PART 1: Escape from Vancouver freeze & the Mexico couch surfing experiment - Dec. 13 - Jan. 9 2010
Vancouver, Canada - January 12, 2010
It has been a few days since I came back from Ensenada. Time to reflect.
Overall, it was a great experience. It worked as I expected and I would say it was a success. The whole trip from Vancouver, Canada, to Ensenada, Mexico, and back cost me about $ 550. When I was looking for a room in Vancouver I was offered some for $450 - 500 a month. I saw some for $380 - 400, but they asked for females only. It is in general much easier for a woman to find a good deal on a clean accommodation here. I don't know why this is, except for the stereotype that women are cleaner and less trouble.
The time to go to Mexico was not the perfect one - Christmas and the end of the year. But I managed to find couches for almost half of the three weeks. I had couches in San Diego, Tijuana and Ensenada. The second half of my time there I stayed at a hotel. My budget was limited so it was no a welcomed expense, but overall a good deal at $ 12 a night. Private clean room, private bathroom with shower, maid service every day which included cleaning, new sheets, new towels, new soap and toilet paper. If planned in advance, I think couch surfing is a great option for backpackers. You will meet local people and at the same time you will save on sleeping expense. To sign up and surf go to Couchsurfing.org
Travel. I usually travel by bus or boat. I try to avoid planes, but sometimes the offered good deals can be difficult to resist. For example, this time I flew from Bellingham to San Diego and back for $134. The bus to Bellingham was about $25, and on the way back I improvised a little and made it from Bellingham to Vancouver for $1. Sometimes it pays off to book the flight in advance, but sometimes not. It depends on the season. I flew Allegiant Air. Bus or Amtrak would cost much more. The last time, two years ago, I took Amtrak was from Seattle to san Diego one way and it cost me $97. It was also a deal, so normally it is more expensive. Air travel can be cheap if you search for the right deal.
Another very good place to find a cheap flight is Kayak.com. It is a search engine which scans a number of airlines for flights. Some deals are unbelievable.
Food. Without a doubt, food is way cheaper in either USA and Mexico. Vancouver is expensive. Seafood in Mexico is fantastic, and for the fraction of what you would pay in Canada. ( not mentioning how healthy it is ). Be it fresh fish of any kinds, smoked tuna to clams, octopus, crab and anything else. It is cheap at the market, but you have to have a place to cook it. If not - local restaurants are a great option even for a person on a budget. I couldn't indulge as I would have wanted to, but I still had a chance to sink into a few simple local delicacies.
Food in San Diego is cheaper as well. For example, a small 250g brick of cream cheese and 6 bagels would cost me below $5 in san Diego, and maybe $9 in Canada. For beer drinkers, beer is about half price of the price in Canada. ( of course it is cheap in Mexico too )
The weather - I don't even have to mention it. It is warmer here in Vancouver now in comparison to the December weather from the time when I was leaving, but it rains every day now. There is no sun, and the prognosis for the next week is one - rain, rain, and more rain. Forget about the sun.
It was chilly for the first few days in Mexico, North Baja California, but apparently it was an unusual cold spell. Everyone was wearing a bit of extra clothing, but nobody really complained about it. People there know that in a day or two the weather will change, and the overall high and happy spirit of people in Mexico is omnipresent no matter what the skye's are. I think there is just not enough time for the bad weather to have a depressing effect on people, as it is in Vancouver, where sun disappears for months every year.
After just a couple days it was warmer and sunny. I was wearing a t-shirt and sweating when walking fast. So, you can have summer even in December and January - just head South.
The last - people. I found Americans and Mexicans to be very friendly and outgoing. Such a contrast to Vancouver. There is a stereotype that Canadians are nice, and in particular people in British Columbia seem to have such opinion about themselves. I met some great people here, and there are some great things that I love about this province, but the negative outweighs the positive. Of course - in my case, which does not meant others will come with a different conlusion. I am talking about my personal experience.
The government people on both sides of the US - Canada border were difficult. The Canadians were the worst by far. I never expected to get such an impersonal and almost abusive treatment coming back to my own country on a Canadian passport. There was no a slightest hint of friendliness. I know that they have a job to do, but they are also obliged to provide a positive customer service experience. Or perhaps if they are not, then there is something terribly wrong with how Canada presents itself to visitors right at the doorstep. These people are the first Canadians that some tourists will meet. The Americans were more relaxed and personal on the other hand. I felt like I was talking to humans - not robots like the Canadians were.
In private, all the people in the US whom I met were super friendly and helpful. From couch surfing hosts to bus drivers, people I casually met on a bus or on the street - all are part now of a good memory and a great experience. The same goes to people I met in Mexico. I was treated there like a friend, like a family or a special guest. People were chatty and friendly. A great experience getting to know each and every one of them.
What was my experience at the border when crossing back to Canada brings injustice to all the good hearted people I met there. I don't want anyone to dislike the place until giving it a chance.
Overall, going was the right decision to do. Now, back in Vancouver, I have to face new challanges. I just hope this part will be as pleasant as this couch surfing experiment. I am house sitting now for someone who went on a trip, so I am going to have a place to stay until they comes back. I am living in a warm and comfortable apartment, sharing it with two adorable but full of ideas cats. What a nice treat after years of sharing rooms with other, often crazy and difficult people. Too bad it's only for two weeks, but still a great break.
It's exactly one month since I set off on this short journey. Whoever read my blog during these past few weeks - thank you. I hope you enjoyed the photos and my writing. Right now this chaper is officially closed. If you have any comments, questions or requests - please don't hesitate and write me.
Life goes on, and so is my trip. My next mission is to survive Vancouver and get ready for the next leg, wherever the winds will take me. This is my third year of travels. There are so many places to see, to discover, so many things to experience and learn. My camera will always go along with me, and I hope so will your interest in my adventures, fortunes and misfortunes. I am still working on the format of this blog, and I feel the need to go beyond the travel theme and making it a little more personal and talk about what is going on inside my heart and soul as I face new challanges. After all, this is the worls as I see it through my eyes.
January 12, 2010, Vancouver, Canada
My life has always been about freedom and I shall continue to walk this path.
Safe travels ! ........... Stan
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