A Travellerspoint blog

Something strange happens when you arrive here...

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Nestled between the majestic Rocky mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west lies Canada's western most province: British Columbia (BC). It is said that a strange thing happens when you arrive here. Your senses awaken. After traveling through BC - and a part of Alberta - for three weeks I can only confirm it's true. Standing on top of a mountain, watching the waves of the Pacific roll in, scenting a centuries old rainforest,... traveling through this part of the world is a true treat for the senses. You cannot but stare in amazement at the Rockies, whether it's under a clear blue sky or dark clouds. And the colours, so many colours: from snow white on the mountain tops to all shades of green in the forests and the aquatic blue of the glacier lakes.

And pretty much everywhere you go you're reminded you're in bear country. Grizzlies, black bears, brown bears. But let's not forget about wolves, elk, moose, rattlesnakes, mountain goats, killer whales, dolphins and belugas. Unfortunately Canada has a rather ambiguous attitude toward its wildlife. While the wildlife attracts tourists and is a part of Canada's image as nature paradise, the country still allows for trophee hunts, allowing people to kill precious animals like bears and wolves. Unbelievable, but sadly true. Bears still have more reason to fear humans than vice versa.

Having that said, I invite you to take a look at this blog and follow my footsteps into a part of BC. Enjoy!

My other travel blogs:
Last chance to see Cuba (2013)
Thelma and Louise on the road! West USA 2012
Uganda (2011)
New Zealand & Sydney (2010
La isla bonita - La Palma

Posted by Petravs 06:44 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Flying over Greenland

day 1 - 13th July

It's that time of year again: travel time! My travel feet have been itching for months now and finally I'm on my way to Schiphol airport in Amsterdam to catch the flight to Vancouver, Canada. I've had a Canada travel guide on my book shelf for quite a few years and at some point you just have to put the book aside and go for the real thing.

My dad is once more my airport transport. This 2 hour drive, just the two of us, starts to become a tradition :-)
It has been a rather sleepless night for me and it promises to be a very long day. My flight takes off around noon and I will arrive in Vancouver just an hour later, at 1 pm. Only by then I will have skipped a time difference of 9 hours.

I'm travelling with a group of 20, but prior to boarding I can't spot anyone of my fellow travelers. On the plane I'm seated with a Dutch family of 5: the grandparents, parents and their teen daughter. I learn they're on their way for a 4 week trip together. First far and long trip for the grandparents. I sit next to gran and sense her excitement. Unfortunately there are also a lot of babies and little kids on the flight. Don't get me wrong, I love kids, but not when they cry on a nearly 10 hour flight. Still, I can't blame the parents for wanting to travel. I could see myself packing up the whole lot, baby included, one day to be able to travel. But I haven't arrived at that point in my life yet, so my sympathy for the situation has its limits :-) There's a little one right behind me that really cries for hours and hours! So no sleeping for me, I get through the flight watching some movies.

First excitement when we fly over Greenland! It's a no-mans-land, covered in snow. Magical sight!

We arrive in time in Vancouver and at the baggage belt I finally spot the first people from my group. We shake hands and soon we all find ourselves in the arrivals hall where a lady from the travel organisation 'collects' us. She basically tries to get us on a shuttle bus to the hotel in Richmond, on the outskirts of Vancouver, from where we will start the real journey the next day. It takes quite a while and by the time we get to the hotel the challenge is to stay awake for a few more hours. Turns out we're a group of 8 Belgians and 12 Dutch and my roommate this trip is 24 y.o. Leonie who travelled by plane for the first time and is actually doing her first big trip alone. We have dinner in an all American/canadian sports bar close to the hotel and by 9 pm I'm fighting to keep my eyes open. I have to give in and go to bed. Ready for the new travel adventure to start! British Columbia, here we come…

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Posted by Petravs 06:37 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

The man wo appeared from the rocks

Day 2 - 14th July

After a fairly good sleep it's time for the real trip to begin. The 'Moose Mobile' waits for us in the morning. This will be our transport for the next 20 days. A medium sized bus, with driver Fred (or Freddy or Frederic). A 'real' Canadian. Although originally from Quebec he has been living in the Vancouver area for many years now and he assures us he's an experienced driver. And so we hit the road, straight to the ferry that will take us to Vancouver island for our first part of the journey. The ferry crossing takes about 1,5 hour and is an excellent way to get us in the travel mood. The sun is out, the sky is blue, the water fairly calm. I enjoy the wind in my hair, the views and we get a glimpse of Vancouver, the city we'll be able to explore at the end of the trip. Sat in a windfree corner on the deck of the ship it's the ideal setting to chat some more and start remembering eachother's names :-)

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After 1,5 h an announcement calls us back to the lower decks where the Moose Mobile is parked. And then off we go. Vancouver Island is the largest populated landmass off the North American coast – around 500km long and 100km wide – and is laced with colorful, often quirky communities, many founded on logging or fishing. Much of the island is protected parkland. It contains many pockets of old-growth fir and cedar forests, as well as rare, naturally occurring groves of Garry oak. Not Vancouver on the mainland, but the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island is the capital of BC.

Later that day we're heading to our hotel in Victoria, but first stop are the Butchart Gardens. With all the rugged natural beauty in British Columbia, it’s a bit ironic that one of the province’s top tourism draws is the 20 hectares of elaborate manicured foliage here , 21km north of Victoria in Brentwood Bay. The grounds are divided into separate garden areas (Rose garden, Italian garden, Japanese Garden, ...) and we're clearly not the only visitors. The place is packed with tourists! The gardens look beautiful but it's just too many people for me and they pose everywhere for their pictures. This is not why I came to Canada. We spend about 2 hours there and then continue our drive to Victoria where our lodging for the coming 2 nights is Hotel Zed, a retro hotel with much attention for detail at about half an hour walking from the city center.

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I tend to get the most out of the day so basically chuck the luggage in the room and then we head into town with a smaller group of people. That is, after quite a long detour to find a supermarket. It's late afternoon by the time we get to the center and we find ourselves a spot on the grass near the harbor, watching water planes flying in and out. Our peace & quiet is then disturbed by a man who appears from the rocks by the water. He holds a big branch in his hands and shouts. He seems to be mad about a lot of things. He doesn't appreciate the fact that sirens woke him and that the ships are killing the fish. He keeps hanging around the place and we don't feel like having a confrontation with this mister so continue our stroll and then have an early dinner at a pizza place.

Posted by Petravs 06:45 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Killer whales on the horizon!

Day 3 - 15th July

Today we've got a whole day to spend in Victoria. And it will turn out to be too short. Fred gives us a quick version of the touristic bus tour to get us orientated and then drops us off at the Empress hotel, right by the Parliament buildings.

Named after the British Queen Victoria, Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, with British settlement beginning in 1843. In North American terms you could say that the city still has a fair number of its historic buildings. The two most famous landmarks are in fact the British Columbia Parliament Buildings (finished in 1897) and the Empress hotel (opened in 1908), and let that be the starting point of our little exploration today. Mind you, we don't get that far. Our first stop is the Parliament where by chance we can join a free tour of about half an hour. A very enthusiastic lady tells us about the history of the building and the parliament, at one point joined by a certain man named Amor De Cosmos. He has time travelled to tell us his story and yes, you can have your picture taken with him. I have no time - or interest - for a picture with Amor, we have to get on board of our whale whatching boat.

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It's time to put on an extra layer of clothing and still it turns out to be quite chilly out on the open sea. It takes us quite a while before we reach our first sighting of whales. But still, it's a wonderful sight. Regulations are strict, so we have to keep a distance of at least 100 meters, but we're all reaching over on one side of the boat and you can hear the photo camera's click frantically. Everyone is over the moon to see the whales, how they go under and then pop up again, often side by side. We're lucky today because we spot two kinds of killer whales: the resident and transient type. The resident killer whale apparantly feeds on salmon, the transient killer whale is the 'true' killer who also hunts other whales/mammals . They are higly sophisticated hunters who - huge as they are - can sneak up on their prey in a very quiet way and then attack. Luckily we are safe on the boat and after 2 hours we sail back to shore. It's a bumpy ride, even more in the front of the boat where I found myself a seat just to warm up a bit from the cold outer deck. The people sitting next to me hold cups of hot chocolate milk in their hands, but the milk pours all over the place as we jump up on the rhythm of the waves.

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It's nearly 3.30 pm when we set foot to shore and so there's not enough time left to visit some of the places I wanted to see. There's the Royal BC museum (with an exhibition about the Vikings), there's the historic house where Emily Carr was born and raised... But everything closes by 4 or 5 pm, so we invent an alternative program: strolling some more through the streets, having a cocktail in the sun and then finishing the city walk through China Town. Victoria's Chinatown is the second oldest in North America after San Francisco's. The poor Chinese were brought to the city as slaves building railways.

We end the day in Victoria all together in the Old Spagetti Factory. It turns out to be quite a challenge for the staff to serve dinner to a group of 21. Their timing is not exactly perfect, but in the end everyone can eat and we return to our hotel with the whale watching as the highlight of the day.

Posted by Petravs 07:22 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

The black out

Day 4 - 16th July

It's time to leave the city behind and discover the beautiful nature of Vancouver Island. It promises to be a long drive, so by 7.30 am we hit the road. The drive is a treat for the eyes, the most beautiful landscapes just pass in front of you. And excitement all over when we do our first bear spotting: a mother bear with little one crosses the road. It happens fast, so not everyone caught a glimpse (I did :-)).

Our first stop of the day is in the little town of Chemainus. Originally a logging town, the place is now 'famous' for it's mural paintings. We have a look around, but to be honest: there's not that much to see. It's a very quiet place and the murals are obviously just a way to get people to stop. The trick seems to work though as Chemainus is mentioned in most of the travel guides. For us it's a short stop.

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I'm definitly more impressed by Cathedral Grove, in the Macmillan Provincial Park. Cathedral Grove is the only highway-accessible protected old-growth Douglas-fir forest in British Columbia, receiving about 1 million visitors per year. Some of the trees are over 800 years old. A wooden board path leads you through a part of the forest on both sides of the road. It's like a different world, with all the shades of green and rainforest scent. Just a pity about all the tourists :-) Apparantly there's a whole controversy about the parking lot as it's dangerously situated just at both sides of the road, making people cross. You just have to be careful you don't run anyone over.

Next stop is Sproat Lake for picknick and a swim. We buy groceries together, find a table to make us some sandwiches and then go for a refreshing swim. The weather is warm today so the water feels really good. From the lake we continue to a fish farm where Fred has spotted bears before. Right before we walk the little trail we are reminded that if we should cross a bear we shouldn't run and basically clap our hands. Mmm... yeah right... not entirely sure about that. But turns out there's no bear around when we get out, so it's only a very short stop. Last stop of the day is right by the Pacific Ocean. Fred challenges us to take creative photo's of eachother while climbing the rocks. There's a big sign when we arrive by the shore saying "Do not climb the rocks" but there goes Fred with all of us behind him. It is a beautiful spot though, the waves come crashing in here and you could easily find yourself a spot here to sit down for a while.

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By late afternoon we reach Ucluelet, a small fishing community, our home for the next two days. We're situated right by the harbor, lovely views from my room. There is one little problem for dinner though: there's a black out and no one knows when power will be on again. The only place serving food is the 'Canadian Princess', a ship that now serves as a restaurant. THey've put out the BBQ and luckily we can all eat there. THe menu is limited to chicken, beef or salmon burgers and it takes quite a while before the food is ready but it's all good. And as darkness sets in, we have a cosy evening on the former ship. I believe we're slightly making the waitress desperate. There's some alcohol yes, and we're all talkative and giggling. Fred gets out his mobile music boxes which he can use on battery and Franciska & Danielle even sing Mamma Mia for us. It's hilarious and by the time it gets really dark they kindly ask us to settle our bills because they still have to clean up the place by the light of a torch. In the room I take out my lenses while Leonie gives some extra light with her torch, it reminds of my trip to Uganda, only in a more comfortable room :-) The black out would last till the next morning.

Posted by Petravs 08:09 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

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