in town, and I had a few volunteer placements I was interested in. Due to me having to get a criminal record check done, and this taking a month or so to come back, I wasn't able to start volunteering until late February.

I kept hearing lots about the wildlife here, including bears, whales, cougars, wolves, coyotes etc but for the first month or so, it seemed like there wasn't anything as the most I saw was a rabbit at the side of the road! Anyway one day, I was looking after Rosie and Farley and whilst I was lounging around on the sofa on the computer, Rosie comes running into the lounge visibly distressed and whining, and then I heard something drinking her water in the kitchen, where she had just come from. I thought it must be Farley, but then I noticed him sat on the with no idea of what I would do if I came across a bear (probably scream and tell him I didn't want to die) I crept up slowly to see what it was, and noticed the kitchen door was open. I had a quick look around, couldn't see anything, so closed the door but was still shitting myself! Especially when I heard a sound from the other end of the kitchen, I jumped out of my skin! At the time it had sounded like a little animal about to jump out at me, but then I noticed it was just the printer! (You wouldn't appreciate how much a printer sounds like a chipmunk unless you had witnessed this!). So I told my Dad and Wendy what had happened, and after laughing at me, they concluded it had most likely been a cat. But then I still don't think Rosie would have been scared of a cat, so the mystery deepens.....

So I eventually got a few volunteer positions- one was helping out with a community garden, but the most I did was attend meetings there. I also started volunteering as a tutor helping to train retirees the internet, computers etc. I realised how hard it is teaching something you do automatically to someone who is scared of turning on a computer in case they blow up the world, or to an elderly lady who thinks you operate the mouse the same way as a remote control. Here I met some wonderful people, such as the project co-ordinator, Kat, who does a wonderful job, and many retirees who were genuinely interested and amazed at the power of the internet (One lady actually gave me the biggest smile and an "Ooooh!" EVERYTIME she double clicked on something and it opened up; She almost had an orgasm when she got her first email through.) So that proved to be a very rewarding experience.

My other 'job' was at the alcohol and drug information society in Campbell River, where I was asked to make the organisation and its services appeal more to younger people. Bit hard when the majority of your material is 1980-1990'S VHS tapes!! So I honestly felt as I had gone back in time here. Anyway, throughout April and May, I updated their website, and put them on Facebook, Twitter etc, made a database on the computer, and introduced the organisation to the 21st century!!

The majority of my exploring of Vancouver Island was done with my good friend Adam Hindmarch during his 2 week holiday here. First I met him in Vancouver, where we spent one night and then half the day there, I saw enough to know that I would love to live there! We then went to Victoria, which I loved also. We went to the fantastic museum there and watched a film, 'Arabia' at the IMAX. As we were there for 3 days, we asked some ladies at the museum whether there was a zoo in the city. One of them replied, "Well there's a petting zoo....with goats." I questioned her some more and it was established there was JUST goats at this zoo. I think my look of total disappointment said it all! From there we rode the Greyhound (a Canadian coach service, not the dog breed) with a drunk man who wanted to be everyone's friend to Nanaimo. The Nanaimo Hostel was in stark contrast with the luxury hotel we had been staying in Victoria. Despite it being a bit of a dump, we had a fun time there, largely due to the fact we were sharing the facilities with several rednecks, the highlight being their argument when the lady redneck walked in on the male redneck on the toilet. Female redneck: "I just pushed the door open a lil' to see if anyone was in is all!!". The fact that they continued to argue even after she walked off and he was still on the bog was hilarious. We also met a South Korean who wouldn't reveal his age and seemed to spend his entire time cooking and then eating food. He was doing one of these activities EVERYTIME we saw, whether it be morning, afternoon, evening or night!!

We then had another Greyhound trip to Campbell River, where we passed Fanny Bay, to much amusement!! We then spent a few days looking round Campbell River, where Adam was drowned in Rosie's drool every night!! We also took the ferry across to the nearby Quadra Island, where we shared the nicest pizza ever and had a look at the nicest view on the island (April Point).

Tofino was the setting for our next adventure, where we spent 2 nights. Unfortunately it rained practically the whole time, but this is one of the best places to go on the island. Adam didn't get to see the whale on the whale watching, as he was vomiting out the side of the boat at the time! We also did the Hot Springs tour, which involved travelling to an island that resembled Skull Island (from King Kong) and walking along the boardwalk in the rainforest for 30 mins, although thankfully we didn't meet any tribes wanting to eat us, or a massive gorilla! That night we headed out with a guy we had met on the Hot Springs, for Tooney Tuesday, and met a young Roy Keane, and lots of Canadian girls loving the English accent, one of whom I remembered promising we would join together to solve global warming! The next morning, hungover, we had a 6 hour bumpy Greyhound ride back to Campbell River to enjoy. Before he left, we treated Adam to two of Campbell River's best tourist attractions: Elk Falls, and Dick's Fish and Chips! We also walked a few trails in the forest here.

I also had my cousin, Charlene over for a week and so we went to Victoria and Tofino again, and thankfully we did get to see some good sightings of whales this time. On the way back from Tofino, we saw a bear by the side of the road but by the time we had got out and walked over to it, it had gone (Maybe a good job, didn't fancy getting eaten that day).

I didn't miss much about the UK, apart from my family and friends and the lack of politics media. I went to the supermarket hoping to buy some magazines I might be interested in. All I could find was women's Hello, Heat like mags, with silly headlines on the front cover like "Who's gay and who's not", accompanied by pictures of very famous hetrosexual celebrities!! I couldn't give a f*ck!!! Thankfully the wonderful Charlotte sent me over copies of my New Statesman subscription a few times, which is an excellent publication. I was also able to satisfy my politics addiction with watching Questiontime, 10 O'Clock Live on Youtube, as well as reading Tony Blair's autobiography and 5 other books during my time here.

One of the highlights of the trip was going to do some labouring on East Thurlow Island, inbetween Vancouver Island and the mainland. There I was moving bricks, 40kg bags of cement and shovelling tonnes of gravel. In return I got breakfast and 2 great meals each day, and a great experience by driving an ATV along the boardwalk, as well as catching crabs and then eating them.

I am heading home tomorrow and feel indifferent, as there are people and things I love in both countries, but I have made some great friends and contacts in Campbell River, and I will be back!!! I am so grateful to my Dad for introducing me to Canada- It has increased my confidence and cultural awareness. It has broadened my horizons by exposing me to a different culture, and it has made me learn different ways of doing things, with different people, and increased my appreciation and understanding of the wider world. I now have the urge to go and work in lots of different countries for the rest of my twenties!!

So that's left to say is thankyou for my Dad and Wendy for putting me up and showing me your wonderful country, and to Adam and Charlene for coming to Vancouver Island! Thankyou to Charlotte for understanding that I needed to do this, she is a little beauty!!

Jack x

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