We got off the plane in the dark.
Made our way to the SkyTrain, took it to Waterfront, and walked up three staircases to the American Backpackers Hostel, just as someone was being kicked out because management found his needle stash under the bed.
A former Vancouverian did actually warn me that hostel was probably junkie-land, but I like to stay positive, and if that means potentially subjecting myself to the thug life if it saves me $500 per month in rent, so be it.
Unfortunately (fortunately?), American Backpackers Hostel uses online ‘bookings’ as an indication as to whether they’ll have people showing up, rather than placing actual bookings. It’s a first-in-first-served deal, and we weren’t the first in, so onward we travelled around a strange city in the dark with four bags, three coats and only maps.me for geographical assistance.
The thing to note here is we travelled to Vancouver from Sydney, Australia, via China. We left on a Thursday at 12:30pm, arrived in China after a 9-hour flight at 6:30pm on Thursday, left China at 9:30pm on Thursday, and somehow, after more than 20-hours of travel, we arrived in Vancouver at 6:30pm. On Thursday.
By the third time I’d lived through 6:30pm on Thursday March 16 2017, I was so tired that my vision warped every 20-minutes or so. It was like that part in The X-Files intro where the Freddie Kruger/alien-hybrid warps and falls in to the abyss, but instead of an alien-hybrid, it was the city of Vancouver that warped. This slowed things down. It was the second-closest I've ever come to hallucinating.
It was dark, the air was crisp, and steam was pouring out of vents on the roads as we entered (and exited) a series of $300-per-night hotels, and raging 'hotels' that were obviously night clubs.
We spotted one weathered-looking structure with a flickering 'HOTEL' sign half-heartedly clinging to the brickwork, entered the 'lobby' and wished we hadn't. The cream walls were grimy, and the smell distinctly reminded me of walking in to an old hospital. There was a man sitting in an enclosed area behind a sheet of perspex, under fluorescent bulbs. He peered up slowly from his desk, smirked, and asked what I wanted.
Deciding not to make it weird(er), I swallowed, smiled, asked if he had any rooms available, and almost sighed with relief when he said: 'No, it's residential'.
I continued smiling, thanked him, backed out of the lobby, and legged-it down street as quickly as all our stuff would allow.
The quest for an affordable hostel led us down East Hastings Street, aka the stomping ground for a large chunk of the country’s homeless population. I'd seen homelessness and poverty in India, Thailand, Nepal, and Cambodia, but I'd never seen anything like Hastings. To put it lightly, the vibe really shifted from tipsy and jovial, to sobering and confronting.
People were yelling and stumbling around, and many were in wheelchairs or had trollies full of cans and bottles. There were used needles lying about the place and piles of possessions in every doorway, conversations ranged from loud and intensely happy, to furious self-mutterings, to unintelligible rambling, and some people were so out of it they couldn't move. I thought back to some of the politicians at home complaining about the homelessness in Sydney, and how trivial it seemed compared to the situation in Vancouver.
As we ploughed on, we realised no one was actually paying us any attention. People were all over the sidewalks, and we were doing our best to weave through them inconspicuously, but no one looked or cared, so we carried on until we found another pub labelled ‘hotel’, realised it was actually residential, and decided to end our Hastings adventure right there.
The temperature would have been around two-degrees, but I felt uncomfortably hot under all the coats and bags as we ploughed back up the hill towards nowhere in particular.
We were tired, hangry, warm, my arms were hurting from carrying the second bag, and all I wanted to do was brush my teeth.
After morbidly sitting on a park bench for five-minutes, we saw a flashing sign across the road: HOTEL. The music inside was blaring, and there were people lining up out the front in tiny pieces of cloth that, having now lived in Canada for a year, I still don't think were conducive to cold weather.
SPOILER: It wasn't a hotel (surprising, I know).
But the bouncer directed us further up the hill (basically where we got off the train at Waterfront) to Cambie Hostel.
A girl with purple hair informed us they had rooms available, sold us some toothpaste, and gave us a key. From there, we ate burritos, drank beer, and slept horizontally for the first time in 24-hours.
Word of advice: If you need somewhere to stay in Vancouver, don't wing it.