Disclaimer: these travels took place in 2012 and therefore might not represent the current locations with absolute accuracy.
When I arrived in BC at the beginning of June 2012 for my two week backpacking trip, I was really grumpy.
I didn’t want to be grumpy, but I’d just been on a six hour flight from Montreal via Air Canada (increasingly my airline nemesis for its poor service), and although it was only midnight local time, my body was convinced it was 3am.
Still, stepping off the plane and wandering through the airport to gather my backpack, I couldn’t help but grin happily at my surroundings. A year ago, I’d come here for a week long stopover on my trip back from Australia, and even though I’d been desperately sad to leave the land down under, BC had cushioned my landing back in the reality of my home life.
Living abroad in Australia for five months made me realize I needed to live abroad again at the first available opportunity – preferably teaching ESL – but I couldn’t do that until I graduated university in two years. At the time I couldn’t stand waiting two years before I went anywhere though – the thought of staying grounded for so long broke my heart. And so, as a compromise, I’d promised myself that next year I would come back to Vancouver.
It wasn’t worlds away, but Canada’s a big country and can therefore give that illusion.
So it was that I found myself in YVR Airport that humid June night in an airport that smelled like pine trees and musty earth.
I caught the Sky Train, having written down all the instructions I needed to get to my hostel in my tiny red moleskine agenda. I’d arrived just in time: service ended just before 1am. This, I calculated, would get me to HI Hostel downtown by about 2am.
What I hadn’t counted on was the route delay. The lines were in repair, skipping stops that were under construction with a mandatory transfer halfway through.
At the time, I wasn’t super comfortable with directions – and not having a phone with data at the time, I was relying on the shoddy wifi connection of my iPod touch. If there wasn’t any available wifi (which in 2012 was often so), I couldn’t guarantee that I would make it to my hostel.
Thank God they have 24 hour check in, I thought, glad of choosing the slightly more expensive hostel for this service.
After a nerve-wracking number of reroutes, detours, and seemingly endless waits at stations with the doors open (me checking furiously in my tiny red moleskine agenda the whole while for things that I recognized from the directions I’d scribbled), I was able at last to get out at my stop. There had been a touch and go moment for a bit when we’d all had to leave and no one seemed confident that another train was in fact coming or whether the service had ended for the night.
But ultimately it was all alright. My knees trembled with joy as I exited at my stop, Vancouver City Centre, much as a seasick passenger scrambles to land.
I was feeling a lot more confident. Exhausted, yes. Still marginally grumpy, yes. But capable of overcoming obstacles.
And so I set off towards my hostel.
In just fifteen minutes I could be in bed, my brain placated me as my body ached from fatigue – this was now well past my 4am.
The streets were empty, wet from rain that was threatening to return by the bucket full. I trekked upwards, having forgotten how hilly Vancouver was. My backpack – an awkward metal framed contraption that used by my mom in her backpacking days – swung on my shoulders. Each step threatened to overbalance me.
I wondered now why I’d been so excited to bear this heirloom. It was impractical in that the pouches held virtually nothing while the metal frame arched behind my head like a steel rainbow occupying an unnecessary external volume. Literally a weight on my shoulders I didn’t need.
These thoughts circled in my head, distracting me from the strenuous march.
Until I got to a street cross section and realized I had no idea where I was.
What? How was this possible?
I peered into my tiny red moleskine agenda under the glow of a streetlamp, conscious all of a sudden of the shadowy figures marking out other pedestrians. Particularly of the small groups of men walking or smoking in dark doorways. I didn’t want to seem like a tourist looking for directions, so I angled out of the lamplight to conceal myself (not that my backpack gave it away or anything).
As I scanned the sketchy map I’d drawn, my insides dropped. I’d gone the wrong way. Not just taken a wrong turn, but walked all the way in the opposite direction for a good twenty minutes.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, I cursed myself as I turned around and walked down the hills I’d just hiked. I’d have had a strong inclination to kick something if I hadn’t been so wiped out.
Men in dirty clothes and baseball caps leered as I passed by the Skytrain station for a second time. I tried to assume a casual expression on my face, like I stroll down the streets at 2am with a ludicrous backpack all the time. With each deep, calm breath, I told myself that I was imagining their eyes on the back of my head (which I was – I looked behind me a few times and saw no one looking).
Finally – finally – I saw the familiar cross street where my hostel would be waiting on the corner.
There’s something downright divine about catching first glimpse of your hostel whilst traveling. You spend so much time cross referencing between places to stay, reading reviews, and booking your beds that by the time you actually see it in person it feels like a god/dess manifest. Certainly it seemed to glow as a sanctuary to me that night.
Praise the hostel gods, the 24 hour check in was real and I was able to get my room key in no time. By this point, I was just about ready to cry big anime tears of fatigue, gripping my key like a life preserver.
I headed up to my room, trying to be as quiet as possible. Though that didn’t stop one of my bunk mates from telling me off when I got into the room.
“SHHHHHHHH!!” came the hissing noise from a black silhouette sitting suddenly bolt upright in bed. “Some people are trying to sleep!”
“Sorry,” I whispered. You and me both, I thought wearily.
There were lockers to the side of the room, but I didn’t want to risk clanging my backpack frame again the thin sheet metal and enraging my roommates any more. Instead I grabbed my pyjamas and toothbrush, splashed water on my face, and climbed into the empty top bunk back in my room. I was asleep almost instantly.
I really hope tomorrow is better, I thought.
Luckily for me (spoilers), it was. It ended up being one of the best trips of my life.