Wild at Heart -=Vancouver Island=-

In this journal:

  • intense flowery glory;
  • whales flipping their tails;
  • a secret waterfall at the edge of the world.

[35MIN/LONG READ]

Social distancing at its finest.

A Port Renfrew slogan

Cabin Fever

One of the most interesting ideas that emerged from John B. Calhoun’s Mouse Utopia Experiments is that of cabin fever. Given infinite amount of food and time, with only the confinement being space, one, regardless rodent or human, will eventually grow so irritated and irrational that normal, basic functions will cease to exist. As a free-spirit myself, I found it difficult to understand before a Chinese guy decided a rat with wings was probably his best bet for a dinner soup. Only when lockdown entered month 6 while I was supposed to only visit my family for 14 days, did I truly understand why those mice began attacking each other for the lack of enrichment: I.JUST.WANTED.TO.DO.SOMETHING.OTHER.THAN.EATING.AND.SLEEPING.

And that is why, I introduce you to the most interesting of my roadtrips this summer: Vancouver Island.

For me, travelling is always about going to places that few have bothered to mention, and that is why I went to Quebrada de Humahuaca, Svalbard, and Easter Island. However, on four wheels of my car, it was rather difficult, yet, I found some remote corners of my local areas in this trip. To the dismay of my travel companions, my mother and two of her friends, my final destination would be a village so small that it does not even have cellphone reception. So sit back and relax, because this is gonna be a fun one.

Heading to the Island

Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal

First step of visiting the famed Vancouver Island: get on the island. This was easier said than done, because the island itself is a whopping 31300km², which means it is bigger than the chocolate-swirling, waffle-bending, Klingon-spouting(or perhaps Flemish but they are practically the same) Belgium. A car is essential if you want to explore the island properly, especially if you want to go to places where I am aiming for, ya know, where there are more bears than McDonald’s ice-cream machines. There is a ferry about once an hour, but the car tickets are constantly sold out, so I had to book over a week in advance. Otherwise we could have waited on the dock for half a day just to get on the standby list!

a smaller ferry
approaching Vancouver Island

The area around the Strait of Georgia is plowed with dozens of ferry routes, and ours, from metropolitan Vancouver’s Tsawwassen to Victoria’s Swartz Bay, is the most popular one. 2 hours of ferry ride was made particularly uninteresting because every facility except the cafe was closed onboard to limit the spread of a virus with a crown. We quickly approached Vancouver Island, and got off on the other side of the highway.

Butchart Gardens

flower galore

The first stop was just a few minutes of high speed driving from the dock. Butchart Family was a rich cement-factory owner that moved to this area in search of a good limestone quarry. After this precious material for buildings was exhausted, the elderly matriarch, Jennie Butchart, set about to turn the ugly pit in the Earth’s crust into something extraordinary.

prepare yourself, flowers are coming your way
hope your device can handle saturation

Just a few years prior to the closure of her family quarry here, they had invited a famous Japanese gardener, Isaburo Kishida, to sculpt an oriental garden for them. A lightbulb went up in her head: she would turn this hole into a garden, so it would not be just a dirt hole, but a glory-ous hole! She decided to name this penetrative feature the Sunken Garden.

Sunken Garden, seen from above
plants down there

Not only did she incorporated many different kinds of vegetations she collected from around the world, but also she featured numerous water features such as a lake and a waterfall to add dynamic components to this otherwise stale location. And the result was spectacular, the family was receiving so many guests due to word of mouth that it became a public attraction.

in front of the lake
in the Sunken Garden
busy buzzin’

Quickly, numerous other gardens of different themes followed suite, sprouting from the barren ground around the property, branching into many different themes and topics. Another water feature was added on the other side of Sunken Garden, the dancing Ross Fountain, situated at the lake formed at the bottom-most part of the pit.

Ross Garden
woah

Next on the list is a large open field, usually used to display an array of flowers in season. Since our visit was at the most abundant summer, thousands of different blooms took over the hedges, presenting us with a huge array of colours to choose from. Thousands of bees were buzzing around, feeding so intently as if they were in a trance, like me in a gourmet buffet restaurant.

best place to bee
I love flowers!

This section also features two Coast Salish totem poles, representing the original dwellers of this fertile landmass. Two of them stand over 10 meters tall, hard for me to even discern the smallest details, not to mention the scorching sun was beaming straight down from the heavens, rendering my eyes aflame every time I tried to look up.

totem poles
so red and arithmatically precise

However, passing the numerous flower beds and impressive fountains, one would find himself or herself at the edge of a meticulously maintained lawn. The other side stands the original Butchart family residence, barely visible through the entire Rose Garden and Italian Garden in the middle.

the beautiful house
a chrysanthemum

While the other side of the lawn was Japanese Garden, the nearby paths also acknowledged what went down before these crafted fields went up. Two gigantic Douglas Firs stood tall and mighty, as a reminder for the most abundant resource here on the island: lumber. They each measures more than 30 meters, but they are hardly large in the forest they originally belonged to. Do not worry, in the following segments of this trip, you will truly grasp the idea of how many actual gigantic trees are there on this piece of lush land.

Douglas Fir
gorgeous color combination

Passing a series of flower arches, one would be situated in the fabulous rose garden. Thousands of roses are planted on every inch of usable land, each from a completely different part of the world. The signs at the side of every plant marks the name of the breed, date of sowing, and origin. Ranging from Netherlands to Utah, these flowers can be as old as my grandpa! Coupled with delicatedly placed art and my mom’s unparalleled beauty, the scene was definitely one to behold.

rose is pink, violet is blue, if I can choose, I’ll choose you!
who is that handsome boy in the archway?

Sadly, most of the roses had withered in the dry summer heat, as the best season to view them is spring. However, the next garden, the Italian Garden, had its actions in full swing. This was originally the family’s tennis courts, but it was later converted to feature a whimsical, hyper-realistic medieval garden of a merchant family. The very first welcome feature to the guests is the opulently decorated Star Pond.

Star Pond
inner courtyard

Passing a set of marble-white columns, I was greeted by the full visible light spectrum hitting me all at once like my cellphone when I held it up at night. I could barely open my eyes as the body was physically unable to hold on to the beauty. Besides a pleasantly combined color scheme, my favorite part of this courtyard is the flowers blooming on the walls of this old family house, reflecting the value that these plants had been a part of the household since its very first days.

look look I am a princess!
I want a house like this!

Yet in the above photo, you may have realized that there are a few tables at the top floor. Yes, this is where we would have our lunch, a magnificent afternoon set of tea served right amongst the flowers! I situated myself in the elegant Dining Room, where Mrs. Butchart used to treat her guests with the same hospitality more than a hundred years ago. The interior of the house was equally gorgeous, completely taken over by orchids and potted flowers of the season, presumbly on a daily rotation. Wow, what kind of royalty deserves this kind of impeccable high tea?!

High Tea

view from my seat
real, actual giant orchids, as tableweight

Apparently, the answer includes me. We could not believe our eyes as the entire room was just two sets of tables thanks to the social distancing guidelines, making us feel like a proper group of royal family. Within minutes, before our inappropriate gawking had ceased, our teas arrived with proper silverware and a fruit preserve parfait. Excuse me, my fellow gentlemen and gorgeous ladies, mind me taking a sip of this Rose Congou first?

Fabulous, truly spectacular! Good heavens! Chaps, this, per chance, is the best tea I have ever had in my life! I swear on the honor of our majestic Queen!

hello there

Oh, sorry, while admiring the scones, I thought I was British for a split second, pardon my horrible spelling of “colour” and numerous colonial war crimes, oops! With the presentation of the three-tiered tray, our afternoon tea was pushed onto another level. More than two dozen kinds of snacks ranging from curry aïoli sandwiches to Bergamot chocolate truffle, wild British Columbian salmon delicacies to Raspberry macaron, the options were everything but lower class, which made me, someone who calculates airfares down to the penny, baffled and slightly uncomfortable. The service by the waitress was also passionate, which made my meal all the more “royal”. They say Victoria is like a proper European city, and I felt more British here for half a day than I did during my entire stays in London! Heck, I was not even in Victoria proper yet!

proper afternoon tea

I warmly bid the greeter farewell after stuffing myself with an unholy amount of food, probably forfeiting my chance to ever approach a proper princess or duchess in my life with such abominable etiquette, and stumbled towards the parking lot. Merely 30 minutes later, our decisively non-royal Honda was approaching the heart of Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia.

Victoria

inner harbour

Downtown

The gently rocking boats at the inner harbour welcomed me as I hopped off my ride. Known as an excellent place to dock, Victoria has held her head high as the premier safe haven for ships sailing up and down the coast since late 1700s. Though noticeably smaller than Vancouver, she is much richer in history, both reflected by its non-glass-based architecture and its status as the capital of the entire province despite the fact that it sits at the very southwestern edge of the country. These two aspects perfectly merges at the heart of the scenic district: British Columbia Parliament.

magnificent dome
I can easily tell you this is Vienna, and you will buy it

This 1897 neo-Baroque building is where people my family has elected come to take naps in breathtaking chambers during “legislative assemblies”, which, if you do not know, is a euphemism for “group yawning sessions”. On the picturesque lawn, a large totem stands as a representation of the First Nation tribes; a statue of Queen Victoria bears the mark of history and namesake; and a solemn monument commemorates the fallen during world wars and more recent tragedies. On top of the dome is a statue of captain George Vancouver, plated in gold.

what a beautiful sight!
The Empress Hotel

Diagonally across the tranquil waters is the Châteauesque Empress Hotel, one of the landmarks of the city. Built in 1908, this grand hotel is the premier place to stay for celebrities in the city, and is one of the Canada’s grand railway hotels, similar to the hotel right by Lake Louise. This is because all these grandiose structures were originally constructed by the Canadian railway companies to attract wealthy customers to tour this mammoth nation by rail. Nowadays, it serves as a charming, yet costly, fragment of west coast history, not only as a Fairmont, but also as a National Historic Site of Canada.

wild blackberries in the city
Fisherman’s Wharf

Just a few minutes along the waterfront, one can encounter the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, an entire array of floating houses conjoined by a floating wooden plaza. From here, one can see down a few streets that linked up the rows of floating houses, which had large fonts of “PRIVATE” displayed at the front. I guess the dwellers of these drifting adobes had enough unbeknowing tourists’ harrassments. Even though living here may attract unwanted attention, boy oh boy would I want a little vacation house right here! Especially one that is converted from an old boat!

is it really a street if it is not on land?
floating houses

On the other side of the calm waters is downtown Victoria. Along the downtown docks is the airport. Not the one you are thinking about, but actually for floatplanes coming from nearby towns and Vancouver’s downtown floatplane airport. This is probably the most scenic, most convenient, and definitely the most expensive way to get between the two cities. I sat down at the pierside tables of the famous local fish and chips joint, Red Fish Blue Fish, and chowed down my buttery dinner.

halibut combo costs a solid 20 dollars!
even downtown is covered with flowers

A stroll in the picturesque downtown took me to the old Chinatown that had its heyday in the bygone era. However, I was not interested in cheap monkey paws or plastic toys melded into ambiguiously minion shapes. My attention was fully on the narrowest street of the country: Fan Tan Alley. Extremely similar to what Harry Potter used to walk through to purchase his owl with the homing capabilities of a pigeon and the letter-carrying capacity of a pigeon, this street offers some random crafts and goods under strangely outdated Chinese names that seem way too stereotypical even for horribly-made Hollywood B-list movies. Oh wait, they are all owned by white people in this gentrified narrow, it all makes perfect sense now.

nah dawg, this ain’t possible!
downtown Victoria

Hatley Castle

Eventually, I turned myself in to the comfortable confines of bed, and arose just to begin our drive to the next destination: Hatley Castle, merely 20 minutes from downtown. This Scottish-styled mansion was originally constructed by the order of a wealthy family. However, it was purchased by the British Royal Crown-in-Council as an emergency backup for the royal family in case of a onslaught on England by the Nazis. Yes, this house was supposed to be the place for King Edward and his family if a full-on assualt actually took place. This is how closely Victoria resembles England, even the king himself approved!

Hatley Castle
Castle Gardens

Not only is this place a claim to fame with the proper royalties across the pond, but it is also the place where numerous inspirations were taken by the film production crews of X-Men. If one squints really hard, or perhaps take off the glasses just like me, he or she can spot the striking resemblance of Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in the shape.

a hummingbird
front of the castle

This place served as the location of a navy school after Hitler heard that whoever killed Hitler would go to heaven, and decided that he wanted to go to heaven. In 1995, it was changed into a public university and still is to this very day. I am positively jealous of anyone who gets to go to the X-Men school during their beautiful years to obtain their universally useful liberal arts diploma(s).

Sooke

Whiffin Spit

Leaving Greater Victoria area, I directed the wheels westwards, towards the little fishing town of Sooke. This is probably Victoria citizens’ favorite spot to unwind, with infinite possibilities to fish, to climb, to eat, and to discover, so how could I miss it? The very first stop was Whiffing Spit, which I am 99-percent sure is a slur in Australia. In reality, it is a 1-km sandbar that juts into the bay, creating a natural harbor inside by blocking out most of the waves crashing in directly from Pacific Ocean.

sitting by the spit
faraway sea mist blocking everything but the mountain peaks

While wafting down the trail, I noticed that the layer of sea mist that was originally far away as clouds were suddenly much closer, obscuring the rolling mountain peaks on the other side of Strait of Georgia. Those are the mighty Olympia mountains of USA, but now they could barely be seen. However, that also meant that within minutes, the mist was rolling over the bay like a pale white sandstorm, resembling shoppers pouring into a Best Buy on Black Friday. Quickly, I could not even see my feet, let alone the gorgeous view!

sailing into the unknown
a heron in the mist

Downtown

Trying to outrun the menacing fog, I hurried to the other side to take a walk along the local McGregor Park, constructed as a wooden broadwalk over the shallow waters. This is a favorite place for vacationers to come catch crabs, as the bottom was literally crawling with hundreds of these crustacean bad boys.

not a crabby day at all!

But sadly, every single clawed bastard you see above had to be tossed back into the water per Canadian law, as it only permits you to take away any male which is larger than 20cm. The smaller males and all females had to be released back, so at the end of a few rounds, not one single person on the platform had actually managed to bag a crab that could be steamed, or roasted, or put into a soup, while dozens of packs of chicken meat had been sunk into these murky waters.

yum yum steak and wings!

After a plentiful lunch at the locally acclaimed Route 14 Cafe, we continued down the road of… guess what, Route 14, along the undulating hills. Vancouver Island, despite its status as an island, is ridiculously mountainous. The roads are fragmented and disjoint, and Route 14 is exactly the case, as it ends abruptly just 100km from the southern end without continuing the rest of the way, which is about 500km more! In fact, besides a small section of highway 4 towards the town of Tofino, this highway is the only one along the west coast of the island!

above the clouds, the other side is America

As we climbed up the ridge, the sea mist blanketed the entire surface of the waters, obscuring any view down below. Passing the sleepy camper village of Jordan River, we reached the mysterious Mystic Beach, which is supposedly a local favorite.

Mystic Beach

the rainforest
know your roots

Parking lot was a solid 1 hour hike from the beach, along the famous Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, which runs along the coast for a mighty 47km. Today, our small jaunt to Mystic Beach was merely a minute segment of this gauntlet. The rainforest was perfectly dry at that time of year, but not so dry that the ground was no longer soft and spongy, perfect to protect my aging knees that had suffered through my reckless torture in Himalayas and Kilimanjaro. However, the roots had taken over the entire forest floor, making tripping a real hazard as much as a Travis Scott concert backstage.

dew on the fungus
sun rays penetrating through the moisture

After one hour of flat walking underneath the giants, we finally arrived at the narrow rocky beach. This is one of the major campsites along the trail, so it was teeming with families. It was high tide, and yet I could not see the legendary Mystic Beach waterfall that supposedly goes straight into the sea.

misty Mystic Beach
see those kids playing?

Oh wait, I have found it. If you look really closely, you will find a stream of water drooling down from the cliffside, and the children were playing with this glorified showerhead. This is the downside of coming in the dry season, as if you wade through mud to arrive at this locale during the damp wet season, this trickle of water would be a fully-fledged waterfall. Even more infuriatingly, I arrived at the highest possible tide, so me and my hiking boots were cut off by the waters to go in for a close inspection. But at least that was a nice hike, right?

Oh wait, my mother, and her friends, would like to make an official complaint on record about this fruitless expedition.

Don’t worry, my dear reader. I am the sole judge on that since this is my home turf. Soooo, yeah, denied.

Port Renfrew

The end of the 100km road is the snoozing fishing village of Port Renfrew. This is the kind of place so small that there is no cellphone signal, or Walmart. Besides a bunch of dilapidated houses and a sleepy port, the place is notable with the sheer amount of trees everywhere. Oh yeah, also bears, there are more bears in the area than humans.

“downtown” diner
portside

There is one cafe, two restaurants, and a whole lot of spaces in between, mostly filled with vacation houses that are as frequently occupied as my mind: not at all. The solitary gas station is just a pump sitting in an empty field, administered by the only grocery shop, so quiet that you can trap squirrels, or bears, just by standing next to the levers. I will not be surprised that the local town hall is staffed by a pair of grizzlies any more. This is a settlement sitting at the edge of the world, with not a single care to what those “connected” individuals are up to, because here in Port Renfrew, time is not about traffic jam, clocking in, appointments, and anniversaries. Here, it is merely a concept related to tides, to salmon spawning cycles, to fishing season, and to the age of the pacific redwood. This is what the OG social distancing looks like, before it was forced upon those worldly urban dwellers.

fishermen coming off from a trip
20 meters of distance is the minimum measurement here

Botanical Beach

The first stop I planned for my expedition was Botanical Beach, a rocky outcrop a few kilometers deeper into the coast. Supposedly, it was filled with intertidal pools that are teeming with wildlife. However, as we approached the parking lot, a roadblock ended the road prematurely:”DANGER! PROBLEM BEAR IN AREA” I guess the rangers were still struggling to find just another local resident who had a slight garbage addiction. Sadly, it remained shut for the three days we were there, and we had to seek coastal fun elsewhere.

Sombrio Beach

Another local shoreline attraction is Sombrio Beach, one of the other major pit stops along Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. This hike was merely ten minutes from the parking lot at the end of a steep dusty road, and voila, we were at this seemingly insignificant sight.

my set of footprints, ready to be washed away
rhythmically spaced out

On this pebble beach, dozens of tents were set up, with a handful of charred bonfires still burning from late night guitar sessions, smoldering trails of blue fumes into the sky. A few surfers had already braved the morning cold, rushing up and down the deep surge sites above the underwater kelp forest. For many, this is a nice place to camp, and a relatively ordinary seaside retreat, yet for the insiders, this place has a trick up its rocky sleeves.

here, all you have is time, and pebbles, so this is a natural result
a tiny crab!

I led my elderly teammates down the seemingly endless shore, passing a few happy campers still snoozing from raw-dogging late last night. At the headland on the eastern end, a lot of intertidal pools trapped many local fauna that seemed perfectly content being there. Tiny crustaceans and fish found refuge between the crevices and rocks, waiting for liberty next time the waters rise up again to reclaim these lower heights. For me, there was no better opportunity to discover the wild west coast than carefully slipping on the seaweed, while scaring off these poor little critters from their sunbathing sessions into their hideouts.

west coast best coast!
little hermit crab on a mollusk

Just a few minutes down the coast, a small stream flowed from the depths of the woods into the sea. This unassuming current marked the portal to another realm. Tracing the water up the slope, I found the source, a hidden waterfall underneath a moss-covered canyon. The entire canyon was flowing with sweet water, so we had to wade on rocks in order to access it, but boy was it a beautiful one!

a tree has fallen on top of us
even my mom is enjoying the wild west!

The end of the waterstream was the bottom of the falls, which is perfect for anyone who wants to take a cold shower. The water is abundant and fierce, and the fallen trees provided excellent cover for privacy. However, for me, I just want to stand underneath this secret waterfall of emerald green, and ponder about my existence at the edge of this world…

peace, at last

Avatar Grove

Port Renfrew is famous not only for its sea, but also for its mountains. On the other side of the spectrum, there is Avatar Grove, a protected area created by local environmentalists thanks to people’s appreciation of the last remaining ancient growth Douglas Firs as well as western red cedars. Sitting half way up a mountain that is rural even by Port Renfrew standards, it was a horrifying 20 minute climb up a mining road that could give any road tire a flat with ease. However, this kind of remoteness also meant that the views on the way were completely unspoiled.

water clear as gems
hollow, but alive

The Grove itself was merely a broken hiking trail from the roadside, but it contained so many surprises. Upon entering the canopy, I was completely stunned by these giants of the bygone era. These are the last remaining low valley old growths on Vancouver Island, with most trees older than Canada itself, standing over 80 meters above our puny heads. These are the true original dwellers of this land, unwavering, silent, headstrong, all over the eons. Some had already hollowed out, but they were still as young as ever. I found a hole in the tree, and crawled in to see if I would fit. I did not know what compelled me to do this, but perhaps I am secretly a cat that innately wants to fit into any space available. Soooo, meow?

giant spiders! mission abort! mission abort!
wait what in tarnation

At the end of the climb was a gigantic redwood forest, but in the midst of them all sits the large, ugly giant. This Douglas Fir has burls so numerous and humongous that it is dubbed as “Canada’s gnarliest tree”. Don’t believe me? Well, check out this sign! Signs must be correct all the time, right?

yay two uglies together!

Fairy Lake

In the bottom of the valley, upstream on the river from Port Renfrew, sits the small Fairy Lake. There was nothing of great interests besides a rather uninteresting campsite that never had to social distance: each tent site was separated with the rest with a wall of trees per Juan de Fuca countryside tradition. However, if one looks carefully, they may just find the strangest attraction in a lake: a tree. Not just a normal tree. This is a tree on top of another tree.

Fairy Lake
the Bonsai Tree

The locals call it the Fairy Lake Bonsai Tree, and it was truly an amazing feat of nature, as this small tree grew on top of an older fallen bretheren’s slightly cold, and definitely very damp, corpse. I guess in places as natural as Port Renfrew, all the points of interest have to be basically different twists on trees. So, where is the tree that bears fruits, as like, grows bears as fruits?

Whale Watching

However, I intentionally kept the most exhilerating thing to do at the edge of the world to the end. Whales are abundant in Strait of Georgia, and Port Renfrew as the quietest outpost here on the west coast is perfect to lauch expeditions into the heart of these gentle giants. Due to the small size of the community and the lack of visitors even during normal times, there was only one ship doing one expedition a day, so I had to hurry along to arrange my tour. My mother and her friends decided to not embark on this magical journey because they are very scared of sea-sickness, which I completely understand: the ship is not a large cruise ship, quite the opposite!

powerful ride

Luckily, thanks to the Covid-19 situation, no other visitors signed up for the tour, so I got a private session with Sara, the extremely knowledgeable guide. She not only works here in paradise during summers, but also goes on Antarctica cruises to be kayak guides during northern winters, what a life! We set off to the afternoon swell, eager to find ourselves some of Earth’s mightiest creatures. However, the first stop was Owen Island, a tiny piece of rock protruding out of the waters near the village. This is the place where Steller Sea Lions come to take their beauty power naps.

lying down for some snooze

These chubby boys and girls are normally hard to see elsewhere, but here just five minutes from the harbor, over fifty of them just nonchalantly slept their lives away on the island, meters from hiking trails and our boat. The only thing they might possibly need was a cup of tea to go with this killer view.

best view in town
a whale and a container ship

And another twenty minutes down the waterway, I spotted a blow of air in the misty horizons. Whale, whale, whale, what do we have here? A lone humpback was finding its way to the nutrient-rich upwellings in the deep channel, while on the other side a few large container ships were waiting for permission to enter the harbour of Seattle. This jarring juxtaposition formed a photo of the new age: anthroposcene, where everything is influenced by human beings. However, on this side of the border, everything is much quieter, at least for human activities. For the whales, this is a place for feeding frenzies. And you shall see.

woah!
a big tail!

As we moved closer and closer to the upwelling, more and more humpback whales popped into view. Within minutes, we could not even turn on our engines any more, because there were too many whales too close to us! In Victoria, one would be lucky to just see a lone whale blowing steam in a binocular three hundred meters away, if he can ignore the other 200 raucous visitors who were doing the same thing. Meanwhile, I was here, alone, in my own VIP ride, with more than two dozen whales coming up and down nonstop, mere meters away! Check out the below photo, as this giant was so close to me that my camera could not focus!

please don’t knock the ship over

Humpbacks generally go on a cycled-feeding style. They will surface three or maybe four times before going on a deep dive of up to 20 minutes. However, each whale has a different personality, as some prefer to go down more often while others never do. This is why Sara also takes photo of each tail that surfaced because for scientists who are tracking these mammals, their tails are like human faces, each distinct and easily identifiable.

two surfacing at the same time

After a solid hour of watching them come and go, I could not believe I am saying this: I felt like it was starting to get tiring. I just wanted them to eat in peace, and perhaps it was better for us to move away from their dining table. However, that was only after I captured the most iconic whale photo I have ever seen. Three whales each at the three different iconic stages: one surfacing to blow steam, the second arching its back to get ready to dive, and the last one breaching the water with its tail, signaling the beginning of a deep dive. What a sight!

whale, whale, whale, would you look at that?

On the Way Back

Yet, after two days in the wild wild west, my mom was starting to get agitated. What can you do when you only have whales, beaches, rainforests, and lakes? Where are the supermarkets? How come there is no wifi in the only cafe in town? Is the stove back home still on? Fine, fine, I will take you back, mom. We hopped onto our car and drove across the island towards east, through a tiny road that is probably the loneliest I have ever seen. It is literally called Pacific Marine Road, and is just 60 kilometers of forest, rivers, and more forest. Just a small road, without even a highway designation, not one single household, or even a curbsite stop in that matter.

We eventually reached the small town of Duncan, situated right at the main artery of the island, Highway 1.

O CANADAAAA

As one of those highway pit stops, Duncan is only famous for its complete collection of every single fast food chain imaginable, thanks to its location exactly between Nanaimo and Victoria, the island’s two largest population centers. Oh also, it has the world’s largest hockey stick, situated on top of their community center. Canada, eh? We continued down the highway, and eventually reached Chemainus, a tiny village famous for its murals.

flowers are the signs of a good place
even subway’s name is a mural

There are painted walls everywhere, each detailing a part of history in this port town, or telling a story of hope for the future. Every house and shop was graced with a portrait, a landscape, an abstract, or a story panel, so many that it was hard to keep track. Even fast food joints, normally known for their near universal uniformity, had conformed to the paint and brushes. What a beautiful place to be!

post office with a story to tell

One Great Ride

Eventually, I brought the car to Nanaimo harbour, and boarded the returning cruise. It was hard to say goodbye to Vancouver Island, not because it was faraway or hard to access, but because it exceeded my expectations greatly.

see ya, Vancouver Island

I had never been to “the island” before, while my mother had been for more than a dozen times. However, she had told me numerous stories about how she was just chilling with all the other Chinese friends who went with her, or stories about buying good antiques for cheap. I never thought just half a day’s trip from my house, I could be faced with the most untamed, unspoiled, unadulterated nature. Maybe this is truly the generation gap between us. While my mother subconciously choose to remember the shops and commotion, I focus on the trees and waves. She painted a different picture for me than what I wanted, but it turned out to be a great thing.

sunset over the greatest place on Earth

Victoria turned out to be a haven for flowers, culture, and wildlife; Sooke was a sweet little gem of local flavor; while Port Renfrew was the most British Columbian place I have ever been to: unbelievably friendly locals, tight-knit community, ungodly amount of nature, and most importantly, a heart of wild, unbridled freedom. Truly, as the silverlining of this domestic confinement, I have found the spirit that resides within my province. No place shall dare to compete with its soul, one with a passion for every cedar, every morning dew drop, every crashing wave, and every whale. This is the greatest place on Earth, and it is just a stone’s throw away.

FIN
-=ForeverYoung|Vancouver Island 2020=-

<— Travel MasterPlan

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