Disclaimer - Caution this blog entry contains mild/strong language, personal opinions, sexual references, honesty and heavy use of the word "Beaver".
Before i delve into my antics, I was speaking to someone about the blog and my experiences and they thought, I wasn't fond of America or Australia. To which I replied, "YOU MORON"
Let's start with a bit of land mass maths:
USA = Australia x 1.3
Canada = New Zealand x 36
Now for some fun/enjoyment experience based on maths - you wont hear that ever again!!
USA = Australia x 1.5 (loses points as I had to work and the ATO took too long)
Canada = New Zealand - kiwi exp ultimate fun people (so near enough on par)
As I'll be comparing my south and north hemisphere experiences, I'm going to abbreviate Australia and America to "USAus" and New Zealand and Canada to "New Canada" . Yes they are similar in certain elements.
Before I get lynched again for having an almost fully formed but legal opinion, but I very much like Australia, really, REALLY enjoy USA but I still love and whole heatedly adore NZ and Canada, just a preference, here's why.
From years of having USAus culture slipped into the everyday UK lifestyles, be it; tv programmes, films, music, advertising, public image, actual people who visit, other people opinions, whatever it may be. I still end up with a somewhat stereotypical, misconceived notion of what the people, life and culture will be like. I've learnt a LOT on this trip and as the old saying goes "don't judge a book by its cover" but what I like to say is "don't judge a book by its cover unless you're looking at a magazine"
So with that with my time in USAus, I had an amazing yet surprising time, there were some aspects I liked, loved and some I didn't. If you've read the previous blogs you'll know exactly what I mean. However with these two, I known roughly what to expect, when I got there, but still pleasantly appreciated it but was still hoping for more or something different.
Now with New Canada, there's nothing I don't dislike (yes that a double negative or am I tired while writing this?), plus I've got nothing to compare them to, from a simple coach potato prospective, my only references to life in canada are my Canadian friends, Due South, Ryan Gosling, my GameCube NHL games and The Air Canada adverts. While with NZ it was Flight of the Conchords and the All Blacks (insert drool here)
Moving on, there's something about both these places that's really appealed to me and I know what those elements are. Simplicity, Natural and Challenging.
Again before the pitchforks are sharpened and I'm blacklisted on USAus visa offices, I will explain what I mean, otherwise my attempts at being a writer will be futile (raise hand in dramatic thespian style)
When I walk through the streets on Vancouver and Queenstown, something grabs my attention that shouldn't grab my attention but due to previous media jobs I can't help it. I don't feel like I'm being bombarded with advertising and global commercial markets. I noticed even during a 10 km walk around Vancouver, where I walk along to the English Beaver Bay, head to the Stanley Park and walk along the Vancouver marina and rowing club to take 57 photos of the same boat formation, I've not got someone or something in my face selling or unnecessarily introducing themselves. Well other than my camera or my iPad where I can't pick between listening to Major Lazer or Major Lazer!
In Vancouver and especially Whistler,seriously I didn't see a McDonalds for miles, any other home or world known brands, Neither did I really care.
Another observation, I got the feeling that, it's a big city and there's a lot going on like other major cities but there's no tension or general stress feeling. I don't know what it's is but I walked near the business district and instead of being rammed by suitcases and have my foot stabbed by 6 inch killer heels, I got peace! I had to run into them to make myself known.
Along with this simplicity feel, the most simplest thing I got was a smile, not an OTT smile, forced grin or misery face, I actually felt genuinely welcomed and even engaged in normal conversation... WILLINGLY! Seriously whiten the skin, amend the race, give me a beaver and add glasses and I'm very close to being Daria. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aI4YaLJKFw4)
Before you alert the authorities, I know USAus have loads of national parks, monuments, mountains, natural settings etc, Ive just unfortunately missed as they've either been too costly, too far away or too touristy. With New Canada, the nature is just there and it's also famously known for it, I'm going to go back to my media example. From my fractured memory (blame alcohol and prioritising Simpsons quotes instead of general knowledge). my first normal images associated to america are food, cowboys, basketball, Hollywood and anything to do with any sitcom ever made, while OZ was Surfing, poor quality soap dramas, the Minogues and Fosters....... Brewed in the UK.
When speaking to the bus drivers from kiwi experience and Moose Travel, I asked "why do you not have many shows from this country?!"
One driver answered with "we just watch whatever america is watching really and most people use this country for filming, so we see the whole product anyway" while another answered "yeah it's not really important to us, when you have the outdoors and loads of beavers". These may only be personal opinions but it did make me think, this is why I don't really know that much about these countries as its not been shoved in my face via media. Also as the second quote mentioned the outdoors, yes all places have the outdoors but with these countries have on your doorstep literally, I've not had to go a massive hike to see the largest trees or book a tour. I'm staying in the HI Whistler and it's just amazing, it's surrounded by mountains, cabins, forests, lodges, a river can be heard in the background. So nice to wake up, make breakfast, sit on a balcony over looking the complex and seeing the sun just peek out of the green mountains, bliss.
One little known fact is that the village complex that I'm on, was once, the homes for the world's best winter olympics athletes that competed in Vancouver 2010. The hostel is pretty much a glorified artistic hotel, but with wooden bunk beds. Think cool runnings but without the comedy and you're pretty much there.
Maybe I've just been lucky in these countries to find these spots and unfortunate in others but I've grown to like more natural calm settings. If I want to be sworn and honked at while a tramp eyes up my Big Mac, I'll go back to London.
Also with the disadvantage of not having heaps of money or a car, plus the fact I really enjoy a good but manageable hike, I prefer to be close to attractions and Beavers. Why spend bare dollar (or in Canada I think it's bear dollar hehe) on attractions when it's all (repeat after me) on your doorstep!
Speaking of natural, one major thing that I love about the place is, the people, omg I don't feel socially awkward, I don't feel like I need to fit into a category or conform to a stereotype. When I was in america, whenever I spoke to another black guy they looked perplexed, that I wasn't American or I wasn't a London ghetto boi! Well to be honest most people seem to think that, but I'm from cul-de-sac in Reading, only ghetto thing about me is my cousins.
What's that squeaking, scratching sound in the background? Are you grinding an axe? Eek I better say this quick before I'm attacked.
Now just to clarify when I mean being challenged, I mean my thoughts of the place need to be challenged, I've learnt more about USAus than I thought, however I've been more surprised by Canada and NZ. Mainly because I've got no solid template or experience of these countries, so nothing to judge or expect.
Plus New Canada I've been on tours, made more friends and had more activities, plus I've not also been based in just a city, yes I know, it's unfair I know, but as Smother would say "That's life, get over it!"
As for personal challenges, I've had loads of them in NZ but now I have my money from the ATO, I can now do the ACTIVITIES I've always wanted to do.
I'm not the best with heights, know when you go to the edge of a small cliff or hill, I still look down and get freaked out but still have that odd urge to jump!
I seriously want a psychology course on how the mind and body reacts to the situation in this way......anyway back to blog!
I finally get to do a zip trek which I didn't get to do in NZ but was more concerned with fergnurgers and luging to pay for this extreme activity. So being in the black comb mountains and zip lining at 50mph at 2400 ft (30 stories) in the air, I couldn't care less.
Another personal challenge was just getting stuck into anything really, when people are genuinely friendly and the environment is calm, I feel more inclined to lower my walls and participate in anything really. Even when I booked my tickets with the ladies in the flight centre, I had a laugh I couldn't leave the office, it's even got to the point where they were all around me and telling me where to go. I even started to think about asking them out for drinks it's was that much fun. They unfortunately went out the previous night, which i could smell, so that wasnt a good idea.
So to my mystery mate, you know who you are (if you don't, put down the crack pipe), you have my answer in detail.
Right enough of that back to shenanigans - after another shameless selfie!!
So fresh off the greyhound bus, I decided to walk to my hostel which is on the main traveller/ hostel strip about 40 mins from the bus station. Normally I say get a bus or train but I would say walk this route as you get to go past the Vancouver BC, Marine Museum, riverside and it also gives you good feel for the city and it's great scale.
Well I say 40 mins but it took me 1hr 10, I was lost for 20 mins and I got caught up in the human traffic going to see cirque de solere.
So I arrive at Samsun backpackers (http://samesun.com/) and not only am I greeted to the answer to hooters, I'm also greeted by a large stuffed moose that towers over me at 6ft 7! This moose, is loose and aboot to fuck up this hoose!
Oh let's just clarify something, I've hardly heard the word about vocalised as "aboot",however after decades of ridicule from other nations, I think they've secretly abolished the word.
My first night there is quiet, I end up getting the best thing in the world.....a medium pizza and heaps of chicken wings for $10, now do you see why I love this country already and only after one city.
Now one issue I have with north america in general, is that they don't have handy travel/student shops located near hostels and to make it worst, they charge for all computer access. I know it's to stop idiots from downloading films but all I want to do is upload my San Diego photos......and download movies and music.
Now this hostel is just so cool, each door has a flag of each country, I got Ghana (racist) and know that Hugo boss model from San Diego, screw him, there's 4 of them here, catering to my every need ( For accommodation! ). Also they have an extensive kitchen, good chill out area and a bar called "BEAVER LODGE", actually there's just a running theme with the word beaver, I don't know what to do with myself..... In every sense of that phrase"
So swiftly onto day 2, I find myself town on what to do as I have a list of things and it all revolves around the next 3 weeks as, IM COMING HOME! After extensive Internet research, fluttering my eyelashes at the ladies in the flight centre and having to buy a new phone, I'm set!
I officially am no longer a smartphone user, they either leave me, run out of life or just die, I would make a relationship joke here but think the death thing will be more appropriate and realistic when I'm 80!
Anyway, I head to moose travel, which is linked to samesun and by lord do the staff know what they are doing, I think the sun got to the lovely assistant's head as she called Toronto, "Vancouver East"
After 2 minutes of giggling, she says to me "why don't you book the Island Tour, it's only $369 plus $110 plus vat?! " I reply " why don't you shove it up your....." NOOO I didn't say that at all, I did say "why don't you buy it for me and I'll give you an I.O.U?" ( I didn't say that either)
So after more giggling, I think they put laughing gas in this office, I finally book a whistler tour for $99 which include transfer, one night in hostel and activities. So basically it was kiwi experience on a smaller scale.
If you speak to Princess Fiona and Hanna Montana based in the Vancouver (east) office, I'm sure they will sort you out :)
I would highly recommend any of the tours from this company (http://www.moosenetwork.com/) as its operated by locals or people with extensive knowledge, it's good value, funny staff and you get to see a lot of good places to visit like Victoria, Jasper, Banff etc. I only did the cheap tour as I'm on a schedule and a budget.
The rest of the day involves me taking a 8km walk around the town and I have to say the ache in my legs were worth it. You basically need to head to the very north or the very south for the main attractions and activities. If you walk down Davie st or Beach Blvd, you come to English Bay and I'll say this, this is the best thing with the word "English" attached to it. Long golden beach, green parks, a barrage of cafes and bars and just an all round warm environment, I've never had some many people smile at me since I went to that nudist beach in Sydney.
Up from there is Stanley Park (http://vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/stanley-park.aspx), the 3rd largest national park in north america, with a host of hills, sports and rowing clubs and lakes, guess what one of the lakes is called.......BEAVER lake! You might get wet, if you fall in.
You can do this area by walking, rollerblading or bike and I have to recommend all three as its that good, you can pick up a bike and maybe a penguin from a bike shop on the corner of Dean st and 3rd (look at me sounding all American)
So next morning, I'm picked up from the hostel at 9 promptly, the lovely moose travel assistant, takes a pic of us and I'm told "behave yourself", which then gets one of the guys saying "so you'll be the drunk fun one then" uh rude (but true)
Whistler is about 88kms from Vancouver so it's about (aboot) 1.5 hours drive, however on this tour it takes 7 hours to get here as you'll have several stops on the way. First is Stanley Park, (wasn't I just here?!?) For group introduction and Itinerary. Again I cement my position as team muppet!
You then drive to a host of lakes, nature trails and waterfalls, I will add the names of these places when I sieve through my photos. You'll also have the chance to do a quick shop and a dip in some of the lakes as well and I really would advise using this shopping stop to get everything as Whistler is still under the impression that the olympics are still on!
We arrive at Whistler and oh my lord, it's like aspen or Austria ski resort but with sunshine and buff Canadians everywhere. For those of you that aren't keen on the cold and winter sports (I'm looking at you black people), this is where the 2010 Winter Olympics were held and it's all purpose built.
HI Whistler (http://www.hihostels.ca/westerncanada/331/HI-Whistler.hostel) is one of the many villages and hotels built for the actual athletes so right now I could be lying in the same bed as...... I have no idea who they are, it's cold sports, I don't know! Now prepare yourself for a slightly off colour joke ( yes another one) say "Hi Whistler" but now in a German voice, remind you of anything historical. Oh Germans, you know I love you!
Only bit of advice I can pass down is that if you have your own transport, well done, if not, you may have an issue with getting around this village known as Function Junction heheh! No seriously that's the name. Each village is a good 2 Kms from each other and even then the main village is 8 Kms, there is a bus service but comes every half hour and $2.50 one way. The next main shopping village is creekside which is EEEEXXXXXPPPPEEENNNSIVE, and as I mentioned, if you didn't get your food from the stopover you're a fool, A FOOL! Sorry ill calm down, come back! COME BACK!
However for this moose tour, you get the first night of accom and a evening meal for free and it's great. The hostel still feels like it should be a skiers hotel and the food was like being in a posh cafe, innit! Unfortunately all class died as soon as the group turned up and played drunk jenga, and considering I didn't spend much money I was "merry", oh yes that's right, on my night out, I was stalked..... By a cougar, now if she looked like Courtney cox I wouldn't have minded but it was more like Kate O'Mara but minus the class and more leopard print.
The main village, known as Whistler Village,yeah good one Marv, redundant much?!
This is where the activity magic happens and there's a lot, I mean a lot, it might actually put Queenstown to shame, eep I hear the Peter Pans office scratch blackboards with nails in disbelief!
(http://www.whistler.com/village/- look up activities and accom here for inspiration)
I'm not even sure if I can even go through all the activities but check out the website, there's loads of links there. I would say make sure you shop around as I just went for the first thing but they all seem to be around the same price.
However my own personal recommendations for events are:
- Ziptrek (make sure you do the eagle or mammoth package)
- Peak to peak Gondola
- Mountain cross biking
- WhiteWater Rafting (only recommended for beginners/ intermediate)
- Quad biking
- Bobsled/Skeleton/luge (winter only, although sometimes open in summer)
I mainly chose these for photo and atmosphere lovers, there's loads of breath taking views, good and helpful instructors and everything comes back to the village and you normally get a discount voucher for places as well.
Now, faithful followers, I have to confess I have a fear of heights and for me to do this was unreal, I'm stills acting to do that skydive. So to get over the fear I just did the highest and longest package they did, why not go full throttle?!
Ziptrek - http://www.ziptrek.com/
I'm with a group of random people who were not on my tour and strangely enough, each person was from each country I visited minus Singapore and Malaysia, freaky! So we get to the highest and longest zip line, it's also the FIRST line they do, jeez deep end or what? As the instructor says who wants to go around, everyone looks at each other in fear, I as the reflector/activist according to the profile summary from my last office assessment I did, decides to go first.
I get strapped up and the guy says "you can stop breathing so nervously" I squeal "it's the only way I can breath right now". You know what? I'm glad I went first, I did my imitation of the goofy cartoon shout and the views are INCREDIBLE! I looked everywhere and I mean everywhere. It was quite amusing seeing the other visitors coming through the line with shocked, adrenalin pumped, yet excitable faces.The rest of the zip lines involved me being going backwards, pretending I was batman, or when I was upside down pretending I was spiderman and even singing the 60s cartoon theme tune. SPIDER-MARV!
At the end of the course we end up at the main village, where the gondolas, mountain bike crossing, black bear and chairlifts are.........BLACK BEAR! Yes that's right, a black bear is on the main biking course and quite happily hunting for bugs and enjoying the shocked screams of bikers coming round that last high jump.
Little Segway, speaking of black bears, you can get your zip trek photos on a USB, in the form of a black bear called bob, who where's a hard hat and safety gear, even natures hunters need precautions, take note kids!
UPDATE - 20/07/14
Next major event, the white water raft, again something that I wanted to do since NZ. however I wish i had done it in NZ, as they are known to be harder and longer (hehe!) This course was only class 4 which basically meant there's a few chicanes, dangerous hazards and large chance of waves. It's still an amazing experience and worth the money as you see all the mountains and forests, even treated to a great BBQ and free photos from throughout the day. I would recommend this for beginners/intermediates. I was just hoping, I'd have more chances of falling out, waterfalls and the boat would cap size, yes i'm a sadistic little git! I would actually recommend this company (http://tagwhistler.com/) as they were professional, funny and good god it's just eye candy all around. They also arrange helicopter rides, quadbiking etc.\
There are harder rafting courses more towards south of British Columbia and Vancouver Island but couldn't find the info at the time, if I find anything, I'll keep it to myself, uh I mean share on this site. Right people this is a first, I've actually written a blog, the week I'm still in the area. I think a victory gin and juice is in order, good night :)
Before I go I'm going to leave you with an inspirational nugget
" It's not just about looking forward, sometimes it's about looking UP!"
So with that I passed the advice onto the German team in the world cup final, look forward but look up for that header into the Argentinean goal! GO GERMANY, you made Heidi Klum Proud