In less than a week in Canada we’ve already seen three bears – I still can’t believe it!
Wait – how come we’re in Canada? Here’s why: After almost five month in Latin America we felt like going to Asia. That’s the great thing about not having a return date nor an around the world ticket; you’re absolutely free to go wherever you want (as long as the budget allows it). The flight from Mexico City (which, by the way, is an amazing metropolis worthy of much more time than the two days we spent there) to Hong Kong, our first destination in Asia, stops in Vancouver. So we thought, why not prolong that stop to two weeks and discover a little bit of Canada? And here we are now.
Vancouver seems to be a great city, I instantly liked it. We arrived on a wonderful warm spring day and since check-in in our hotel wasn’t until 3 pm, we had a lot of time to enjoy the lovely weather and walk around the center. There are many cafes, and shops, and restaurants serving food from all over the world, there are pretty old buildings, clean streets, and public transport that isn’t overcrowded.
Vancouver to Whistler
In order to get around easily we rented a car and the next day we already left the city and drove to Whistler. First along the coast (beautiful!) and then through the valley, snow capped mountains towering on both sides. Close to Whistler there are three waterfalls (that we know of – there might as well be more). Shannon Falls, one of the highest in British Columbia, Brandywine Falls, and Nairn Falls. All three are very different but equally impressive. At this time of the year there’s a lot of water and it’s fascinating to just stand there and watch that huge amount of water tumbling down and listening to its roar.
The Gold Rush Trail
The way north from the town of Lillooet is part of the historic Gold Rush Trail and the names of many (very) small town and villages reflect the distance to Lillooet: 100 Mile House, 108 Mile Ranch, etc. The gold rush-past is still kind of alive in the old houses, the signs (and the lettering!), and the old wagons and tools for sale in “thrift shoppes”. Unfortunately, it was still a bit too early in the year: most historical places of interest were still closed at the end of April, the summer season only starts in May. The weather is wonderful, it feels almost like summer, but yes, we’re about the only tourists around.
The road to Bella Coola
Heading west from Williams Lake, Highway 20 leads to Bella Coola, the only town on the Chilcotin Coast that’s accessible by road. It’s a long drive, almost 500 km, and there aren’t many gas stations on the route, so you have to go prepared. The drive there is wonderful and who doesn’t want to know what’s at the end of the road?
After the small town of Anahim Lake, the road is unpaved for almost 60 km. It’s in good condition (it’s a highway compared to the unpaved road we attempted to drive in Mexico) but the last 10 km are just downhill, very narrow and with a lot of bends. If you don’t gear down, your car’s brakes will be gone by the time you reach the valley below.
It was on this road heading down that we encountered the friendliest bear ever. It was sniffing around on the side of the road as we approached. I hit the brakes and the bear, instead of walking away like, I suppose, a normal bear would, it first sat down, looked at us, and then lied down and put its head on its paws. Very un-bearlike, if you ask me. Just as if it was posing for us. And yes, we took a lot of pictures. I wonder what it’d have done if we had stepped out of the car (we didn’t, for obvious reasons).
Bella Coola valley is absolutely gorgeous. It’s very different from the landscape you travel through to get there and because it is at a much lower elevation, spring has turned everything wonderfully green. Plus, we had amazing weather!
Bella Coola is the town at the end of the road and it kind of feels like that. There’s not much to do, the few shops close early, and museums, galleries, gift shops and some hotels are closed for the better part of the year. If the road is closed, the town is only accessible by air or by sea; it’s connected with the Pacific ocean by a long fjord.
The road to Bella Coola is locally known as the Freedom Road. It was only completed in the 1950s; the local people rented a bulldozer and started building the road so they finally had a connection to the rest of the country by land. A great example that, if you really want something, you can do it.
The town itself may not have that much to offer but the surrounding nature is stunning and it’s a great place for hiking. There are waterfalls, petroglyphs, and First Nations culture – there’s definitely no shortage of activities.
Junction Sheep Range
Though accommodation is good in Bella Coola, it’s quite expensive so we had to go back to Williams Lake the next day. Driving back we encountered the same bear again (its upper lip is injured, that’s how we recognized it) and he was just as friendly as the day before.
Not far from Williams Lake there’s a small provincial park, Junction Sheep Range. It is quite difficult to access but close to the park there’s something we didn’t expect to find in Canada: a sand dune. And a pretty high one. From the dune you have amazing views over the canyon below, the river and the green hills all around.