Cultural Experience | Vancouver

Five Days in the Pacific Northwest

You never really appreciate your hometown until you come back from traveling

During spring break late late March, I bought a round-trip train ticket to Seattle, Washington and then snagged a bus ride from Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia. On this journey, I spent two days on the Pacific rails and asphalt , a day in Vancouver, then hopped back on the bus and train the next day to get back home to Los Angeles, making it a five-day getaway.

On this trip I learned much about myself, the different regions of North America’s Pacific frontier and the people that call this part of the world home- just like me. I met people my age, the most memorable being Mason Matthews from UCSB, and we spoke about traveling, history and literature all day and into the early hours of the next morning. Mason spoke about his travels through Europe and in the Caribbean, explaining to me that he never really appreciated his hometown until he came back from traveling. Our conversation resonated in my mind as I set out for Vancouver, BC with just a backpack, and a pocket full of cash.

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After spending the day on the train through the thick of Oregon, I finally arrived in King Station, Seattle, after midnight with only ten minutes to get my bicycle from baggage claim before the bus set out for the three-hour drive to Vancouver. Spending thirty five hours on the train to Seattle, I was happy to stand on the Earth’s surface again, but as exited the train, the driver yelled “Bus leaves at 1:05am sharp,” so I needed to move fast. My first time ever in Seattle, I watched the downtown districts sleep under an eerie fog as the bus onto the 5 ( or I-5, as non-Californians say).

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When we arrived in Vancouver I thanked the driver and hopped on my bike, rode down the block to a hostel where I slept for a few hours before waking up at daybreak to explore the town. That morning, I set off for Granville Island to have a salmon and eggs breakfast. Expecting the place to be humming with a morning rush, I entered a sleeping marketplace with only one or two shops open. Man, I thought, for 8am this place is awfully quiet. I was so accustomed to early morning LA commuter activity that finding a place filled with shops and no humans in sight was a rarity. Finally finding an open cafe and reading a map during my meal, I decided to take a ferry across the bay for just a couple of dollars and bike through Stanley Park. I discovered the park was traced with bicycle paths, forestry and friendly people.

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As a low fog seeped through the bay park, everyone smiled as I rode by, and for a boy living in Los Angeles his entire life, friendly people and chilly weather was pure heaven. Stopping often, my lungs and calves were reminding me that I was in no shape for an intense ride like this. By the time I reached the northern tip of the enormous park, I crossed a Lion’s Gate bridge into Northern Vancouver where my legs finally gave out. (Oh well, I’m in Canada and nobody knows I’m a wimpy amateur cyclist from LA.) I watched as the city pulsed during an afternoon rush hour and called the cycling quits. I caught a bus eastward to Deep Cove, a small town along Indian Arm Bay.

I couldn’t quite grasp what kind of town Deep Cove was: quiet and cold but very friendly. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find out that many horror films were shot in Deep Cove. The looming fog resting in this silent bay village gave me the chills as I coasted through the empty and lonely main street. Shops and cafes had their doors open, but I didn’t see a single soul walk along the sidewalk. Since the town was a bit quieter than most, I spent my day in the deep woods, which was basically the backyard for Deep Cove residents, and found myself walking amongst towering pines, flashy ferns and a thundering creek. The entire day, the sun hid behind the fog, but when I reached the epicenter of Cove Forest, the sun split through the thick fog, the thousands of pines and into my eyes. For a person that is typically in blazing sunlight, I enjoyed the natural warmth that I’d been missing since I arrived.

Luckily enough, on my way back down I met a woman at a kayaking store who said I was very lucky to be in Vancouver that day because it was the first time the city had seen the sun in a couple of weeks. My lack of sleep started to take a toll so I jumped on a bus, which was packed with high school students, back to busy Vancouver.  The lady I met just moments ago wasn’t kidding about the scarcity of sunlight in this town. I reached Downtown Vancouver at 3 p.m. As I raced through the hectic town with hundreds of other cyclists and drivers, I was engulfed in the energy of the town. Business men and women pacing to tall corporate buildings, people smoking blunts at stoplights and a Hendrix-like vagabond guitarist soloing at the train station.

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When I got closer to the hostel, I stopped to get Chinese food in a tall, old building on Main St. Burned out from the trek across Vancouver, I chowed my meal on my bed and fell fast asleep. I woke up around 8 p.m. and headed downstairs to the basement to have a beer at the bar. It was an older crowd at this bar, a bit tough too, and after having a Heineken, I Yelped some bars around the area and walked a couple of blocks down to Narrow Lounge- it had good reviews. The entrance was behind a major building and I stepped into the small, dim and crowded room where maybe thirty people sat around tables and at the bar, talking, laughing and enjoying their drinks.

I  ordered a bourbon, took a seat and started to talk to the couple who just sat down beside me. We introduced ourselves and immediately clicked. They were in town for business, originally from Alberta, and were just shocked to see a 20 year old from Los Angeles spending his evening at this hidden bar. “How’d you find the place? Nobody knows about it!” Though I should have given credit to Yelp, I just laughed and ordered another drink. We spent the entire night at the same spot talking about cultural differences between the U.S. and Canada until I headed back to the hostel and bed. After taking some selfies, I told them how happy I was to meet them and how they made my first experience, not only at a bar, but at a bar in a foreign country, so awesome.

It was almost midnight and my bus back to Seattle was scheduled to leave at 5 a.m. the next morning and I needed rest.  As the bus exited town towards the U.S. border I watched as the city started its day and thanked the town for an amazing experience. I met a woman on that bus. She was going to Portland. She was originally from Wisconsin and moved to Oregon to start a career in massage therapy and told me the same thing I heard from Mason back when the journey started: she didn’t realize how much she loved her home in Wisconsin until she finally left; she cherished the feeling.

For the next two days on the train, I kept this idea in my head and realized that I certainly did miss home. But I was only gone for five days and I couldn’t imagine actually moving away and starting a new life elsewhere. That’s what I took from the five day trip along the Pacific frontier- can I actually adjust to living far from home? Even for a few weeks or months?

Ultimately, I will never know until I try.  I was not the only one on the train that was thinking that way.  After picking up a new crowd in Portland, I met Steven from Pennsylvania who came to the West Coast to visit Portland in the hope to land a job and kick off his career in political science. As the sun set over a sea of pines in the middle of the Cascade Range, we talked for hours in the observation car of the train about our careers, photography, and the feelings of being away from home.

When we reached Sacramento, I no longer felt like the only Hispanic in the county. And when we entered the Bay, a new crowd boarded the train and I started to hear the word “like” more often. Sure enough, during this stretch from San Francisco to Santa Barbara I knew for a fact I was in liberal Southern California as I heard conversations about women’s rights, the drought, GMOs and the importance of organic foods ringing throughout the common area. Re-entering the world of bronze tans and expensive flip flops, I was eager to get back home to my friends and family.

When I left Los Angeles at the beginning of the week, I looked at the downtown buildings and the L.A. river and thought that I wouldn’t miss it, but after all I experienced and learned during that period, I replayed in my mind the wise words I learned along the way from my train companion, Mason, and the Wisconsin woman that I didn’t formally introduce myself to- leave your home and you’ll learn to love and appreciate it even more. When I finally got off the train and stepped foot in smoggy L.A., my natural instinct, just like another Southern Californian, was to head straight to In-N-Out Burgers and order a Double-Double with fries.

Robert Lemus

California Polytechnic State University | 1 story

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