July 1st (Canada Day) was yesterday, but I didn’t have a chance to write about it because the day was pretty full. John and I went for another 7 mile jog while Lydian and Camile took showers and then we loaded up the tent camper and the all-important potty tent and hit the road. From the Seattle/Tacoma KOA, we made our way to the Canadian border.
During our jog, John and I discussed fruit. Our Canadian neighbor at the RV park had offered us bananas, “…we won’t be able to take them with us across the border…” she’d said spurring John’s anxiety about the stash of fruits and veggies he’d purchased the night before for our morning smoothies.
“I hadn’t thought of that.” He lamented. “What if we can’t take the fruit with us across the border?”
I reassured him that everything would be okay even if we had to abandon our bananas, but I was confident that we could smuggle them in. We had them packed up in our travel cooler and we’d use them all within 24 hours. We considered feigning ignorance about the fruit to get it into Canada. We also discussed a plan in which John would play the forthcoming traveler willing to admit to having three bananas. He’d hand them over and, we figured, they’d let us go without searching us. If searched, I would claim ignorance regarding the fruit, claiming that I thought it was okay to have fruit as long as it wasn’t picked right off the tree. Our plans were elaborate and conniving, and, dare I say…clever.
When we reached the border crossing, however, the lady behind the counter never asked about fruit. Instead, she questioned us regarding weapons.
“We have some bear spray.” John said. I was absent-mindedly clearing photos off my camera and I looked in the side pocket of my door, which was where the bear spray was located and saw the little personal-protection tazer that Lydian carries when she goes out for a jog.
“Oh…and the tazer.” I said to the nice the woman. I looked back at my camera.
“A tazer?” She said. “Hmmmm….you’ll need to go inside and talk to someone about that.” She told us in a distinctly Canadian way. Immediately, John turned and shot me a “look”.
We pulled out of line into a parking spot near the customs building. Lydian and Camile needed to pee and our plan was to go ahead and take care of that first while John talked with a Canadian officer at the counter. John took his place in line and the girls and I headed to the bathroom where we discovered a sign that said we needed a code for access. It said that unless we had seen an officer, we would NOT be given the code.
John was talking with a normal-looking, clean-shaven Edward Norton look-alike when we emerged from the potties and we walked up and joined him. He told John to take a seat just as we walked up to the counter. John turned and widened his eyes at me, indicating that perhaps the man was crazy. Despite this, I approached the counter and kindly asked the man if we could have the key code for the bathroom door.
The man told me very curtly that I could NOT have the key code and we would have to sit and wait. He waved me off like a mosquito. I realized then that he was a normal-looking guy who was actually a prick underneath it all. We took our seats.
Lydian and Camile were uncomfortable. Their eyes were floating. Lydian leaned over to me said, “I need to take care of my girl stuff.” That set me off. A tiny, but very powerful feminist arose within me to go to battle with the customs officer. Lydian was still in good humor and joked with me about changing her tampon right there in front of everyone. I laughed, but got up out of my seat like a warrior to go ask and get the key code. At that exact moment, however, the Edward Norton look-alike called us back up to the counter.
“I’m sorry, but we’re having a feminine hygiene emergency…” I told him as we approached the counter. His eyes narrowed and he did a flamboyant pencil flip indicating his frustration with our apparent stupidity and humanness. I narrowed my eyes back at him, the two adolescent girls on either side of me. We stared at him. He tapped his pencil on the counter. He knew he was beat, but he made sure to make a production of his concession. He gave me the key code in a menacing tone without looking at me. The three of us walked away victorious and in an act of sheer and brazen defiance, I purposely did not thank him.
In the end, they searched our van and confiscated our tazer. We could’ve come back for it, but decided it wasn’t worth it.
At least we got to keep our fruit.
In Vancouver, we surprised the girls with a trip to Wreck Beach, a “clothing optional” area on the college campus near the Nitobe Botanical Gardens. Lydian had already been to Wreck Beach once before when she was 8 years old, but the buck nakedness of the people didn’t really make an impression on her then. Everything seems normal to an 8 year old.
The journey to the beach begins with a trek down about a thousand stairs. The stairs were crowded, but everyone on them
was fully clothed. At the bottom, however, things changed. A big bare naked woman with sagging breasts and a fairly large hind end was unabashedly selling something (who knows what?) at a table. Her form and figure reminded me instantly of the woman who admitted us to the hammam in Fez, her breasts dangling down past her belly button. A smattering of men and women of all different shapes and sizes, some entirely nude, others partially or mostly clothed, were lying on towels, walking around, or standing in line for the restrooms. It was crowded on the beach.
One would think that a “clothing optional” beach would be a sexual experience, but the naked people aren’t really doing anything sexual and they certainly aren’t sexually appealing. But at the bottom of the stairs, wearing all our clothes, we started feeling awkward. This is the interesting part of Wreck Beach, at least in my opinion. With all our clothes on in this unique environment, we were the weird ones. Wreck Beach is a designated area where cultural norms are slightly bent. Like visiting a foreign country where the color of our skin is different, wearing all our clothes set us apart from the others at the beach.
Rules about right and wrong that are as simple and deeply ingrained as covering up our bodies with clothes can start to crumble in just a few minutes in the right social environment. I like Wreck Beach for this reason, though I’m not a clothing-optional type of person as a general rule. The fact is, people do what they do in part because of the social environment that surrounds them. What we regard as right and wrong is very much governed by culture. I like activities (like overseas travel, for example) that remind me that there’s more than one perspective that a person can have in any given situation. It keeps my thoughts fresh.
“It’s not about sex. It’s about culture.” I told the girls when we arrived back at the van. Lydian hadn’t really understood that point as an 8 year old. All she cared about was sticking her feet in the water back then. Our visit to the beach was a good segue-way into the next activity for the day: China Town. Another nifty cultural experience.
Apparently, China Town in Vancouver is located near a crime-ridden area that is so notorious, they actually made a reality-television show about it. We discussed this before we got out of the van, of course. John and I were excited to get to say “thank you”, the only phrase we could still remember in Mandarin, but sadly, the people in Vancouver’s China Town were speaking Cantonese. A nice fellow taught us to say, “I understand” (Gee Um Gee) and the Cantonese version of thank you (which I’ve already forgotten).
It was hard to say which group of people were more interesting: the Chinese or the druggies.
We went into a tea shop where the shopkeepers were cooing over some itsy bitsy newborn triplets in a three-top stroller. We bought a pair of dragonfruit and dates at a grocery store specializing in Chinese food items like dried cucumbers and quail eggs. At an apothecary, we considered purchasing a gecko-on-a-stick, but Camile felt strongly that it wouldn’t survive the long trip home in the car.
After China Town and the nude beach, we got in the car to head north. John and I both thought we had about 3 hours to drive to 100 Mile House from Vancouver, but a quick look at the GPS revealed it was 6 hours. We stopped at Whole Foods to buy something to sustain us and then set off for a long night of driving.
We drove until the sun was starting to set, which was around 10:38 PM, stopping at the Silver Sage RV Park in Kamloops. The owners of the RV park sat out on their porch waiting for us and waved to us from the highway, which was endearing. They were an older couple and very friendly. After we pulled into our stall, the man brought a pickup truck out to light up our campsite with his headlights, which was entirely unnecessary, but still very nice. He assured us with pride that the place was very quiet. The river lapped quietly against the shore as we worked on setting up our rig.
But, unfortunately, July 1st is Canada Day. Shortly after the owner left, the quiet lapping of the river was overcome by the sound of music coming from a boat languidly passing by our space playing, I’m a Barbie Girl at full blast. There was obviously a party on board, though I wasn’t able to see anything except the little boat lights passing by in the dark. I couldn’t help thinking of Big Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride from South Park.
It would pass by again several times that night. We’d hear it coming and all of us would lift our heads in irritation, shadowy round forms still and motionless emerging from our beds. We would then stare through the mesh windows of the tent camper at the boat lights as they crept from left to right or alternately from right to left on the river outside. We were silent. Too tired to express complaints. In the interim, while the river was quiet and the blaringly loud boat elsewhere, our neighbors switched on a flashlight that would flash into our tent and sometimes our faces at random intervals.
A train horn screeched along on a far-off rail, waking us every hour, on the hour.
At 3:45 AM, the sun rose.