Wednesday, 30 November 2011

On the train to Portland

So it's been a while since I last wrote the blog (mum hasn't hesitated in pointing this out). Seeing as I got at least 8 months behind when I was travelling last time I can only think it's going to be a slippery slope from here on.

We're speeding (yes, it seems it is actually possible) towards Portland from Seattle aboard this salubrious Amtrak train with WIFI and plush seats. The snowy Mount Rainer lies to our left and is bathing in some winter sunshine.

From Victoria we headed back to Vancouver with BCFerries, sailing through narrow channels surrounded by the Southern Gulf Islands. We stood outside in the freezing cold wind, hands getting progressively redder in an attempt to spot orcas around the islands. Almost having given up as the ferry got into the more open waters after squeezing between Galiano and Mayne islands, I spotted about four orcas. We'd been thinking of going on whale watching tours in Tofino or Victoria, but didn't. Of course it was great to see some orcas again and just for the price of the ferry ticket!

Our time in Vancouver was not the most restful of experiences. Staying with Jenny's former flatmate Hope in her basement suite we were told when we got there that we would need to sort all our stuff out and pack everything into bin bags. The pest controllers were coming the following day to spray the entire flat against bedbugs with some noxious chemicals. Despite there being no evidence of bed bugs everyone packed all their clothes into bags. I resumed the mammoth task of further sorting some of mine and lots of Jenny's stuff to send home, throw out or deliver to the thrift store. In the morning I found my self vacuuming the living room. The housemates all had to leave for six hours before returning after the spraying. In the pouring rain, with our huge box to send back to England covered with a rain-cape, we trudged to the nearest post office. Pushing the box on a little trolley Hope has, with another box for the Salvation Army balanced on top, was quite the ordeal. We acted pretty quickly when it dropped into a puddle. We returned to the basement in the evening, I really didn't like the idea sleeping surrounded by the chemicals. It seems silly to be eating organic food or avoiding mobile phones, but breathe in these chemical fumes or as I've been doing- tiling and painting the walls in unventilated houses.

My days (and nights) were spent non-eventfully with sorting stuff, watching a few tv-show episodes, adopting strange sleeping patterns from these film industry bods, feeling like it was always night-time because it was so dark in the basement, reading travel guides, trying to plan our trip and going on a few short walks in the neighbourhood. On Saturday I went and drank hot chocolate and fed lichen to the reindeer at Grouse Mountain with Laura who I used to work with. I bumped into familiar faces and enjoyed a final ride on the skyride and soaked in the no longer so familiar view.

All the worries we'd had about crossing the border into the States with our B1/B2 visas (without having left North America) seemed to have been unnecessary. As the border officer looked at his computer screen and disappeared into a backroom we were a little concerned. However, all seemed to be alright. We did have to pay $6.00 each to cross the border though, which seeing as we've already paid a small fortune for these visas, added some insult to injury.

Not much has changed in Seattle since our previous visit, there still doesn't seem to be too much to do there. Our one and a half days was enough, although it might have been nice to see some of the parks or the chocolate factory (the first fairtrade and only organic cocoa roasting factory in the States) which were a bit further afield. At the Green Tortoise Hostel where we were staying we got free breakfast and a free spaghetti dinner, although how free this actually is when you pay $28 a night is questionable.

I had thought Vancouver was an expensive city and had a lot of homeless people, but it looks like Seattle is even more expensive and has even more homeless people. The homeless people in Vancouver are largely found in the one area, but even so there really do seem to be more over here. I'm grateful that England still has some social programs available for the homeless, although with the current government we'll see how long they last...

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