Thursday, October 4, 2012

Canada once more - Vancouver Island
Our port of entry to Canada on this occasion was Prince Rupert in British Columbia, where we spent only an afternoon as we were taking a BC ferry to Port Hardy the next morning. That afternoon was productively spent visiting The Museum of Northern BC which had a stunning display of Haida, Tsimshian and Gitksan art and artifacts.
Inside Passage near Prince Rupert

With occasional sightings of porpoises and distant spouting whales we  were ferried to Port Hardy where we arrived in the dark and quickly ensconced ourselves in the first available camping ground, nestled cosily in the forest.

Our first day on the island was spent exploring Port Hardy (i.e finding the good coffee shops) and the surrounding coastline. The following day we established a new camp by the water at Alder Bay. News of cougars being relatively common in the area motivated us to take an evening drive around the logging roads through the mountains behind Port Hardy, which was all very well until, just on dark, we came across a sign indicating that the road we were on was closed for the construction of a hydro-electric dam. As the return trip was something like 100 kms and we were less than 20 from our camp we decided to chance the closed road. A little way in we met some workers who reluctantly indicated that we could get through so long as we kept out of the way of the trucks, which were still working well into the evening. So we tippy-toed our way through bulldozers and dump trucks to make our way back to the coast after a scenic but cougar-free adventure. 

The next morning saw us aboard a sailing boat (no wind so under power) in search of orcas but the low fog over the waters made us wonder if we had made a wise decision. After several hours of drifting in and out of fog patches we eventually found a small group of orcas moving along close to the shoreline, giving us a good view, and an even better one to a number of kayakers who happened to be on the water as they passed.

Setting sail in search of orcas
...with some success

Close encounter!

From the west coast, we then cut across the island to the eastern side of the island  via circuitous logging roads which eventually brought us out on the ruggedly beautiful Pacific coast. Here we found ourselves a secluded pebbly beach on a glorious sheltered bay which we had all to ourselves in spite of it being a long weekend for Canadians. Next morning I was out in the kayak, thinking there was no one else for miles when I heard voices across the water and two women in kayaks paddled around a headland. They had been dropped off by a tuna fishing boat and were exploring the coast with the intention of being picked up again when the boat returned. So we bobbed around on the still ocean waters in the morning sun, chatting away as seals and otters popped their heads up to see what these peculiar creatures were up to. 

Secluded campsite

An afternoon bike ride took me through some less than inspiring logging areas - trees being felled almost to the coastline - with a brief pause as I waited for a black bear to make its way off the track so I could pass. 

Returned to the east side of the island where our next camp was a very pretty, free forestry campsite by the waterfront at Naka creek where the very hospitable residents (mostly people from further south on Vancouver Island) immediately made us welcome, sharing campfires and fish. A kayak along the coast provided a sighting of a passing humpback whale and that evening and again the following morning a pod of orcas swept by, making their way purposefully along the sound.  It was here that we met up with Mariana and Michael, a German couple who were also embarking on a Pan American journey and, like us had been wandering around Canada and Alaska and were now making their way southwards. Mariana was an art teacher who taught art to blind people in Germany. On this trip they were embarked on a project where they would get people along the way to paint onto a rolled up canvas, the idea being to end up with a long mural representing people’s creativity all the way from top to bottom of north and south America. Michael, like me, was an ex-manager who was “over that”.

Coastline at Naka Creek
Fellow Panamericans

A few days later we crossed the island once again, this time to the somewhat touristy but nonetheless very welcoming villages of Tofino and Uclulet.  Our camp that night was on a west-facing beach with rocky headlands and islets and, as we took in the sunset on the sand, we were serenaded by a beautiful classical trumpet solo. Looking around for the musician, I saw an orchestra of trumpet players...oops... no they weren’t, they were photographers holding cameras out in front of their faces in trumpet-holding poses. It seems the real musician was out on one of the rocky islets having kayaked out to play their haunting serenade.

Totem poles at Port Campbell
Long Beach near Tofino

The sheltered waters behind Tofino then enticed us to once more put kayak to water for a paddle around Indian Island on what was a relatively rare sunny day. We later bumped our way down several miles of gravel tracks to a funky little campsite at Mussel Beach, overlooking the water. As we looked out upon jumbled rocks and boulders that led to the ocean we wondered  where the “beach” in Mussel Beach had gone, but were assured by the very friendly camp owner that this location was among the top 60 surf spots in the world, presumably one where the surfers wear crash helmets! 

Just for  change, our next camp was on neither coast but on Cowitchan Lake in the middle of the southern part of the island. Here we shared a campfire and red wine with a couple from Victoria, he a “furniture maker” according to the sign on his van but, having seen photos of the furniture that he makes (refusing to use machinery of any kind) this is somewhat of an understatement, as he is clearly an artisan of the highest order, making exquisite pieces for rather discerning buyers. 

Vancouver Island’s extraordinary hospitality continued the next day as we stopped for lunch on a small beach just out of Victoria. Here, a guy called Eric with his two kids pulled up next to us in the carpark and offered us a bag of freshly picked plums. We sat on the beach in the afternoon sun chatting about all manner of things, including the logging (mal?)practices on  the island and their home schooling of the kids and next thing we had a dinner invite and spent the evening (with partner/mother Dana) at their house eating a delicious salmon and herb potato dinner that Eric quickly threw together. 

If I ever have to live in a city again, it would need to be something like Victoria (with a little less rain). Beautifully located around headlands and beaches with a quaint little harbor, across which little yellow water taxis skim like water beetles. With a population of 350,000, it seems to have all that you want in a city without the crap that one gets as they get larger. Bear in mind, it was a gloriously warm and sunny day so it’s possible that we may be misrepresenting the joint!

At the waterfront, Victoria
The harbor is overlooked by the seriously British-looking parliament buildings but their granitic edge is softened by the majestic totem poles that dominate the lush green lawns in front. The remainder of the foreshore is taken up with cafes, restaurants, a sustainable fish van with a queue of 50 people (could there be a message in that some where? Duh!), and buskers and artists plying there talents and wares.

Totem pole in front of the Parliament Building, Victoria.
And the First Nations  display in the Museum is extraordinary. To my mind, it was a little too “artifactual” focusing on various aspects of their lives and beliefs, but not adequately telling the historical story of their arrival and settlement of north America nor their barbaric treatment by the subsequent arrivals of Russian whalers, otter hunters and sealers and later by American and Canadian officialdom. In all, an excellent albeit somewhat sanitised portrayal.

Sitting on a headland, bathed in the morning sun, we were gifted by a magical performance of Malian music from an African guy who wondered down the foreshore, singing and playing a gourd-like instrument, seemingly just enjoying the morning, and possibly (hopefully) being in a place where being black from elsewhere didn’t mean you couldn’t enjoy the greeting of the morning’s sun.

After a night in Goldstream National Park, we made our way to Sidney where we lazed in the sun (yes, it’s still sunny and we’re loving it!) before taking the ferry across to the San Juan Islands and the US once more.

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