This guest blog is written by Lieve, Olivier's mother, after our we celebrated the holidays together in Vancouver
It is an annual ritual, just before Christmas, with the Christmas tree rigged and the winter more or less in the country, I watch the movie 'I'm dreaming of a white Christmas' from 1954. My family know that they have to leave me alone for a few hours. Not to be afraid of missing something - I know the movie inside out - but my emotions have become too predictable, I don't need any witnesses. The same happened last December, on a dark Friday evening, under my fleece, enjoying nostalgia. Not knowing that happy snow, snow, snow, snow would become my mantra a few weeks later.
The countdown calendar starts in August, when we plan our trip to Vancouver, still 132 days. Olivier and Zoë resumed their WeLeaf project at the end of February: cycling, hiking and canoeing through North America; with Canada as a major destination. We thought it would be worthwhile to visit them there, after Patagonia in 2017 our second big trip. We get a extended travel plan, prepared by what we call ‘WeLeaf travel agency’. On Christmas Day we can finally say: tomorrow we will see them again!
Being welcomed by Olivier and Zoë in the arrival hall, after almost a year of only online contacts, it remains a magical moment! And immediately the start button of our Canada adventure is pressed. Metro, walking, ...: looking for our first airbnb. Three days in Vancouver: the city surrounded by a mountain range lying on the Pacific Ocean. To mention: in 2020 Vancouver wants to become the greenest city in the world!
We explore the city with its beautiful bridges and skyline; cycling with the tandem through the immensely green Stanley Park, take a look up giant trees. We hike in the mountains near the city, with the first snow ... the pedometer makes overtime! We spend the evenings on local entertainment. Vancouver’s light festival - majestic - and an ice hockey game of the Vancouver Canucks; exciting until the last minute, with a victory for the home team. During the few moments in our airbnb, we play Codenames, and during the course of our trip it becomes clear which team is the best match ... (tip: like father, like son).
Sunday December 29th we leave Vancouver city; there are 4 island days on the program. The rental car first takes us to the MOA, museum of anthropology. We learn about the lives of the first natives, the indigenous population, about the importance of trees/wood for their survival and their beliefs/traditions. Unbelievable what they could build with wood! We stop en route to admire immense trees again, nature is overwhelming.
Then we take the ferry to Vancouver Island, the crossing takes an hour and a half. We stare at the waves, hoping to spot a whale, knowing that it is the wrong season for that, but never say never…
The first place to sleep on the island gives us, parents, the opportunity to experience the WeLeaf way of life ourselves. We end up with Angus and Karen, a couple that Olivier and Zoë never met in person. The welcome is warm, they are very hospitable, it looks like we known them for years ... We spend the evening together, Victoria by night - traveling in the winter gives many 'by night' moments - is even better than Vancouver, we think.
The goodbye the next morning makes clear that we will keep in touch.
Our program takes us to the west coast of the island, we are going to stay at the Pacific Ocean. During the car ride we pick up our present for Olivier and Zoë: a box with questions, conversation topics that might otherwise not be on the table ... The four-day trip on Vancouver Island is therefore also very personal, the conversations during bring up a lot of thoughts, moments to to cherish!
It does something to you, the first look at the Pacific Ocean ... the weather is starting to change, a storm has been predicted. Hooray, stormwatching is also on our bucket list!
The cabin in Ucluelet, close to Tofino, where we will also celebrate New Year's Eve is a hit. Zoë knows for sure: I want a house like that when we settle down… The local specialty - salmon, more red than we ever saw - is grilled on the BBQ, delicious! The water rat in me is also spoiled, an oversized bubble bath makes us forget the cold / wet days. Not that we really suffer from it. The quote 'There is no bad weather, only bad clothing' proves itself here; we never had so much rain during a holiday, we never had so little trouble with it ... Stormwatching is a phenomenon, although it’s not a big storm, we are still very impressed. The only drawback: the planned New Year's dive is impossible. I am prepared, but I have to limit myself to a photo in a bathing suit, in the storm, not in the waves ...
New Year's Eve starts with the final phase of the thousand classics of radio 2, a popular chart at the end of the year in Belgium. A sense of home in a place far away from everyone we love. Long live internet (and long live kids that are so handy with that).
We cook ourselves, everyone takes a dish for his account. I upgrade my famous chocolate mousse with fried banana, I surpass myself! And off course we have salmon. We receive messages from friends who celebrate New Year's Eve together at home. Long before our "happy 2020" they are already toasting. The nine-hour time difference is really a lot! Our promise: we will stay home next New Year! We keep our family tradition on New Year. You make a "New Year's letter" for your name your drew. In her beautiful letter for me, Marlies introduces a new word: Lievekestijd (Time for Lieve) - time to spend on myself. Olivier gave us goosebumps with his cover from Stef Bos ’Papa'. Believe me, the text hardly had to be changed. I let Simon fill in a crossword puzzle, Maxim is teased with his beard that grows every day, Zoë gets a new knife (it will prove very handy the next few days) and Marlies is surprised with photos from the old box. Ignace has a nice text from a book for Olivier. The story 'Traces in the sand' is striking, also Olivier's tracks (as well as those of Zoë) will be visible forever.
We leave Vancouver Island and go to Squamish. The last activity will be a two-day hike in the snow. There appears to be a logistical problem: no taxi wants to take us to the starting point of the hike. But remember: no problem is unsolvable! For the first time in our lives we buy snow chains, the man are happy with this. Packed ready, snowshoes - no boots, but snow rackets - included, we end up at the start. We meet like-minded people, there is talk of avalanche danger, snowstorm ... I trust Olivier and Zoë, ...
What follows is the most beautiful, sporting, toughest and most exciting thing I have ever done in my life. Believe me, my 100 kilometer hike in 2012, on the other hand, was a walk in the park. The first day is a steep climb to the plateau, halfway we have to use the snowshoes, and then, up and down, another 6 km to the mountain shelter. Eventually hoping to see the tip at every turn. Endless ... but what a satisfaction on arrival! We install ourselves as quickly as possible on our wooden bed (luckily with a sleeping mat), crawl into the sleeping bags to warm up and sleep for an hour. Olivier and Zoë do everything for us. There is no running water in the hut, there are pots and pans for cooking, you take snow at the door ... A second logistical problem: we did not bring cutlery ... spaghetti with red sauce ... not as handy as finger food. Zoë solves this, she cuts - with her new knife - spoons and forks from a package. It works, the heat is gradually softening the material, but by that time our stomach is already filled and the pan is empty. Occasionally we have to go outside, the toilet is ten meters from the shelter; it's clear that tough weather is coming ...
In the evening we play Codenames again. The other people - we share the shelter with about twenty persons - are busy, one more quieter than the other; but at 10 pm it is quiet ...
The next morning we know what the night brought: a fresh pack of snow of more than half a meter. We do not yet see the impact of this in the dawn, but it is clear that the "hiking trail" is gone. Fast, fast ... Olivier and Zoë want to leave first, then you have to find and break the trail - indicated by long orange sticks - yourself. Their winners instinct comes up! This trip is incredibly difficult because of the snow and the strong wind. And certainly because I fall very often, maintaining my balance appears to be very difficult. Hilarity for the one, tears for the other ... I think several times: I will never achieve this! But there are compensations: a beautiful nature, everything white, wherever you look a fantastic scene appears! And the support of the others makes it doable for me. So that I finally conclude: I am not old yet (if you leave two thirty year old hikers, who just thought to pass our group behind, you can say that).
The last few kilometers it is constantly going downhill, and that is more my kind of terrain. Almost whistling we end up back at the car, where the snow became rain and it’s very slippery, long live the snow chains!
The way back to Vancouver is one of the most beautiful routes along the ocean here ... too bad that it is raining again and there is little scenery to admire. We suggest that Vancouver should be beautiful in the summer, but would not have missed our snow trip!
Our last evening / night we allow ourselves some luxury. A hotel in the middle of the city, with a room on the 24th floor ... what a view! We enjoy the swimming pool, the luxury beds and a very nice restaurant. Olivier and Zoë’s future plan come on the table, up to them to share them.
The next morning we have to pack, luckily there is still time to admire the skyline again from the bridge, this time under a bright sky. What a nice farewell to Vancouver!
The farewell is relaxed and easy - we are clearly still tired from the last days. And very important: sadness is not appropriate here, we are too happy for that, too content, ...
Olivier and Zoë,
Thanks for this ‘get to know Canada' trip, we experienced what and how WeLeaf travels.
What we remember from this trip:
- Every problem can be solved. - We are not old yet. - You are even more extreme than we thought.
On to the next big adventure!
See you on Christmas 2020.
Lieve and Ignace