Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Vancouver Island Trip

Part 2 of our two week holiday was spent on a leisure visit of the southern section of Vancouver Island. We caught the ferry around dinner time on the Monday, which put us in Victoria around 9.00 PM. We cruised around till we found a hotel with wifi available (you old geeks in the crowd would call it "war driving"), then searched out the local phone number for a hotel right downtown that Annette had in mind. And a good score it was...

This time of year Victoria is a quiet town, most of the tourists have disappeared, the tree huggers don't like protesting in the cold and the rain, so we had our pick of hotels at prime spots. Annette got a sweet deal at a hotel a block away from the Parliament Buildings, and a short block away from where the Blackball ferry from Washington docks. A charming smile from myself got us upgraded N/C to a room overlooking the Inner Harbour, with a fantastic view out our balcony of the harbour. At least it would be come sunrise...

We went for a short walk around 10.00 PM in a lite rain on deserted streets near the Parliament Buildings and popped into a corner store for some cool drinks. We meandered back to our room at a leisurely pace just enjoying the quietness of a normally busy street, with no place to go and no hurry to get there. It was a good moment, walking hand in hand under the umbrella, with all our cares many miles away.

We had a lazy wake up, no rush to start the day as we were officially on "Island Time". I was still half asleep when Annette said "have you looked out at the view yet"? Well, no....I was still in bed! But, oh yeah, this will be a great view, with excellent shots for the video. Annette stands back, and lets me peek out the curtains....I rub my eyes as there's too much sleep still and I can't focus...then she starts laughing....I couldn't see a darn thing cause it was foggy as hell! Well, I started laughing too...best room I've had for a while in Victoria, good price with a great view...LOL

Oh well, whaddaya going to do, other than pack up and head on out towards Sooke, someplace I had yet to be. The fog slowly lifted and the sun came out to make it a great day for the start of November - it was so warm that we had to take our coats off in the car, and the outside temperature hovered between coat or no-coat.

We grabbed a bite to eat at Timmy's in Colwood and wandered up Metchosin Road as it followed the coast line. I sure like these drives a lot better than the main highways - there is much more to see and more opportunities to pull over when ever something sparks your interest. We went past the town of Sooke for a few more miles, and picked a random place to stop where the highway touched the water...somewhere along the length of Sooke Bay.

The sun was fully out now, doing it's best to warm our hearts, and the shoreline did it's best as well. We walked the few yards to the beach, sat on a log and just enjoyed the sights and sounds for a few minutes. The place was enchanting, so much so that a brief stop turned into a couple of hours spent sitting on the beach acting like boyfriend and girlfriend again...in a good way! LOL

The beach here was full of small pebbles, and the shoreline short and steep; when the tide pulled out, it pulled all the small pebbles with it. Under the quiet roar of the undertow, was the unmistakable sound of pebbles tumbling over themselves.

Sadly, we knew there was more to see, so we trudged back to the car and turned the car back towards Sooke. I wanted to find at least a few geocaches while we were on the Island, so I had several picked out close to the road as we travelled the Island. The first one on my list was in Sooke, on a quiet back road.

So, picture this....we've been on holidays for a week already, we are on Island time with no rush to do anything or go anywhere, and I have only one thing "I" _want_ to do today...that's to find a cache. So, funny enough, the missus, who shall remain nameless, immediately starts by saying "how far down this road do we have to go", "we don't have all day to waste caching"! Excuse me? I thought we were in "relax" mode...apparently not when it comes to something she has no interest in....so we go about 6 blocks down this road (that's not really far is it?) and we pass a small trail into the bush...GPS says 130 feet to the cache. I park on the side of the road, GPS says 86 feet to the cache...I have one foot out the door and someone in the car, who shall remain nameless, says "hurry up"! I say "shut up, I haven't even gotten out of the car yet and I only have to go 80 feet" ! Sheesh! Isn't this the same person just a few days ago had me sitting on a bench guarding her purchases for 3 hours as she power shopped at the Outlet mall in Portland? Hurry up my ass!

With that little incident out the way, the drive went without further excitement as we went back through Sooke and caught the Inner Island Highway up island. We cruised up the Malahat Highway stopping at the viewpoint to take some pictures and video, and just enjoy a few moments out of the car. We continued north, getting off the main highway where we could to drive the old roads along the waterfront. This was way more funner!  :)  We drove through small towns like Mill Bay that displayed its rich fishing heritage for all to see. Fishing nets hung off the side of small houses pushed right against the old road, with pylons for footings to hold the house over top of the shoreline. Where space permitted, boats big and small were tucked between neighbour and house.

We got off the main highway again at Cobble Hill Road and took the old road down into the old town of Cowichan Bay right on the waterfront in, what else, but Cowichan Bay! There is a lot of First Nations history here, as it is one of the main First Nations settlements on the Island pre-European contact. For thousands of years, the people harvested salmon from the rivers and shellfish from the tidal flats. Warm winters and plenty of wildlife made this an ideal place to live.....and still does.

We ended the day's drive in Chemainus, another bright tourist stop during summer months but quiet on this Autumn day. Chemainus was an old logging town that was dying like most logging towns did in the 1980's. From it's inception as a First Nations village, to it's dynamic times of logging, mining, and fishing, the town was all but dead when the last lumber mill was scheduled to close in 1983. In 1981 the town decided to beautify itself and at the same time attract tourism, by painting murals on the sides of businesses. They started with 5 murals, today they sport 41 murals, plus a scenic little old fashioned, downtown section. It has now become a main tourist draw on the Island itself, and the little town is choked with tourist cars, RVs, and tour buses in summer.

Being here in Autumn, gave us the town pretty well to ourselves; and, as we discovered, there was a new Best Western hotel in town, only a year or two old. It looked like the only people staying there were a few blue collar workers and a few old tourists also enjoying the off season. Again, my charming smile along with a casual request for some kind of "free" upgrade brought us to the top floor in a corner suite. And what a great little room it was...you walk in, bathroom by the door, walk down a short hall, bedroom is on the right hidden behind double doors, a full kitchenette tucked off to the side of the spacious living area, and a large walk out balcony where you could sit out in the morning and enjoy your eggs and orange juice on a warm day! I definitely made a point of saying "thank you" to the young lady at the reception desk - that was a great gift from the hotel!

In the morning we had a lite breakfast at the hotel, then wandered around the streets taking in the murals and popping into the small shops advertising some typical touristy stuff, and some fine crafts made by local artists. We even went into the theatre they had, not so much to see the theatre, but the higher end gift shop stocked by local artists with small items like jewelery, up to paintings and metal work. Hmmm, that place wasn't quite for us....some prices seemed way over our heads. Still, I'm sure the workmanship was worth the dollars they were asking.

The day was getting on, and we had to start getting on as well, so we did get on up the highway, next stop, petroglyphs! I had gotten my eye on a small park advertised in the local Parks map and wanted to see in real life some petroglyphs..had only seen a few to date. Just a couple miles south of Nanaimo is Petroglyph Park, a 2 hectare park right at the side of the main highway overlooking the Nanaimo Harbour. The earth here is mostly exposed smooth rock, perfect for First Nations to use as a tablet to tell their stories.

First question I had - what's the difference between pictographs and petroglyphs? Well, I had to look that up, as they seemed the same to mean...here's the difference.
Rock paintings are called pictographs - rock carvings are called petroglyphs. Now you know!

I pulled off into the small parking area looking forward to the rock carvings; Annette chose to stay with the car, partly as she wasn't as interested as I was, and partly due to the local crime fighting sign that stated "Thieves work here". As it was, it was a very short walk up to the top of the large boulders above the car, and there I could see the rock carvings. The Park has done a good job of highlighting the carvings, and interpretation signs help the visitors. What I was disappointed in, was the fact there had not been any maintenance done in the park for some time. Fallen leaves and moss obscured the petroglyphs - I guess this was one down side in coming out of season - no work was done for the visitors sake.

Back on the road, we took the Old Island Highway north and stayed near the water again, this time passing through Lantzville, Parksville and stopping in Qualicum Beach for lunch. We headed up the hill away from the water into town and found a trendy tapas bar restaurant with good sandwiches. A nice lunch in our bellies, we headed back down the hill to the water, and continued our sojourn at waters edge.

Through Fanny bay and Oyster Bay, with their oyster operations creating mountains of white shells besides their buildings, and the strong smell of seawater from the concentrated operations, we marched on up island, until we got to the turn of for Cumberland.

Cumberland is an old coal mining town that has been nearly dead for as many years as I've been coming to the Island. Annette use to visit a good friend here back when they were both young girls, and she always wants to poke around town to see how it's changed. Well, if any thing, it's deader now then back then...although there is the odd sign of new life here and there as the town becomes an alternative place to live for the folks from the bigger towns of Courtenay and Comox as they look for cheaper housing.

We did a quick tour of the town, all 8 blocks of it, then headed back to the ocean to have a look-see around Courtenay. Like many parts of the Island, new shopping malls on the outskirts of town indicated a growth spurt that we hadn't seen before. But the downtown core remained pretty well the same, as many towns do.

We crossed the bridge out of Courtenay and drove the couple of miles to Comox, sister town of Courtenay and home of the large CFB Comox at the Comox airport. We looked around the air force base, taking pictures of some of the old planes on display in a museum area. Problem was, we couldn't get in to tour them...end of tourist season....bah!

We meandered over to the museum itself and spent a couple of hours looking at the vintage air force equipment, from the WW1 goggles worn by pilots in open cockpits, to the radar set ups of yesteryear, to the plane-dropped torpedoes on display....which Annette wouldn't let Ed kick to see if they were real!
If you are in the area, check it out; entry is by donation and I bought a CFB Comox golf shirt to help the cause.

Another must do in the area is the Courtenay Museum and Paleontology Centre. For many years the museum was a typical small town museum, doing it's best to preserve local history. The history of the Courtenay-Comox area goes back many years - the latest event for mankind was the visit by Captain George Vancouver in 1792 aboard the HMCS Discovery. Recent findings suggest that an even earlier visit by Sir Frances Drake in 1579 was the first real European contact for the First Nations people. Thousands of years before a sail ship entered Comox harbour, the People lived well off the abundance of deer, bear, beaver, salmon, whales, and shell fish.

And, millions of years before the People came, dinosaurs roamed Courtenay. Not too many years ago, a startling find on the Puntledge River led to a boon in fossil hunting. An elasmosuar skeleton was found by the river; this set off a boon and many more fossils were discovered, from the smallest of creatures called trilobites, to gastropods and bivalves, all the way up to the giant elasmosaur. Courteany had it's calling card, and another tourist draw to help the town.

For Annette and I, Courtenay held another treasure for us...our old friends Ron and Donna Mae had moved here from Maple Ridge a few years back, and no trip to the Island would be complete with out a visit. I worked with Ron back in the old Westinghouse days in 1976, and it was clear even back then that Donna Mae was the smart one in the family...so naturally I hung around with Ron as he was more my speed!  :)  Ron use to be my shotgun partner back in the days when a Sunday drive with Ed meant you never knew where the hell you where going or when you would come back. Our wives received more than a few calls at dinner time from us to say something like "we're in Ashcroft but will be home soon". The response was always "what the heck are you doing way up there"?

Ron is fond of telling a story of spending a day with Ed in the Jeep going into the mountains along Harrison Lake and driving for miles and miles on forest service roads only to have Ed ask him "want to stop for coffee"? Ron thought "where the hell are you going to stop for coffee in the middle of the bush"? Ed says, "wait 10 minutes". A few miles down the road the Fraser River running through the wild and dangerous Fraser Canyon came into view and Ron said "where the hell are we"? We had crossed over from Harrison Lake to Big Silver Valley, passed through the Kookipi Canyon and entered into the Nahalatch River system through the back door, getting deposited on the banks of the Fraser River at Boston Bar. I think that trip really blew Ron's mind...the fact that you could go into the Coast Mountains near Vancouver, leave one biogeoclimate zone, cross the Coast Mountain Range, and come out into the Interior Desert biogeoclimate on the back end of the Interior Mountain range. Or he could have just been amazed I knew where the hell I was!  LOL

We had a great visit with our old friends, they are the type of people that even though you haven't seen each other for a few years, it's like you never left each others company. A nice cup of after dinner tea at their house, followed up by a lunch at the White Spot the next day helped us catch up on each others lives and what "the kids" where doing.

All too soon, we had to say goodbye to our friends, (definitely the hardest part of the trip) and goodbye to the Island as we were running out of days. We took the new Inner Island Highway from Courtenay to Nanaimo in a bid to catch one of the late ferriesback to the mainland. Let me tell you, the new highway is just like driving the Coquihalla - the same people who made the Coq must have had a hand in the Island highway. It's 4 lanes, it's mostly straight, and it's fast. A 2 1/2 hour trip now took only 90 minutes if that, and we couldn't believe how fast we got down island.

Well, a late ferry out of Nanaimo let us get back home in Maple Ridge around 10.00 PM, just enough time to play with the cat and enjoy our own bed....  ahhhh....

If the video is too wide for your screen, view it here on my YouTube channel