Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Whales, wine and the first bear of 2012

Most Canadians only get 10 days annual leave, 15 if you're lucky. So the 'long weekend' assumes huge importance as a chance to get away and into the outdoors (well, I'm sure some of them use it to visit the Home Depot but the sensible ones go camping).

Luckily long weekends crop up almost every month (much more sensible distribution than the UK) and we've made excellent use of the first two of spring:

Easter time whale watching

Sunset, West Coast style
On the way to the west coast of Vancouver Island (just "the island" to Vancouverites) we had a whistle stop visit with my awesome first cousin twice removed, Chris Pielou (my only known relative with her own wikipedia entry E.C. Pielou wiki entry).  Still hiking and writing books at 87, she is a force to be reckoned with in the sleepy seaside town of Comox and I was touched to be given a signed copy of the latest reprint of her first popular science book 'The World of Northern Evergreens'.  I'm still sorting out my spruces from my pines but I'll get there...

Yes, we think it did walk there
The island's west coast bears the brunt of the northern Pacific Ocean's wind, waves and, with amazing frequency and force, rain.  So we had low expectations of a dry weekend on the drive over (particularly as there was still about 3 feet of snow on the roadside on the passes) and much time was spent rigging up a complex tarpaulin arrangement.

But actually, it turned out pretty nice.  We walked on the huge expanses of sandy beach in the Pacific Rim National Park, watched grey and humpback whales, saw our first sea otter (!) and cooked up on the beach in an amazing sunset.  No coastal wolves yet, but there's always next time...

Wine tasting and rock

Baby vines at the Nichol vineyard
The long weekend towards the end of May heralds the start of Canadian summer.  Proving this wasn't yet firmly embedded enough in our psyche, we headed to the major summer destination in B.C without a campsite reservation.  And, predictably in hindsight, they were all full by the time we arrived in the Okanagan (300km east of Vancouver) at about 11pm after hours escaping the 'burbs so we put a motel night on our flexible friend.

All was resolved by morning, just in time to start out tour of B.C. vineyards.  Little did we realise that the Canadian wine that makes it's way to the Vancouver liquor stores is the bottom of the barrel and they actually produce some excellent wine, particularly whites.  I pretended to know the difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy style and Mark's savvy actually got us some 'below the counter' tastings.  With temperatures in the high twenties, clear blue skies and acres of dry vineyards it felt very European and totally unlike our home turf.  

So they DO put the signs in the right place
We were just about sober enough to run and climb the following day and have a mini night time safari to try to spot bighorn sheep (no luck, but we did see a well placed deer). On the way home the first bear of 2012 made an appearance looking a bit dazed from hibernation.  And luckily dazed enough not to charge a the family of 6 who ran towards it from their SUV...

So, summer has begun (though it's raining as I type this) and next stop is the 300 miles of beaches of Oregon.

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