But waking up the next morning was the real treat. Although the place was pretty much just an exit off the Trans-Canada Highway - fast food joints, gas stations, not much else - it also opened out to a view of the hills that made me feel like i was properly on vacation.
To flip the script a little, here is a picture from the hills i was looking out at, looking back at the freeway and the motel.
You guys, Kamloops is by far my favorite landscape i have visited in Canada.
Now, i admit, i have barely traveled in Canada. I've been a few hours in every direction from Toronto, i know the Windsor/Detroit border area, but other than that i've just seen downtown Montréal and a bit of Vancouver. I've seen far more of the United States than i have of my own country. But i know what i like, and what i like is hills, scrub, cactuses and concrete.
I didn't see a cactus yet, but i am sure they are around about the place.
There were a few people staying a few days at the motel, but aside from the view the surroundings didn't offer much beyond your usual chain stores and strip mall fare. It really was a roadside stop for folks heading west to Vancouver, east to Calgary or south to Kelowna. I suppose some may even be heading north, up to Prince George and beyond.
The city is a crossroads, and it's a river fork. It's a small flood plain and the surrounding hills. Critically, for me, they aren't full-ass mountains. Living in southern China (and northern Europe too, for that matter) you just call everything that rises a couple hundred meters above the water level a mountain, but here in BC there are like, Real Fucking Mountains. The kind that if you build your house beside, your house will permanently be cold, wet and dark. I do not like cold, wet and dark. This place is hot, dry and bright.
Boy is it hot.
The first day i was here i took a hike up the mountain where i took those first couple photos. It was awesome to be able to get to a hiking trail without having to go a long-ass way to get there. Worst part of Vancouver, you can see all this nature around, but aside from Stanley Park you can't get to it very easily. Well, you can take a bus. But here i just walked out the back of Walmart and i was on a trail. Not some wide trail with maps and stairs and garbage cans dotted along the route. A single-file trail that looked like more deer went down it than people. I did see one mountain biker, and a couple of trail runners, but for the most part it was just me and the sun.
I didn't expect much from the suburban bar i went to for dinner that night. I had to line up because there were no other bars around and social distancing means the tables are all spread out. The only vegetarian thing they had was a Buddha bowl, which is apparently the BC interior name for a salad with some wild rice.
It was delicious.
The next morning i went to Tim Hortons for coffee and a bagel, then sat down at the bus stop to wait half an hour for the bus downtown. Lordy, i forgot about these small town bus services. If you miss the bus out here, you're waiting an hour for the next one.
Downtown was only about 10 minutes ride away. I could've walked it, i suppose, but my pack is very heavy because of all the paperwork i have been lugging around. And - did i mention? - it is fucking hot here. Like over 30 degrees hot.
When i got downtown i checked into another motel, a more family-friendly one with a pool and a restaurant and rooms set up for people to take their kids on a cheap vacation.
Then i took a hike down by the river. The south side of the city is the old town, as far as you can call any North American town "old". On the north east side is the Kamloops Indian Reserve, featuring some RV parks and a resort community. On the north west side is mobile homes and RV parks. There were relatively a lot of pedestrians, more than in the Vancouver suburbs anyway.
The city seems to be a bit of a magnet for homeless and drug addicts from the region, which makes sense because the weather is good and it seems there are a lot of services. Job network, shelters, indigenous outreach, traveling harm reduction team, all that stuff. Also thrift shops, dollar stores and churches. But also holiday destination staples like shops selling crystals and bikinis and snowboards, restaurants with $20 burgers and truffle-infused whatever and craft beer. It feels balanced.
Another day i hiked up in the park that goes into a ravine under the Trans-Canada Highway.
A couple of trails were marked, but most of them were not. I walked up a few and started panicking because they were very steep and i was wearing sneakers and there was nothing to break my fall.
Then i realized some of those trails weren't official park trails and perhaps only folks with a disregard for erosion or a death wish were messing with them.
It's good to be scared, sometimes, though. It makes you feel alive.
I checked out a local dive bar, where they had a surprisingly good vegeburger.
With my hangover i started to crunch the numbers on the rest of my sabbatical. I looked at the cost of a small car and calculated a ballpark cost of hotels and restaurant meals for the next few months. Then i looked at the cost of a van, where i could offset some of the hotel cost with sleeping in the car. Then i looked at the cost of an RV. Then i looked at the various places i can still get to by bus. Basically it's south to Kelowna and back or east to Calgary and then south to Lethbridge and back. Maybe Calgary to Edmonton to Prince George to Prince Rupert would work, but that's a roundabout trip through a lot of cold-ass places, some of which aren't too friendly to outsiders right now.
So then i thought about the advice of my buddy N who is down at some organic farm on a reserve near the US border. He said first thing is to get a room. When you have a room, you can think about buying a car or whatever, but without a room it's harder to make plans.
Friends, i got a room.
Actually, i want to be able to pee in private, so i paid a bit more to get a suite with my own bathroom and kitchen. The suite is also more expensive than a full apartment or mobile home, but it's furnished, and i can pay month-to-month, and it's still less than the cheapest motels i could find. I could live here 3 months and still not spend as much as i would on a beat-up old car.
So, i got a base. What next? I could buy a bike, just take a day pack, and see where i can get to within a 40-50km circle. I could rent a car for a few days and drive to all the places where there is no bus. Or i could take the bus. Or just stay here and bum around, free in the knowledge that going to a restaurant every day won't be breaking the bank any more.
It's not all just Canadian food, either. I unexpectedly found a Jamaican place and got the first good roti i've had since leaving Toronto, years ago.
The other thing that's looming is winter. Up here, that means snow. Not as much snow as Toronto, but it's probably more annoying than Toronto because there are more hills to slip on and presumably less plows working the streets. I'm not sure if it'd be better to hang out here through the winter, or go down to Vancouver Island where it just rains a lot. For sure a huge chunk of the province will be difficult or dangerous to get to from November on.
I talked about it with my new landlord. She said she had an older couple who were interested in taking the suite from January for a few months, so me staying here till Christmas then going somewhere else would work for everyone.
We'll see. I got the time now that i can think about it without feeling like i should be outside doing something more productive.
This looks like a nice place to think.