Kelowna, BC: friends, wine, strip clubs, and border crossing drama

After seeing the national parks of the north, we spent the next couple of weeks visiting friends. Our first stop was Kelowna, BC, up in Canada, visiting my friend Melissa. Me and Melissa met in Tonsai, Thailand last year. I found her on the beach in Railay – Tonsai’s fancy sister – looking confused as to how you get to the Tonsai side of the beach. You have to make a bit of a trek on a decently hidden path to get there. I took one look at her and was like, “Hey! You’re a dirty backpacker, you must be looking for Tonsai. Follow me!” So I led her to paradise, hooked her up with a shower and a bed to have a nap, and we’ve been friends ever since despite time and distance.

welcome to Tonsai
welcome to Tonsai

Melissa didn’t know this, but she was one of the most influential people I met on my trip through Southeast Asia. She’s the one that gave me the confidence to do Vietnam by motorcycle. She had just finished riding through Vietnam when I met her and she didn’t even know how to ride a motorcycle when she started. I at least had that part figured out, but I needed someone to reassure me and Melissa was that person.  She gave me the confidence to travel Vietnam by motorcycle, even if I was doing by myself.  If it weren’t for her, I would have missed out on a lot of experiences that shaped who I am now. It turns out, I became a greatly important part of her journey traveling as well.

It was weird to see her outside the context of being beach bum climbers in paradise, but it was nice to recount our travel stories and talk about how hard the transition coming back home was. It seems the more I talk to other people who have traveled long term the more I’m not alone in my bout of post-travel depression. When I got down to San Francisco a week later, Alan told me that him and Dylan didn’t really prepare me for how bad coming home is. They had already gone through it once before, after studying abroad in Bali. So for anyone who hasn’t traveled for long periods of time, be prepared, reverse culture shock is real, and coming home is not easy.  Anyway, it’s been nice to reunite with old travel buddies.

Kelowna, BC
Kelowna, BC

Me and Sarah really only had one full day in Kelowna, but that was all I needed to see why it’s Melissa’s home base right now. The beautiful weather and mild winters make it a great place for outdoor activity junkies. Melissa had just returned from a climbing trip when we arrived at her house.

The next day, me and Sarah spent the morning on a small hike along the Okanagan Lake. There were plenty of wildflowers on the mountain side and the lake water was already warm enough for swimming, even this early in May.

Our morning hike in Kelowna
Our morning hike in Kelowna

Kelowna’s climite is also ideal for growing grapes, making it excellent wine country. As you would expect, that’s exactly what me and Sarah spent the rest of our afternoon doing – wine tasting (and wine purchasing).

Mission Hill winery
Mission Hill winery

The first winery we went to we kind of went as a joke. It was called Mission Hill. For anyone that’s not from Boston, it’s the shitty neighborhood where we used to live (it’s actually not that bad now, but it used to be a relatively dangerous area). Mission Hill winery is nothing like Mission Hill Boston. This winery was like being transported to the Tuscan countryside. The property is along the water and it’s Italian architecture is complete with a bell tower. All joking aside, their wine was actually really good and the staff was incredibly friendly.

Raising a glass to a good day
Raising a glass to a good day

The next winery we went to was Gray Monk Estate, also along the water but in a different area. Their tasting room wasn’t as extravagent but their wine was still damn good – and incredibly cheap. We paid as liitle as $10 Canadian for some of the bottles we bought (that’s less than $8USD). Even at Mission Hill we were surprised by how affordable the wine was. Usually, at least in the States, when you buy wine straight from the winery it’s actually more expensive than purchasing it from a retailer. So when we tasted all this great wine that was so cheap, we bought 5 bottles, which landed us in some trouble at the border…I’ll get into that in a bit.

Later, we went out for drinks with Melissa and her friend. We started at a rooftop bar and had a few drinks there before moving on for avocado margaritas – I know, that may sound weird but they are sooo good. On the way to avocado margs we met a couple of lads smoking a joint by the bar exit. They threw one our way and decided to join us for margs. This worked out quite well for the ladies; they bought two rounds of margs for all four of us. Thanks boys! They also made for decent entertainment.

They were from out of town and bought weed earlier from some guy the met and were trying to get more. While we were out the bar, they gave the guy more money (it was $100 or $200, I can’t remember), and the guy totally just made off with their cash. It was pretty funny. First time buying drugs, bro? You don’t give someone money, especially a staranger, before you get that good good.

After margs we were trying to get food, but pretty much everywhere was closed. So what did we do? We went to the strip club and had another drink instead. I was particularly entertained by Sarah at this point in time.

When the stripper came on stage you could feel how uncomfortable she was. Even more so when the stripper was bottoms-off, dancing right in front of her. Side note: there was a dad and his two kids next to us, how weird? Then, I got uncomfortable when one of the dudes we were with was getting creepy and trying to buy me a dance. Sorry dude, you can buy me drinks all night, but you can’t touch me or buy me a dance – not interested in either. And this is exactly why I don’t like guys paying for my drinks. On that note, we were pretty done with the strip club and ready to grab a few hours of sleep before getting back on the road.

We awoke early the next morning, about 5am, to head toward Vancouver to catch a whale watching tour before going down to Washington. I woke Melissa up to say goodbye (and barged in on her naked), promised I’d come back soon to visit (which I will!), and hit the road once again.

So whale watching turned out to be a huge bust. I was just trying to see some orcas and all we got was sea lions and bald eagles. Okay, those are cool too, but not orca cool and that’s not what we paid to see. The tour was about 4 hours long, we didn’t see any whales, and by the end you could smell the teenagers sitting up front. Seriously, it smelled like pubescent, hormonal pre-teens at middle school rec night. No joke.

We wrapped up with a drink and ceviche before heading to see our friend Jonny from college in Bellingham, WA. This is where the border police story comes in. First off, Sarah and I seemed to pick the only line where the border officer was checking almost every trunk for some reason. Bad choice. We get there and he asks the standard questions, including “are you transporting and tobacco or alcohol products?” Sarah forgets about the wine and says no. I know we have wine but I say no too, thinking she knows but wants to avoid any duty fees (we’re only one bottle over the duty-free limit anyway). He asks us to roll down the back window, reaches his arm in, fishes around, and comes out with a bottle of wine.

This is where Sarah chimes in, “Oh yeah! The wine! Sorry, I totally forgot. We’ve crossed the border 3 times in 2 weeks and I got used to saying no to everything.” He asks us to open the trunk and I’m getting nervous. Not about the wine, I couldn’t care less about that. It’s just that I may or may not have had a little weed in my backpack. So, I’m sitting here like, fuck, is he searching the whole car? Would he go through everything? Luckily, he comes back from the trunk and asks us if the wine is all. He doesn’t care about that, they’re more concerned about people transporting hard liquor. He asks us one more question. “Are you transporting any funny stuff with you today?” We sweetly say no, laugh a bit, and he sends us on our way while my heart attack subsides.

Next Stop: Bellingham and Seattle

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