Wednesday, 30 November 2011

On the train to Portland

So it's been a while since I last wrote the blog (mum hasn't hesitated in pointing this out). Seeing as I got at least 8 months behind when I was travelling last time I can only think it's going to be a slippery slope from here on.

We're speeding (yes, it seems it is actually possible) towards Portland from Seattle aboard this salubrious Amtrak train with WIFI and plush seats. The snowy Mount Rainer lies to our left and is bathing in some winter sunshine.

From Victoria we headed back to Vancouver with BCFerries, sailing through narrow channels surrounded by the Southern Gulf Islands. We stood outside in the freezing cold wind, hands getting progressively redder in an attempt to spot orcas around the islands. Almost having given up as the ferry got into the more open waters after squeezing between Galiano and Mayne islands, I spotted about four orcas. We'd been thinking of going on whale watching tours in Tofino or Victoria, but didn't. Of course it was great to see some orcas again and just for the price of the ferry ticket!

Our time in Vancouver was not the most restful of experiences. Staying with Jenny's former flatmate Hope in her basement suite we were told when we got there that we would need to sort all our stuff out and pack everything into bin bags. The pest controllers were coming the following day to spray the entire flat against bedbugs with some noxious chemicals. Despite there being no evidence of bed bugs everyone packed all their clothes into bags. I resumed the mammoth task of further sorting some of mine and lots of Jenny's stuff to send home, throw out or deliver to the thrift store. In the morning I found my self vacuuming the living room. The housemates all had to leave for six hours before returning after the spraying. In the pouring rain, with our huge box to send back to England covered with a rain-cape, we trudged to the nearest post office. Pushing the box on a little trolley Hope has, with another box for the Salvation Army balanced on top, was quite the ordeal. We acted pretty quickly when it dropped into a puddle. We returned to the basement in the evening, I really didn't like the idea sleeping surrounded by the chemicals. It seems silly to be eating organic food or avoiding mobile phones, but breathe in these chemical fumes or as I've been doing- tiling and painting the walls in unventilated houses.

My days (and nights) were spent non-eventfully with sorting stuff, watching a few tv-show episodes, adopting strange sleeping patterns from these film industry bods, feeling like it was always night-time because it was so dark in the basement, reading travel guides, trying to plan our trip and going on a few short walks in the neighbourhood. On Saturday I went and drank hot chocolate and fed lichen to the reindeer at Grouse Mountain with Laura who I used to work with. I bumped into familiar faces and enjoyed a final ride on the skyride and soaked in the no longer so familiar view.

All the worries we'd had about crossing the border into the States with our B1/B2 visas (without having left North America) seemed to have been unnecessary. As the border officer looked at his computer screen and disappeared into a backroom we were a little concerned. However, all seemed to be alright. We did have to pay $6.00 each to cross the border though, which seeing as we've already paid a small fortune for these visas, added some insult to injury.

Not much has changed in Seattle since our previous visit, there still doesn't seem to be too much to do there. Our one and a half days was enough, although it might have been nice to see some of the parks or the chocolate factory (the first fairtrade and only organic cocoa roasting factory in the States) which were a bit further afield. At the Green Tortoise Hostel where we were staying we got free breakfast and a free spaghetti dinner, although how free this actually is when you pay $28 a night is questionable.

I had thought Vancouver was an expensive city and had a lot of homeless people, but it looks like Seattle is even more expensive and has even more homeless people. The homeless people in Vancouver are largely found in the one area, but even so there really do seem to be more over here. I'm grateful that England still has some social programs available for the homeless, although with the current government we'll see how long they last...

Monday, 28 November 2011


The remaining hours of our four day stay in Victoria were spent in visiting the Royal BC Museum (which was not nearly as exciting as I had hoped it would be), going for a short hike in Mount Douglas Regional Park, exploring Beacon Hill Park, wandering round the touristy shops, deciding I want to knit my own Cowichan sweater and exploring some of the eco and clothes shops around the market square. At the 'Global village' fairtrade shop I couldn't help realising once again that there's really nothing I need from these kind of shops, as much as I would like to support fairtrade. We did buy some palm oil- free soap and a rolled paper bowl, so that I can make one myself when we get home though. The more I travel the more cooking and craft project ideas I come across, I think I'll be baking for weeks and working on quilts, carpets, clothes and rugs for years.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Salmon Run

We've had a very successful day here in Victoria despite not getting much sleep due to people wandering in and out of the twenty-bed dorm, the girl in the next bed who wore her gloves to bed because it was cold in here getting up noisily at 4.00 a.m. (dread to think how she survived the cold when she got outside) and our own alarm clock going off at 5.50a.m.

Since my last try at viewing the salmon run was unsuccessful it was time for attempt No.2. The early start was so that we could get the bus to the southern end of Goldstream Provincial Park and walk to the estuary while the tide was still low. In addition to the salmon run we were hoping to see hundreds of bald eagles which gather during the winter months to feed off the dead salmon at high tide (sadly we were too early for this).

In the autumn chum salmon of approx. 4 years old return from the Bering Sea to the Goldstream river. They spawn in the river in which they themselves were born. Females make nests known as redds, which protect the eggs until they hatch. Just days after the spawning, male and female salmon die. Today it was estimated that there were 14,490 chum salmon in the river, 94 coho salmon and 19 chinook salmon (these seem to be disappearing almost entirely from the river).

The salmon run is an impressive spectacle and it's great to have experienced it. Although it's hard not to feel guilty at delighting in the utter carnage of all these dying salmon. When we started walking along the river there weren't any salmon, but as we got about halfway to the estuary we started seeing rows and rows of salmon in the water facing upstream. Lining the river's edge and parts of the riverbed were dead salmon and salmon gasping their final breaths. A great many gulls were feasting upon the fish glut, sitting on the riverbanks or on dead fish, eating the dead ones, but also ripping chunks of flesh out of the still living ones. Some gulls would paddle their feet in the water to bring any lose fish-bits to the surface. One gull was attacking live salmon by continually flying into the air and diving into the water. No gull would be swooping down on ice creams in Lyme Regis if they had this feast in front of them!

But what really made our day was the otter family that we discovered playing with and gorging upon the salmon. Every autumn the all you can eat restaurant pulls up right outside their den. The mother otter and her two (or three) adolescent pups didn't seem too concerned about our presence on the riverbank and approached us curiously. We returned to them in the afternoon after our walk to the estuary and through the forest above the river. Just as we'd given up on seeing them again they poked their heads out briefly, hauled some salmon out of the water and took a few bites. They were either not very active or more scared than they had been in the morning. The pictures didn't come out too well, because it was a dark and damp day. At Campbell River I'd wanted to see the salmon run and saw orcas, and this time I wanted to see the eagles but instead saw otters.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Goodbye to the blueberry farm (and this time it is goodbye!)

I've visited the blueberry farm in three seasons now, this time it's definitely been winter. It was snowing as we both got off the Tofino Bus in Coombs and the snow was lying around the red blues. We started off taking Polly for a walk (and managed not to lose her!), threw some toys and snowballs (she was quite intrigued) for her, cut the blueberry bushes free from their remaining strings transported a few wheelbarrows of wood from the barn to the porch and then as Joanne put it got started on the serious work. Aided (or a bit slowed) by Lyra and Elena we made two lemon cakes and two chocolate cakes, unfortunately there wasn't time to bake Santa Clausu some more cookies which he had made a special request for. Around the dinner table Joanne, Richard, Ashlee and Luke gave us some Oregon and California travel tips.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Tofino, Ucluelet and the Pacific Rim National Park

So right now I'm with Jenny at the deserted 'Surfs Inn' guesthouse in Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. After being dropped off near 'Goats on the Roof' in Coombs I met up with Jenny on the Tofino bus. Tofino is a small and seemingly sleepy town on the edge of Clayoquot Sound where many whales can be seen at the right time of year. Unfortunately though this isn't the right time of year. In the spring 1000s of grey whales pass Tofino on their migration northwards from Baja California. The southward migration occurs sometime around now, but they don't seem to be swarming past Tofino!

With sunny, but cold weather on our side we hiked where we could around the coast (Tofino's coast is somewhat inaccessible though), hoped to see otters and whales but didn't, purchased some overpriced food in the co-op, cycled the 35km round trip to Long Beach and walked to Schooner Cove along a slippery boardwalk through pretty trees. For some reason everyone seems to rave about 12km Long Beach (apart from Joanne..) and without a car we really thought we had to cycle there. It was nice, but a bit disappointing to be honest. We really are quite privileged to have grown-up in the southwest of England and to have traveled half-way round the world without flying.

Sunshine doesn't last forever and we discovered that torrential rain does hit the west coast (at least the guidebooks got that right). So in the wind and rain we walked along the same bit of coast again and thought the Pacific was starting to look much more like an ocean than a lake (as it usually seems to). Snowflakes were falling from the heavens as we awoke from our last night's sleep in Tofino and it was quite wintry. On our bus trip to Ucluelet we drove through beautiful snow covered trees.

After dropping our (many!) possessions at this hostel, where we are the only guests, we headed out onto the 'Wild Pacific Trail' along the rugged cliffs of Ucluelet. The waves crashing over the rocks and the rain/sun/snow combination made for nice light. Hoping to photograph sunrise over the lighthouse we got up at 7.30a.m., but sadly I'd forgotten that the sun rises earlier now that the clocks have changed. Although in hindsight it is pretty good that we weren't sliding and slipping our way through the dark and icy streets. Despite Ucluelet getting far less attention from most people than Tofino we are quite charmed by it.

Blueberry Farm visitation no.2

Back at the blueberry farm Santa Clausu wasn't able to eat quite as many cakes as he'd been looking forward to because the kitchen was out of action for the first three of my days. Joanne and Richard really do have a knack of drawing interesting people towards them, and Horst who was tiling beneath the stove was one of them. Having lived in Canada for about thirty years his English was still pretty non-existent, so I had to act as translator at times. If he had just spoken German it would have been more understandable, but the splattering of English words inbetween did not make it an easy task. It always strikes me as strange that people with not much grasp of a foreign language are quite adept when it comes to the swear words. His fluency in this area led me to tiptoe around the kitchen and steer clear until beckoned by Joanne to translate.

Because Santa Clausu couldn't wait much longer for his cake I went into Ashlee's kitchen (Castle East) and baked apple cake with Elena, and when the kitchen was up and running baked oatmeal-raisin cookies. Other activities included picking apples, boxing apples, cutting strings from the blueberry bushes so that they wouldn't snap under the winter snowfall, bringing firewood onto the porch, washing dishes, sweeping, dusting and vacuuming. I shied away from walking the dogs every morning before breakfast after losing them on my first day back. Buddy followed by his puppy sidekick Polly headed off into the forest on our afternoon walk, and wouldn't return when I called them. After a while I gave up and sought help from Joanne, but still they didn't come back. I was sent to run back to the house with the direction to gather flashlights and get Richard off the phone to drive round the neighbourhood in search of the troublesome two. Joanne returned to lock the chickens up and sent me ahead. She cycled back into the wood armed with baseball bats to fend off bear attack. After much calling Polly returned but there was no sign of the old chap Buddy.

In the evening while lantern walking at the children's waldorf-inspired school Buddy returned home, but with a very bad limp as though he had broken his leg. He could scarcely walk and spent most of his time lying down. We had to do our best to stop Polly play biting with him. As the days went on there was some improvement and the talk about having him put down subsided. Hopefully he'll make it through this winter, even though they had been questioning putting him down last winter.

Monday, 14 November 2011

A venture into hitch-hiking

On Monday the 7th I left Linda's with Vincent to hitchhike my way to Qualicum Beach where Joanne would pick me up to go back to the blueberry farm. I hadn't got round to getting the money I'd spent on milk and cat food from Linda before she left on her latest trip to Courtenay, but instead I could get it back by hitch-hiking with Vincent rather than taking the greyhound. At 9.00a.m. after making the fire, doing some last minute packing and giving the house a bit of a clean we walked into the village and managed to get a ride on the first try to the community centre with a mother and her baby in tow. From the community centre we got picked up quickly by another mother and her toddler Fern who were on the way to drop off their recycling in Quathiaski Cove. We were dropped off at the dock and walked aboard the ferry hoping to see orcas rather than just becoming windswept. Vincent went up to a few trucks to see if they would take us onward, but they said they weren't going south. He wanted to play a game where we would take it in turns to go up to cars and ask them for a lift, unfortunately for him I was not feeling overly courageous.

In Campbell River we walked almost to the edge of town to a lay-by where there was good potential for a car to stop for us. So we stood there and stuck our thumbs out and smiled. Quite a few cars passed us by and the rubbish lorry didn't seem to want to give us a ride. After a while a man with six children who fixes mold in houses around Courtenay stopped for us. He talked almost the entire way to Courtenay and was quite interesting. He has walked Vancouver Island's West Coast Trail five times and enjoys hiking around Cape Scott Provincial Park (at the northern tip of the island). To improve our chances of hitch-hiking he drove us to the highway and left us there beside a lot of scotch broom (an invasive species that Joanne at the blueberry farm is doing her best to eradicate around Coombs with the aid of her broombusters).

After quite a lot of cars had passed by us by Vincent came up with another game for us to guess how many cars would go by before we got a ride. Optimistically he guessed twenty and pessimistically (but what turned out to be more realistic) I guessed sixty. We counted the numbers in german while car after car sped past us. Sometimes it looked like they might be slowing down but it seems we didn't pass the test and they sped up again. It was cold and just as I was saying that I really didn't think anyone was going to stop for us a nurse from Nanaimo, on his way back from sorting out his passport, hesitantly stopped and Vincent said we had to be really nice to him since he looked like he wasn't going to stop. He had taken pity on us, because he had himself been hitch-hiking a few weeks ago after his car broke down and no-one stopped for him. He drove pretty fast and probably in excess of the speed limit, which got me to Qualicum Beach quite a lot earlier than Joanne had been expecting me.

Monday, 7 November 2011

WWOOFing at Heron Guest House

My current location is the Heron Guest House in Heriot Bay, Quadra Island, the most populated of the Discovery Islands, a few hours up the coast via ferry, greyhound and another ferry from Denman Island. Linda's guest house is right on the oceanfront; no garden inbetween the house and the sea, the pebbles start almost right in front of the house. Looking out of the kitchen and living room the view of Quadra, surrounding islands and the mountains on the mainland is amazing. My room accessed via ladder from the kitchen also has a stunning seaview. It's been lovely to see the sunrise, the sea, the ferry to Cortes going past, the surf scoter ballet, seals and eagles all from my bed (when I haven't had to clamber down my ladder to let the dog or the cats out).

Linda has lived on this patch of land for mostly all her life, her parents having bought the land fifty years ago for a mere $200. Her parents trans-located their wooden house via boat to the land. When she was around 20 Linda and her now ex-husband built the kitchen/dining area of the now main house and added bits on when they had children. It is pretty quirky and homely. There is a B & B addition to the house with sunflower themed bathroom. Below the main house is another room that she wants to rent out as a self-contained flat. Everything has it's unique style here. The old house is further up the garden, a bit dilapidated, but Linda can't bare to tear it down because it's the original family home. She sometimes has hostel guests stay there in the summer. Scattered around the property are some further shacks and dwellings, some of which I'm not really sure what they are because Linda never gave me a tour. There's a long narrow building which I walk to to use the oven (because the one in the house is temperamental) which seems somewhat messy and has a double bed. This is either additional hostel accommodation or where Linda stays in the summer when she lets people use the house as a hostel. Then there is an out of the water houseboat that was purchased by her partner (who died a few years ago) to sell fish out of and now is a pretty cosy bit of accomodation. There is 'Heron Cottage', the luxury accommodation with sea-view almost as good as from the house, full kitchen, living room, double bed, bathroom, extra bedroom and piano. It's quite glamorous compared to everything else. And finally along a little path from the main house and bordering the beach is the 'boat house' complete with outdoor shower, bath and outhouse. Some of the rooms here are rather rustic in a charming way, but the reviews on tripadvisor indicate that it's not everyone's cup of tea!

Linda used to run a fabric shop on the island, but now she runs her guesthouse, helps on a friends oyster farm in the winter and is taking a fine arts course in Courtenay. Along with a visit to Vancouver she's been away at her house in Courtenay for most of my stay. For the first few days there was another WOOFer at Linda's- Barbara who is an insurance broker from Switzerland and happens to have traveled with Liesbeth who I volunteered with at Cathedral Lakes. The rest of the time my company in the house has been the two black cats (who like to bite and swipe me), Tuna the podgie but very sweet dog (who according to Linda's friend used to be a Jack Russell), for two days Dave- Linda's Courtenay housemate who came up to chop some wood and for a short visit Vincent the couchsurfer who lives in Terrace (nr. Prince Rupert) and is on his way to Victoria to take some classes for his mostly long-distance masters course in habitat restoration, and also happens to have worked last summer at Mariposa Organic Farm.Small world.

The night I got to Linda's I lay in bed looking out over the ocean and at what I thought was light pollution, but which I discovered in the morning was the northern lights. The following day Linda dropped us off in Campbell River (on her way to Courtenay) in an attempt that we could try and see the salmon run. Linda took us to the 'Salmon capital of the world' but we only saw many half-chewed fish at the side of the water. Giving up on Salmon we walked along the pier and spotted about ten orcas, which came pretty close! Much better than salmon!

I have seemed to work a lot at Linda's. It didn't help that there was not a clearly defined number of hours that I should work per day. Most places I've been at I've had to work four hours in the morning and get the afternoons off, but she never told me how many hours I should be doing (Dave told me she usually asks unskilled wwoofer to do six hours per day and hopes they'll work all day). When Linda was there the work day dragged on, with her always finding something else for me to do. When she wasn't there I still felt like I should be working a lot, especially after Dave told me I should be working six hours. And then I couldn't sleep because the cats would wake me up in the night to come in or go out or Tuna would wake me as he scratched his back on the bottom of the table or rolled around in apparent ecstasy on the floor. I washed sheets and cloths, tumbledried, cleaned windows, swept floors, vacuumed floors, swept the decks many times, mopped floors, cleaned mirrors, kitchens, toilets, bathrooms, made raw beetroot, carrot, pepper and tomato salad, made tasty salad dressing, cooked apple oatmeal crisp (a bit like apple crumble), cleaned extremely dirty dishes, helped edit Linda's entry for the 'CBC's Canada Writes' competition- an account of her walk a couple of years ago on the Camino, typed and edited Linda's homework on Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper, raked an awful lot of leaves (surely this is the most pointless task ever invented and deserves almost equal ranting attention in books as the topic of lawns), emptied leaves from the gutter, picked up horse chestnuts (to deter spiders from the guestrooms apparently), perfected my breadmaking (with a recipe left by previous WWOOFers), fed the animals (although feeding the cats just involved leaving a bag by the door which they would dive into everytime they came back inside), trying to get Tuna to come for a walk (I only realised when Linda came back that he was actually capable of the task), walking to the shop and buying items such as catfood, trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to light the fire, sorting out the numerous piles of recycling,and helping Linda to rearrange the living room and then to start painting it.

In the what felt like small snippets of time I had to myself I cycled to Rebecca Spit provincial park where I saw some dolphins swimming by and beaches piled high with driftwood (I would really be inspired to build something out of them if I lived here), took the ferry to Cortes Island and straight back with Barbara to admire the neighbouring islands and mountains, looked at Linda's good book collection (books such as builders of the pacific northwest) and copied down recipes, went to the Heriot Bay Inn and 'attended' the Quadra Island's University Halloween special course in 'How to survive a Zombie attack' (we weren't sure what to think), played bananagrams with Dave and Sarah (who are also helpxing on Quadra) and along with Vincent drunk tea at their host's house (which seemed very clinical compared to Linda's house), listened to the open mike night at the pub and cycled to and then walked up Chinese Mountain with a good view over southern Quadra Island, the mainland and surrounding islands. With Linda and Tuna I went on a walk near Quathiaski Cove on the other side of the island, but didn't spot any more whales. Today Vincent guided Linda, Dave, Sarah and I (as well as Tuna) in some mushroom picking in the woods behind the community centre (where the Quadra Island Quilters were hard at work in a quilting marathon- I really want to make a quilt one day). We picked a lot of chanterelles and a huge cauliflower mushroom. Vincent has just made a delicious soup with them.