Insisting we spend the last night as Bay Area residents in our empty house, Diane got her way as we slept on the California King one last time. Getting perhaps an hour of sleep with a 725 Mile drive to come, anxiousness overwhelmed me as I watched the clock about every six minutes, drifted off for a bit and finally felt relieved as 5AM approached. Exhibiting the first example of leaving my comfort zone, we drove our 2002 Honda CRV all the way to Washington State with the check engine light on. Assuring me it wasn’t a mechanical issue, our awesome “jack of all trades” neighbor used a small diagnostic checker the day before to assess the problem. Indicating a “knock sensor” malfunction, I took his word and hoped it was in fact related to emissions and the worst thing that would happen was poor gas mileage. (I didn’t notice this; it drove like a dream as most Hondas do for many years)
Arriving in dreary Portland before rush hour but late enough to take advantage of the carpool lane, we whizzed by after two gas stops and a lunch break at McDonalds. (Disclaimer: the only time I ever eat the worlds most unhealthy fast food is on driving trips although I will try it once in Malaysia). Deciding it was best to stop about an hour out of Seattle’s nightmarish traffic, we checked into a Best Western Premier in the picturesque industrial town of Chehalis. With everything we own now stuffed into the CRV including two boxes of vital records, two suitcases, two duffel bags, three small bags for “transit” through Canada and a backpack, we thought it best to haul it all up to the room. Fortunately the hotel had a luggage cart and an elevator. Using Yelp as a guide, we found a nearby restaurant with a lot of home cooked food and the hotel staff confirmed it was the best in town and told us they send all their guests there. Tired and hungry, we drove the 1.5 miles even though my legs needed a break after an 11 hour drive.
Oddly enough, the restaurant was large and airy with the friendliest staff in town and we debated what to order. Being in the Pacific Northwest, we de decided it had to be a ten inch pizza with smoked salmon, spinach and feta cheese on homemade sourdough crust, locally caught steamers and Southern fried chicken that tasted as good as any down home place in Georgia even though we were about 3,000 miles from the South. Even featuring live entertainment, the guitarist played Jim Croce and other classics that old farts like me would recognize. Owned by a real chef, the restaurant offered open mic nights, karaoke and various other community oriented events. Fully satisfied, we took a walk down the town’s Main Street .
Complete with a grain elevator, a railroad crossing and a local farmers mart, the town looked remarkably like small town American but without the shattered economy of so many small towns and we guessed its location on the corridor headed to the busiest border crossing and all points south played a role.
Offering an omelette bar because of the “premier” status of the hotel, the next morning we ate eggs stuffed with a bunch of stuff, toast and coffee before making the journey to the border crossing in Blaine, Washington, about 200 miles north. Armed with paperwork and ready for a long delay at both the U.S. and Canadian Customs offices, it turned out my suggestion to cross at mid day and mid-week was smart. Needing to cross with the trucks for vehicle importation, we followed the rather ambiguous instructions from US customs and parked the vehicle in a “holding area” next to some enormous semis. (Known as tractor-trailers to Americans but not Canadians). Unsure if this was correct, a young border agent approached us with the usual friendliness displayed by anything involving U.S. Homeland Security and collected our title certificate. Instructing us to walk into the building down the hill he implied it would be a long wait but there was only one group in front of us on the line marked “vehicle export”.
After asking a few questions, he gave us a rather puzzled look after we explained the “early retirement” issue which included the story of staying in Canada for a month and then leaving for Malaysia but not taking the car. Eventually smiling and lightening up he gave us the proper stamp on the title certificate, told us to have a great adventure and sent us on our way. With the easy part complete we then got in line behind the trucks and approached the Canadian border crossing station. Set up ten feet high for enormous trucks, we had to exit the driver’s seat and shout to the officer inside the booth. Instructing us to enter the building with a yellow form he filled out we parked the car in a gated holding area and approached the line marked “vehicle import”. Not having filled out a “Form 1” used for importation of vehicles, we stepped into the corner and brought it all up to the woman who apparently just came off her break and didn’t really seem too versed on vehicle importation.
After explaining our situation a second time, the woman seemed intent on charging us duty tax even though a reimported Canadian vehicle being brought in by the original purchaser is not subject to duty since that would constitute double taxation. Obviously unsure what to do she asked a colleague who agreed with us but didn’t offer any help on how to code the computer entry. Appearing frustrated, she told us to take a seat while she figured it all out. After about ten minutes we saw her stamping the forms and she soon called us back and told us to go to yet another line where I thought we’d have to pay a fee to the “Registrar of Imported vehicles”. Surprisingly, the person at the counter stamped a few more things and sent us on our way. After about 45 minutes, our Honda CRV with the illuminated check engine light officially became a citizen of Canada once again.
After 975 miles of driving and an hour spent at the customs offices, Diane and I left the USA to officially begin our Experimental Expat phase, albeit with a four to six-week break in the Motherland. Once you cross the border, the signs change to kilometers, the gas gets too expensive and the calculations are in litres. Once there, however, you find yourself in Southern British Columbia, one of the country’s nicest areas. Completely opposite of the 850 straight miles of dreary gray skies and cool temperatures, we arrived on a 26 degree day that actually broke the heat record for May 19th in Vancouver. (I’ll be speaking in metric from now on like the bulk of the world does) . As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, the first thing one does when arriving in Canada is pull into the closest Tim Hortons. Although now owned by an American company, Tim Hortons remains the ultimate Canadian icon along with some other stereotypically silly flavors like the ones we immediately saw in a McDonalds kiosk located inside a Wal-Mart store .
Located in the first town over the border about a half hour from Vancouver, the town of Surrey is where one of Diane’s uncles lives but that’s not where we are squatting. One of her high school friends also has a four bedroom house and generously offered to let us stay as long as want. Being unmarried and childless probably played a role in her decision but we gladly accepted the hospitality and dumped off all our stuff in the guest suite. Never having explored the local communities of White Rock and Crescent Beach, both right across from the American side of the border, we went to dinner at a beautiful beachside restaurant and snapped these pictures of a tranquil beach that Vancouverites barely know exists.
And so we continue as house squatters for the next week in Surrey, BC. Planning on driving the CRV across the province next week with a one night stopover in Jasper National Park (just as beautiful as Banff but much less visited), we’re headed towards Alberta for some quality time in a family friend’s cabin about an hour outside Edmonton followed by a visit to Diane’s parents. After that We head south to Calgary where we’ll visit Diane’s sister and give the car to her for eventual use by our teenage niece. Then it’s a flight back to Vancouver and off to Penang. We’ve tentatively secured reservations at the Copthorne Orchid hotel for 10 days in early July and made an appointment to visit our banking relationship manager in Kuala Lumpur where we’ll stopover for two nights. From there the adventure begins.
Having taken hours to complete my first computer free blog post using only the available functions of an IPad, I already can’t wait to ship our stuff to Penang so I can get the windows based PC back. But for now and the immediate future I deal with the enormous pain in the ass of using an IPad to post so please feel free to comment on formatting issues, picture errors or anything else that can help me improve our little expat blog. Until next week, cheers from Western Canada.
Please comment if you have any awesome tips on IPad blogging for those who prefer a mouse and PC
Coming next week: Our visit to North America’s most beautiful hot springs in Jasper National Park