30th August - 15th September
30.08.2015 - 15.09.2015
Hello again! The next part of our trip has taken us to Vancouver Island, which lies to the west of Vancouver and is approximately half the size of Scotland. As well as this though it has hundreds of tiny islands surrounding it meaning that whilst on the main island things are a bit more condensed, some of the people who live out on the smaller islands are pretty out in the sticks. It was this small island life which we were keen to learn a bit more of and which bought us this way!
After surviving the rocky ride, our first stop was Victoria, British Columbia's capital. Traditionally Victoria has been sold as a piece of England in Canada - or at least what people expect England to be like. This didn't particularly sell the city to us but we were interested in seeing what this picture box image of England would look like so popped by for a night. Much of what we expected was there - lots of 'ye old shoppes' afternoon teas, and pubs named after Charles Dickens characters. But behind this facade there really is something quite British about Victoria in its architecture and layout because as recently as 150 years ago Victoria really was entirely British. It was Britain's first outpost on the west coast, and as the area developed into a major British colony in the late 1800s, it was Victoria that ruled the roost. Being a history nerd (and Mark being the dutiful husband!) we visited the Royal BC Museum to find out a bit more and genuinely had a pretty good time! What we found out was that as per standard colonial history, Canada thinks Britain cocked it up a bit, but that there's also a really interesting heritage in Canada's aboriginal community, the 'First Nations'. This area of Canada still has well over a hundred First Nations communities each with their own language still in existence. A lot of work is now being done to reverse previous damage and save this heritage, which meant the museum was just full of original First Nations artwork including the most amazing and enormous totem poles. Pretty cool stuff!
The next day we headed four hours north to the town of Courtenay, where we'd be meeting our host for the next 2 weeks, who would be taking us on the next step of the journey by boat. One of the first things we saw upon arriving in Courtenay was a 'bear crossing' sign, making it well and truly clear that Vancouver was long behind us! Whilst we didn't come across any bears we did see plenty of jumping salmon and a fair few vultures, which to be honest was enough excitement to get us started with. Upon meeting our host we quickly found he was what you'd call a 'character'. Lots of noise, lots of back slaps and a very lax attitude to rules, safety or conventions (all terribly un-British!). We were picked up in his truck (we quickly discovered at least half of Canadian road users drive big trucks and most men also wear baseball caps as per stereotype), and experienced a slightly hair raising journey wishing he'd give more attention to the road and less to us, his phone and seemingly any other task that needed to be done! Some relief you might think when we arrived at the dock, but oh no as we soon found out that a pretty similar approach was taken to driving a boat as driving a truck! On the other hand we were also offered a beer, which we initially took as a celebratory arrival drink but soon learnt was an essential part of being in a boat in these parts.
Our boat journey took us up between the coast of Vancouver island and the coast of mainland Canada. It doesn't feel or look anything like a sea journey at home though. The area is full of lots of smaller islands and so the waterways are more like broad rivers - calm, clean and full of fish! It is also spectacular to look at. The islands are mountainous and covered in forest, which set against the smooth wide waterways makes for a pretty breathtaking sight. After a 50 minute boat ride we arrived at our home for the next 2 weeks. Nestled in a cove and surrounded on all sides by thick forest, it's a secluded and truly unique fishing destination. It has just 4 small holiday lodges, sleeping 2-3 each, a larger cabin for the owners, a beautiful outdoor kitchen and well that's just about it! There is no road access, so you can only get there by boat or sea plane and the next nearest site of civilisation is 30 minutes boat ride away. The owners created it all themselves, building and landscaping it all based on their own ideas to create something which is both unique but also very down to earth and homely. Then of course there's the fact in a place with so few people, there are a lot more animals. The surrounding forests are home to birds of prey, chipmunks, bears and even the odd cougar. Whilst the waters are full of not only fish, but seals, otter, porpoise, dolphins and if you're really lucky a passing group of whales. Even in Canada this place is pretty unique!
Our placement here was based on the principle that for 4-5 hours work a day we get free food and lodging and of course the opportunity to experience somewhere as special as this. It's a pretty great concept and this is the first of a few that we'll be doing across our trip. I won't lie though, it did take us a little while to get used to it! The fluidity of it means it can be tricky getting the balance right and so we spent the first few days unsure of what we should be doing and whether we were doing too much or too little! The owner was quite the perfectionist too, so there were quite a few occasions at the beginning where we definitely didn't get it right (I quickly found out that what I thought were my very adequate fire making skills were not up to scratch!). Mark has also become quite the wood chopper, which teamed with his beard and rekindled enthusiasm for baseball caps means he is becoming more Canadian by the day.
Alongside the work though there have been some really great experiences out here. The owners, a middle aged Canadian couple who have done plenty of traveling themselves and definitely experienced their fare share of partying are outgoing, fun, extremely hard working and definitely unique. Pete is the kind of guy who throws caution to the wind in his enthusiasm to get a job done and so whilst we were there we saw him nearly crash his boat in his enthusiasm to talk to a passing boat (whilst we were in it), make a daily hobby of shooting seagulls and my personal favourite, used a leaf blower to get a fire going with no thought to the canister of petrol attached to it, and loosing the front of his head hair in the process . All of this was of course done with beer in hand. Sarah on the other hand, whilst full of her own amusing stories was the person we went to for reassurance and and translation of Pete's instructions!
We also met some really great guests during our two weeks. An evening spent with 3 men from the armed forces taught us quite a lot about Canadian culture from one angle, namely that they love ice hockey, everything worth discussing involves a wager and in their own words Canada is built on beer and bacon. Another, really lovely couple also took us on our first fishing trip - never did we think we could get so excited about fishing! But out here there's a lot to make it fun, the scenery is beautiful, the weather is good, there is the obligatory can of beer and there are lots of fish... and the fish are big! We were impressed enough at marks first catch - a chanuck salmon weighing around 12 lb, but then when Alex managed to pull in a hefty 19 lb salmon we were pretty darn excited. Not bad for a first run!
Which brings me onto a the other thing which makes this place special, and the thing which really bought us all this way - the nature. You really are engulfed by it up here. At times this has been scary- both grizzly and black bears are pretty common out here, and the owners have also known Cougars to pass through, all of which can definitely kill you... The one occasion we did think we saw a bear we ran away so quickly we failed to realise it was just a tree stump. A guest soon told us that was exactly the wrong way to respond as you need to make yourself threatening to the bear, so after that Mark carried a big stick and sang bear songs on our walks.
But it has also been really magical. We saw a school of a hundred plus dolphins jumping through the water right next to where we were staying. Seals and sea lions were a pretty regular sight and one evening we stood on the docks as a river otter climbed up just 10 meters away from us. Across the bay we were also able to see a small group of orcas swimming past at a distance. Then there were the group of chipmunks who kept us company whenever we sat outside - definitely a lot cuter than squirrels. Sadly our real hope to see a whale up close and maybe even a grizzly (from a safer distance!) didn't happen, but we live in hope for the remainder of our trip!
Our final night was spent in one of the most unique hot tubs you'll ever see. A bath tub in the middle of a beach surrounded by forest. If you're wondering why I look so amused in the photo it wasn't just the fantastic view but the knowledge that Mark was taking the photo wearing nothing but a pair of hiking boots - the privilege of knowing you're the only people around for quite a few miles! It also gave us time to reflect on our stay here though. The community out here is an interesting one. It's extremely remote, extremely beautiful and almost entirely built on fishing. For this reason though we gradually discovered it was also a very male dominated one. For example, Sarah told us one night that she was just one of two women who drove a boat out here. This was partly because of the small number of women who chose to live out here but partly because there are very definite gender roles. The men go out and take people fishing, the women stay on the islands and run the lodges. The idea that a woman might want independence to leave their island apparently not accommodated for. Certainly quite different to what we're used to. On the other hand, it's probably the most peaceful place we've ever been and there is real satisfaction in a lifestyle where your day is your own and completely unaffected by the interruptions of modern society. There's a lot to love about this lifestyle and the memories will definitely stick with us.
So... Next stop the Rockies and Yoho national park for another work placement. 2 boat journeys and 18 hours of bus journey away. See you at the other side!