Postcard From Vancouver.
I've now been 'in country', so to speak, for almost four weeks.
Two of those weeks were spent travelling from Indonesia (no mean feat!), three days in a government-mandated Airport Hotel, and finally, twelve long, long days in quarantine, confined to a tiny Air B&B in East Vancouver.
Welcome to Canada.
Release day dawned bright and sunny and, armed with my COVID negative result, I was suddenly free to explore one of my favourite cities, currently hovering tentatively on the cusp of spring after a long, cold winter.
Vancouver is coping with what one hopes is the tail end of this vicious pandemic. The tree-lined streets, bursting into life with a riot of colour, feel vaguely deserted as busses sail by carrying just a handful of socially distancing passengers. An eerie quietness blankets the city as most of its inhabitants seem to have retreated indoors to work, study, and, I guess, watch TV.
An aura of cautiousness permeates all aspects of everyday life here. Having just arrived from Indonesia, where the social distancing laws are a bit hit and miss, the strict restrictions were a bit new to me. Consequently, I have been admonished by ever-vigilant store or hospitality staff when my mask has inadvertently slipped below the nose. Wearing a mask in temperatures that hover around seven degrees means I am perpetually trying to peer through the fog on the lenses of my glasses. Sometimes it feels as if I am on top of a mountain enveloped in a clinging fog.
I'm certainly not anti-mask; it's just my struggle to learn how to wear one correctly!
The charming suburb of Kitsilano, where I have based myself, has a relatively sedate High-Street lined with restaurants, cosy-looking bars and high-end boutiques. The health restrictions here allows for just 30% capacity, which, given the eye - wateringly high real estate prices, I should imagine, barely covers the rent.
In one particular tavern, I notice a few patrons who seem ill at ease, wearing their fully buttoned and belted coats as if, by taking them off, might be seen as an obligation to stay. An over-eager 'hostess' does ever-decreasing laps around this small gathering, inquiring about everyone's well-being and reminding them of the COVID restrictions.
The past fourteen months' events have meant that over 90% of the world's population has been permanently moored in one place. International integration of the human species has fallen to levels not seen since the 18th century. Now, in 2021 our global view of the world has become reduced to watching events unfold on our handy little devices.
But. Aren't travellers supposed to be heaving a sigh of relief right now?
COVID-19 vaccines seem to be rolling out across the planet; ads for bargain-priced overseas getaways are on the rise, half-price cruising set to resume in mid-year? Surely there's light at the end of this endless tunnel? Countries are priming the pump with marketing campaigns urging tourists to visit.
But that's not what's happening, at least not in Canada.
Three days ago, the BC provincial government closed down the city and the rest of the province for three weeks, given the stubborn rise in COVID numbers. Ontario followed suit two days later.
However, even in these worst of times, Vancouver seems to be booming.
The city skyline is undergoing the most significant architectural renaissance in its history, with multi-storied commercial and residential towers emerging across large swathes of Downtown. The suburbs, too, are experiencing a refresh of sorts, with houses built in the 70s and '80s being flattened to make way for the new and improved version of cheek by jowl living.
Even in this time of enforced shutdown, Vancouver still has the ability to dazzle, for it is indeed a very pretty city. Despite all of the health restrictions, the unique inner-city Granville Island still buzzes on a damp Sunday morning. The wonderous 405 hectares Stanley Park is populated by hardy cyclists and walkers, all practising a carefully choreographed social distancing dance.
Then, of course, there are the Cannabis stores that are popping up all over town. This is a far cry from the draconian Indonesian laws, so the presence of legal cannabis for sale on the street is a real eye-opener—more on this in a later blog.
I made most of a beautiful day by taking a thirty-minute bus ride up to Cypress Mountain, where the last of the winter snows are clinging to the high peaks. The ski season is almost at its end, and, with renewed COVID restrictions in place, only a few skiers make the most of the weather and the still abundant snow.
Spring is definitely beginning to take hold; the sun batters away the winter clouds that have overstayed their welcome, and every tree and garden is bursting into life. As the temperatures rise, I will take every opportunity to discover as much of this gem and its surroundings as I possibly can.
Also, I feel that Hope is definitely in the air!
Vancouver Canada April 2021.
Paul v Walters is the best selling author of several novels. When not cocooned in sloth and procrastination in his house in Bali he scribbled for several international travel and vox pop journals.
Photography copyright Paul v Walters