So you’re taking the ferry across Puget Sound to Canada? Going to see Vancouver? No? Oh, over to Victoria. Butchart Gardens, then… Wait–not the Gardens? Just Victoria?…well, gee… what’s in Victoria?
I don’t mean to cast aspersions on Vancouver. It’s a lovely city, and I’ve been there twice, cycling around Stanley Park, walking through Gastown, and so on. Butchart Gardens, I’ve seen three times, with and without children, with and without lesbians, just two years ago, in fact. You should come up here just to see them, if you like gardens and I do.
But Victoria, BC has its own vibe worth delving in deep, and we decided on this trip to grant it our full and complete attention. It reminds me of Seattle and San Francisco–very walkable, very picturesque, full of eclectic vibrancy that ranges from the swankiest of hotels to the kitschiest tourisma, pubs, coffee houses, little theaters, modern office buildings, with everything from pierogi bars playing heavy metal to high tea served under a dress code. The culture is spread thickly, but genteelly, on the most delicate of multi-grain, Himalayan sea salted toast.
Tofino was the apex of the trip, the land’s end for Vancouver Island and the land’s end for us. It was as far as we were going, north and west. Next, we boomerang back through Victoria, Washington, Oregon and the boring part of California.
Since most of the day would be in the car, we started with a hearty walk along Chesterman Beach. There were surfers, which was impressive enough, but I was gobsmacked by the daddy with his two-year-old, rolling around in the surf. It’s 47-freakin’ degrees outside, or 8 degrees as the metric people would say. The water is decidedly frigid. I checked.
I didn’t know you could acquire toddler-sized wetsuits, but clearly you can and, apparently in Tofino, you must.
I have been whale watching before. I have been to Tofino before. I have been on a boat in very choppy waters before. But everything old can be made new.
We changed our overnight stay from Ucluelet to Tofino specifically because the whale watching season ends in Ucluelet October 1, but continues in Tofino until the end of the month. This is the hazard of traveling in shoulder season; services are shut down. We passed a lot of CLOSED until May 2020 signs. On the other hand, no crowds, and it’s easy to imagine this cute little town crammed with cars circling for the handful of available parking spots.
Thar She Blows
Of course, when you book whale-watching, you never know if you will see whales. The migration season to Mexico starts in September or so, and whale sightings are most plentiful in the summer, when they travel up to Canada to spend the summer feeding. That might mean no whales. Tours like these always post multiple warnings that whales are NOT GUARANTEED. Jamie’s Whaling Station, the tour we picked, was unique in specifying that they would give you a ticket for another boat another day if you didn’t see a whale. But we weren’t going to be here another day.
Then, I thought, maybe climate change was making the water warmer and causing the whales to stay up north a bit more. Could Exxon and our doomed love of carbon-spewing SUVs have created the perfect opportunity for me to see whales? Sorry, future generations, but I want to see whales.
The beaches in Ucluelet, the site of today’s adventures, do not resemble the surfer’s paradise of California. Nor are they the long spits of sand from Oregon, the kite-flyer’s runways. These would fit the dictionary definition of rugged, full of rocks and treacherous tides. Welcome to Canada.
Walking the Wild Pacific Trail
Driving over to Ucluelet from Port Alberni was adventure in its own right. The roads were twisty, which was to be expected, but it rained steadily and there were two long stoppages for construction. While we wanted to cast aspersions on the traffic annoyance, we were forewarned, and the views were spectacular. Even the rainwater falling off rocks at the construction site was dramatic.
At last, we were in Ucluelet, a little fishing? tourist? village, on the southwestern inside edge of Vancouver Island. There are a series of trails that wend along the side, the easiest being the Wild Pacific Trails near Ucluelet beaches. We started with the loop that took us through a bog, past a tsunami warning, and out to a small lighthouse.
They take their tsunamis seriously here, so seriously that your first stop off the parking lot is a lengthy warning of exactly what to do in case of… I’m trying to imagine if you got off the tour bus at Fisherman’s Wharf and the first thing you saw was a large display discussing what to do in the event of an earthquake. Might be handy, actually. Might put some of the tourists back on the bus.
I haven’t used an ATM in over a year. I realized this, on our ten hour journey from Washington to Canada, when we stopped to get Canadian money at a 7-11. (Travel Tip: check on your bank’s website to see which international ATMs are in their partner network. ) We wanted some cash in case we visit farmer’s markets, local souvenir shops, or need to tip tour guides. At home, without such needs, I never use cash so I can carry $17 around in my wallet for months.
Canadian money is so pretty!
I also haven’t been in a 7-11 for years, but they look exactly the same as they did when I was twelve. Even though this one was Canadian. Big Gulps, beef jerky, bathroom on a long wooden key–same.
This particular day’s leg was long and, though scenic, didn’t allow for any leg-stretching. We traveled from Lakebay, Washington, home of the True Friends who get up and cook you breakfast then go back to bed because it was so early–that one filled up the karma bank for me! Plus, advice on how to practice my Spanish, a look at some jaw-droppingly beautiful handmade quilts, and a phenomenal sunrise. I give that B&B at my friends’ house six stars.
We had to get to Port Alberni, Canada which is about two hours northwest of Victoria. Victoria is the capital of British Columbia, but it’s on the island across from Vancouver, the island named Vancouver Island that doesn’t have Vancouver on it. Also, we’re not going to Vancouver on this trip. Does that make sense?