Grandpa Bear in Canada

“I knew you’d come back, Granny”, said Grandpa Bear. His voice sounds a bit weak: he’s been lying alone on the cold ground for well over an hour.

I could choose to blame this whole event on the Squirrel Man. If I hadn’t admired his rebellious spirit – every day, with a packet of almonds (unsalted, he clarifies) he ignores the ‘No feeding the Wildlife’ sign here at Victoria’s delightful Beacon Hill Park – I might have been less inspired to be a bit rebellious myself?

I’d clambered over the beach logs. I’m sure childhood ‘Scuffy the Tugboat’ pics left you too with a lifetime of unmet lumberjack hankerings? Discovering my log-balancing skills are waning, I rebelliously ignore the ‘closed’ sign on the nearest steps from the beach and must squeeze myself and backpack through the closed-off fence at the top. Yet, of course, it wasnt the Squirrel Man’s fault: GB and I had simply failed to follow our agreed system.

On the bike, GB sits under my saddle. The ‘Always Wear the Safety Belt’ mantra has enabled hundreds of miles of safe bike travel together. We just forgot to follow our own rule in the excitement of this special new country. For a bear, Fiji brought a certain JOMO (joy of missing out), but Canada is different, it is of course real bear terrritory. So if Granny is flying by sea plane to Vancouver Island to catch up with her friend Reena, Grandpa Bear wants a slice of the action.

” You could stay at the hotel near Vancouver Airport and look after the bike, GB?” I say gently. “I’m only allowed 4kg of luggage, not much for my overnight stay in Victoria.” “That’s OK Granny, I don’t weigh much.”

And so here we are in the heart of British Columbia and Grandpa Bear isn’t going to miss a minute. His head peeps through my backpack as we delight in the coastal path, which runs parallel to the greatly-enjoyed ‘leash-free’ dog zone. Well, until the fence episode.

Indeed, do you know those times where there are so many of those moments where you realise, ‘There is nowhere I’d rather be than just here right now’. That was the last 24 hours. Waiting to board the sea plane; the museum (despite the discussion about why the cafe’s policy is that reusable cups are ‘only for staff’!); sharing tapas and a glass of Tio Pepe with Reena, the friend from Kerikeri whom I’ve missed since last year she moved to a co-housing project here; the squirrels; the log-festooned beach; the squirrels; the view across the bay to snow-sprinkled mountains…. oh, and did I mention the squirrels? Yes, mainly the squirrels.

The one challenge here in Canada that I encounter again at the seafront cafe is not GB’s area of expertise either. Not, I confess that I sought to check he was still in my backpack. Moral support is one of his great strengths though, and had I thought to seek his views,come to think of it, I’d have been quicker retracing my steps back along the dog walkers’ clifftop path.

Anyway, it’s the ‘Tipping thing’. As a young woman in the UK, I never really ‘got’ what was expected of me. Taking a taxi and at the hairdresser too, I’d sit slightly traumatised, trying to anticipate how much someone expected. Who was I to judge their worth? I sensed a patriarchal, power-over vestige: coins handed out by the lord of the manor at Christmas to serfs who’d tip their hats with a ‘Thank you, M’lud’. In this respect, as in many others, living in New Zealand has felt so much easier. Not so here in Canada.

Yesterday at the tapas bar, my friend, well aware Kiwis aren’t tippers, kindly offers to ‘deal with the tip’ after we split the bill. Today in this seafront cafe, humming with happy hikers in beanies and hiking boots, I’m on my own. ‘It’s the sort of place the Squirrel Man would like’, I think to myself, suddenly wishing he was here to navigate the tip business.

‘Is the pleasant young man who serves me, pleasant only to increase the size of his tip?’ I muse, as I navigate the choice of tip percentages on the credit card machine he brings to my table. He stands over me, watching my choice.

[Back home, a cafe in Opua was managed by a young lady from North America for a while who similarly programmed the Eftpos machine. I felt angry because to me it was ‘unKiwi’: unfair misguidance for overseas yachties making their first landfall in Aotearoa., and voiced this more than once. Im hopeful by now the Marina Cafe will have reprogramed their Eftpos machine back : enforced tipping is an overseas infection I believe Aotearoa NZ can well do without].

Now Grandpa Bear and I are reunited, it is time to continue our journey. Firmly strapped onto my backpack, a double decker bus takes us to the southern tip of the peninsula for the regular ferry service across Vancouver Bay. The seaplane seemed a reasonable CAN$ 107, the 1.5hr ferry ride is less than CAN$30, and with public bus rides just $1.50, it’s yet one more delightful aspect to Victoria. All in all, it has been a fulfilling 24 hours.

I met with my friend from Kerikeri, and what is ever more important than connecting with friends? GB and I were lost, but then reunited. The wild beaches of the bay are superb, not just for would-be lumberjacks, the Legislature parliament building lights up at night, and if you have never used an automatic waffle making machine at breakfast, you need to get to Canada to try one!

At the museum I valued the chance to understand a little of the National Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s recommendations towards the Indigenous Peoples of these lands. So much trauma. A recently created annual public ‘Orange Shirt’ day highlights suffering over the years within residential schools, a poignant reminder of an all too present past.

Tomorrow we journey on to Cuba where undoubtedly new learnings and new adventures await.

Just checking though, did I mention the cuteness of the squirrels?


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