In Vancouver we had a couple of days staying with another cousin and then set off for the ferry to Vancouver Island and Victoria. On the ferry a Parks Canada representative gave a talk about whales and porpoises, which is a great idea. It had us all trying to spot whales as the boat wove through the Gulf Islands, though it didn’t get more exciting that day than a huge harbour seal hanging around the fish stall on the wharf for fish scraps in Victoria.
We’d been to Victoria briefly a few years ago, and this time we decided to stay in an Airbnb in the suburbs to try to get a better feel for the city. Our hosts Niko and Lucy, like many in Victoria, have a beautiful garden. All four of their children live in Vancouver, and so they converted part of their house to a suite and rent it out. They were delightful. Niko at 67 is still working as a house painter. Lucy caters for events at their church, and devises ways to keep the deer out of her garden. Deer do seem to be quite at ease in suburbia. We were eating dinner in our ground-floor flat when I felt I was being watched. I was. I looked up, and a deer was muzzle to the window, gazing at my salad. Niko and Lucy left Bosnia for Canada many years before the conflict, in fact when it was still part of Yugoslavia, but when we asked if they ever go back to visit, the answer was no. As ethnic Croatians in Bosnia, there is nothing to go back to. Their sibling’s houses are all destroyed, most of them now live in Germany. “Canada is good” said Niko. MLH had a Canaversary while in Victoria – he arrived in the country on July 22nd, 1987. We borrowed a sweatshirt from a shop to take the photo. He emigrated with two suitcases and is travelling now with two suitcases, no room for new clothes. I’ve got one suitcase, by the way.
Victoria has a genteel air. Similar in many ways to Halifax, with a naval base, and being on the ocean, it is also very different. I tried to work out how. It may be partly that there are fewer universities and colleges in Victoria, and therefore fewer young people. Certainly, there was less going on in terms of music, waterfront events. We went to a blues concert in a park, and most of the attendees were seniors, some of them obviously with family visiting for holidays. Perhaps the balmy climate and bounty of flowers, trees, fruits and vegetables gives the city a more laid-back feel in the summer.
MLH was disappointed by the Pacific Ocean. He thought it would be like Hawaii, with big swells and huge sandy beaches. We were told Tofino could fit the bill, but didn’t want to drive that far. Instead, we set off for the coastal villages of Sooke and Port Renfrew, West of Victoria. Near Sooke we took our requisite Pacific photos, and then set off on a challenging trail along the cliffs where there was much to see. Running parallel were the Olympus Mountains in Washington State; so close that our cell phones pinged with a ‘Welcome to the USA’ message. We were treated to a view from above of adult and young river otters devouring an eel on a rock near shore. On the trail were old, old forests, ancient petroglyphs of a seal and eagle, and dozens of small fishing boats roaring up the channel and then drifting down on the fast currents, their lines out for salmon (which were running at the time) and crab.
Everywhere we went on the Island, there we lots of people on the beaches, kayakers and paddle boarders, boats of all kinds, but no one swimming. Scott, a bicycle courier we met in Beacon Park in Victoria, had the answer: “fecal matter – and cold”. Victoria still dumps sewage straight into the sea, where it drifts down to Seattle and the US Gulf Islands, disgraceful.
One stop we had to make before setting off for Salt Spring Island was Habit Coffee in Victoria, one of the coffee shops Daughter #2 wrote about in an article for Chatelaine magazine. The cortado was excellent as advertised.
Port Renfrew seemed remote, but the road to our Airbnb ‘quiet forest setting’ accommodations on Salt Spring Island had us checking our CAA coverage. MLH got worried when our host warned us if we left our windows open, we could find frogs in bed with us in the morning, and that her cat was doing its best to keep the rabbit population down and would probably bring us ‘gifts’. Salt Spring Island is small and rural, with a winter population of 10,000 and a summer one of about 30,000. According to a worker at a winery we stopped at, it rains a lot in the winter and there is plenty of cultural stuff going on, glass blowing, pottery, painting, music and theatre. A billboard in the town had ads for ‘An Introduction to Erotic Massage’ and ‘Sensual Retreats’ as well as astrologers and Reiki practitioners – hmmm. We had some decent prosecco-style wine at the vineyard, and tasted their blackberry wine, which would be good mixed with the prosecco, perhaps. The children on the island harvest the blackberries and sell them to the vineyard as a summer job. I like that.
There is one village, Ganges – I must find out why it was named that – where the main park is full of backpackers, ignored by well-heeled holiday makers. In the town park one day we watched a group of deeply tanned, dreadlocked ‘travellers’ in earth-toned harem pants practising juggling, yoyoing, and playing bongo drums. They were also passing joints and beer bottles around, which did not seem to bother the police officer much. What did catch his attention was two modern nomads lying on the ground, one tattooing the other with an electric tattoo needle, the bottles of ink spread around them and in a tip of the hat to sanitation, the tattoo artist was wearing latex gloves. The law shut that down quickly, the gothic creature appearing on the woman’s upper arm arrested mid-creation.
I wondered whether these young travellers get bored. Life goes at a slow pace. Each day is largely taken up with deciding where and how to travel next, looking for shelter, buying and cooking food, observing new surroundings and chatting with other people. Where is the sense of purpose; of working towards something, or achieving goals; I asked myself? And then I realized…..
Before we left Salt Spring Island and the comfort for MLH of a city (Vancouver again), we had one more adventure driving up a bumpy logging road to the top of Mount Maxwell. This was a challenge in a low sedan car, but as you can see, the view over the Gulf Islands, the bay and valley below was worth the risk to the car.