Sift on­line and mind the crack

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL - Steve Creedy

AWALK down East Hast­ings Street in Van­cou­ver is a walk down Dam­na­tion Al­ley. You start off in the thriv­ing tourist dis­trict among the bustling cruise-ship crowds and grad­u­ally ex­pe­ri­ence the drug-fu­elled down­fall of civil­i­sa­tion as you head to­wards Main Street. It has be­come the do­main of hu­man­ity’s flot­sam, zom­bies rav­aged by al­co­hol, crack and crys­tal meth.

It may be an ideal back­drop for Ge­orge Romero’s NightoftheLiv­ingDead but it is ab­so­lutely not a place where you want your ho­tel to be. Yet it is where a cer­tain ro­tund, bearded trav­eller could well have ended up were it not for a for­tu­itous trip on a pub­lic bus.

My in­ter­net book­ing was made through the of­fi­cial Van­cou­ver site and it was pos­si­bly this, and a des­per­ate need to economise, that lulled me into a false sense of se­cu­rity. The ho­tel seemed cheap and there was noth­ing to in­di­cate in the bland on­line de­scrip­tion that it was at the edge of what lo­cals call Crack Cen­tral. It is only when I ask a bus driver on the way into town from the air­port how to get to East Hast­ings Street that I learn of the area’s seedy rep­u­ta­tion.

The bus erupts with a flurry of ex­cla­ma­tions and dire warn­ings from pas­sen­gers, enough to send me scut­tling down to the tourist bureau to book safer ac­com­mo­da­tion. Yes, the clerk agrees, it is a bad area, and yes, it would be a good idea to book into an­other ho­tel. Oh and by the way, the ex­pe­ri­ence will cost me $98 — the equiv­a­lent of one night’s stay — for fail­ing to can­cel more than 24 hours in ad­vance. The walk along East Hast­ings Street a few days later proves it was the right de­ci­sion. It quickly be­comes ap­par­ent where the le­gions of home­less peo­ple in Van­cou­ver re­side when they’re not beg­ging on street cor­ners.

Ques­tions still re­main about how an of­fi­cial tourist site could host a ho­tel in such an area, but the ex­pe­ri­ence un­der­scores the need for re­search when book­ing on­line in a strange city.

Of the ho­tels and back­packer hos­tels found via the in­ter­net over sev­eral years, in ar­eas as di­verse as South Africa, Asia and the US, this has been the first to pose a se­ri­ous prob­lem.

Also on this trip, ac­com­mo­da­tion in Hawaii was booked in Aus­tralia through Zuji af­ter sev­eral hours of sift­ing through use­ful user rat­ings which, as it turns out, also con­tain warn­ings about the Van­cou­ver ho­tel.

The Hawaii as­sess­ments turn out to be pretty much spot-on, and my mid-size Waikiki ho­tel pro­vides a com­fort­able and friendly bud­get stay. Those few hours of re­search meant I was ready for, and un­per­turbed by, the pit­falls and happy to see favourable com­ments con­firmed.

Like­wise, a back­packer hos­tel on Van­cou­ver Is­land comes well rec­om­mended and is one of the high­lights of this trip. By the time I book that room, how­ever, I am suf­fi­ciently ner­vous to ring first and ask a few ques­tions. Af­ter all, it never hurts to be wary when you’re a stranger in a strange land. Steve Creedy is TheAus­tralian ’ s avi­a­tion ed­i­tor.

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