Vancouver – Verdant & Winsome (2010)

Vancouver – Verdant & Winsome (2010)

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As our ferry from Victoria, an idyllic town in Vancouver Island just across the bay, glides unhurriedly towards Canada’s mainland, thickly forested islands, with occasional smoking chimneys peering out of the foliage, line up on both sides. This seems quintessential Pacific Northwest, untamed and unharmed by modern civilization or so it appears.

The ferry drops us off at Tsawassan port and we take the skytrain to Granville Street in downtown Vancouver city. The first glimpse of Vancouver city from the skytrain window is hardly inspiring. The forest of firs and pines has been replaced by a forest of towers, mostly housing blocks, followed by even more towering offices and businesses, all in glass and chrome.

Until we take the trolley bus to northern Vancouver the next day, that is. Just 10 minutes from downtown, we drive through one of the most impressive public parks in all of north America — Stanley Park — sprawled over 1,000 acres of dense, tall trees, including douglas fir, cedar, pine and maple, form a thick canopy overhead through which sun’s rays stream in shafts. The trees are several hundred feet tall and as many years old. The trails through this natural forest-turned-public park promise adventure.

The trolley bus drives through the Lions’ Gate Bridge spanning the estuary of Fraser river. Gossamer mist drapes around the mountains on both sides like a tulle scarf. The bus drops you off at Capilano suspension bridge, the most-visited tourist spot in Vancouver. The entry fee is a bit stiff at about 31 Canadian dollars each, but as you saunter in through the courtyard ringed by spectacular totem poles, Pacific Canada’s signature — we see them everywhere in Victoria as well as Vancouver — the slender, swinging bridge slung across a gorge simply takes your breath away. Each totem pole harbours a secret — like the mosquito pole that reminds you of the revenge taken by a cannibal whom the villagers managed to defeat and murder. He was simply reborn as a giant mosquito to torment the villagers!

Fidgety kids (and juvenile adults), who rush on a rocking bridge, are promptly shooed off by an alert forest guard as the wire-netting is only thing that stands between you and the yawning canyon below.The suspension bridge is quite narrow, allowing only two persons to pass through at a time, much longer at 450 feet and is slung over a canyon so deep that it is guaranteed to induce vertigo in all but the hardiest. Motorcycles and cattle are not allowed entry! Capilano stream meanders sensuously like a snake 220 feet below the wobbly bridge.

Once past the bridge, it is a veritable parade of trees, some over 1,000 years old! There is even a grandma tree, which, at a ripe old age of 1,300 years, stands tall with dignity. A canopy walk – a misnomer, because you never go high enough to see the canopy, you are only at lower trunk level all the time — takes you through parade of ancient trees with gnarled roots. Tree houses built strategically here and there give you a vantage view of the forest all around. It is dark down here – the foliage above is so thick that it blocks out all sunlight.

Vancouver is referred to as Raincouver by the locals, which is one reason why the forest is so lush. A steady drizzle coaxes out banana snails — so named for its bright yellow colour and thick body shaped like a banana — and other insects.

In the evening we saunter into Granville Island, a magnet for visitors and locals alike. It is a craft-cum-produce market where the artistic and the indigent hang out, displaying their wares and skills. Accessed through a confusing maze of bridges, flyovers and underpasses, there is little chance of getting lost in Granville Island. Bagpipe music played by a handsome bearded man in kilts gently guides you into and out of this maze. There is something for everyone here. You can have your fortune told, ride a merry-go-round, or simply watch street plays or acrobatics. There is an abundance of fresh produce — brightly coloured bell-peppers, strawberries and inky blueberries not to mention the salmon and trout that lie neatly stacked in a pile.

Wherever you are in the Pacific Northwest, you’re never far away from a China Town and in Vancouver’s own China Town, you cannot spot a single shop board or notice in English. But if you’re tired of tucking into noodle soup and clams, there are plenty of options, including Vietnamese cuisine, Korean delicacies, sushi and of course, lentil soup and unleavened bread served by the ubiquitous Indian restaurants with names like Samrat and Maharaja. Vancouver is more Asian than you might think!

(Published in The Tribune dated Dec 12, 2010)

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