Nomad in North America: The Best of British Columbia

I had recently picked up the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” which is about a father and son trip across America, and an analysis of values along the way. I am pleasantly reminded of the essence of travel for me: how the genuine introspection it involves allows me to re-energize, to re-examine my values and to see how I can best serve the world around me.

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I was able to devote some time for reflection in British Columbia, the final leg of my cross-country adventure. I did go into overdrive, for sure, determined to take full stock of the tastes, sounds, and sights of this Westernmost part of the country. But I still managed to process the lessons so far learned in my long journey. I wasted no time getting rid of my bulky suitcase as soon as I arrived (my cousin picked it up) and hopping on the Skytrain to Vancouver.

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I got off by the Waterfront station and the views of the water and the surrounding areas were remarkable. It was a perfect day, so people were milling around outdoors. There were nifty places to go for food, interesting installations, and seaplanes and yachts parked nicely outside pricey-looking condominiums. I was told that the weather stays in the 16–24C range in the springtime which is most ideal for walking around for this exotic islander.

First on the agenda: food. I was told Vancouver offers great seafood so I did not relent. My cousins took me to Sushi Nanaimo and everything was superb. The fresh salmon was so succulent, literally “melts in your mouth” as many people who enjoy good sashimi say. I sampled the local Japadog and the chicken burger at Cactus Club. It was good but the fries were excellent. We also had amazing samosas and curry at this Indian fusion restaurant Vij’s, which I would definitely pay top dollar for again. For dessert, and by this time I have already had a lot of ice cream since Cow’s in PEI, top of mind would be this incredible whiskey hazelnut concoction at Earnest, and the soft, blissful doughnut by Honey Doughnuts at Deep Cove, North Vancouver. You simply can’t die without trying them.

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Vancouver’s markets are fabled stops, so I went to two: Granville Market and Lonsdale Quay Market. My mouth won’t stop watering. But there are other things to buy there, such as souvenirs and flowers. The city was in full bloom at the peak of spring.

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The more I walked around, the more I realized what a real privilege it must be to live in a walkable city. From urban blight I was used to back home to cosmopolitan zen here — it was so relaxing. Canada shows the world through Vancouver how 21st-century city living is done: abundant open spaces, proper zoning of residential and commercial establishments, parks preservation, and designated bike lanes. The idea that you can bike through a veranda that showcases the marina was lost on me when I heard someone approaching behind me yell “Get off the bike path!” I moved away instantly and told myself “Nope, that does not happen at home, and I wish it did.” It felt like I was on a different planet and one where things worked.

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Since this is my last hurrah in the Great White North, I decided to treat my nature-loving self to almost an entire day at the 405-hectare Stanley Park. It is hard to run out of things to do there especially if you want to get some miles in. I strolled and hiked up to Prospect Point where I planned to have a simple lunch amidst breathtaking views. En route to the lookout are Indian totem poles and interesting points of interest such as the Vancouver Aquarium. I saw live penguins for the first time so that was cool. Birds, geese, and other fauna flocked the Vancouver Seawall, proof positive that the conservation envisioned by the city’s forerunners when they built it is still bearing much fruit.

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The trip up to Whistler was quite memorable as there were two occasions where the timing of my visit could not be more perfect. At the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, there was a featured band on a Friday that does Fleetwood Mac covers. That only happens in the springtime (and it is closed now until 2020). So we squeezed our way through a much older crowd bracing themselves for an early night of dancing. While the party was warming up, and the front act was playing Indigo Girls and The Rolling Stones, I found myself gasping in awe at the vast swaths of conifers and mountains below a hanging bridge. Nature is again flaunting its breathtaking beauty. Sometimes I wonder what I had done to deserve this.

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At Whistler, there was a multimedia night walk called Valle Lumina, which they also do not have there very often. For full effect, the show had to be done in pitch darkness so we had to wait until 10 PM to go up. It was a modest hike, but you won’t even feel any sense of exhaustion when overwhelmed by total admiration. I will let the photos give a few hints.

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British Columbia, the culmination of this extraordinary east-to-west adventure across Canada, has shown me how beautiful the natural world is and how lucky I am to be alive to witness it. It is invigorating for any city dweller, as Vancouver, for one, exposed me to the potential of having access to both urban conveniences and natural wonders, in almost equal proportions. My math might be incorrect, as I felt that the ratio of greens to urban spaces was 50:1. Living there must be very good for the soul.

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While on some level I envy BC residents, British Columbia also showed me what can be done in my country, the place I call home. There are certainly some best practices there that can be applied here. This affirms for me the other side of travel. It should be done regularly, not just for personal but also professional growth. This is consistent with what I had mentioned earlier: travel enables us to examine how best to serve the world. As a former government worker, now independent non-profit consultant, I constantly attempt to think of simple solutions to recurring social problems. What Vancouver and all of Canada has shown me is possibility, that does require massive resources, yes, but mostly it just needs some common sense. So in that sense, we are on equal footing. The challenge is in how we combine common sense, our own context, and our imagination to make a difference. Travel is necessary, but in the final analysis, the work is still very much up to us.

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Former presidential speechwriter, still a musician; writes about urban gridlocks. Will work full time for the planet. Harvard Kennedy School ‘14 🇵🇭

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