Swirling mist amongst the conifers, long winding roads and deserted beaches.
We'll start with what came before Vancouver Island, the journey there.
Both tired, we wandered in a slightly dazed fashion onto our Air Canada flight from London to Vancouver. Almost before we knew it, and only one whisky and Canada Dry in, the fun started "have you ever seen an iceberg before", "only on TV". So we start running back and forth across the plane spotting hundreds of massive icebergs followed by glaciers emptying into the ocean and the stunningly white landmass of Greenland. A movie and nap later and the Rockies came into view, clear, dark mountain lakes and thick snow giving us a taster of what we would soon be viewing from land. (This sighting of snow also made us think that we may need a vehicle that could cope with some icy conditions...so we've been having fun driving around in an SUV...the greenest one possible of course!)
We arrive at Megan and Mick's (my cousin and her partner who are also travelling in Canada) quirky pad (all 1912 decor just as it would have been when first built) in New Westminster and are greeted with an early Thanksgiving dinner and later woken by several frieght trains which just love to blow their fog horn as long and loudly as possible at 3am.
Next morning it's straight to the ferry through the low cloud and drizzle. Vancouver is not looking it's most appealing. But shortly after we start moving, patches of blue are seen in the direction of travel, and by the time we arrive in Victoria the sun is blazing and our search for ice-cream commences.
Our destination for the evening is a hill-top lodge, near Port Renfrew, with views of the sea, hot tub and a passionate chef. We wake in the morning to mist rising off the forest floor, swirling through the conifers and settling in layers on the sea, hiding the tops of the distant mountains. Nearby is a well trodden loop walk and we set out with enthusiasm and noise as we are now walking in Bear country. The rules of behaviour around bears are really quite simple:
1) Talk, sing or jangle bells so that you never surprise a bear.
2) If you surprise a bear, ask it what colour/type it is. This is very important as will be explained below.
3) If a black bear attacks you, fight back to try to scare it off.
4) If a brown bear attacks you, play dead so it gets bored and moves on.
The problem comes in determining what type of bear you have at hand. Apparently, some brown bears are rather close to black in colour, and some black bears have some brown bits...but what type of bear it is is important because:
5) If a black bear attacks you, do not play dead. It will try to eat you thinking it has killed you.
6) And if it is a brown bear, to do not try to fight back, it WILL kill you.
Confused yet? Yes, so are we!
Driving up country we head through a couple of hundred kms of forestry plantations before emerging at the tranquil Shawnigan Lake and stay in a beautiful maze of a B&B. Megan's organisation came good once more as we were greated with tea and plum cake and shown to rooms of old world grandeur (think 'Gone with the Wind' and Scarlett O'Hara's childhood home).
We were now in the wine, cider and farming part of the island and so decided that we should sample as much of these delights as possible. First up was Merridale cidery, which started us off with an oak aged cider as strong as wine (Deb was very pleased that Matthew had offered to drive today). Their offerrings were surprisingly tasty, and not all at knock your socks of strength and so we merrily skipped through the orchard after our tasting. Yummy Pinot Gris and some wild blackberry port were also sampled before we headed down to the coast of Cow bay to explore and then munch on some of Hilary's cheeses.
As the drive to Port Alberni started, the rain came down and we were feeling rather smug with our timing as we cruised past moody lakes. Finding our accomodation for the night wasn't quite so easy - Tsunami Guesthouse was tiny and well hiden in the the mix of suberbia and shopping malls. But we got there in the end and were greeted by an enthusiastic, if not a little eccentric, owner, Wolf, who provided massive Black Russian tomatoes, courgettes and cinnamon basil from his garden for Deb to use in cooking up an impromptu dinner.
Encouraged by the possibility of seeing bears scooping salmon directly from the river, we decided on an early start to Stamp Falls. Sadly, it seemed that the bears were still asleep, but it was stunningly beautiful in the chilly morning air and we did see a tonne of Salmon!
After our breakfast of freshly baked bread, care of Wolf, we headed to the ferry port via 'Cathedral Cove' which holds some of the largest conifers on the Island (the largest we saw being a whopping 79 meters high). With mosses literally blanketing and dripping from the trees it was a rather mystical spot, although a little of this mystique dissapeared with the rumble of the trucks right through the centre of the grove.
Then it was onto Nanaimo for our ride back to Vancouver...