Victoria is a city of 300,000 and the capital of the province of British Columbia
Victoria is a city of 300,000 and the capital of the province of British Columbia
Unsurprisingly, given our luck, the hostel is a madhouse. The owners speak almost no English, which makes following their instructions rather difficult. I’m starting to wonder whether learning Mandarin might be more useful than Hebrew, as plane tickets to Israel are still a distant pipe dream. On top of everything, there is an elderly Chinese man who lives in the basement. I have named him the laundry troll, because when I tried to do laundry he burst out of his hovel to yell incomprehensibly at me, before shaking his head despairing and slinking away. On the door of the basement is a notice written in broken English, threatening all those who urinate against the door with prostate cancer. I suspect the laundry troll may have been the author.
This week is our training week at the hostel and so we are only working for free accommodation. A food allowance and money will come later, once we have proven our worth. With no money between us, we have found ourselves, once again, eating at a shelter. We were lead there by an old guy, by the name of Don, who had once been served in the navy but has since fallen on harder times. Taking pity on us, he pointed out the best places to buy food and clothes cheaply, and also where to get meals for free. Don also advised us not to worry about the “druggies” at the shelter, as they are few and don’t dare cause any trouble. Those that choose to be a nuisance have to deal with the staff, who are a fairly tough looking bunch. As in Kelowna, most who eat at the shelter are ordinary citizens who have fallen upon hard times, with some travellers also added to the mix. It is unfair to simply view the people who need the shelter as criminals, drug addicts and the mentally ill, as you might expect (I know I did, before I ate at a shelter). Though there are such types around, they are by no means the majority. When eating at the shelter, you get the realization that drug abuse and mental illness are problems that transcend income brackets and class boundaries. It is just amongst the impoverished that these problems are most visible; the addicts and the insane, from what I have seen, make up just a small proportion of those that need to be fed without charge.
After two days of hitchhiking and one overnight stay in Nanaimo, that bled me of the last of my money, Rikki and I have made it to Victoria. Victoria is the southernmost and biggest city of Vancouver Island. Here, we have found the Painted Turtle hostel, where we shall be volunteering until the apple harvest. It is a huge relief to finally have a bed to sleep in and not to have to worry about the dangers of unregulated camping. At the Painted Turtle, if we work hard enough, a food and a money allowance will also be provided. This gives us a bit of an incentive to stop floating around and maybe stay in Victoria for a while, at least until we are more financially stable.
I’m very eager to get to know Victoria, as I have heard many good things about it. One person, whom I hitchhiked with, described it as the Ottawa of British Columbia, because as well as being the capital of the province, it is extremely pretty and overflowing with culture. The Painted Turtle hostel is an old, bright yellow building with a green roof that stands out from every other house around it. The interior, like the exterior, is also vibrantly painted, of many different colours and patterns. The owner - whom we shall be working for - is Chinese, and incredibly hard to understand. This may become a problem as she is training us tomorrow and so far, both of us, when making a brave attempt, can only really understand ten percent of what she is saying.
The deceptively beautiful, but dangerous canyon in which we all nearly drowned - photo taken by Rikki Wieczorek
More photos of our Kelowna cherry picking campsite - taken by Rikki Wieczorek
Fortunately, the rumour of our landfill campsite was slightly exaggerated. Though it is true we are sleeping near a landfill, we are quite far down a logging road from it. Our campsite is actually incredibly picturesque and more importantly, free. Our one major concern is that our proximity to the rubbish means that there are a huge amount of wild animals scavenging in the area and we have to keep a fire burning all night as a precaution.
My hitchhiking trip from Nanaimo to Tofino was actually fairly pleasant: I was picked up almost instantaneously by a Quebecois teacher, who bought me coffee and donuts. The drive across Vancouver Island is also stunning; the only road traverses a mountainous rainforest of gorges and rivers. Now that our group is reunited in Tofino, we are putting our heads together to figure out the next step. Rikki and I may well have a job volunteering in a youth hostel in Victoria. This takes the pressure of our rather desperate living situation. Though now, we will have to hitchhike our way down to the south of the island, to Victoria, which could take some time.
Making my hitchhiking sign at the Nanaimo Tim Hortons. Hopefully tonight I will be sleeping in Tofino, where I will meet up with Rikki and two of my other friends, who, rumour has it, are sleeping at a landfill.
We slept at the side of the road in Nanaimo, occasionally to be woken by passing drunks. I am lucky enough to own the tent; my friend sleeps wrapped in a blue tarp (pictured).
We’ve decided to escape the cherries and have been travelling across BC for work opportunities elsewhere. This has been, for the most part, entirely fruitless (no pun intended). On our travels, we have spent two nights in actual camping grounds and one in a city park, when we ran out of money. The original plan was to drive to a blueberry farm, where apparently there was work. There would have been work too, if our friends, who arrived before we did, hadn’t been fired over a dispute over some run-over cherries. This dispute so effected the farmer that he now forbids any camping on his farm, leaving us with nowhere to stay and therefore, we had to move on.
Two nights ago we also camped in the town of Hope, famous for its abandoned railway tunnels and canyon, which we explored and also nearly drowned in. The water in the canyon was ice cold, having melted from a glacier further up the mountain, it also had a current; the strength of which we did not realize until we were in the water. After jumping in the water, we found ourselves pushed further down the canyon than we intended, to where there was no way out of the river. The four of us - two friends and Rikki - ended up being marooned on the rock in the middle of the water. The only way out was to swim against the current, or else float down the rapids through the bitterly cold water. The water is so cold that it sucks the strength right out of you and we found ourselves clinging to rocks on the side of the canyon as the water threatened to push us back downriver. Fortunately, after a few terrifying minutes of frantic swimming and gasping for air, we swam ourselves to an area of the river on which you could mount the bank and escape. There we collapsed, shaken and freezing, but otherwise unhurt and also with a newfound respect for dangers of swimming in an area you know nothing about.
Having spent last night sleeping in a park, I’m starting to feel very homeless and also rather lost. I don’t know what awaits me next, or where exactly I am going, but I think I may hitchhike to Vancouver to volunteer at a youth hostel; anything to keep me off the streets until the apple harvest begins and I can make my way back to Kelowna.
There are some words you never want to wake up to in the morning, with “I’ll fucking kill you!” being right at the top of the list of them. Yet yesterday morning at 6:00am, that was what was being screamed by one rather upset gentlemen as he rampaged his way through our kitchen, throwing pots and pans left, right and centre (most of which had food in them). Apparently someone had stolen his rechargeable battery, which he probably shouldn’t have left lying around, as thieving in camp is epidemic and not even a container of hummus can be left alone for five minutes. Though everyone was woken up by his tirade of foul language and death threats, no one quite had the courage to leave their tents and sort out the problem, which angered him more. One Kiwi called Sam was using the outdoor toilets at the time, and locked himself in there until the shouting finished and kitchen utensils were no longer being hurled against the walls.
The same morning, we awoke to more graffiti spayed all over the cabins by angry Quebecois kids, who were upset at the lack of cherries on the trees and decided to further vandalize the camp as an method of complaint. This was later found by our boss Suk Paul, along with a drunken, passed out Mexican, who had been hog tied while he slept by the same kids. This was apparently the last straw for Suk Paul, who announced to us that this was the last year he hired travellers and that he would now stick with the Mexican labourers he pays to have flown in on government work programs, which considering the circumstances, I think is fair enough.