Saturday, September 11, 2010

Victoria, Vancouver Island 30/8/10

Having done a bit more internet work in the morning we set off for Tsawwassen to catch the ferry to Swartz Bay. There was a naturalist (or should that be naturist?)on board who was giving an interesting talk on the wild life in the area when suddenly along came the wild life. On arriving we travelled to Thetis Lake Park where we camped for the next 2 nights. The lake was very beautiful and a nice hike was had by us both around it's perimeter. The next day after I cooked the breakfast under the umbrella as it was raining, then we drove into Victoria to look around. I left Jill in Starbucks where she wrote this entry.

Starbucks 31/8/10 11.30h
So Abbas beamed a warm open friendly smile, set in warm chocolate brown eyes, from a face I somehow knew, and bid me farewell.

Abbas is Iranian, but has lived in Canada for 10 years, first in Quebec, then Montreal, now in Victoria. He works as a painter, but as it is grey and raining today, has taken the day off. I was sitting at a table beside his, sipping my coffee and preparing to look at the Blog, when he said hello and asked me how I was. I replied that I was okay (bit of an overstatement right now) and in return I asked how he was. He replied that he was “balanced” that he likes balance, that balance is good. The idea of balance struck a cord with me. It sounded like a utopian emotional state, one I might learn from right now.

I had noticed him earlier, standing in the coffee cue, waiting to be served, as he struck up a conversation with an embarrassed young blond woman. For all the Canadians openness to conversation with strangers, and we have benefited from this enormously, perhaps there is nevertheless some reticence to engage, when a lone male attempts to strike up a conversation with a lone female.

But I had other things to attend to and moved my attention to David, who was about to depart on his walk, having deposited me (to recover from my 'mood') at the coffee shop. The day had started badly. Well when I opened my eyes at around 07.15h this morning, I felt fine. A few minutes later, I heard David stir and asked him the time. His response as he was dressing was “it's pledge time”. Now some of you may remember that in a rash moment on a beach at Pukasaw camp ground, I wrote in sand my pledge to rise at 07.30h each day. This was after weeks of grumbling by David at my tendency to lie in beyond this time-only I might add until the unearthly hour of 8-08.30h. My habit had caused no end of moods from David, and the more moody David became the more I dug in, but not without feeling a sloth and very guilty about it. I was tired, in fact dog-tired and mornings just came about too soon. In the end, as the start of the day misery leached all my energy for travel, I began to plot my return home when we reached Vancouver. I think we have charted already some of our ups and downs, not because we have an unhealthy desire to 'wash our dirty linen in public', but because in all our hearings of accounts about this sort of travel, people never talk about relationship with other. That is how do two people travelling together make it work so that each person gets what they want, or discovers what they want, from the experience. We have heard stories about planning the trip, what to take, two bikes or one (if travelling with a partner), first aid, countries visited, crossing borders, taking happy snaps you will be proud of, keeping safe from wildlife, and bike maintenance to name a few. But little mention of what I think are two key components: money: how much does it all cost and budgeting and relationships with ones travel partner.

Ok so at the ladies only session of Horizon's Unlimited Traveller's meeting, the almost taken-for-granted challenges for a woman travelling with a man, are bravely laughed about. But beneath this laddish veneer is an unspoken acknowledgement that these challenges can turn a dream into a nightmare. And the everydayness of relating at home, with all it's trials and tribulations, is brought sharply into focus when your home is a motorcycle and a two man tent. It's rather like committing yourself to living completely, in the smallest room of the house. There just ain't no place to go when the going gets tough.

So we thought we might have a go at charting some of the emotional ups and down's of travelling. Now I am not too excited about this because like most of us, I would rather gloss over the lumpy texture of our relationship. But I have been round the block more than once, and know from experience that relationships have highs and lows. When it's good we exude a 'smug marrieds' aura. And when it's bad, ashamed that the fa├žade has slipped, and fearful of other judgements, we hide away and nurse our aching hearts.

Have I learned anything so far? I'm not sure. But the reality of this type of travel is that it is hard in more ways than one. Yes almost without exception as John Steinbeck noted in his book Travels with Charley written in 1961, and no less relevant now, when we tell folk we are travelling, a wistful, dreamy look washes over their face as they tell us they wished they too could get away from it all, and aren't we lucky. But far from being a panacea it carries with it all manner of new and not so new challenges, which one way or another if the thing is to succeed, need to be navigated.

And so back to my new acquaintance Abbas. Amongst other things he told me I did not look not pure British, but an ethnic mix, that he hoped to travel to Central and South America in January-perhaps we might met up, the politics of Iran, and poetry. He told me his most treasured poet is Hafiz, an Iranian poet. He eagerly showed me how to locate some of his work on the internet (I had brought the Netbook so that I could spend some time answering emails, and writing the Blog whilst David went for a walk). I resisted his enthusiasm to sit beside me, partly out of fear but also because I thought he might be difficult to dislodge. Nevertheless, he showed me Fal-e Hafiz' divination through his poetry, and said that if I was feeling troubled I might want to use this as a way to help me see my way through it. I was a bit startled by this because although I was feeling thoroughly fed up with David again, and troubled about the future of the trip, and what I want from it, if anything, planning my return, but I didn't speak of it. As he reached for his red jacket and rucksack, Abbas offered this poetry as his gift to me, wished me well, and disappeared.

Out of curiosity, I clicked into Fal-e Hafiz, did as advised and thought deeply about how I was feeling right now and this poem presented itself:

Ghazal 483

A traveller in a strange land
Took a stranger by the hand,
You will only see clarity of the wine
If for forty days you let it stand.
God keep us from the dervish’s cloak
That conceals an idol in every strand.
Though virtue needs no recognition
Let helping the needy be your errand.
O you, the owner of the harvest
Keep your harvesters from reprimand.
Where has all the joy gone?
Why is the pain of love so bland?
Every chest is gloomy, dark and sad;
Let love’s flame in hearts be fanned.
Without the finger of lovers
For golden rings there’s no demand.
Though Beloved seems to be so harsh
The lover accepts every command.
Walk to the tavern and I will ask,
Have you seen the end you have planned?
Neither Hafiz’s heart is in lessons so grand
Nor the teacher can fully understand.

You may remember I have recently finished reading A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth, in which Ghazals are referred to a lot, I tended to skip over them, but I think like a lot of poetry, meaning can change according to the colour of your own mood as you read it. For me this Ghazal resonated. I showed it to David who was singularly unimpressed! Each to their own. Thank you Abbas.

Meanwhile I (David) walked around Victoria looking at the waterfront with it's sea planes, it's wild life, the cute water taxis and the outside of the parliament building. I checked out the Bay shopping mall that had an interesting clock and the Empress Hotel that had 2 tree creatures guarding it front. The site was much prized by the First Nations people for oysters before being filled in for the hotel. I met up with Jillie and after lunch we went on a tour of the parliament building which is the capital of British Columbia and holds strongly to its links with the Queen and Country. We went into the RBC Museum and saw a presentation on how many people BC could hold if in another part of the world. 212 million if in the Far East and 167 million if in Europe compared to the 4.7 million that do live here. As it was still rather damp a meal out was called for as cooking in the rain ain't much fun so we went to John's Place on Pandora and had a very nice meal of salmon and garlic mash with al dente vegetables.

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