We sat on the beach, and enjoyed the bright, hot sun on our skins. It was a welcome dose of vitamin D after the brutally wet and soggy spring that we have been enduring.
The sparkling ocean danced before our eyes and the murmur of voices coming from the stage, wafted over our heads.
As I scanned the crowd of people around me, 10’s of 1000’s at least, it struck me at how peaceful this scene was at Sunset Beach.
Pure fate had brought us to Vancouver on the auspicious day of April 20th. (For those who don’t know what April 20th represents, or about 4/20, please click here.)
My partner, Chris, had to go there to get his Yellow Fever vaccine for our upcoming journey. Apparently there is a worldwide shortage of the vaccine, and it was proving difficult to get a full dose close to where we live.
When he called the Vancouver clinic on Tuesday, the Nurse told him that he better get there ASAP to be guaranteed a full dose, which will last a lifetime. Nearer where we live, but still a ferry ride away, he could only get a 1/4 dose, which they state only lasts a year.
And so, that was it! Chris made the appointment for Thursday, as we could both leave work that day, and we decided to make the trip. We realized immediately that it was 4/20.
I have lived on the West Coast of Canada for 15 years, and have watched the Vancouver 420 festival grow by seeing it on the news, and reading articles about it, but had never gotten down there to check it out first hand. Seeing that we are leaving here this fall for a big adventure into the world, I was excited at the opportunity to finally go and check it out.
TO HAVE A NEW EXPERIENCE.
I really had no idea of what I was in for.
Our day started at 6:20 in the morning, when we started driving from our home of Powell River, tucked along the mainland of the West Coast of Canada.
A series of roads and ferries takes us across 2 major fjords to get us to Vancouver. All told, it’s a 4-5 hour journey, one way, on a good day. We decided that we would go back and forth in one day, it would just be a long day. Our plan was simple, we needed to go to the Clinic for 2:00 and then get down to Sunset Beach, the site of the 420 event, by 4:00 or so. This would give us an hour or so there, before we had to head back to the ferry terminal for our 7:20 ferry back home.
Figuring that it would be busy in the city because of the event, we decided to leave our car in Langdale, at the start of the second, and last, ferry leg of the trip, and just walk on the boat and ride public transit for the day. We planned out our bus route, and the app said that it would take 50 minutes from where the ferry arrived in Horseshoe Bay, to the clinic.
Great! We would have lots of time to get there……or so we thought. The ferry arrived at about 11:40 (of course, half an hour late) but we still had tons of time to get over to the clinic. However, as we emerged out of the ferry terminal, it was instantly obvious just how busy things were going to be that day. There stood a HUGE line up of people waiting at the bus stop.
We had no choice but to get in line with the rest, and wait with earnest until the next bus came. Of course, because the ferry was late arriving, the bus schedule didn’t quite sync up, so we had to wait about 20 minutes for the next one.
The worrisome clock in my brain is now ticking.
I start checking the time on my phone repeatedly.
It doesn’t help, either, that a guy walks by announcing “Geez! I hope they are sending a barge for you all.” Meaning that there were a lot of us, and one bus wasn’t going to cut it!
The bus pulls up at noon and we clamber on like a herd of sheep. The bus driver all the while yelling “Move further back!” Only 6-8 people got on behind Chris and I so we considered ourselves lucky as we stood in the aisle holding on to the swinging handholds above, while many unfortunate patrons waited on the sidewalk for the next bus.
The bus pulls out and my eavesdropping ear kicks in immediately. As I start to overhear various conversations, I realize that many of the people on the bus, are headed down to Sunset Beach as well.
One young lady in particular asked a few people in general, how long of a walk it was from the bus drop off to the 420 party. She was sitting right below where I stood so I was within ear shot of her conversations that she was having with complete strangers.
She was maybe 18 or 19 with a soft, unimposing demeanor. Her innocent look and braided pigtails would probably profile her as a straight arrow, that wouldn’t have anything to do with an event like this. However, when she learned that others were going to the same event, she stood up from her seat, and loudly yelled to her partner, who was now sandwiched at the back of the bus, “Hey there are more 420 people up here, we can go with them!” Then she looked up at me with a gaping mouth. A huge smile came over her face and she said, “This is my first time to the 420 event.” As if to gently let me know that we all should be excusing her behaviour. A silent way of declaring that she is excited. I gave her a kind smile and thought to myself (now wishing I had have said it out loud) ‘me too’.
After that moment, it was as if most people in there realized that we were all heading to the same place. The mood instantly turned from the typical icy city demeanor that you normally find on the bus, to that of a more relaxed and chill vibe. The bus seemed to erupt in conversation as happy revelers exchanged words.
All was good until we hit the other side of Stanley Park. On a good day, the bus would take about 5-10 minutes to get down to Burrard street from where we were, to where the party goers needed to get off. But we immediately hit a wall of standstill traffic, and started inching along at a snails pace.
It didn’t take long for the mood to shift from light and jovial, to easing towards annoyed and hostile. By the time somebody announced that maybe walking would be better, we had entered into a HUGE gap between stops, as many had signs on the bus stop saying “Buses re-routed due to 420 Protest.” Which meant that they weren’t stopping in those spots.
Apparently we weren’t getting off until we reached Burrard, and that was that.
Protest? It seemed a strange word. I never felt like this was a protest. I always just thought of it as a celebration. Where people could, for just one day, happily enjoy a joint in public, without fear of being arrested. I saw it as more of a feeling of being alive and having freedom, without the reign of authority breathing down our necks. A rare moment these days.
FINALLY, the bus arrived at Burrard St. And everybody piled off the with glee, scattering themselves down the sidewalk, all heading in the same direction.
Chris and I were actually meant to get off a couple blocks later, on Granville, as we were taking the Skytrain over to Broadway for his appointment. However, we got off and walked, saving ourselves from more inching torture on the bus.
Things went well from here on in, and we arrived to Broadway with enough time to grab a quick snack at the taco stand, as we hadn’t eaten since 6:00am. (We were both pissed off that the ferry wasn’t serving poutine, only breakfast items. As we both had our hearts set on Poutine, we silently protested by not ordering anything, and then both found ourselves very hungry! We sure showed them………?)
After the appointment, we headed back towards downtown by bus, being dropped off just on the other side of Granville St bridge around 3:30.
We started to walk towards the park, and quickly realized that we were part of a massive group, all descending down to the beach to be in place for the magic 420 hour. I would love to have seen the above image of people coming from all angles of the city. We were like a swarm of mosquitoes, all buzzing in on their pray at once. However, we were happy mosquitoes, all walking quite quickly and with much anticipation.
The smell of marijuana started to fill the air from blocks away. I’m pretty sure upon smelling this, I giggled and jumped a little in my step. I just had a massive overwhelming feeling of how big this was going to be. As I said earlier, I really didn’t know what I was in for.
As we got closer to the beach we started to see a lot of Ambulance presence, but surprisingly not much Police presence. We saw more police directing traffic in the busy streets above the event, than we certainly did AT the event. Even still, I had my hawk eyes out trying to spot them in the crowds.
I’ve always been one of those people that are scared of the Police. A rule follower, a normal citizen, a “don’t ruffle any feathers” kind of gal. My passport is my most valued possession, and I’m not likely to get in a situation where I might lose it over some silly injustice. So when I’m approaching a place where everyone is doing something “technically” illegal, my senses can’t help but jump into overdrive. (Not too mention I feel very brave in posting this blog post…..even just admitting my participation in the event.)
The closer we got the more rigid I became. It’s like I needed to see it for myself before I could decide if it was okay or not. I needed to formulate my own opinions based on my feelings when I got there. Even though I knew it was all ALLOWED, and all OKAY, my rule following anxiety was on high alert.
It wasn’t long before we were part of the mob, disappearing into a gently smoke filled cloud that hung invisibly in the air, and obviously realizing that everything is just A-okay……man.
Vendors were selling all manner of Marijuana infused edibles, skin creams, bath bombs, you name it! There were marijuana infused rice crispy squares, popsicles, cookies, lollipops……like I said, you name it, it was there!! Not too mention there were people smoking weed everywhere you looked.
‘Okay’, I thought, ‘it’s okay.’
‘You aren’t doing anything wrong.’
I took a moment to re-collect myself and take a breathe, and then forced myself to relax, and just take it all in.
We wandered amongst the booths and pushed our way through the crowds. It was amazing! There were what felt like AT LEAST 100 booths lining the walkways, selling all manner of the aforementioned.
People, young and old, took it all in, wandering to and fro and inspecting what was on offer in each booth.
We wandered and wandered along aisles of goodies, all the while subconsciously following the sound of a distant loud speaker, which somehow seemed to be beckoning us.
We arrived at the stage only to realize that there were limited spaces to sit on the grassy slope near the stage, and way to many people.
These small townies needed some elbow room!
We snaked our way back through the booths, down towards the beach, and found ourselves a patch of sand to call our own. We sat down in the warm sun and reveled in the occasion.
At about 4:18 they started to get the crowd excited and the anticipation grew of the magic time coming nearer. Much like we countdown for New Years, this had its own kind of excitement building with it.
Free joints were being handed out to those on the grassy slope because, in the words of the announcer “I want us all to light up at once so that we can be happy at once, and to send a cloud of smoke as a message to our government.”
For me, it wasn’t the excitement that we would all be “lighting up” at 420, it was more the excitement of thousands of people, collected together in a peaceful celebration. As the clock got closer, they started a 20 second countdown. It started at the stage, then moved to the crowd, and reached us and those beyond us. It was an invisible sound wave that pulsed out like a pebble being dropped in a pond, creates ripples. In no time flat approximately 35 000 people were counting down in unison.
The moment came and we all shouted and cheered! Smoke filled the air above us, people hugged and celebrated.It WAS a celebration after all!
It was a celebration of a plant, of a coming together of people, of a peaceful unity.
We sat quietly for many minutes, just taking it all in. I looked around and realized that there was no arguing going on, there were no drunk people running around making asses of themselves. It was a simple, peaceful gathering, in celebration of a plant!
Really! Can you believe how powerful this plant is? It kind of reminds me of a certain book that was written so many years ago. A certain book that changed the world as we know it.
I wonder if this plant has the same power to change the world? To help people to understand that life is wonderful and that we get too wrapped up in nonsense and the “First World” problems that we have.
We headed out around 5:00, thinking that it would be good to get some more food before we started our journey back to the ferry. We figured that if the buses were that full coming in, then they would likely be just as bad heading out.
We made our way up towards West Georgia St by foot and happened to stumble upon a “La Belle Patate” poutine shop! Finally, we were going to get our Poutine after all! We got in just before massive crowds starting making their way up the sidewalks. Just as we all descended on the park, there was a massive exodus, and those walking by, with no knowledge of what was going on, clearly looked bewildered by the crowds (but surely they could smell it in the air and figure it out?)
We decided to take our poutine to go, and would just get on a bus and eat at the ferry terminal while we waited. After all, there were lots of people walking by, and we were quite concerned about getting a bus out of there. As we approached the bus stop, our bus number drove by with a “Sorry bus is full” sign shining down on us. I let out an exasperated sigh as we approached the waiting zone, thinking there was no way that we were going to get out of there and to the ferry on time.Just as we reached the back of the lineup that had assembled, another bus pulled up with room for all of us. We all squeezed on, again moving all the way to the back. The driver stopped at a couple other stops to let the odd person off, and a couple more on until finally we were full as well. As buses were now also behind schedule, and this bus was supposed to keep time to the ferries, the driver stood up at some point and asked if “Anybody needed to get off before Horseshoe Bay (the ferry terminal)?” He asked three times, making sure that there was nobody that didn’t. He said “Okay, I am going to make up time by going straight to the Ferry Terminal, this bus will not stop again until we get there.”
As nobody protested, he sat back down, flashed his “bus is full” sign, and whisked us off to the ferry terminal. I couldn’t help myself but think of how kind and considerate that driver was. He went outside of his call of duty, to make sure that we got to where we needed to go, as close to on time as he could get us.
As we jumped off the bus, I thanked him for his dedication to our needs and our precious timetables. And I couldn’t help but wonder; is this a Canadian thing, or a Vancouver thing? How many bus drivers in the world would care that much about the customers on the bus? Are they all like that? I guess I have never been in that situation before, so it’s hard to say.
I do know one thing for sure though, on a day that would normally be stressful, annoying and aggravating for us small town people to make our way into the city, my faith in humanity was once again renewed, and I marveled at the wonderful day that we had had.
Arriving to the ferry terminal at about 6:10, we were told that the last ferry was meant to have left at 5:50 and it was just arriving. Hallelujah! For likely the first time EVER, our ferry was going to leave early! This meant that we would have time to visit friends on the next coast up, that we didn’t think we would have time to visit.We had a quick visit with them and made our way up to the next ferry which was set to depart at 10:30. Unfortunately, after boarding, an announcement told us that we had to wait for the last ferry out of Horseshoe Bay (as it was obviously late. Those people needed to get this last ferry to get them home that night.) And so, in state of complete exhaustion, but happy that BC Ferries was actually doing the right thing by waiting for people, we both drifted off to sleep before an announcement woke us from our slumber that we were nearing our destination.
All told, our one day trip to the city was 18 hours from door to door. Under normal conditions, a day like this to the city would leave us both tired and drained. But this time we saw only the best of humanity, and we both felt enlightened and happy that we had had such an interesting day, with tons of new and exciting EXPERIENCES.
**Thanks for reading! For those new to my blog, my partner and I are in the process of selling everything to head out into the world to make traveling a priority in our lives . If you would like to read about our letting go process, please start here. If you would like to follow us along on our journey, please enter your e-mail address on the right hand side of this page to subscribe.**