Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Vancouver Island Rocks...and Trees!

Before I forget, just a little aside to the Whistler entry. It amused me greatly when I realised that the English bloke I hung out with that evening was in fact the youthful reincarnation of a Fast Show character. For those in the know, think of the old bloke who used to sit in his arm chair by the fire and ramble on incoherently, with all sorts of random phrases and noises, concluding each monologue with the phrase “But of course, I was very, very drunk!” Now picture that character as a young man and you have my Whistler buddy. Same slightly bulbous nose (he was much younger remember) which seemed

primed and ready to transform into an alcoholics strawberry nose, even sounded like him a bit. I was unable to take anything he had to say seriously after I noticed it, and he did have a lot to say, so I had to resort to hiding my smirks behind swigs of beer and handfuls of chips. Ah well, you probably had to be there. Little thingplease little minds, as they say.

Anyhow, it’s been a while since I last put finger to keypad, so I guess that means either I’ve been busy or lazy. I think mostly the former, enjoying what tiny Tofino had to offer in the way of wildlife trips and diving outings. The wildlife was a tad sporadic, but my deal to swap a Friday morning dive for a Saturday morning dive paid off in a rather unexpected way, the details of which I will keep deliberately sketchy in a bid to avoid jinxing anything. The dive itself, however, was m

y first cold water experience, and it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be. I actually put on the safety sheet I had to fill in that I had “some” cold water diving experience, specifying 14˚C in Wellington, which made the dive master laugh and mock, with comments along the lines of “that’s damn near tropical compared to what we have today!” Not particularly reassuring.

It actually turned out to be 7˚C for both our dives that morning, which is actually more that twice as cold 14˚C, despite what the numbers might suggest. We dressed up warm (figuratively speaking) in a 7mm wetsuit and hood, with an extra 7mm shortie over the top for added core warmth. Still seeming ominous…

We also had 7mm gloves and boots to complete the ensemble, and once in the gear it was hard to tell anyone apart from anyone else, except the dive guides who were wearing drysuits…but I guess as they were looking after my safety, I’d rather they didn’t succumb to hypothermia along with me, if that was to be the direction the day was to take.

The dives themselves were a little murky…actually close to being very murky – visibility only about 6m - but that was due to a combination of excessive melt water running do

wn the rivers bringing extra silt with it and a minimal rise in surface temperature sparking a slightly later than normal algal growth. Nonetheless, there were plenty of fish, many crabs and a positive abundance of giant starfish nearly a metre across and outsized anemones, which were the star attractions. A totally different dive experience, even to the Galapagos, and thoroughly enjoyable in its own way. After the first, 40 minute dive, things were pretty chilly, but with half an hour or so to warm up a bit, we embarked on the second, 30 minute, one. Somewhat mysteriously, this was not as cold as the first one, which was nice. I was told I should come back in winter when the visibility is 20m or so and the water temperature at depth exactly the same, but it is a long way to go for that, so probably not going to happen.

I made an interesting new friend on the dive trip (this is the deliberately hazy part) who I reluctantly had to leave behind as I was off to Ladysmith that afternoon, but future plans were made and what becomes of them remains to be seen. As for Ladysmith, I was to go and stay with the cousin of the father of Mike from North Bay, so having made the plans it would have been awkward to change them at such short notice.

Over I went, and met a very welcoming family who took me in, fed me, entertained me and invited me back (Mum, you should be proud!), but sadly my pencilled in plans for a few days time were cancelled as I found extra ferries – I’ll explain later.

From Ladysmith I went down to Victoria and explored that city for the afternoon, before heading over to Port Renfrew further down the west coast to Tofino. It actually classifies as

rainforest, so the hazy drizzle that met me on my arrival was more expected than the dry day that greeted me after a night sleeping in the car. The tracks round the coast were gorgeous, and the beaches strewn with drift wood and sickeningly picturesque, but sadly I only had the one night to look around. Anymore would have necessitated attacking the west ccast hiking trail, which was a 3-dayer at minimum, so was never really on the card in any case.

Back across the middle of the island I went to Crofton on the East coast and the small local ferry to Salt Spring Island, to stay with my aunt-in-law (i.e. my brother-in-law’s aunt, if you hadn’t worked it out). Salt Spring Island (SSI) used to be a bit of a hippy commune type set up and is still very popular with arty types who like the quiet, community pace of life and produce some amazing works of art, be they sculptures, jewellery or paintings. It’s not a big place but has some great places to eat, some lovely gentle walks and some historic, First Nation monuments, all of which Rosemary and her house mate Bob, did a first rate job of showing me. I felt thoroughly settled by the end of the first bottle of wine I shared with Rosemary on the afternoon I arrived, and it was a shame to leave on the third day. This is where Ladysmith part two fell apart. I hadn’t realised there was a second ferry to the island that went direct to Victoria on Vancouver Island, thereby saving me a 4 hour drive back down from Crofton, where I’d come across from. Much easier, and it sped up my plans to get to the US quite nicely.

With only 10 days left to get back to Toronto, given that I wanted to be back early enough to rest up before heading out east and also to allow time to follow up on those plans I mentioned before, I opted to drive straight from Port Angeles to Seattle on the day I arrived. Customs was easy – half of the US bits were done on the Canadian side before even getting on the ferry, the other half done as I disembarked, and I was off, arriving by about 6pm. The Saturday was spent with a cousin of Rosemary’s that she had only become aware of a couple of years earlier when he was doing some family tree research and found out that their grandmothers had been sisters. For those who don’t know and are interested, Rosemary’s family was from Glasgow, and she had moved to Canada some 30 or 40 years ago. Her new relative was born and raised in Germany, and moved to the States a similar time ago. He was a very friendly chap called Bernd and, despite a very painful back condition he is waiting to have operated on in July, he took me on a tour of a damp and misty Seattle for the day, for which I am very grateful.

And that brings me up to today, which has been a mammoth day of driving, leaving Seattle at about 6.30am and driving about 900km in 12 hours (OK, it was 11, but I lost an hour as I passed a time zone) to arrive on the outskirts of Glacier National Park. If the weather is good tomorrow I will find a day hike, if not I’ll head straight south to Yellowstone National Park and have an extra day there. Watch this space. Its Sunday evening now, and I’m aiming to be back in Waterloo by Tuesday the 28th, so I have 9 days to play with. Chicago is on the cards, and I will pass Mount Rushmore (I may even stop for a photo if they aren’t charging body parts to take a look), but mostly it will be driving. With a bit of luck I may be able to fit in a chiropractic appointment. I really know how to live, huh?

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