The Journey Begins: Sydney, May 1-2, 2018
And so the flight from Hawaii on to Vancouver!
The Adventure Continues: Vancouver, B.C, May 12
As we approach, we fly over a myriad of islands and snow capped mountains on the horizon, gorgeous. Vancouver airport building is an exciting building with some great wall installations, many large-scale Native American carvings and woven hangings, very classy. Due to the super-efficient, automated customs and immigration procedure, we get through in just a few minutes even though the plane was packed! We are expecting my American cousin, Ellen, to join us in just a few hours.
Cousin Ellen, Deer Park & Snowy Peaks: Vancouver, May 13
A perfect day, 13C on arrival at 6.30 am. The taxi drives through tree-lined streets, past many modern apartment complexes. Our immediate impression is of a lovely, very clean, green city. Its population is one million.
Spring flowers and trees in full bloom abound; Rhododendrons are everywhere. Snow- capped mountains flash into sight at several points. After 30-40 minutes, we arrive at the Burnaby Great Western Motel, which proves to be very good- a large room, if a bit dark, which includes a big comfy couch, a table for four and full kitchenette with stove, sink, fridge. A good breakfast in the dining room is included, and there is a swimming pool.
I ask where I can purchase a SIM for my phone. The Motel directs me to a nearby Seven-11 store. Mistake No. 1. It proves tricky to set-up, and confirms my ongoing status as a somewhat techno-challenged person. Thinking I had completed what was required, I discard the purchase receipt, only to discover, after several frustrating phone calls and a second visit to the store, that I now have to start over again, paying for a second time. By now, I have invested too much to chuck the SIM away and buy one from a reputable phone shop!
We have invited Ellen to join us for a few days. Her daughter and family are driving her from Seattle. Expectantly we await their arrival but the eta passes, the temperature and my impatience rise in unison so I head for the pool. Its 10 degrees warmer than predictions of the past two weeks! Over the ensuing hours, a series of phone messages pass back and forth, until finally they arrive, five hours after their eta. Daughter Misha has brought a little present for Jonny- enough ‘medical marijuana’ for a few smokes! It’s exciting to see them again.
Leaving the others resting in the motel, Misha drives Ellen and me to nearby Deer Lake. I haven’t seen Misha, now around fifty, since she was a lively teenager with the gift of the gab and for writing. Not sure if she has kept up with her writing but she’s still fast-talking and now, amongst other things, an ardent photographer. A large professional camera hangs around her neck. She tells me she has been ‘dying to take photos’ of her mum and me together, so clicks away repeatedly, in between, bending low, bottom to air, taking close-ups of flowers. I do the same! The Azaleas are profuse and never have I been more aware of density of blooms. Perhaps it is the long hours of daylight at this time of year. Driving back to the motel, a huge snow-capped mountain appears, seemingly from nowhere. Maybe it’s Grouse Mountain, the nearby ski resort, looking for all the world like Mt Fuji.
On the street in Burnaby, as elsewhere in Vancouver, there are a large number of Asian people, some presumably Chinese tourists, many probably Asian-Canadians. It’s great, because in the immediate area of our accommodation we have a choice of restaurants- Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian, and Chinese-Indian, what the hec is that!? We decide on a Vietnamese Pho restaurant just up the road after which Misha, husband Dave and daughter Max depart for Seattle, leaving Ellen with us for three more days. The evening news reports that early ice melt has caused serious flooding further east, where we will be heading in a few weeks, cutting roads and causing much damage. We just missed major floods in Hawaii and the volcano on the Big Island! Now floods again!
SkyTrain, Sculpture & Soup: Vancouver, May 13
Today the three of us set out on foot for the SkyTrain to False Creek, a downtown waterfront area but my cousin Ellen, only 18 months my senior, sadly isn’t enjoying robust health, walks slowly and awkwardly so that a seven minute walk takes us twenty. From the elevated train, great views of snowy mountains flick between modern high-rise buildings and tree-lined streets of middle suburbia. We alight and walk to False Creek, and then along its paved waterfront. It is full of people and a major outrigger race is taking place. We are desperate for a coffee but surprisingly there are no waterfront cafes. Across the road, we find one. Packed with people, it has a good bakery and decent coffee. Tiny water taxis, looking like little toys, zigzag their way to various points along the narrow stretch of False Creek, which separates downtown from North Vancouver. Snow-covered mountains again provide a beautiful backdrop. We walk into Chinatown, en route passing an amazing public art installation, Trans Am Totem, by Marcus Bowcott, from the 2015 Vancouver Biennale. Five different coloured cars are stacked in descending size from top to bottom mounted on a tree- trunk. The piece stands ten metres high, mid road, in a busy intersection, the detritus of consumer desire and planned obsolescence. Nearby, we find the small, beautifully traditional Dr Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden, with a (real) Blue Crane poised on one large rock and modern buildings looming beyond the walls. A somewhat disconcerting young person talks loudly to himself as he wanders through the otherwise peaceful park. A very late, authentic and very inexpensive, meal of soup and dumplings follows. Parts of Chinatown are very run down. Again, we see a few obvious down- and –outs, other apparently homeless people, and a couple obviously afflicted with mental illness. The new drug Fentanyl, fifty to one hundred times stronger than heroin, has hit here and we read that there were 168 deaths last month from OD’s and that 80% of users are aged between nineteen and forty-nine.
The Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus: Vancouver, May 14
We take the SkyTrain to Waterfront/Canada Place, the downtown cruise-ship terminal, and starting point of the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus, a good way to get an overview of the city since Ellen really isn’t up to much walking. We again see the beauty of this city surrounded by water, greenery and mountains as the bus we wends its way across bridges and into the famous and very large Stanley Park. We hop off here to walk through a lovely section of the park, and then stop for a bite to eat in a cafe overlooking flower- beds and grand trees and resume walking to the Totems, an installation of ten magnificent pieces. A bit of a last-minute scramble, trying to hurry poor Ellen when the bus unexpectedly reappears. We pass through Kitsilano and other, north-shore beach areas where the ‘rich and famous’ hang out, back across a bridge and through an area where the Fentanyl problem looms very large indeed…a horrifying scene of homelessness on a large scale. Through Chinatown again and into Gas Town, the oldest section of Vancouver, which retains some cobbled streets and now, has upmarket cafes and restaurants and is full of people.
Farewell, a Late Afternoon Dash & a Bottle of Champagne: Vancouver, May 15
It’s late afternoon when we wave Ellen off in her taxi, the start of her journey back to Seattle. Sad to see her go, as I don’t know when we will next be together. The trip to Australia is now too much for her. Jon and I explore the local Mall a few blocks down the road from our Burnaby motel. An impressive, very modern complex, like so much in this amazing city, which came of age after the 1986 Expo World’s Fair and was again reborn when hosting the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Gardens, sculptures, and huge pots decorate the front entrance and plaza. Take the SkyTrain to Canada Place again, always excited by the innovative architecture and streamlined beauty around Canada Place. It is enhanced by the contrasting colourful industrial views onto the container terminal at one end. The cruise terminal consists of a huge hotel and elevated promenade, designed to suggest a cruise-ship with white sails; another large building has a slanted, grass-covered roof. Behind all, are many attractive, modern high-rise apartment buildings.
We set out along the waterfront at 5p.m. in still very warm sun. Grassy areas, trees and cafes abound. People skateboard past us. Many walk, often with dogs on leads in this is a very dog-friendly city-an a apologetic sign reads, Sorry No Dogs Permitted Beyond This Point and many establishments provide drinking bowls- others glide past in wheelchairs; kids run and play in fountains. (Speaking of signs, interestingly, much signage and many public notices are in both English and French…I assumed this would only be in Quebec.)
Everyone is friendly and helpful, frequently offering help if noticing uncertainty. Along this curving waterfront, which looks across to the snow-capped mountains, we pass cafes, the rowing club and the flying- boat marina. It’s exciting because planes are continuously departing, whooshing above us or landing from their harbour tours, swerving low, before gliding to a watery halt in front of our eyes. We pass a Memorial to Sikhs, Commonwealth citizens who attempted to immigrate here but were then refused entry. They remained onboard ship for two months in horrible conditions while negotiations, which ultimately failed, took place. They were all sent back to India. A splendid swathe of dense pink and purple Rhododendron surrounds the Memorial, in front of which a young woman poses for a photograph. She has long blond hair, wears an extremely short denim skirt and strapless red top. She sits cross-legged on a bench, holding bracts of purple flowers to her face, exaggeratedly pouting her lips. It’s funny, especially since she appears to be taking herself very seriously!
Continuing further, we stop at a restaurant/bar with terrace overlooking the water and order a bottle of champagne as the sun starts to fade. We strike up conversation with a Canadian man and his three Korean work colleagues from the world of finance. Lively talk and much laughter. One of the Koreans, at least 20 years my junior, is charming. He had been in Vancouver for a year when young and is returning for the first time since then. He is most simpatico and we exchange cards. We seem to be flirting! Well, I now have half a bottle of champagne under the belt and we are all having fun. Jonny and I enjoying being alone again after family time, and walk back in the soft pink dusk and a pleasurable champagne haze arriving back ‘home’ before dark.
Expressionist Art & Hire Car Hassles: Vancouver, May 16
Downtown traffic is light – presumably, because public transport is so good, but pedestrian traffic is heavy. However, the pavements are unusually wide and, impressively, there are people employed to assist on the street, offering maps, a very welcoming touch! Walk over to Vancouver Art Gallery near where we must later collect rental car in preparation for travelling on tomorrow.
Wonderful collection of work about pain/ war etc including German Expressionists collection Schiele, Dix, Kollwitz etc and Neo-Expressionists including Kiefer, Polke, each room painted elegantly in different colours. The outdoor terrace cafe sits above a flight of stairs rising from a large piazza below. Intimate tables line the terrace which is full of trees, flowers and shrubs in big tubs and hanging flower baskets, the most beautiful and charming I have seen anywhere in the world..
Oh the hire car! The hire car place tries to palm-off the wrong car on us, too small for when Jon’s brother and wife Judy will join us later, but miraculously come up with an appropriate size one the instant we complain! By the time we add on insurance and cover Jon as second driver, the price has tripled from what we booked online! Therefore, when we find it has no GPS and they want additional $15 per day, we decide against it. We were both quite nervous about navigating but have no problem. Clothes whirr in the washing machine and we then pack for tomorrow’s early departure ….a couple of old farts giving ourselves much anxiety about getting to the ferry on time, allowing plenty of extra time. We are up well before our supposed wake-up call. Just as well as it never comes, the only flaw in otherwise excellent service at Best Western Burnaby! A burst of hot spring days, ice melt floods the dry interior, wreaks havoc in towns and on roads where we are headed.
Techno-idiocy, Panic & Very Ferry Fun: Vancouver to Pender Island, May 17
We leave the motel in our hire car heading for Tzawwassen ferry terminal 25 km away. (I do love these Native American names). Soon after, lights dance all over the dashboard signalling a system failure! I feel panicky but with the aid of the car manual, we establish that it is nothing crucial so we plough on regardless. In the absence of GPS or the possibility of using Google Maps on my phone, we are well armed with ones the motel printed off for us. We take a route, which actually has little traffic, and we are allowing plenty of time. All goes smoothly until I take an east instead of west turn onto a highway and it takes several minutes before we realise our error. My heart starts thumping again. Yikes! Jon, remarkably and blessedly, keeps cool. Pulling off at the first opportunity, we get lucky; there are road works in progress so we pull over. Two very amiable road workers assist us mid street. They ask, as many do, where we come from and then share their Aussie-related stories before stopping all traffic to enable us to turn round! We now face the correct direction and a straight drive will see us safely to our destination, which it does. Now we are laughing…what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger says my beloved! Safely at our destination, an extremely well organised, very large terminal awaits us. We are checked-in, along with hundreds of other cars and trucks, and assigned Lane 18 for our vehicle type and our particular ferry, since several ferries leave for different islands from here. It’s exciting for me, a new experience. Neatly parked with an hour’s wait ahead, people are strolling around; dogs hang eagerly out of car windows, ears pricked and tongues hanging out. I jump from the car, ask the person next to me how it all works, do I have time to pee in terminal. Yes, they will announce boarding ten minutes before departure. Jon nervously stays in car reading, while head off to explore the terminal modern building and its beautiful craft items, wool sweaters, fun shoes, sensible rain gear, nick-knacks, really very food and exceptional coffee. Many people have let their dogs out of the car to a grassy stretch to sniff, wee or poo.
They give ample warning to return to your car and we slowly drive on to the ferry. This one is huge, accommodating fourteen-hundred passengers and twelve-hundred cars. It has kids’ play areas, two cafes, a smart clothing shop and a range of seating options from lounging to tables with chairs! As I look out the window, I see seals swimming in the harbour and, en route, beautiful fir-covered islands. On the two-hour trip, (about 77km), passengers disembark at Galliano and Mayne islands before we arrive at Pender Island.
Laid Back Lovely: Pender Island, May 17
Lonely Planet describes the Southern Gulf Islands as laid-back, strung like a shimmering necklace between the mainland and Vancouver Island, formerly inhabited by hippies and US draft dodgers. Our sort of place, little Pender, only 34 km² in size, population 2,250. It’s perfect for those seeking a quiet retreat, with pioneer farms, rolling forested hills, several lakes and small mountains, old-time orchards, and dozens of coves and beaches.
Our Airbnb, Oceanfront Guest Accommodation, is in Hope Bay, a ten- minute drive from the ferry terminal. We are immediately enchanted by the place and head to one of only a few eating places, Jo’s cafe. It’s in the Driftwood complex , a small aggregation of supermarket (well priced, sophisticated), bakery, liquor store, info ‘office’ with no one in attendance, just a noticeboard, an ATM and a great bookshop, all set in an open green space with outdoor tables and benches. The noticeboard outside the liquor store advertises music gigs, yoga and other cool things including a concert by singer/songwriter, Lester Quitzau. On enquiring, we’re told, he’s a much loved, ex-local, blues muso with an international reputation, so I purchase tickets immediately for a couple of nights hence. We eat the best hamburgers on a sunny patio under clouds of pergola-draped Wisteria- a delightful atmosphere. We book a table for tomorrow night, as it is a holiday weekend and will be crowded.
The local Hope Bay Store, two- minutes’ walk downhill from our place, first opened in 1903 and has had many incarnations. The original General Store was, until recently, a cafe/ restaurant, but is currently between owners and not operating. There is a tiny chocolatier/ coffee house, a goldsmith, real estate office and vet and a small pier with a few boats.
Until the advent of big car ferries, when a new port at Otter Bay was established, it was the main port for traffic from Vancouver and inter-island. Nearby we notice an electric car charger, the first I‘ve ever seen and a Car Stop with two plastic chairs for a comfortable wait,, a unique Pender feature which well sums up the flavour of this delightful place.
The sign reads:
Drivers don’t have to take the first in line,
you’re not obliged to accept a ride, that’s fine
you accept a ride at your own risk
but the ride is free so consider it a gift.
Another sign reads:
We hope you enjoy yourselves here at Hope Bay. Our good neighbours are happier if you can keep noise to a minimum in the parking area especially at night.
A few minutes’ walk from our Airbnb, I discover the Hope Bay Bible Camp, (OMG), a small camping community ‘cultivating sincere relationships with Jesus Christ’. Someone is slashing grass around the little bungalows as I walk past picking bouquets of yellow and orange Broome and white Hawthorn before coming home to unpack and nest. In the adjacent paddock a flock of Canadian geese graze, and amongst them, a pair with very small goslings, who they protectively usher away as fast as possible even though I am far from them.
Our cosy two-room accommodation sits on the lower level of an interesting, octagonal timber house. It’s nestled in a treed garden, right above a steep drop to the sea. A downhill sloping ramp leads to our deck and the sliding door into our bright kitchen/living area overlooking both garden and sea beyond. It’s perfect. Jule, a tiny blonde-haired person well into her 60s, and a bit of an old hippy like us, is welcoming. The usual little settling-in issues, ‘lost in translation’, with unclear rubbish recycling instructions. It provides an excuse for more interaction with her and, over the ensuing week, we have some good conversations.
The Salish Sea, Deer & Jo’s Cafe (again): Pender Island, May 18
I wake early after a slumber of the gods, a rare night without the usual bathroom visit(s). The bedroom and bed are small so Jonny chooses to sleep on the day bed in the living space. He is still tucked up, oblivious to the light filling the room through its many large plate-glass windows. A sliding shoji screen separates our sleeping quarters. We are shrouded in silence. A long, narrow, rectangular window sits high on one wall in my tiny bedroom, crisscrossed by shrubbery. Beyond, the red foliage of another tree. From the living area, two huge windows take in a view of pine-clad islands, one low, small, very close. Another looks over the little terrace onto mixed pines, which tumble steeply down to the sea below. This is the Salish Sea, a large area of coastal waters off the south coast of British Columbia, officially named a few years ago by both First Nations and government leaders. This new name encompasses, but does not replace any of the existing official names for Puget Sound, the Juan de Fuca Strait or the Strait of Georgia near Vancouver. The name refers to the language of the First Nations Coast Salish people who originally occupied the area and have traversed these waters for thousands of years. It pays homage to a collective history.
We breakfast at Jo’s cafe again and off we go to explore. It’s a much cooler morning, 12C, supposedly heading for 18C though it peaks at 16C. Almost immediately, we encounter three deer by the roadside, strolling into people’s properties, very tame. Serious mesh or cyclone fencing is necessary to protect the many veggie patches and gardens. We hop in and out of the car frequently to take short walks around the small hilly curving streets in a little residential area with woodsy homes nestled amongst fir trees, often overlooking the sea. It is tranquil and quiet and we rarely see anyone. At a small harbour where many small yachts anchor, ten men, many of whom are elderly, are building a pontoon. It is a community effort to assist a recent widow. In the evening, it’s Jo’s cafe again, this time for dinner. Jon tries the duck- tough but tasty, with a great sauce, rice and vegetables. I choose halibut with rice, sauce and asparagus, even better. We share a wonderful cheesecake.
Pender is a delight with its culture of artists, artisans and alternatives, who organize concerts, film festivals, free book exchanges and car stops, (often with a chair or two by the roadside) and ensure that there are fenced dog parks. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming.
A shoji screen, a day bed, we are shrouded in silence. Light filters through plate glass, japanese maple splashes red, the Salish Sea below swells with the incoming tide. Three kayaks and a pair of sea otter glide past in the 9pm dusk. Deer, still as statues, wild roses, apple trees and spotted seals
Stoned Pig, Poets Cove & Lester Quitzau: May 19, Pender Island
Today it’s sunny, tops at 17C. Off to the weekly open-air market, held in a large paddock around a Community building, the first for the season. It is thronging with a mix of alternative and ‘straight’-looking people and of course, many well behaved dogs, mostly very large and all on leads. Amongst their number, including Poodle crosses, Labradors, St Bernard’s, Sheep dog crosses. Everything is hand-made and home- grown. Some highlights- three bread stalls with a mouth-watering range of grainy ryes, beautiful bread rolls, sourdoughs, plaited, smooth, you name it, it’s here; then there is an outgoing Polish woman, Ewa. She has made eighteen European cakes- poppy seed, plum, and baked cheese cake-all look delicious. My mother’s kitchen relocated to B.C; another stall- holder, a colourful, larger-than-life character, sells artful, eccentric felted hats. The Royal Wedding has just taken place, and Harry and Megan smile out from under two of them. It is funny; quirky felted animals -a grey dog with eager ears and upturned nose, a cowering, pink -nosed yellow dog and several others- difficult to resist on their stall. Their maker, a plump woman with short, blond curls, about our age, jokes that she is unsure if the pink pig with whacky eyes is tired or stoned! A Czech woman, Malada, from Renaissance Gallery, makes jewellery with Swarovski crystals, glass, gold- leaf and antique glass beads, which she sells at more than bargain prices; one of several plant stalls sells vegetable seedlings including twelve varieties of tomato. There is a great vibe here.
Lunch back at Jo’s – we practically live there! Chicken burger/salad for Jon, Huevos Rancheros for me (red capsicum, red onion lightly diced potato, eggs spicy tomato tapenade fried and served in skillet so stays really hot for the duration. Delicious! As always the place is packed!
After lunch, we drive along small forest- lined roads. As always, there is little traffic and the low maximum speed limit ensures a very relaxing experience. We stop at every marked trail, often designated ‘beach access’, where small tracks, usually very short, wind between properties, through a bit of forest or occasional pasture, to wooden steps leading to the sea. Mostly there is a bench at top overlooking the view. One even has a box with binoculars attached for orca or other viewing!
On leaving here, we pass a garden featuring sculptures of a bear and a deer. We stop to have a closer look. After a couple of minutes, our deer sculpture betrays itself by twitching one of its ears! We are amazed at how many deer we see. They are everywhere. I get out from car and walk close to three by the side of the road. Their little tails wag before they eventually leap away. Dear little deer!
We head over the tiny bridge, which connects N. and S. Pender islands, and stop at Mt. Norman, a walk ascending 220 metres up a forest path. I go alone, as it is too steep for Jon’s dicky knee. It’s short quite a hike! Fresh beautiful air fills my lungs, heart rate is elevated. At the top, a stunning 180-degree view over Pender and many others nearby as well as mainland USA in the distance. No horizon is visible; islands and promontories enclose it all.
Our final destination is Poets Cove, an up market resort with rooms, town house units, a restaurant and an outdoor cafe set in lovely grounds overlooking the cove. It has a small marina and a Customs Post for boaties entering from the USA just across the way. A beer, a marvellous $8 cocktail (!) and a shared plate of calamari on the sun- soaked terrace, perfect.
Evening…and so to the Lester Quitzau concert at pm at Hope Bay Studio, a four-minute downhill walk from our little home. People, at least middle -aged and many the wrong side of sixty, arrive and fill the lovely space. A quick count ascertains maybe fifty in all. A groovy-looking crowd. I notice I alone wear lipstick, though a couple are quite stylish and all look interesting and simpatico. The space has three huge plate- glass windows set low to the floor which overlook the sea only a couple of meters below and beyond to a tiny flat island. More islands dot the sea, a little more distant. As the evening proceeds, the dusk slowly descends, and by 9pm, the satin smooth sea swells with the incoming tide. During the course of the concert, three kayaks glide past close by. Each slows to a stop and the young paddlers wave to us. Later, someone in the audience alerts us to sea otters and I look out the window to see three, only metres away, lolling past. Lester, a lovely man, temporarily stops playing to share the moment, then makes a gentle comment before resuming. Through the concert, he plays five different guitars and tells little stories about their respective origins, sharing a bit of his life philosophy, which is about living simply, being in the moment and enjoying. One review says he plays a style of blues very unique to the genre. Blending… acoustic folk and jazz, Quitzau is a master of his guitar and a consummate professional and performer, having earned a Juno for his work with the world/blues trio Tri-Continental…Quitzau’s style of understated guitar playing is remarkable in both its craftsmanship and its slow bluesy groove. I would have to agree!
As we are leaving, we notice the engine running in a parked car but no one is in it. Curious, we comment to three approaching people. It is their car and they explain that they are from ‘up north’ in B.C working on the gas where it is imperative to start all cars remotely to warm the engine and defrost the windows due to the winter temperatures of – 45C – 50C! Here just force of habit!
Charmed at Roesland & Lost at Thieves Point: Pender Island, May 21
Late start, too cools, still 13C – 14C and grey as we set out at 11 am. Today we decide to visit Brooke Park at the southernmost part of S.Pender. From where we park, we walk along small paths edged with brilliant green, apple trees, and wild roses whose full-bodied fragrance fills the air. We come to an open area on the edge of the sea. An expanse of flat rocks undulates over the headland. There are a few people around today, being the last day of a long wk- end. Two spotted seals swim close by and I excitedly run over the rocks to get a closer view. By midday, the grey has lifted and we have a delicious lunch (and cocktails) on the sunny terrace at Poets Cove. The bay is tranquil, the surrounding plantings all mauves, purples and blues. The temperature peaks at 19C at 7pm! This is the weather pattern here.
The small roads lined with Broome or white daisies, wind their way across the hilly landscape and continually charm me. The number of people walking on them, often seemingly in the middle of nowhere, strikes us. For us to walk through the lush undergrowth, red cedar, maples, wild roses, rhododendron, purple lupins is always a delight. In one week have not seen one scrap of rubbish; instead, seals, otter, and deer! And where else does a car pull up beside to offer a lift as I stroll along a country road or provide those inimitable Car Stops? It is a very civilised place indeed!
The place I most love on Pender is Roesland, which I visit three times. Once the site of an old homestead, the beach sits nestled between two fir-clad headlands overlooking a silvery sea. A soft earth path meanders along a narrow promontory, through Douglas firs and the red-trunked Madronas. Flat rocks shimmer, a fairyland of lime green moss. It feels as though walking in a Chinese landscape painting!
At the point, a few minutes’ walk away, is a bench from which to sit and contemplate the glorious view over islands, and to the right, the small ferry terminal where we first arrived. A ferry passes nearby and a large container ship surprises me appearing from around a headland. Aside from this, it is silent and still but for the arrival of a couple with whom I talk for some minutes, and on another visit, a lone painter at his easel.
Reputedly, the best sunsets on the island are at Thieves Point, at the furthest end of N. Pender, some twenty minutes drive away. I determine to see this. Setting out alone again, I manage to find my way. Three other people, all alone, one with a large dog, are already there, we sit separate, and quiet, watching the red sun slowly sink. I have forgotten to bring my trusty map and get terribly lost on the return journey, driving in circles. Though small, Pender is tricky to navigate due to its many convoluted, interconnecting roads, curves and hills. I stop three times, knocking on doors asking for directions. Even though it is dark, and I, a stranger, everyone is relaxed and helpful. Nonetheless, it’s still a struggle, I feel a bit anxious though know I can’t truly get lost and it’s pitch black by the time I arrive home after 9.30 pm. Needless to say, my beloved is not worried!
An Unexpected Diversion: Pender Island to Vancouver Island, May 24
Sad to leave Pender. In Jon’s words, it is full of you, me, and Dino (our one-off friend from Dingo Beach). It made both of us think we would love to live in a place like that!!
While waiting for the ferry we get talking to a well-educated, guy wearing torn jeans and driving a beat up boysey ute. We are heading for Courtenay, some 250 kms north west on the coast. We intend to enjoy a leisurely day, stopping at points of interest along the way, but forty-five minutes into the journey, cars suddenly bank-up and we come to a halt. Police and ambulances roar past in multiples, and divert us from the highway toward a town. We follow the cars in front of us, but find we are heading back to the highway and the roadblock. We can make no sense of this manoeuvre, so I ask a cop, who says there is no way through, there has been an accident on the Mahalat Range. Therefore, we circle back into the little town, find a nice courtyard cafe, ask if there is more information about the situation, meanwhile having breakfast. It transpires that a petroleum tanker and minivan have crashed. We are reliant on information from people with internet access on their phone. One man tells us it will be a long delay due to petrol on the road and concern about contaminating a nearby river. We have now established that the delay will be at least ten hours! No way can we reach our destination, so we phone our Courtenay Airbnb host and forfeit our first night’s accommodation. We backtrack to Saawichon, find a cheap motel where, outside the room on the narrow balcony, ashtrays overflow with cigarette butts, disgusting. And where, as Jon put it, we ate crap! We decide to use the day to visit the Butchart Gardens on the outskirts of Victoria, the capital of Vancouver Island. We had planned to go there on our return to Victoria with Jon’s brother Dave and wife Judy who will join us in a week. On the way, we are thrilled to see snow- capped mountains again!
A wealthy woman established the Butchart Gardens in 1904 in what was originally a quarry. They cover 55 acres, intricately laid out into separate themed gardens, including a delightful Japanese garden, a Renaissance garden and so on. The car park is enormous and many tourist buses disgorge passengers. Enormous hanging baskets of multi-coloured Pansies beautify the open courtyard near the entrance on both sides of a pergola- covered walkway. Throughout, we hear many different languages spoken.
A marvel of colour, texture and form, plants range up the steep once-quarry walls; small and larger paths meander; three deer graze on a verdant creek bank but, on closer inspection, we see they are perfect, life-size sculptures, their armature covered in growing moss!. A little Spanish-speaking boy climbs over two life-size bronzes of deer kids. These gardens are well deserving of their reputation.
Totems, a Bong Shop & Turquoise Hair: Victoria to Courtenay, May 25
We set out again on the Trans Canadian Highway following the coast. This time we wind up the Malahat Range, densely treed. On our right, magnificent views across the Saanich inlet, Victoria and the Southern Gulf Islands, the snow-capped mountains a perfect backdrop. Our first stop is at Cowichan Bay, a small fishing village strung along an inlet near Duncan. It is super pretty with many boats in the marina and a number of houseboats painted in bright colours. A pier runs through the marina with heavy wood doors painted in Chinese red leading to a series of ‘pods’ which constitute the museum and house historic displays and beautiful old model boats of significant size. On our way back to the street, we encounter a couple- a tiny, smart redhead, who is extremely funny and her equally clever Indian husband. Both highly educated and lively, there is a spark between us all and the thought that, in different circumstances a good friendship could develop. Along the waterfront, a Blue Crane sits on a rock. A man walking his dog stops and here we are in yet another interesting conversation. An ex-journalist and smart, he runs food tours in Victoria. After all this walking and talking, we’re ready for food and enjoy a delicious breakfast overlooking the water.
Next stop is totem pole central, the small town Duncan- just follow the yellow footprints on the pavement for the entire circuit of the totems, which dot the little downtown area like sentinels. And look, The Original Duncan Bong Shop, in large lettering on the facing window and, on the adjacent window, A Head of the Tymes. I stroll into a clothing shop and there stands the young shop girl in full regalia- a beautiful face, framed with a long black fringe but on either side, her hair is a rich turquoise, matching her eyes. She wears a gold nose ring and several long, silver necklaces, bead bangles on one wrist and a floral tattoo ‘sleeve’ on the opposite arm. A long top, brown/ mustard/ turquoise in colour, hangs over shredded blue jeans. Everything about her is joyous. She takes my breath away, I just want to hug her and take her home with me! Instead, I let her know that I love her wild hairdo, which instantly leads to a delightful conversation. I ask if I might photograph her and promise to send it to her, which I subsequently do and to which she replies.
The Scent of Wild Roses: Courtenay, Vancouver Island, May 25
We finally arrive at our Airbnb on the outskirts of Courtenay, the biggest town in the Comox Valley, located on the Courtenay river estuary, with some twenty-three creeks and rivers running into it. This area has flat, stony beaches, seagrass and rich intertidal estuarine life. Comax, is a town on the opposite side of the estuary and beyond are still (only just) snow-capped mountains of the West Coast Range, which is actually the mainland. On our side, the western side of the Comox Valley, are the Beaufort and Vancouver Island Ranges with Comox glacier as the centre.
We need supplies so off to a wonderful supermarket three minutes drive away, where we stock up with good food and impressive veggies. We are looking forward to some home cooking in our excellent kitchen, by now very tired of cafe food!
Our Airbnb, Annie’s Oceanside Retreat, a ten-minute drive from the town centre is, as Jon says, cool and quite flashy inside (ironic because it is one of the two best we have in the entire trip and the most moderately priced). Set on an acre, it’s kitchen/dining/living space and bedroom are large, beautifully furnished and incredibly well provisioned. Separated from the owner’s house by some distance and trees, it has large picture windows overlooking a huge lawn running down to the estuary and the snow-capped mountains across the water.
A gravel path runs for a couple of kilometres along the seafront, bordered by ‘hedges’ of wild rose, pink and white, the air perpetually fragrant, and on our frequent walks, I return home with posies of poppy, verbena, columbine, fireweed, lupin, pink, blue, mauve, yellow and white. Jon cooks delicious chicken, rice and asparagus. 9.45 pm still not quite dark!
Weigela, Wild Warnings, Shucked Oysters: Courtenay, May 26-27
On different sections of the seafront paths on our daily walks, we encounter several Bald Headed eagles and Blue Cranes. Today it is perfect-clear, sunny, topping at 20-21C. The snow on the mountains clearly visibly on both sides of the valley. It’s the annual Art Tour week- end, and a friendly local we pass, encourages us to visit a nearby studio of a sculptor who carves detailed, bas-relief landscapes in thick timbers. Not my cuppa’, but admirable.
It is the anniversary of my darling father’s birthday; he would be 113 today! And on this day, I see a plant, which takes me back to the garden of my early childhood in Melbourne, and, remarkably, its name comes to me from nowhere, in remembrance of him. German being his mother-tongue, he pronounced it Vygelia and it’s only from checking on the internet ,that I understand, almost seventy years later, the correct name is Weigela. How much my love of nature, plants and gardens did my parents nourish, as they established their new life in Australia? (Jon is particularly partial to Tulips, Iris and vegetable-growing for the same reason).
An excursion to Cumberland, twelve km away- it is the heart of late 19th-early 20th century mining, where workers flocked from China, Japan and Europe. Conditions were harsh and the Chinese and Japanese quite unprepared for the climate. They suffered were mistreatment, many died, many were forcibly returned, a few became wealthy merchant, and some remained, moving to Vancouver and Victoria. The local museum recounts heroic stories of Labour Movement members whose bravery, and sometimes-deaths, improved conditions for future miners. Of architectural and historic interest is a row of two-story timber buildings painted in yellows and soft earth colours, with timber railings. One is emblazoned with large Chinese characters; another says groceries, dry goods, boots, shoes, hardware.
The wide main street has a down-home feel, today full of Sunday visitors who sit in the many cafes manned by young staff. One tiny coffee shop, Dark Side, also produces artisan chocolate, much like the one on Pender Island. Its sign reads A Balanced Diet is a Coffee in one Hand and Chocolate in the other…luckily we have both! Come and say hi at the Dark Side! Endearingly, a man leads two large, friendly goats down the street, as if taking his dogs for a walk. Are they just pets I ask, ‘oh yes he assures me, I walk them every day.’
At nearby Comox Lake, signs read Be Bear Smart, Don’t Feed Our Bear, another warns of Cougar and Bear, yet another reports cougar sitings in April, yikes! Someone has scrawled Meow beneath it. In spite of the humour, these signs do set one slightly on edge especially since recent news of a cyclist killed in Washington State from a cougar attack. The poor beast, only two-third it’s normal body weight, is, of course, shot…..which reminds me of another recent event- a man wakes in his tent to warm bear breath on his face, screams, bear runs off but is sighted again near tent and so is shot for unacceptable behaviour.
Somewhere we pass a sign that says, Care For Each Other! Impossible not to be touched by a society that puts out messages like this. En route home, we stop to buy some famous Fanny Bay oysters from a factory outlet. What a disappointment! No pristine shell with little gem nestled inside tasting like food for the Gods! Instead, a plastic tub of shucked oysters. The label instructs us to cook for minimum 7 minutes at 70C to avoid -borne illness. I do a great job with garlic, butter, limejuice and drop of soy. Still, not the same as the fresh raw oyster of which we dreamt! Speaking of food (and coffee), it is a hit and miss affair thus far on our trip, with seafood seeming inferior to home where our generous fishing friends spoil us with the real deal. Australia is famous for its espresso coffee and one of the few good ones have here, is from a young barista who lived in Oz and leaned the tricks of the trade there!
Later, we make our only evening trip into Courtenay town centre, for a drink at the corner pub. Warm, early evening sun bathes the patio, full of mostly young people. We strike up conversation with a well- travelled, adventurous aeronautical engineer. This place is one of many boutique microbreweries in B.C but a first for us. Jon is always admiring of the B.C beer, which he rates as first-class, and I am certainly enjoying all my sample sips!
Seals &That Crocodile Dundee Thing: Courtenay, May 28
En route to Campbell River, an hour away, we see our first road sign warning of Elk, an animal we haven’t seen; interestingly we haven’t sited any deer in this area. Conventional houses span the seafront-a noticeable paucity of innovative domestic architecture in B.C generally- but then, Miracle Beach, a long sweep of stony but lovely beach again overlooking the West Coast Mountains, which join the Rockies in Alaska. They will remain snow-capped for another few weeks. A marvellous campground backed with wonderful forest of a great variety of coniferous trees and maples, alders, black cottonwood, bitter cherry and trembling aspen Spruce. Varieties of fabulous ferns, including the silvery-grey Sword fern, cover the ground
Reading Lonely Planet, we imagined Campbell river to be a funky little end- of – the- road place; instead, a rather boring seafront town, but just across the inlet, connected as always by B.C. Ferries, is Quadra Island, apparently very cool.
At the marina, an angler is cleaning fish, throwing scraps into the water. Two seals appear, and, with eyes popping, grab the dangling fish before circling about, only to and reappear for more. They are remarkably large, pale grey with dark spots and endearing little faces. I grab my phone and shoot a little video.
The local public gallery is closed but engraved on the elegant glass entrance door is a poem; this extract speaks to me about B.C –
This morning is on fire, cedar etched on salmon sky
(apologies for losing writer’s name).
Just out of town, is a National Park with an extremely fast-flowing stream and firm, pine-strewn path alongside. Lovely underfoot! Beyond, a short walk to an impressive series of perforated steel step-ways down to Elk Falls. Ice- blue water cascades in tiers with incredible force, dropping a huge distance. Fine spray billows upwards, a rainbow cradled within it. I am glued to the spot for several minutes, it is mesmerizing. However, Jonny, being careful with his dicky knee, waits at the top of the steps. Meanwhile, an older woman with a magnificent Husky asks him if he will mind her dog that is afraid of the perforated surface, while she descends to a different viewing platform. He happily obliges. A few minutes later, we pass her again and she proudly announces that the dog overcame its fear and tackled the steps. A young, bike-riding English fella’, when hearing we are from Oz, says Australia is on a different level altogether (i.e. much better than Canada) and cannot believe it when he hears we are from the Whitsundays, ‘my favourite place on earth’ he says. Then, looking at Jon ¬- black suede jacket, suede cap, snappy two-tone shoes, and dark shades, says: you’ve got that Crocodile Dundee thing going. Hee hee. Jonny of course engages with everyone, and whenever I leave him alone, I return to find him yakking away, everyone laughing. He is so witty and we have such a great time travelling together. Didactic panels inform us that wildlife in Elk Falls Park comprises a wide variety of birds and small mammals including deer, bear and cougar, as well as shrew, squirrel, vole, raccoon, mink, river otter, muskrat and beaver. There is a beaver dam and pond nearby and many fish species, including five or six types of Salmon, which are well- managed in B.C.
We finish the day with another lovely, homemade meal of oysters, asparagus (so fresh and cheap), snapper and rice, accompanied by a very good Okanagan Valley Sauvignon. Blanc, Jackson Triggs, recommended by a stranger in the supermarket.
Elasmosaur, Fossils & Doggy Dogs: Courtenay, May 29
Weather continues to be kind to us though a bit cooler, top 18C today. Was hoping to get to Paradise Meadows, in Strathcona National Park, described, as a magnificent, pristine wilderness with its delicate wildflower and evergreen ecosystem – Paradise Meadows, the name alone is music to my ears! However, excessive snow precludes access. Instead, I visit the local Art Gallery and Museum, which houses, amongst others things, a fascinating collection of Dinosaurs and marine fossils, many quite large. Courtenay is hot spot for palaeontology with its own resident palaeontologist, since, in 1988, a local man and his young daughter discovered the skeleton of an 80 million year old Elasmosaur.
The Art Gallery is exhibiting evocative, large format photos by and about indigenous women. Curiously, unlike Regional Galleries in Australia, which are public galleries, the town galleries here, serving the same function, and of the same appearance, are private and charge entry fees.
We have not seen deer around Courtenay yet, surprising after so many on Pender Island but apparently there are plenty around, likewise black bear, cougar and sea lion, though they haven’t showed themselves to us either. Wait up! However, as usual, dogs are everywhere, ‘our kind of dogs’, doggy dogs, big and bold; many curly-haired crosses as well as Huskies and Bernese Mountain dogs.
Last Day & a Twenty-Two Degree Halo: Courtenay, May 30
The morning sky presents us with a remarkable optical phenomenon on arrival at the local shopping centre. In an otherwise blue sky, a rainbow ring encircles a very large area of grey, in the centre of which the sun glows like a white pearl. Another equally huge circle of white intersects the first, and, to the side, another rainbow arcs. We mention it to the sales attendants in the store, and they join us outside. So here we all are, peering up at the sky, making jokes about beam me up Scotty. It is a bit eerie! The internet later tells me it is a 22-degree halo, in this case a sun halo, formed by ice crystals, a less than common phenomenon! There is apparently also a similar phenomenon, a moon halo.
The Atlas cafe, recommended by a local, is where we enjoy a late breakfast. We’ve avoided eating out since arriving in Courtenay, tired of cafe/restaurant food, but this is exceptional…goat cheese and poached eggs on polenta cake with home-made hollandaise sauce, served with delicious fried potato & sweet potato pieces and a little stack of pineapple/ watermelon /gooseberry on the side, great coffee. Jonny added a Margarita to this indulgence! The halo remains above us and we point it out to fellow patrons seated with us in the courtyard .Everyone stands up, some start snapping photos, just as I had done and indeed do once again. It is so funny. Amazingly, my photos capture it very accurately.
On the other side of the inlet at Comox, we find a small park with meticulously tended gardens, trees and open lawn spaces running down to the sea. All the blooms are profuse, often outstripping the foliage in quantity. I presume this is due to the long hours of daylight of which there are already seventeen, so although the growing season is at most five months, this compensates. We have also seen some amazing plants, standing chest high with metre wide leaves. Until now, I have only seen such exuberance in the tropics.
On a late afternoon walk along the coastal path next to our home, I encounter the owner of a house with admirable vegetable gardens. In front, a handwritten sign says no price, pay fair price and another says H2O, with an arrow pointing down to a bucket of water for passing dogs! The owner is working in the garden and I ask if I might look. He ambles over, apparently hard of hearing. A tall man with muddy hands wearing overalls, he’s hidden beneath straw hat and sunglasses, so I can’t initially judge his age. He escorts me round the veggie beds, over to the pond he is clearing out, shows me the dahlias his partner is planting and the cactus garden. Several times, he mentions his late wife. After some time he asks my name. Bonney, I reply. He looks stunned, and in that instant, I know his late wife and I share the same name! We acknowledge the coincidence. Even more amazingly, it was, like mine, not her birth name! This stranger and I silently share a poignant moment of connection. Around the corner, I see an elderly woman collecting mail from the battery of forty locked roadside mailboxes. I have observed them regularly dotted along the streets in many towns, whereas in Australia, we only see this in (some) rural areas, so I stop to ask her about this efficient system, quite normal in B.C.
A Very Cool Warehouse & Native American: June 1, Victoria
We drive back to Victoria, city population 84,000, Greater Victoria 368,000, to meet up with Jon’s brother Dave and wife Judy from Michigan, who will join us for ten days. Victoria possesses Canada’s warmest climate and is located on the Saanich Inlet, a picturesque fjord on the craggy southern tip of Vancouver Island. Its British colonial past is evident in its architecture, although there is also an element of rather crass French-style architecture, a la Quebecoise. Gardens bloom all year and the city had abundant parklands.
It is the first day of summer, but has been the coldest day in our month away (14C when we start out at 10 am, 13C by 8 pm). I bundle up for the first-time wintry conditions – a woollen dress over leggings, wool beret, woollen jacket, enjoyable, since in my life in the tropics I never get to wear such clothes! The four of us stroll along the inner harbour waterfront passing a topiary piece in front of the famous Empress Hotel, depicting whales-the area is famous for whale watching. A little further along we come to the Royal B.C. Museum, another grand colonial building with its highly acclaimed Native American displays that I am keen to explore. It more than lives up to expectations with its collection of masks, totems, tools, clothing items accompanied by excellent didactic panels and photos; also an informative and interesting exploration of native languages via film and video.
Sadly, Judy has a knee problem and is unable to do much, so after lunch Jon and I walk the inner harbour pathway. A mime artist, Marcel Marceau-style, charms the crowd and us as we walk along the waterfront. The little harbour buzzes with toy-sized water -taxis, ferries, yachts and seaplanes. This historic centre also houses the domed Legislative building, the beautiful white timber Judge’s House and other historic beauties. Now we are in small, tree-lined side streets in Laurel Point, where the houses are modest timber Victorians. The gardens are full of spring colour. We approach the cruise ship terminal to see purportedly the biggest cruise ship ever to come to Victoria (21 stories, 27 restaurants, 5000 passengers, 1500 crew) and then. return along the entire sea path, so lovely. My fitbit tells me I have walked 21,000 steps, legs tired!
It’s 8.30 p.m. I am sitting on a chaise-lounge; a black bear-skin drapes over it. It is plush with cushions covered in woven fabric of Native American design. Our Airbnb studio apartment is on the third floor of two interconnected 1906 warehouses, fully renovated. It is one large kitchen/living/bedroom space. The kitchen bar/table is made of two thick timber slabs with original, untrimmed edges. Grey river stones fill the six-inch, glass-covered gap left between the slabs. A black shelving unit filled with boxes, baskets and books partially sections-off the living space from the sleeping area. Three enormous windows run the length of the living/bedroom area giving out onto a splendid view through Silver Birch and Dogwood in creamy, pink-tinged bloom, below, a leafy courtyard with tables and benches. We look over to another renovated warehouse with old brick walls. Our apartment has similar exposed brick walls, cork floors that glow warmly, three couches and interesting contemporary artwork. It’s a visual feast and a real treat!
More Art & the Medical Marijuana Shop: Victoria, June 2
At the Victoria University Gallery, Legacy, three women exhibit work about connection to their aboriginality. One, from the Arctic region, incorporates native and industrial materials; on the gallery floor, polar bear hair fringes a circle, two-metres in diameter, of red plastic pieces; a video work shows huge red balls of rope unfurling and placed like zigzag stitching in meter long sections across the arctic snow. Stitching is part of her culture of making bearskin clothing; another woman has researched Native American culture worldwide, her powerful prints dealing with womanhood/regeneration/creation.
Trees, the marijuana shop near our apartment, has an elegant interior, with glass display cases and a ‘green’ wall’. They offer a large range of over- the-counter options, as well as quality T- shirts and other products with their emblem. Medical marijuana sells at $7-$10 per gram. Jon asks the respectful young man behind the counter if anyone can buy it and is told that one is supposed to have a medical reason, but as it is legal here, a script is not required. Well, I’ve got a bad back, says Jon. Two types of ID are required, one with photo, and he then must sign some paperwork, since all customers must register. The young man weighs the product, Jon pays and the guy issues him with a plastic card with his name on it, usable in any marijuana shop. Very civilised indeed .Talking of civilized and of drugs, we have noticed that alcohol is also treated with respect; all public places including parks, are alcohol-free and we never see inebriated people.
China Town, a minute from Dave and Judy’s warehouse Airbnb, is also part of the historic centre and full of little restaurants where we eat a somewhat disappointing meal.
In anticipation of setting out tomorrow for our next destination, Ucluelet, I feel anxious and overly responsible, organising the route and being the sole driver at this stage.
Fish Processing & Trouble at the Mill: Ucluelet, June 4
It is a long drive, 288 km from Victoria, through beautiful, forested landscape including extensive old Red Cedar. The area boasts the largest temperate rainforest eco-region on the planet and is only 50km from the rainiest spot in North America. There are considerable numbers of Black Bear in this region, an estimated 7,000-10,000 in total on Vancouver Island. Ucluelet’s fishing industry boomed and is still substantial, the predominant catch consisting of Salmon, Halibut, Cod, and Herring. Ucluelet is considered even better for salmon than Alaska! Canneries, fish buying stations, reduction plants, and processing facilities line the harbour. 20,000 Grey Whales pass Ucluelet on their annual migration between Mexico and Alaska and many Orcas are also present, so whale and bear watching together with fishing, bird watching, surfing (in nearby Tofino) , hiking and winter storm-watching, are the major drawcard for tourism in the area.
The name Ucluelet in the language of the First Nations people, the Nuu-chah-hulth-aht, who have occupied the area for at least 4,500 years, possibly up to 10,000 years, means people with a safe place to land. Ucluelet, or Ukee for short, is our choice- it is tiny, population 1,700, and quiet whereas as the concentration of tourists is in Tofino whose population multiplies manifold in summer.
However, on the home front, there’s ‘trouble at the mill’ today. Judy is not happy in spite of my efforts to be helpful and considerate in the face of her bad knee and we are a disturbed by the manner in which this manifests. We drop them at their airbnb, A Place On The Lane, a cosy cottage with separate kitchen and a little back porch with table and chairs overlooking the garden and check-in to ours. Our accommodation, The Drift, is a harbour-front studio apartment in an architect designed, two-story complex overlooking little Ucluelet harbour; the word harbour makes it sound grand. In fact, it is a tiny village with a small waterfront. It is compact but fabulous and visually stimulating with its vaulted ceilings of huge, exposed timber beams and large windows, which provide plenty of opportunity for eagle sightings and observing the bustle of harbour activities. (I spend a great deal of time over the ensuing week taking in this view in various weather conditions).
Overcoming A Problem: Ucluelet, June 5
Jon wakes upset, it’s a tricky situation but after a chat with Dave, the problem is resolved. All is now OK. Judy chooses to stay home a lot, her knee being too sore to do much though of course we get together daily and also share meals. So Jon, Dave and I set out along a coastal section of the Wild Pacific Trail. We wind our way along a soft path, through undergrowth pruned to hedges, intimate like childhood’s secret places. Many firs and other trees are completely moss- covered and uniform undergrowth blankets the ground beneath them; here and there, boughs twist and arch. Jagged expanses of black rock thrust into sea into the sea. Huge logs of driftwood splay out on sandy shallows and stony beaches below, jammed against the shore in narrow inlets like pickup sticks scattered by random throws. At frequent intervals, we find wooden benches, sited to give out onto spectacular views. Little rocky islets dot the sea at one point, each completely forested. Another Chinese painting to step into! It is now sunny, but the air so cool that I need my beret to prevent ears from aching.
Back at Dave and Judy’s, three deer appear, doe, buck and fawn, and chomp on a flowering creeper in the garden on the opposite side of the little lane. The fawn clambers on a rock to reach for more. We step outside and hope to get closer. The buck comes across the lane at our beckoning, to within three metres, close enough to see the velvety texture of his antlers. Such a thrill.
9.53 p.m., warm in our little studio, night has almost fallen. A car stalks its headlights downhill; a sole skateboarder ploughs uphill. The inlet is still, its far bank dotted with orange points of light, reflected now as squiggly lines in the dark water. It’s 10 pm and day has passed to night.
Now here’s a funny thing – women are frequently complimenting me on my appearance! Far more than ever at home. Is it because Canadian’s don’t ‘dress, i.e. have no interest in style, much like the Americans? Beneath our studio apartment here, is a lovely glass and jewellery shop. As I enter, the Polish owner immediately gestures, her upturned palms moving through the air from my head down to my feet. She tells me how elegant I look and asks from where I hail. Then, ah, I knew immediately you were not Canadian, she says; a long conversation ensues, her very blue eyes sparkle. Must have been my little Italian wool jacket, the black beret worn to keep my ears from freezing and my old red & ivory lace-ups! I buy a small blown glass oil lamp made by her son. We seem to have become pals and she is so happy each time I pop in for a visit. But this phenomenon is generalized – two older women in the street in Courtenay, reel around after passing me, to say they noticed me and that I look ‘gorgeous’. Elsewhere a young woman comments on my ‘cool’ look. What generosity! Usually compliments come from me to others! How nice.
Streaming Rain & A Turneresque Sky: Ucluelet, June 6
There is something comforting inside this beautiful space, the giant wooden beams of the studio apartment supporting its peaked roof, heating turned well up to combat the windy 13C. Outside the window, a Turneresque sky of leaden grey, the droplets and then rivulets of rain streaming down the wall of windows facing out onto Ucluelet inlet. A small fishing boat approaches, its wake, another grey on grey. It curls around and pulls up to the jetty below. Several other craft are moored there and yellow and orange kayaks are stacked in front of Jamie’s Whaling Station/ Adventure Centre beside the aquarium, another example, like our building, of good contemporary architecture in this tiny town.
Within sight, down the inlet, are several steel gangplanks and jetties with smaller or larger craft, some commercial fishing outfits, and one of several fish- processing plants. An inflatable dingy, with eight people attired in full length, orange fluoro wet- weather gear and beanies, pulls up, presumably hardy tourists returning from a whale- watching expedition. They trek up the gangplank and out of sight.
It’s a good day to have Dave and Judy over for coffee and conversation, and later to share a delicious Indian chicken dish Jonny has prepared, and then to tuck up with a book for the afternoon.
Tiny Islands, Skunk Cabbage & Game with a Terrier: Ucluelet, June 7
Numerous inlets fringe Vancouver Island’s wild west coast. Today Jon, Dave and I drive 33 kms to Tofino, population 1,900. It sits at the tip of the peninsula at the opposite end of the world-renowned Pacific Rim national park to Ucluelet. Tofino is the tourist centre of the region, sitting on Clayoquot Sound. Its landscape differs from Ucluelet, which is on Barkley Sound. The pounding surf here has created magnificent beaches framed by rocky headlands, tiny islands, and forested outcrops The area possesses one of the largest continuous old growth temperate rain forests on the Pacific Coast. Bogs and scrub forest are widespread on the lowland strip.
In recent years, Clayoquot Sound played a vital role in the development of modern environmental and cultural awareness. In the 1980s and ‘90’s, the residents of, Tia-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nation Bands, and environmental groups (Greenpeace and Friends of Clayoquot Sound) came together to preserve large natural areas from excessive clear-cut logging. Their campaigns fundamentally changed the way land and water is viewed and valued on the West Coast.
Between the two towns, dense mixed rainforest flourishes as Tofino receives 330 cm of rainfall per year. We pass Tsunami warning signs at regular intervals- we are within the Pacific rim of fire and the sleeping giant is never far away though the name Ucluelet means ‘people of safe harbour. It’s life on the edge nonetheless, like N.Z and Indonesia ! On the outskirts of the small the town of Tofino, we explore side roads off the two-lane ‘highway’. The properties breathe temperate rainforest- lavish growth, seclusion. We pass an enormous clump of Skunk Cabbage, its majestic round leaves so huge that I ask Dave, a tall man with octopus arms, to pose beside it for a photo, arms outspread; still it dwarfs him. The homes, built of (mostly) timber or shingle, with expansive windows, tuck in amongst trees, with gardens that run to the Clayoquot sound. It is still cold, grey, sometimes wet, and always beautiful.
In the small, privately owned Botanic Gardens, little dirt or gravel paths wind through ‘domesticated’ areas including vegetable gardens, an organically shaped shingle gazebo, past a pond and areas with well-labelled flowering plants and trees; finally through rainforest. Here we bob our heads to duck under a forest bower, repeatedly delighting in evocative sculptures hewn primitively from found timber. Suddenly we are at water’s edge, overlooking forested islands or mountains closeted in cloud. A cafe with a timber patio where we sit makes for a break. Inside, paintings hang from walls, comfortable lounges and bookshelves offer warmth and colour. It feels like a beautiful living room. On the grass outside the cafe, Jon throws sticks to a little Lakeland terrier. It emerges that the dog belongs to the owner of the gardens, who we meet perchance as we are leaving. He developed these gardens over twenty years and my enthusiasm delights him. This is amongst the loveliest gardens I have visited.
The Carving Shed: Ucluelet, June 8
Today Judy joins Dave and me and the three of us head toward Tofino to find the Carving Shed adjacent to Wickininnish Inn where we are to find the wood carver, famed for his finely hewn feathers. Our lively, arty Airbnb landlady in Victoria told us we absolutely MUST have a look. Jonny has a lazy day at home, more fool him! We turn off the highway onto another densely forested road with gorgeous properties; their curving driveways tucked into the greenery and reach an unexpectedly exclusive three-storey resort. It faces onto to magnificent, long, and sandy beach where at least fifty surfers hang in the cold grey waters and people and dogs walking along the flat, wide sand. The surf is small but apparently, winter sees twenty-foot high waves! First things first, coffee in the resort. What a treat! Exceptionally well-trained young staff members greet us at the door of the Inn, a building of stunning contemporary architecture. We are ushered into an intimate cafe area where an enormous fire roars. Couches, a few tables and chairs and contemporary artwork on the walls give this an elegant but comfortable feel. A huge, glass- topped tree root serves as a striking cafe counter and food display area, and on a side table, two hand- crafted lamps simply astound me. Sculptural, the bases are of sea-bleached timber, the shade a white seed-pod form of cane ribbing and a paper-like ‘fabric’; on the walls, honey- coloured, translucent, cone-shaped light fittings, equally amazing, by the same artist. Naturally, the coffee, chocolate croissant and Judy’s quiche are all excellent.
So, off to find the famed carver whose shed is obscured in the forest, accessible only from the beach. Dave gets distracted playing with an Alsatian on the low tide sand. There are now at least a hundred surfers out there. I wind my way along a short, wood-shaving path. The rough shed has a Welcome sign on the heavy door. I have to work hard to push it open. As I enter, a large yellow dog barks. The floor is covered in wood shavings and at the far end, a man, wearing a heavy woollen jumper sits at the work bench in front of the open door, cold air breezing in straight off the beach. He assures me the dog is friendly but he does not move, continuing to work on a small piece. Your reputation precedes you, I say, explaining the recommendation that brings me here. Quite small, George Yearsley has warm, intensely green eyes, dark curly hair and olive skin. You don’t look like a Yearsley I say, so I ask about his ethnic origins. He lights up. You Australians are so upfront, I love that, he replies, grinning…only you and the Dutch are like that! A lively, easy conversation follows during which he tells me that he has been at his craft for twenty years, works seven days a week.
He makes timber pendants, boxes and the feathers, to me the highlight. Life size, the feathers are hewn so finely, using varying colour timbers, as to be almost transparent. Decoration is minimal. One has an inclusion of a tiny red stone; another, a rectangular sliver of abalone shell; the third one has a narrow band of the turquoise, pearlescent abalone shell running lengthwise down the centre line and one-inch square of gold leaf at the top corner! Each feather sits on its individual base, perhaps black stone, or a circular tree disc, so artful, elegant, and about $700 apiece.
In the evening, the four of us eat at Hanks, a small local cafe back in Ucluelet – pork ribs, delicious!
The Bear Trip: Ucluelet June 9,
The others arn’t into it but I absolutely want to see a bear! B.C is full of them, why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of an opportunity of a lifetime? I purchased my ticket yesterday in Ucluelet and now prepare for cool conditions on the water. My daypack is brimful with spare layers of clothing as I strike out alone, driving to Tofino to take a boat trip with James’s Whaling Company up Clayoquot sound – two and a half hours, in a nifty boat with a clear, tubular plastic roof and windows which can be opened for observation. We have a young man and young woman in charge, both well informed. I am with about thirty other excited bear-seekers. The day is fine and sunny, the sea quiet, as it is an inlet. Low mountains, hilly islands and outcrops surround us. Dense forest rises up the steep hillsides, tree upon tree, but from sea level, I have a rather odd, counter-intuitive impression of looking at an endless body of falling green water! Magnificent.
Vancouver Island is estimated to have 6,000-8,000 Black Bears who are, reputedly, rather shy and, like most wild animals, will avoid humans where possible. Grizzlies, by way of contrast, are naturally aggressive and can weigh up to about 350 lbs. Signs in various places that warn of bear, wolf and cougar, are at once thrilling and disconcerting – think crocodile, shark and snake for a foreigner visiting Oz.
We pass a salmon farming outfit in the middle of the inlet, islands of low rocks where some thirty seals loll. We cruise close to shore past several beaches, and find solitary bears on four occasions. Densely black, from a distance they appear smaller than expected, but in fact stand hip height. One grazes on grass next to the sea, the others are busy turning over rocks at low tide to get to the crustaceans they can smell. Another, in long grass, has a tiny cub with her. I can just see its little ears and tiny bit of its back poking above the grass. At one point, it scampers away from mum through the grass and out of sight. She turns her head, keeping a close eye on it. Everyone onboard is excited, leaning out the windows, craning necks, snapping photographs. I have only needed one extra layer of clothing!
The previous day had apparently been dramatic. The staff witnessed something they had never before seen- a male bear had surprised a female with two young, attacking and killing one little cub. To reduce future competition, mature males will predate young males. The female comes into heat soon thereafter enabling the male to mate again. Murderous, randy bastards, just doing what nature dictates!
Another Farewell: Ucluelet to mainland Whistler, June 10
A beautiful drive back to Nanaimo, 180 km away, with Dave and Judy, through thickly forested hills and mountains, often again overlooking inlets. Nanaimo is a lovely small city, second in size after the capital Vancouver, with curving, narrow, tree-lined streets and some old buildings, hanging baskets, charming cafes and shops. We fall upon a large cafe full of young people walls hung with striking contemporary art and, more importantly, an alluring menu. The open kitchen buzzes with the activity of young chefs in black T-shirts, trousers, baseball caps with white aprons. The bench-top is stacked with skillets in which some dishes are cooked and then served piping hot and delicious. From here it’s a ten-minute drive to the enormous ferry which holds eleven- hundred cars and thirteen-hundred people, has a designated kids playroom, good food, a shop, and areas for charging and using electronic devices for the short two-hour trip to Horseshoe Bay, Vancouver, where we part ways with Dave and Judy. Jonny and I drive on to Whistler, 100 km and about seventy-five minutes drive along the famous Sea to Sky Highway, considered one of the finest drives in the world! It is indeed cool, as Jon says, commenting that Italy has some beaut drives too, but you have twenty Italians on your ass blowing their horns while driving cars with less cc’s than a decent Aussie lawn mower. Too Much Monkey Business!
It’s a bit of a struggle, driving in circles to find our Airbnb apartment but we finally succeed. We check-in with a concierge, a slightly less-than-helpful English dude, who explains, more or less, how to find the under-building car park via a circuitous but short route. Success, and so up to our little apartment.
Very ‘Tony’: Whistler, June 10,
Venue of the 2010 Winter Olympics, this is indeed a beautiful place. With a permanent population of 10,000, it attracts some two million visitors annually, including, as Jon says, a little tongue-in-cheek, the rich and famous. It is much larger and more developed than we had imagined. The Village is divided into three sections, Village North, Village Centre and Upper Village. Deer Lodge, one of many four- story lodges in Village Centre, houses our apartment. Shops, cafes, restaurants, an art museum, ski slopes, mountain bikes and walking trails make this a vibrant place. The Village Centre consist of Town Plaza, Village Square, Village Common and Mountain Square all interconnected by the Village Stroll, the main drag, and other smaller lanes, none of which permit vehicles. Cars park in one of many aboveground car parks, or under the various accommodations. The landscaping is beautiful, with several watercourses defined by large grey stone blocks, trees and many plants, including iris.
Jon describes this place as very tony…tasteful…planned…with loud music almost everywhere we go for food or drink, where kids from private schools and privileged backgrounds go to ride their bikes, ski or just party.
Warm Jackets, Backpacks & Aussies: Whistler, June 11
It is stimulating wandering along the paved ways, meandering through the village enjoying the ambience, the shops and many contemporary public artworks. Unexpected little parks with charming paths and stepping-stones are dotted here and there. The village is abuzz with people of many nationalities and all ages, though few as old as us. It’s cool today, 11c, with expected maximum 13C. Most are wearing warm jackets and pants (men and women alike) and carry backpacks. I need my beret and sometimes gloves. A few hardy youngies are in T-shirts and the odd girl in shredded jeans or even shorts. One young guy has dyed his hair in bands of olive green, purple and yellow. Have to admire the inventiveness! Dogs, dogs still everywhere, all on leashes and many accommodations permit dogs inside, even providing dog beds or blankets.
In our month in B.C., we have barely encountered any Australians until now but Whistler is full of young Aussies working here, skiing, snowboarding etc in winter and many getting residency here after a time. We again see Help Wanted signs. The place represents opportunity. There are quite a number of Australian tourists too.
Sod Roof & Ripples: Whistler, June 12
Morning sun floods our apartment complex, which sometimes gets uncomfortably warm, even with open windows, and I struggle to alter the heating system. From the window, we look up to the mountain, still snow-patched at altitude. Opposite, stands the Public Library, a timber and stone construction with sod roof, a pleasure to look upon. I check it out- inside it is spacious with comfortable seating areas, programs for kids, and tonight a book launch. It is a tad warmer today, so on my return from the library, we walk to and then circumnavigate a nearby lake. It’s mirror-smooth, surrounded by forest. To one side is a small timber jetty leading to a pontoon off which, to our surprise, someone is swimming; the only other ripples are from a dog that jumps in to retrieve sticks thrown by its owner. In the afternoon, we are off to a more distant lake. Elegant, expensive homes surround it. A real estate brochure we collect back in the village shows many properties in the $10-20 million prices range! (5-8 bedrooms, still more bathrooms), mostly designated as chalets with a variety of complex legalities, taxes and permits involved, but architecturally stunning.
We go for a late breakfast, choosing the cafe for its great-sounding menu (as always) and its charming bohemian decoration. Although the sun is out, the air is very cold so we seat ourselves inside but as in so many places and perhaps especially in this youth-oriented Whistler, music is blaring out of speakers and conversation is impossible. This never worries Jon but I find it most unpleasant and eventually he agrees to move outside. The breakfast crowd has diminished slightly, so we are now able to find a little table in the sun. All is well. The breakfast is especially good.
Brilliant Buildings, Squamish & Lil’wat: Whistler, June 13
In spite of sun, it is cold. I have had my eye on a couple of really striking buildings. One is the Audain Art Museum, so we decide to visit it today. Commissioned by a philanthropist and completed two years ago, it has won seven major architecture awards and showcases the art of British Columbia from the late 18th century to present, including an important collection of 19th and 20th century First Nations masks- really fabulous! I am also keen to visit the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, my appetite for things Native American, being considerable. Jon isn’t into it today so off I walk alone. En route, I encounter a unique dog, half-Arctic wolf, half Malamud, huge, white, lean, longish-haired, a very wolfish face. Slightly disconcerting somehow. The cultural centre, another magnificent contemporary building, echoes the traditional longhouse of the Squamish and, outside, represents the pit- houses of the Lil’wat, typically underground, circular and with sod roof. The local Squamish and Lil’wat peoples run it. They joined forces to overcome disputes regarding previously contested overlapping territories. The aim is to reinvigorate their cultures, employing and educating the young and reintroducing language. Significantly, there remains only handful of people from both groups fluent in their respective mother tongue. They established a school to teach relevant cultural studies, which is now recognized by the university, something rare and important.
We have had our eye on a tiny French Creperie, so decide to try it out today. It is fun watching the man making them, especially the savoury ones filled with all manner of good things. We sit in a hard-seated wooden booth attended by a most beautiful young woman. Above the booths is shelving on which are many books, photographic travel books, kids books so we pour over those while waiting. Jon orders the apple, and I berry crepes, both delicious, the usual large quantity that I always resist, Jonny always embraces!
Gondolas, Clouds, Bears & Marmots: Whistler, June 14
Lazy slow starts, 11 a.m., the ‘new way’ suitable for cold weather, and concession to older age! Up the Village Stroll with Jonny for a good pizza and a homemade basil tomato soup, delicious! We sit outdoor next to a fire-pit. The waitress is cute and after tipping her Jonny throws out a line, keep your nose clean, stick with the green. She loves this and laughs, as they all do whenever he offers this line.
The cafe is next to Mountain Square, the departure point for the gondolas and chair lifts, of which there are several, each going up the different nearby mountains. All the bikers are queuing up, expectant of their long, adventurous ride down from the top before speeding their way down along convoluted paths. It is fun to be able to observe this while enjoying our food.
It is grey and cool but I have not been up the mountain yet and tomorrow may have thunderstorms, so by midday I take the plunge, collect all my warmest gear and buy my Whistler Village Gondola ticket, $58 for seniors. Jon is not coming; he cannot do heights, having been traumatized by a serious fall in his young adulthood. As I wait in the queue looking up at the mountain, I learn that what appears to be the top is, in fact still only one third of the way up, the remainder obscured by cloud. Now it’s my turn to hop on. The gondola compartment, with its padded seats, accommodates six people. Some compartments have metal benches, and are reserved for the bikers who jump in with the bicycles upended on rear tire and wedged between the rider’s legs. This place is serious business!
The ride is smooth and quiet unlike any I have taken before. We rise steeply, leaving the village far below. The various lakes become visible, and the new growth in the treetops appears, from above, to shimmer. The forest gives way to an area of meadow and thrillingly, a Black bear, with three tiny cubs, grazes below, unperturbed by three bikers who have stopped to look on their route down. Forest reappears and then we are in remnant snow, in places a metre deep on either side of the track. We pass through three gondola ‘stations’, but, after the second one, are in cloud- the village below had disappeared! Now I take out my possum- fur shawl and place it under me – jeans, long thermals, Kathmandu vest and wool jacket alone are no longer enough. It is about 2-4C at the top. Exposed rock stands in dark contrast to the snow patches below and the vast of snow expanses higher up. It is a glory of dark greens, air and cloud at 6000 feet. From here, we take the Peak2Peak gondola from Whistler Mountain to neighbouring Blackcomb Mountain, each compartment of which holds twenty-two people, equally smooth and quiet but a marvel of engineering – 400 tons of steel used to build the four towers, which stand sixty-five metres in height. The cable, at its highest point, is suspended 436 metres above the valley and runs a total length of 4.4 km. Far below, fir trees and mountain hemlock fall with tilted wings like rain from sky, their spring tips, lacey green, dance in the light.
A couple of quiet Caucasians and four young Punjabi men sporting trendy hairdos accompany me – no Sikh turbans for them! They are sweet and funny, and one talks and jokes non –stop. His friend tells me it is to hide his nervousness. At Blackcomb, three furry, quaint, unfamiliar animals variously scurry around the feet of the milling tourists. Occasionally they sit upright on hind legs, or motionless on a rock. A didactic panel tells me they are Marmots. One scurries, almost slithers, on its tummy across the snow, leaving a trail and disappears behind rocks. I had fantasized about mountain walking up here but sadly, it is not possible to go beyond a fenced-off area, as all walking tracks remain closed until July. In any case, it is too cold to be out for long. On the return Peak2Peak journey, I am the only Caucasian amongst twenty- one people from Jakarta, all chatting and joking and shyly engaging after I ask where they are from. On the last leg down the Whistler Village gondola, I am again with two of the young Indians and the same young English girl I started with-I joke that, by now, we are practically family! What a fun and exhilarating experience it has been!
Mud Splatters & Vapour Rainbows & the Caesar: Whistler, June 15
Last day. Drive twenty minutes down the mountain to Brandywine Falls; a 70m drop as the waterfall plunges into a huge cavern formed in glacial times after which rockslides have crumbled from the walls over hundreds of years. As I watch, spray, like smoke, speaks a secret language of rise and fall, and in a restless shimmering, catches the light, creating vapour rainbows, perhaps the Squamish spirits at play. Just gorgeous!
Back in Whistler, we seek out a different area of the village in which to lunch and notice an outdoor deck accessed by an open flight of steps. This looks very promising, so we order a Caesar, a drink worthy of comment, which we have enjoyed throughout B.C. All hail The Caesar, the Northern cousin of the Bloody Mary, invented in 1969 by a Calgary restaurateur, inspired by the Italian dish, spaghetti with clams and tomato and clams. This quintessential Canadian cocktail consists of vodka, gin or tequila, Clamato (a blend of tomato and clam juice), Worcestershire sauce, and a spice mix. Patriots (and we) revere it from coast to coast. Nearly 50 years later, an estimated 350 million Caesars are consumed every year – that’s more than nine times the population of Canada!
The accompanying light meal was a cut above most and included fried calamari, which Jon has ordered so many times during this trip. The calamari is neither in slabs nor rings, but rather, tiny morsels, panko-fried and full-flavoured and, in this case, with a particularly fine dipping sauce.
One last walk around the Village late in the day. It’s thronging with people as usual, the bars and cafes full. Young, mud- splattered men push their bikes home from the downhill bike park at day’s end, wearing elaborate bike gear including brightly coloured, helmets with gigantic built-in visors. It looks so space age to me!
Interesting here, its ‘tony’ quality so different from anything either of us are familiar. The mountain experience coupled with the wildlife has added another dimension and having both the cultural centre and an art museum of such high quality, impressed, stimulated, and furthered an ongoing love of Native American culture.
Prairie Dog & Wonky Eye: Whistler – Osoyoos, June 16
We set out at 9 a.m. for a 520km drive. It is sunny but still cool. We drive down, down through verdant, dense forest passing an enormous number of cars coming up from Vancouver. At the town of Squamish, the valley briefly narrows and huge vertical rock outcrops hem us in. Within an hour, the inlets of the sea spread below us to our right, snow capped mountains tower above. Stunning scenery on this Sea to Sky Highway. By-passing Vancouver centre, we notice two points of entry into the US and are again surprised by the amount of traffic on the mostly six lane road for the first 200km, happily going in the opposite direction to us.
A brief stop at Manning National Park. A sign says Mule Deer (what is that? Another refers to beaver. The embankment near the lodge where we stop for coffee is covered with small holes and there, as in a David Attenborough doco, scores of Prairie Dogs pop up and down, rearing on their little hind legs. One has two tiny babies a mere three inches in length!
For the first time we see boom gates on the highway, used when snowy roads become impassable. A brief stroll along winding dirt paths through a Rhododendron Forest, where pink splashes the foliage. Continuing on our way, we follow some big rivers. The road climbs steadily, we cross several high passes where clouds swallow the mountains. A tiny village, Hedley, appears a former copper mining town. Some remnant structures clamber up the face of the almost vertical, arid mountainside. It looks odd and interesting, so we turn off, stop to have a squiz. There are a few old, slightly rundown buildings and, on the corner, a junk shop. Items sprawl over the footpath including an ancient car. Plants spill out of old barrows, a sea of junk sprawls. We pull up and a tall, slim man with a wonky eye approaches us. He has long hair, a finely chiselled face and a gentle manner. I notice he is missing a finger. Jon is interested in the old car, a 1926 Dodge so they start chatting. He tells Jon that recently, a man pulled up, recognized the car, which had belonged to his father years earlier. The father apparently still possessed spare parts for it! Wonky Eye is awaiting these precious commodities! I am interested in his gemstone collection, all found locally. Wonky Eye fell in love with Hedley twenty-five years earlier when he rode in on a motorbike with his Indian girlfriend. The longer we talk the more interesting and surprising we find him to be. The rough appearance belies the sensitive and lovely man within.
He leads us proudly into a blacked-out room full of totem-like sculptures standing about a metre in height. A late friend of his had made them. Constructed from car parts – wheels, hubcaps, gearbox components and so on – they are painted in fluoro colours, thus glow bizarrely in the dark.
I comment on a gazebo, oddly positioned curbside next to the 1926 Dodge. Tears well in his eyes as tells us he built it as an outdoor seating area for his wife who is dying of cancer. As she can no longer manage the stairs, she is unable to make use of it. A sad and moving story from a complex character.
And so on to Osoyoos.
Nk’Mip & Canada’s Only Desert: Osoyoos, June 17
It’s Mamush’s birthday (my darling mother) – well, in 1908!
We are sitting in 29C sun on a timber deck in front of our rather basic motel overlooking a section of the very large Osoyoos Lake, the warmest in Canada. It is a 180-degree view onto barren, rocky mountains that look grey although I later realize that they are sparsely dotted with firs and dull green Sagebrush covers the ground. Shallow hills drop from the base of the mountain to the lake’s edge. The vegetation is blue/grey and olive green, like the drier parts of Australia. The area is designated a desert receiving only 10” of rainfall. It is the hottest and driest part of Canada, and the northernmost point of the Great American Desert, which extends southward to the Sonora Desert in Mexico. Rattlesnakes inhabit the sagebrush canyons and noonday summer temperatures can reach 38C!
Osoyoos takes its name from Soyoos, Okanangan First Nations word for ‘sand bar across’, as the town is built on the narrow strip of land that divides Osoyoos lake. This is part of the Okanagan Valley, famed for its temperate climate, stone fruit and wine. On the far side of the lake, a bright green vineyard carpets the sloping hills of the Okanangan Range, part of the Cascade Mountains.
We walk along the lakefront toward to the centre on a paved path landscaped with Russian thyme, lavender, and succulents and other striking, spiky, dry-climate plants, many prostrate ground covers and a bounty of colour. It’s interspersed with benches dedicated in loving memory of this or that person. A small town, it really only comes alive for the three summer months, just starting now. Curiously, like Airlie Beach, it is all but impossible to find a cafe right on the waterfront and indeed, unlike all other places we have visited, there are few eating places altogether. However, the usual splendid hanging baskets overflow with colour, adorning the main street and many balconies. We breakfast in a great little cafe with an unexpected treat- the waiter, perhaps also the owner, an Afro-American or Afro-Canadian (rare sight), sang jazz numbers continuously and in a very good voice while busying himself with his duties!
Another long lakefront walk takes us past houses, apartments, resorts (none more than three- storeys), all with beautifully kept lawns and big trees. Two young English fellers belt out some jazzy tunes on an outdoor piano located on a paved area in front of the narrow, sandy public beach! People and dogs are swimming and there are quite a few boats tootling around. It is hot and later I swim for the first time since leaving Hawaii! Ah, the feel of sun on the body!
That evening we dine on the terrace of the local hotel overlooking the lake -yes, there just one place on the lake! How glorious is the stunning background of ochres and earth reds and the mauves and shadowed purples of the barren, undulating mountains opposite. But the piece de resistance thus far, is my after-dinner drive up the mountain just before dusk to check out the Indian Nk’Mip (Valley Bottom ) Desert Cultural Centre and accompanying desert-style, hundred million dollar resort/ restaurant, Spirit Ridge, co-owned 60/40 with the Hyatt group. It is a success story of how the local Osoyoos Indian band rose from poverty to prosperity under the brilliant guidance of their chief, Clarence Louie. The Osoyoos Indian Band Development Company also owns, or in some cases co-owns, a golf course, vineyard RV park & campground, gas station & convenience store, all within their 32,000-acre territory, plus other projects and investments, an ongoing progression.
The Centre is an architectural thrill, built partly into to hillside, partly underground, its roof carpeted with desert plants. The curvilinear, rammed-earth facade is comprised of soil and mineral pigments and sweeps along in horizontal bands, echoing natural striations of rock faces. Its mauvish greys, ochres and pinkish hues respond to the colour of the surrounding rocky hills. All this surrounded by desert landscaping, the vineyards below and the view over the lake further down- just mind-boggling! The power of the mountains is tangible in the pink, dusk light. Tomorrow I will come back with Jon to enjoy and further explore in the bright light of the day.
The Miniature Railway Museum: Osoyoos, June 18
I return, this time with Jon, to the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre where we walk the circular gravel trails through hilly desert scrub under the stark and powerful mountains. Native plants include Ponderosa Pine, needle grass, a lovely small pink Mariposa lily, various berry bushes, nettles, thistles, native phlox with little pale pinkish flowers, a tiny white daisy and more. Sagebrush scents the air.
It’s already hot and the air very dry. Didactic panels explain the flora and fauna and frequent signs warn of the protected rattlesnakes, but we do not encounter any. The site boasts impressive rusted metal sculptures depicting First Nations people and animals. Inside the Centre, a short film poetically depicts the mythology and beliefs of the people, and gift shop, like the Squamish one in Whistler, offers quality products.
Our motel owner urges us to visit the Miniature Railway Museum. We are initially reluctant, but she convinces us so we drive to local Industrial Estate and pull in to an ugly gravel parking area in front of a large corrugated iron shed. We follow an arrow through a side gate, and enter a secluded little oasis of bright green grass, brilliant coloured flowerbeds and potted plants! Walking through the gift shop, up a steep flight of stairs and through a doorway, we find ourselves in a very large space filled with a 3D models of unimaginable detail, whimsy and charm, protected by spotless glass screens. The displays begin in snow- clad winter, traverse the seasons and move through day to night. The imagery is Germanic as this is the source of the myriad component parts. We see a miniature representation of urban and rural life – village, town, city, houses, shops, mountains, hikers, chalets, ski slopes with skiers and moving chair lifts, mines, agriculture and pastoral scenes, a suspension bridge, ice skaters, skate boarders, ball games, an airport, a major railway station, a town hall, firemen extinguishing a fire in a burning house with water coming down the tiny hose, an ambulance, a road accident, a police arrest, military equipment being hauled, petrol tankers, a circus. It represents every detail of real life with trains coming in and out of tunnels and pulling into stations where tiny people wait to get on. The figures stand about 0.5 cm tall, all hand- painted, totalling 25,000 in all. This is a family enterprise started as a hobby seventeen years ago by a Danish man but is now a well-known tourist attraction. It is simply astonishing and I take a huge number of photos with a six-year old friend in mind.
Late afternoon, the lake is satiny, the air hot; earlier it was devoid of boat activity or people unlike yesterday, Father’s Day. Now only a couple of little boats are in sight, a few people and the voices of children who clamber onto the pontoon and play in their rubber swans and plastic floatation rings. A tiny breeze wafts through my wet bathing suit. I am again cheekily occupying reclining beach chairs belonging to a classier accommodation a few doors up from our humble motel. The Willows, arid mountains, Ospreys and Eagles (abundant throughout this trip), somehow remind me of our time many years ago on Dal Lake in Kashmir.
A Glorious Day’s Drive: Osoyoos – Nelson, June 19
Rising steeply out of Osoyoos through the desert mountains; far below, a panoramic view of the elongated lake – verdant stretches of vineyards, the ancient, dry mountains, and the little sand- bar dividing the lake where our motel and others stand. As soon as we start to descend, the landscape changes to forest interspersed with open pasture, irrigated for dairy. A yellow sign tells us to Watch Livestock though neither a cow nor any other livestock is to be seen! Speaking of signs, we get such a kick from those with images of Bear, Deer, Elk, and Mountain sheep. Another movable sign reads, Caution Bears Seen in the Area! Undoubtedly a Canadian travelling in Oz would feel the same way about our Koala and Kangaroo signs, or up north, Crocodile warning signs. I must note the almost complete absence of any rubbish anywhere we have been; likewise, we have barely seen a police officer, police station or police car in six weeks! Making good pace at 90 kph, in a flash we have just passed a black bear only metres away in lush green, with her small, light coloured cub. It is so unexpected and thrilling, must try to go back to for a proper look, but by the time we find a safe place to turn on this winding road, they have vanished like apparitions.
We pass through Grand Forks along the Kettle River, which flooded extensively a few weeks ago because of early snowmelt, causing much havoc and damage. We follow it down to a one-horse village, Rock Creek, a former copper mine, find a little cafe, Rock Creek Trading Post, and sit outside at the tiny table next to an equally tiny rock garden and drink surprisingly delicious, fair trade coffee, their own blend. Inside, they sell a few goods from Guatemala! It’s dry and hot already at 10 a.m. but this place is arse deep with snow in winter as are all places we are coming to from now on. Next, we stop at Greenwood, the smallest city in Canada, population eight-hundred, established in 1898 in the copper boom when it had two-thousand inhabitants and one-hundred businesses, including fourteen hotels, two banks, two newspapers and a thousand-seat opera house! Today it has one main street with beautiful old buildings with the original signs intact. We eat in a cafe run by Bangladeshis who own half the town and have many other business interests elsewhere. The dining room is charming with pressed-metal ceilings, lead lighted light fittings, white linen tablecloths and timber tables and chairs…and delicious Indian food!
From here on, the forest thickens and the mountains are high and blue, no snow. The winding road dips up and down; it is just gorgeous. We drive along the Columbia River; it is now over 30 C. Next stop is Castlegar in the W. Kootenay region of the Kootenay Rockies. We are desperate for coffee. It’s a bit of a nothing place, hard to find a cafe but, surprisingly, has an art walk with about twenty, not-very-inspiring sculptures but it’s great to see the arts thus supported. Once again, incredible hanging baskets decorate the town, even industrial sheds, and planters run along a section of pavement overflowing with purple petunias. What a beautiful day’s leisurely drive of 260 km. We finally arrive at Nelson, population 10,000, located on west arm of Kootenay Lake in, and a waterfront lined with park and beach.
Where God Has His Summer Home: Nelson, June 19
Nelson sits on the extreme west arm of Kootenay Lake, which, at 104 km length, is one of B.C’s largest, formed through river erosion and, later, glaciation. The town nestles between the Selkirk and the Purcell Ranges within the Kootenay Rockies.
Lonely Planet describes Nelson as having a thriving cultural and cafe scene and a funky mix of hippies, creative types and rugged individuals. The splendid, tree-lined town splays up the steep hill and acknowledges its impressive collection of restored heritage buildings from its glory days in the regional silver rush. Its old houses date from the late 1800’s or early 1900’s including our cottage, The Observatory, dated 1887, part of the owners’ house set in a lovely garden. An excellent Airbnb as Jon says, five-star really, for $116 a day.
In Jon’s words, Nelson is where God has his summer home. No good words can do it justice. Scenery, mountains and a huge lake. Much money from gold, silver, and lead. Just like an old man, gold teeth, silver hair, and lead in the ass! (I do love Jon’s writing, so different from mine and I wish I had more excerpts to include. I ‘steal’ them from emails he writes to his mates. I make an appeal once home, that if he thinks of anything he can add, please make jottings for me but it’s like pulling teeth!
It is so hot, I immediately drive to the beach at the lake, some five minutes drive, but OMG how cold the water! My shins ache immediately, so after the quickest dip I sit reading on one of the many benches placed at intervals along the grassy lakeside park, beside which the path meanders. Dogs chase balls, people stroll or sprawl, kids and mums play and swim in the water, canoes glide past.
Nelson’s rich arts culture, interesting and open-minded people is said to derive from American draft resisters of the Vietnam War era who are rumoured to have introduced the famous and often acclaimed ‘B.C. buds’.
People are keen to engage and almost immediately we meet our neighbours, one of whom is in the back lane watering her garden. Beyond is her veggie garden, a common feature everywhere we have travelled, and thriving due to the long hours of daylight. This would be a wonderful place to live but for the deep, cold, snowbound winter!
On returning to the lake later for a stroll with Jon, a loud hoot scares us momentarily – a train carrying timber shuttles past close by. Ah yes, lumber everywhere! A propeller plane continues to fly back and forth, low overhead, as it did when I was here earlier. I can imagine the beauty of the aerial view. An elderly man in an electric chair engages us in conversation. He wears a feather-decorated straw hat and sports a ruby and diamond stud in his ear, and has the brightest, lively blue eyes. He tells us he is an alcoholic who has been dry for thirty years. He is also a bachelor. He is delightful, a free spirit and now a healer. We next encounter a handsome young hippie, who I had seen earlier with his yellow dog, which becomes the starting point for our ensuing conversation. We talk about travel and his time in Oz, another one of so many wonderful encounters we have had.
Along the main street, Baker St, with its glorious brick buildings, wafts the smell of patchouli, occasional pot and freshly roasted coffee. The town boasts four pot shops. In Jon’s words, the one I visited today rates the THC in each type, plus two other figures I didn’t get. I haven’t smoked for a few days so went for the biggest THC, 20+%. I wanted $50 worth, had $49 but still short a buck. They only take cash. She said no worries we have a Karma jar, and took the money from that. In other words, some pay extra. Products man-rolled ones, cookies, little pies and everything else. Canada is far ahead. People here are very chilled, you can feel it. Though open about marijuana, clouds of smoke or stoned people, contrary to conservative opinion, do not fill the streets. In fact, it is only on a handful of occasions in the entire two months that the fragrance wafts past our noses, no more frequently than in Australia.
His shopping experience continues. Bought two hemp shirts from a fair-trade shop, two prices on the shirt. You choose which one you want to pay, says she! I know what I paid! But, if you think a minute, it must work or it would not be used.
He continues later in the day. Had a beer and a bite at the Marina Club-Hotel. Once again served by an Aussie. Twelve years here and now a citizen. Again, when I think about it while refreshing mind and body, where else would you go from Oz aged twenty? Canada is way ahead of others. Yankee Land and Pommie Land done, over, Honkers finished, New Zealand, they’re too sharp…South Africa? Canada stands out, which is why we have met so bloody many Aussies and good on them. I find this interesting sitting here. A much fairer society me thinks. Good education, good social values, good health system. And if you could not find twenty to thirty great, not just good, beers, wow!
Almost every yard has veggies, nice to see. Flowers everywhere, gardens, hanging pots everywhere. New Zealand has this civic pride too! In summary things are very good and it’s time for another one!
Day Trip to Kaslo: Nelson, June 20
Oh beautiful B.C! Today we further explore the lake on another warm day. Crossing the imposing orange steel bridge located above the swimming beach we head east towards Kaslo, some 60 km away, winding lake-wise through vistas of blue – water below, mountains and sky above, and forest and so few cars on the road. Come across a little cafe located by a small cabin and van site, unprepossessing from outside, but inside chic with an elegantly curved counter, a mix of comfortable couch, retro tables and chairs and a cool timber bar with stools. While enjoying a first class latte, we peruse classy photograph books and contemporary boxed assemblages of strong female imagery by a Finnish Canadian artist.
Continuing along the blue lake, we stop in a National park to walk beside the Kokanee River, a glacial blue of rushing water, and encounter mosquitoes for the first time. I gather up some brochures and suddenly have a pictorial zoo in my hands – bear, coyote, mousse, elk, deer, skunk, badger, wolf, and cougar. Now I can learn the blessings and dangers of each! And get scared again, momentarily!
Kaslo is, as Lonely Planet quite accurately states, an underrated gem with a beautiful lakeside setting again with some delightful late 19th C architecture. Jon describes it as a gem of a thousand souls swelling to five thousand in July and August; such is the draw of the combo of mountains and lake with little development. We visit the small regional museum, a memorial to the Nisi Japanese who were interned there- sad and moving tributes from a community who embraced them, only to see half them return to Japan after the war, the other half redistributed, penniless, all over Canada. The museum is also exhibiting beautiful tapestries based on photographs of Grizzly bears, the work of another Finnish- Canadian artist. The diffused, black and white works emanate a love of the creatures.
Kaslo also hosts an annual jazz festival whose website indicates that it is a prestige event attracting some major stars such as Mavis Staples and Buffy Saint Marie.
We lunch in brilliant and warm sun on the terrace of the grand old hotel overlooking the lake to a glory of mountains and glacier. A popular spot where we wait a long time for service from a frazzled waitress trying desperately to manage single-handed. My impatience surprises me, given the glorious surroundings, which Jon keeps reminding me of, encouraging me to relax and enjoy, as indeed, I should.
We get back home to Nelson before darkness settles and sit at the glass- topped table on our little deck overlooking the soft garden of our brilliant accommodation. From the corner of my eye, a flash of black and white and feathery swish. What was that? I slowly walk across the grass to get as close as I can- it is a visiting skunk! Quite bold, he slithers close by through the seedling plants, but slinks off before I return with camera, a photo opportunity missed.
San Francisco-Steep & Groovy: Nelson, June 21
Disrupted sleep so I peer out the bedroom window. It is 3.30 a.m. and already sufficiently light to see the dark silhouette of the mountain and of the house next door, light enough to walk outside without stumbling.
It is the shortest day of the year and cooler today, perfect for a day about town, so we set out. The mountain is San Francisco-steep, so, from the top, the bottom is not visible when descending the eight blocks down to Baker Street. The tree- lined street lopes down the mountain. One block between the small crossroads, is so steep, that steps replace normal pavement. This is such a groovy place with its three- hundred and fifty heritage buildings, charming cafes and quirky or elegant shops. I am taken by the names of many of them – Culinary Conspiracy and Pitchfork, both cafes; a kids clothing shop called Mountain Baby; Shoes for the Soul; Sew It Seems; Street clothes; Named Desire; a physio practise called Enlightened Spines; a hairdresser, Tack & Whack; another displaying whacky, brightly coloured mixed wares – oven mittens, socks, tea towels, lidded boxes, many items with 1950’s graphics- one depicts a girl at a table , her spotted puppy on the table behind her, both with a bowl of food in front of them and she’s saying this is fucking delicious; another depicts a Poodle, Boxer, Dachshund and a mutt, randomly placed on a blue background. The text reads, People I want to meet: 1. Dogs. Much fun! We buy a few bits and pieces as gifts, and then it’s coffee time.
Oso Negro is a stylish corner cafe on a residential block a couple of streets up from Baker St. We pass it daily and I have wanted to check it out. You enter the premises through a wrought- iron archway, which in style matches the railings through the landscaped garden- a contemporary take on the Gaudi/ art deco look. Inside, black bear -paw prints enliven the back of attractive timber chairs. Curved benches provide delightful outside seating. The cafe is full of people including many children, and some run around the garden in spite of the wet. Sadly, we are not amongst them so we cannot take advantage of this special garden and environment! This is one of the few days of rain on the trip thus far.
With our meals, we are drinking Okanagan valley wines, the latest, Desert Hills Pinot Gris. All have been excellent. The supermarkets in regional towns here could only be matched in excellence and range of high quality products by the very best in cities back home. I have found Pumpernickel and other outstanding breads, a large range of pickled vegetables, organic fruit and veggies everywhere. The influence of early European settlers, including the Pacifist Christians from Russia/ Ukraine, the Doukhobors, perhaps accounts for some of this.
The temperature only gets to 19C not the predicted 23C and by 8.30 pm, its 14C and I feel cold!
Cardamon Pastry, a Ferry Ride & the Ashram: Nelson, June 23
Today is our last day in Nelson and the day of the Saturday Cottonwood market at the end of town where everything is homemade or home grown. It is a smaller version of the wonderful Channon market from our days on the farm in Hippyville. We see delicious looking breads, grainy, seedy, some sourdough. A young man makes Greek pastries and cakes, baklava, spanakopita, cinnamon buns, and more. A woman standing next to us gives high praise to his cardamon pastries, which he describes as being very rich in butter. We had better try this, and it is SO delicious, the sweet glaze infused with cardamon. Twenty minutes later, a young but rather large woman arrives and buys up the remaining entirety just as we have decided on another one to share. Looks like she’s had a few, quips Jon. Another stallholder has fancy cakes on display including a chocolate cake decorated with pink flower petals and a pink cheesecake decorated with strawberries. Yet another stall offers Thai food, another, Mexican. A Tongan man sells spicy condiments, a young woman sells timber and bark planters. A two men offer fresh fruit pie, a young Japanese man sells unusual jewellery. Someone makes beautiful wooden bowls using a variety of timbers, satin smooth, a woman sells intensely colourful spring flowers. Lovely people again.
A little trip out of town to a couple of small villages far up the lake. We head over the big orange bridge again to the west side, drive thirty-five km along the lake heading to the Balfour ferry which offers the longest free ferry ride in Canada. The mountains rise green and high on both sides, every inch covered in firs. Balfour consists of a cafe and an old hippy that has a permanent seasonal stall selling lurid T-shirts and summer blouses. He has painted the van in which he stores his wares and another in which he lives to match. I chat with him for few minutes and learn that he spends his winters in Mexico. While waiting for the ferry we count more than seventy cars lined up and then, man, we just cruise for thirty-five minutes across and up the lake on the east shore, taking in the stunning scenery and stretches of lovely houses fringing the lake until we reach Kootenay Bay. After a cooler rainy-ish day yesterday, the weather gets better and better. From Kootenay Bay, we drive a few minutes to Crawford, a tiny village with several artisan workshops/outlets making pottery items, jewellery, forged metal items such as candleholders and fireplace sets, even handmade brooms and wooden objects. I buy a lovely silver thumb ring, a steal at only $26, and Jonny finds a white, fine cotton shirt surprisingly inexpensive.
Inspired by a photograph of an architecturally interesting temple, we determine to see it and follow a narrow road to the ashram, a centre for yoga and study in a rural setting. Astonishingly, at least one hundred cars line the little road on both sides and many people are traipsing along. We brazenly pass them all and find a park next to the entry to the large property, which sits above the lake with glorious mountain views- even a glimpse of Kootenay glacier. Apparently, tea and strawberries are on offer, free of charge. Men and women clad in white with beatific smiles invite, guide and proffer in the gentlest way. Following a path, we find the ‘temple’, which is a stunning white light-filled space, its roof shaped like lotus petals. It transpires that it was designed by the same Vancouver architects who designed the impressive Audain Art Museum in Whistler that so impressed us. The original temple had burned down a few years ago and today is the official opening of the newly constructed one. A Nelson-based dance instructor and her young students perform just as we arrive. I thought Jon would be resistant to visiting an ashram and certainly, to viewing such a performance but he led the way! We are sad to leave this wonderful town, area and accommodation!
A Circuitous Route: Nelson to Kelowna, June 24
If you look the map, you will understand why I use the word circuitous to describe the only route from Nelson the Kootenays to Kelowna in the Okanangan Valley. We head north up the Slocan River, past Slocan Lake and tootle up and down over steep mountain passes. As the bike-riding season is well underway, we see increasing numbers of motorbikes and bicycle riders, the latter clearly undaunted by the mountainous terrain. Somewhere a sign reminds that it is summer and to take care, share the road. We reach Silverton, a tiny village on Slocan Lake. Approaching the only cafe in the village, which has not even a handful of shops, one of the bike riders we passed some minutes before, sails up toward us and we greet her. She stops to talk and we are surprised at her age, at least sixty. Another interesting conversation follows. She tells us that she lives here with her doctor husband for the summer months; they spend spring and autumn in Toronto and winter in S. Europe! Sounds like a great life. We sit at a table outside on the footpath and enjoy a very good latte. The cafe is groovy, lovely-looking food, sophisticated decor and graphics and the patrons inside look interesting. There is a delightful little gallery a few doors down with unusually good art!
We head on to New Denver, where some two-thousand Canadian-Japanese were interned during WW11. I suddenly realize I have left my handbag hanging over the chair on the pavement table at the cafe in Silverton! I have every confidence it will be safe, this is, after all, B.C. Re-entering the cafe, the two women embrace me and hand me my bag! After New Denver, we come to Nakusp on Upper Arrow Lake, another pristine place in this gorgeous Slocan Valley. The sun shines so we stop to look and take a walk along the lake path, pass a few people walking their dogs, talk to everyone. This lake is shallow was created by one of the three big B.C. dams and is therefore much warmer than Nelson’s Kootenay Lake. We lunch on the outdoor patio of the old hotel overlooking beautiful gardens and the lake. The foyer displays many interesting historic photos. This area around Silverton-Nakusp is enticing would be an ideal area to spend more time in. The journey now takes a 180-degree direction change. We head south along Arrow Lake to Fauquier, take a ten-minute punt ferry, capacity seventy cars, across to Needles. Change direction westward, cross the Monashee Mountains and the Okanagan Highlands to Vernon where we hit Okanagan Lake and head south to Kelowna. Brilliant landscapes all the circuitous way. What an amazing 346 km drive!
Our Hearts Sink a Little & Granny’s Table: Kelowna, June 24
Lonely Planet says: a kayaker paddles past scores of new tract houses on a hillside, an iconic image for growing Kelowna. Indeed, as we approach the city of 130,000 sited on another fjord lake, Okanangan Lake, 135 km long, the urban, tree-lined sprawl seems to go on endlessly; our heart sinks a little; it feels too big for us though we will be staying some fifteen to twenty minutes drive out of town.
Our Airbnb, The Nest Hideaway, is a little challenging to find. Leaving the highway before entering the city, we wind through hills for a good ten minutes until we arrive at Mc Kinley Landing, an attractive residential area with some two-hundred homes spread over several winding streets on steep, forested hills overlooking the lake far below. It is quite a strange set-up. Located above Mary Ann’s house, it has a small deck in front with a lovely view over the lake below, but the lounge and bedrooms are Lilliputian in size, the queen bed filling almost the entire room. I have to clamber over Jon to get out of it or inch my way along the spare six or eight inches at its foot! I soon become adept at it. The walk-in closet is a long narrow space, a back-to-the-wall job when putting anything in there! On the other hand, the kitchen and bathroom is generous, though the kitchen is quite dark, facing, as it does, onto the cut-in hillside. However, it is stylishly furnished and comfortable, Mary Ann being a graphic designer. We find charming little notes secreted here and there; one asks us to take care of the large wooden kitchen table please, as it had belonged to Granny.
Some Are Doing It Tough: Kelowna, June 25
After a couple of attempts, we get the hang of the shortest way to town, having initially found MaryAnn’s instructions a little confusing. Downtown is a mixed affair; quite a few homeless people push supermarket trolleys containing all their possessions. One woman has ‘parked’ up against a little wall in an area of greenery. The trolley is stacked at least meter over its rim and on top, her cat sleeps peacefully.
There are some handsome modern public buildings, some nice old brick buildings and many ugly ones in between. However, the lakefront is an attractive area with good public art, sixty-nine pieces in all, because of an international sculpture event the city sponsors. At the modest Art Gallery, we enjoy a small but excellent exhibition by a contemporary artist and another large exhibition of old masters.
A Delicious Lunch & Blankets to Keep Us Warm: Kelowna, June 26
Being the centre of the Okanagan Valley, the region possesses a large number of wineries; it is designated the finest grape growing region in Canada so although we do not do wine tours as such, we decide to investigate one or two, as the landscaping and architecture is often great. The first one we stop at has beautiful grounds but since we have not booked ahead the only available seating is outdoors, far too cold and windy. We stop at Desert Hills Estate Winery, with its rather grandiose architecture including an elaborate entry arch and a Spanish bell tower. However, the grounds are beautiful and with spectacular views over the vineyards and lake below. There are several very fine pieces of contemporary figurative sculpture, including one original Henry Moore! We decide to lunch here if we can get a seat. After waiting for a few minutes, they are able to accommodate us. The restaurant is a long, narrow, open- sided space with a great view and classy wait staff. It is a sunny but cool day and we are delighted when our waitress gives us little blankets to wrap around our summer-clad shoulders. Our waitress is a charming Mexican girl, a university student, who looks after us beautifully and Jon throws her his usual line, telling her that her employer is underpaying her! The food is delicious!
Peachland, Mary Ann & Rampant Development: Kelowna, June 27
We drive for thirty minutes south along the west side of Okanangan Lake to Peachland, population five-thousand. It is a rapidly growing area with some nice modern homes built along the lakefront and into the mountainside. The lakefront walk is charming with a nature strip with dry-climate plantings and a number of little cafes opposite where we have a good coffee and later lunch. The weather is perfect, warm and sunny. A group of school kids are having a swimming lesson on the lake. A crew of young men, many of whom look to be Native American, are removing sandbags, which are stacked at intervals on the lakeside footpath, a reminder of the floods of a few weeks ago. On the return journey, I fully appreciate how spectacular the scenery is between here and Kelowna. We are high above the lake, surrounded by hills, which, as in the whole area, are dry, semi desert.
Our host here MaryAnn is lovely. We catch her sometimes coming home from work, arms weighed down with supplies, she stands at the bottom of our stairs and we chat. She has been though a hard time with the ending of a twenty-six year old partnership and the death of her sister. She loves Jon’s humour, nothing like a good laugh. I am enjoying the immediate area of our accommodation, this small residential community, no shops or infrastructure, in this regard, like Hydeaway Bay and follow her mud-maps to find my way along the little street, passing pleasant house with nice gardens. To get to the water, I then have to struggle down very steep dirt path through a vacant block between two houses, a short – cut to the road below, and then something similar again. Turn left and at the end of the road, a wider dirt track leads to a final step-way right to the water’s edge. Mary Ann had suggested another walk up behind her house where a developer has cleared a large swathe of forested hill to build another two-hundred houses! Although this gives spectacular views over the inlet, it is dry, dusty, and difficult to walk along these bulldozed tracks and after thirty minutes, I turn back.
The area is booming because there are good medical facilities and a university in Kelowna but the development is rampant. As you approach the outskirts of Kelowna itself, much of the development is ugly, Noddy Town everywhere. Actually, with many notable exceptions, we have seen much architecture that is uninteresting or worse, including a faux Quebecoise- style not to my liking.
A Privileged Sighting: Kelowna, June 28
This morning, our second last, I happen past the kitchen window, and to my amazement see a very large feline, yellow in colour, appearing through foliage. It disappears down the bank and behind the shed below, all in a split second. This cannot be a cat; it is far too large, with disproportionately large head. I immediately think it must be a young cougar, though I can hardly believe it. Perhaps it was in pursuit of prey, maybe a bird, because I had heard a sort of chirping but it had stopped after a couple of minutes. I stand fascinated for quite some time, expecting and hoping to see it again as I do not taken my eyes off the area except for the thirty-seconds it takes me to reach my i-pad from Granny’s kitchen table. There is no other escape route, so where is it? After some fifteen minutes I give up, disappointed. I investigate on the internet and find that cougars indeed have been seen here, but the last reported sighting was in 2015, so quite rare. That evening I tell MaryAnn, who is a bit shocked. She tells me how unconcerned she was about cougars in her growing up years on Vancouver Island, running through the forests where they are prevalent. I then follow up as to what sound they make and I quote: Female cougars and their offspring make bird-like chirps to locate each other. Once a young cougar was shipped to a zoo along with an assortment of exotic birds. When the animals reached their destination, the handlers thought the Cougar had not been loaded, as all they heard were birds chirping. It was only when they removed the covers from the travel crates that they discovered the lonely cub.
This absolutely matches what I heard and I am certain I had the privilege of sighting a cougar to add to my B.C. travel list. So, bear, seal, sea otter, prairie dog, marmot, eagle, deer and now, cougar.
After a lot of thought and discussion, we decide we want to leave Kelowna a day early; with a 400km drive ahead of us tomorrow, we are anxious about our ability to have the hire back on time without feeling stressed. When we advise Mary Ann of our decision, she unexpectedly and very kindly offers to request a refund from Airbnb, to which they quickly agree, and she is rewarded, almost immediately getting a booking for that one night!
From Baseball Cap to a Sanskrit Scholar: Kelowna- Vancouver, June 29
As a parting gift, Jon gives her the ‘Australia’ baseball cap he had brought for his brother. She is most amused. You can always give it to your daughter we say, not she replies, grinning from ear to ear! We leave at 8 a.m to miss the worst traffic through Kelowna and plan to take the most direct route to cover the 400 km journey. For the first hour or so, the country is partially cleared. We have seen almost none of this in our time in B.C., but now we finally understand all the logging trucks we have seen over these weeks. The journey on major highways, including the Trans-Canada Highway, takes us over several 3500’ mountain ranges and back into the gorgeous, densely treed green. Much of it allows us to drive at 120km and with a short meal stop, we get to Vancouver in 5.5 hours, less than expected! We smoothly negotiate our way to return the car and to our last- minute hotel to rest before a delightful meeting with Mc Comas Taylor, brother of my oldest university friend Janet, and his wife, also a Janet!
I have known Mc Comas since Janet and I were first year university students and he was one of the ‘two little boys’ in the family, then about six years old. We have only met up a few times in all those years, at family events, the last being Janet’s 70th birthday. I always had a soft spot for him. He has done many interesting things in his life; for years, he published a Moon Chart, which we enjoyed for years on the farm. He is a brilliant and lovely person. A Tibetan and Sanskrit scholar and Associate Professor at ANU, his academic interests cover Epistemology, Indian Literature, Studies in Eastern Religious Traditions and Language Studies and birds. He has published a number of books in these fields as well as two Field Guides of ACT birds. The four of us walk from our hotel to Gastown and fall upon very good, if quite expensive corner restaurant. We choose an outside table right opposite the famous steam clock. It puffs steam accompanied by melodic rings every quarter hour and crowds mill around it, taking photos and videoing. Hanging baskets decorate the lively streets. We eat a delicious meal accompanied by interesting conversation and much laughter.
Welcome to Canada, Farewell to Canada (sob, sob): Vancouver, June 30
With most of the day at our disposal before an evening flight to Hawaii, we walk from the hotel to the Vancouver Art Gallery. Unlike the equivalent in Australia, this major public gallery charges entry. It is still $20, even with the senior’s discount. In spite of excellent social programs, gallery accessibility is somehow excluded. Unlike Australia, they do not have publically funded regional galleries; every gallery we have visited, has charged entry. However, we are in for a treat – a wonderful show of ‘lens- based’ works. Some artists play with photography as abstraction -one artist, for example, photographs of close- ups of part of a window, rendering it totally abstract, now reminiscent of a Rothko or Frankenthaler painting; another photographs a cropped section of a window and part of the building in a large, black and dark emerald green. It evokes the feeling of a blown-up section of an Edward Hopper painting, eerie. A large-format, four- minute video work, almost monochrome, depicts a Turner-esque landscape of mist, cloud and lake with hills behind. A tiny canoe emerges and glides across the lake, mysterious and illusionistic, because the rower appears to be rowing at normal speed yet the canoe traverses the vast lake disproportionately fast. In many cases, it is difficult to believe that the works were photo- based, not paintings.
During our time in B.C, when people hear we are from Australia, they ask if we are living here in Canada now, as so many Australians do. No, we say, well welcome to Canada they reply. This together with the story of the Karma box and the sign saying Care For Each Other sums up the B.C. mentality. Little wonder we have fallen in love with the place, which sadly, it’s now time to leave. And so, the journey home begins. We taxi to the airport with heavy suitcases. It’s well timed as we do need the full two hours we allow at the airport where the process is a prolonged affair though almost no queues for initial check-in. Security seems endless with fingerprinting, facial recognition photographs and then some. We pass through American customs while still in Canada- now that’s a first-and have to deal with a humourless American full of his own self importance, so different in feel to the Canadians we have been with for six weeks. For me, but not Jon, there is yet another round of fingerprinting and photographs. I’m getting hotter by the minute. Jonny starts muttering about what assholes the Americans are as soon as pass through a doorway emblazoned overhead ‘America’. Ah, but now the thought of a couple of nights and full day lolling in the sun around a pool or the sea in Honolulu does not seem too bad an option at all!
Waikiki, A Beautiful Hotel & Frangipanis Galore: Honolulu, July1
It is many years since we spent any time in Honolulu but any misgivings prove to be misplaced. We arrive in the dark and check in to our oh-so-lovely hotel located on the main drag, Kalakaua Av. on the edge of the small downtown centre. It is seventeen- storey hotel, overlooking other high-rise buildings on one side, and a large park full of huge Cassias and Frangipanis leading all the way to the sea, all in glorious bloom. We wander off for food at 9.30pm. The main drag is elegant and lively and the Frangipanis and other tropical plants, which are abundant even in the heart of this built environment, delight us. We deviate off the main street, taking a small side street and check out all the little cafes and restaurants, many of which are closing down now at 10 pm. We find a local Ramen bar still packed with people, and have a good meal, $24for both of us! This is heartening as our hotel, modestly priced for a decent hotel in a safe area in Honolulu, costs close to $300AUD! Far, far more than anything we have ever had before. The hotel is beautiful but not daunting, with a large, elegantly furnished but comfortable foyer and curving stairs up to a mezzanine where I presume the formal dining room is located. A small breakfast room sits off the foyer and another cafe faces the street with still more Frangipani trees to lookout onto. The staff is warm and engaging, efficient and helpful. Our large room offers two huge beds, a table, couch, sink and fridge and we enjoy a beautiful sleep.
Sugary Cassias & Well-priced Ramen: Waikiki, Honolulu, July 2
In the hotel cafe facing the street I enjoy delicious breakfast while Jonny has a sleep-in. We leave together to check the place out strolling through park next to our hotel and head for the sea, a few minutes away. It is sunny and warm and all is perfect. The park is full of Cassias in sugary bloom, some with cream and pink blooms, others cream and yellow. Somehow, I think of childhood fun-fair fairy-floss. The beach is crowded and lined with big hotels, the sea much the same colour as at home. Adults and kids frolic in the small waves, it’s Sunday- busy and there is colour everywhere. Past the first lot of hotels, a small road runs along the seafront with shops opposite side. It’s full of happy people clad in bathing suits, shorts, thongs and a great mix of cultures, language and skin colour. Many cars cruise by, yet much to our surprise, it is delightful full of laid-back holidaymakers and Sunday locals. I cannot help but smile. This is cool! A broad, stone -paved path wends its way between the road and the beach, fringed on either side with intensely green grass and trees. We walk and walk passing many little side streets. Further along, we see densely green volcanic mountains. Broad open green areas with huge shade trees are full of day picnickers, locals who have erected large ‘ tents’ and gather in large groups, preparing and eating food. Some play skittles, quoits and other games.
We continue all the way to Diamond Head, backed with orange hills. It reminds me of Castle Hill in Townsville. Now the road diverges and suddenly all is quiet. The modern apartment buildings have ceased and we are in small residential streets with many houses built in the 1920’s. Each has an historic plaque naming the owner, architect and style. It is an immersive course in Honolulu residential architecture from the early to mid 20th century in almost every form, including Spanish Colonial Revival cottages, Tudor/French Norman or a Cotswold Cottage. Surprising and delightful. All nestle under enormous tropical trees in lovely, though not necessarily large, gardens. Before returning to the hotel via the main road, we pass complexes of exclusive shops set amongst beautifully landscaped gardens and planting’s. One is a three- story affair set around an arcade. It is open to the sky with high- end shops on either side. One section is built around a gigantic banyan tree, which reaches to the third-storey level. We take lunch in a very good Japanese restaurant, sitting at a long timber bench and eat Ramen for $35 for both of us.
As it transpires, another day or two here would have been great, time to do a day-trip out of town and explore the older parts of Honolulu a little more. However, these two lovely nights and one day, complete our journey with a Frangipani-fragrant drive to the airport. Up up and away, to endure another eleven hours with Hawaiian Airlines and not a good movie within cooee. We must overnight in Sydney to catch an early morning flight home. And yes, for all that was wonderful home is where the heart is even though B.C lingers strong in our minds for a very long time.