Saturday, 8 May 2010

Van Island pt II: Tofino

Tofino: 5 - 9 April 2010

So, we’ve fallen behind the blogging again… what are you going to do?! This blog marks a bit of a ‘golden era’ in our Canadian travels. So far things have been good but from hereon things just got better.

From Nanaimo on the east coast of Vancouver Island we headed straight across to the west coast. We took what was not only the main route but the only route. I didn’t believe google maps when I first checked, but once we were underway I understood… more mountains! Can’t tell you too much about the scenery as all my concentration was taken up by not driving off the edge of it.

We arrived on fumes alone… the fuel gauge was buried deep into the red – way further than it had gone before. I was just preparing to explain to Katy about the best way to push the van when we rounded a corner to find our saviour (Esso in this case) ready to dispense unleaded for the princely sum of 1.08 Canadian dollars per litre. We filled Jeremy to the brim as we were so relieved to have fuel again and on the other side of the island it was $1.12 / litre. We were happy. We headed off on our way again and less than 50m around the corner was another station… a cheaper station. I couldn’t believe it: $1.05/litre!! Ah well, I guess it’s probably around 4GBP / litre back home by now so I can’t complain.

Not many minutes later, we arrived in Tofino itself. A couple of streets in (and right by the beach) and we reached the Tofino Trek Inn. We were greeted by gorgeous sunshine and our latest host, Joe. I was expecting a burly Canadian (as they all are) but as we later discovered, Joe was originally from Ethiopia and ended up in Tofino via a rather convoluted route. He came to stay at the hostel for a few days and never left! It’s a great story and you really should visit him if you want the full background. Tofino really is worth the trip.

After a brief unpacking (and unpacking of briefs), Joe directed us to a small beach in Tonquin Park. After a few wrong turns we enter through woodland path; uphill, along paths, down newly constructed and sturdy wooden steps and walkways (quite literally a board-walk). Some of the planks had inscriptions carved or branded into them of people’s names (like on some UK benches), others for the local bars and restaurants; it became clear that the walkway had been sponsored a bit like the hoardings around a football pitch (though it has to be said, more tastefully). We emerged at the bottom of the steps and the edge of the woodland to two sheltered coves containing all the key ingredients required for a beach: sand, rocks and waves. One of the coves was already occupied by hippies playing drums… we chose the other one. We sat on a log and watched the setting sun. The sun refused to set and simply hung in the sky in exactly the same way that bricks don’t (thank you Douglas Adams); so we meandered back to our new home and had a lazy evening.

Day two started gloomy but gradually solar energy did its thing, evaporating the clouds leaving a blustery but sunny day. Things got even better: free breakfast! Only fruit and (very nice) bread but it’s the sort of stuff Katy loves and the sort of stuff I should be consuming! Bread comes fresh everyday from the local bakery and is gooood!

This was a day of walking: big provincial parkland with rainforest and many beaches including long beach (20km long apparently!). Joe informed us that this was the best surfing beach in Canada. Being me I pointed out that that is like saying “this is the best table in the kitchen”… it may be, but there are many other better tables in many other kitchens! I obviously haven’t managed to completely exorcise sarcasm from my personality, but he accepted my point in a good natured way (he’s that sort of guy, living here does that to you – it’s a wonderful place).

Anyway, beach walk #1 was found via a rainforest walk for 30mins that brought you out onto Long Beach (it’s over 20km long!) it also brought with it the first squall of bad weather for the day (the only variable in bad weather is ‘when’ not ‘if’ around here). And as Billy Connolly once said, there is no bad weather, just bad choice of clothes. We had a wander around in the “weather” looking in rock pools and watching the waves crash in (it was indeed a good surf beach with nice rolling waves). There is so much wood on the beaches here from all the logging, honestly if we had a bigger van and budget Katy would be sending a lot of the stuff back home for “creative” purposes! As we couldn’t tell if the tide was coming or going we decided not to walk, what with all the logs floating about and the thought of being crushed and stranded we went back through the rainforest and time for lunch. What else but fish and chips? After lunch, more rain forests; they are quite amazing: huge trees that have been doing their thing for 1000’s of years. To help protect these delicate areas, all the rain forests have board-walks.

Upon our return, we made plans to take a trip to the hot-springs; this was to be an all day event due to the 3 hour return boat trip, then another 40 minutes of board-walk. We’d been advised against just going whale watching as that was virtually as expensive with no guarantee of seeing whales and the hot-springs boat takes you on virtually the same route.

The following day broke big and angry and remained so. So you can imagine our relief when we arrived at the boat booking office to find that the boat was not ready after its service. It turned into a lazy day of coffee drinking and book reading (which unbelievably we haven’t really had much time to do since we’ve been away). The day after rained even more. Finished the book and ran out of coffee. Bought beer.

Met a lovely new person back at our new home, by the name of Jenna. An effervescent character (though not so much when we first met as she’d just driven over from Ontario which must be virtually empty by now). The following morning she was much more lively and we had a lovely chat… she too has quite a story which is too long for me to reproduce here but luckily she has her own blog which frankly uses much more complicated wordery than I can achieve. Jenna: if you read this, it was a real pleasure meeting you; hope all your plans work out and love that tattoo (oh, and really sorry about the snoring)!!

We finally got to have our hot-springs boat trip. Weather had improved but waves were still more choppy than I’d normally like. On the way we went through pretty much every type of weather (sun, cloud, fog, rain, hail and yes, even snow!). We saw some nesting bald-eagles (but they are like, so yesterday!) and a little later on we (very briefly) saw our first ever whale! Just the tail (or as katy called it, the ‘arse-end’… hope fully that’s not too technical for you), but it was very exciting nonetheless. And we felt quite smug as the whale watching boats didn’t see any more than we did. On to the hot springs. We were dropped at the island and took the long boardwalk. As we neared the springs, the stench of sulphur got stronger and stronger; thankfully it dissipated (or we just got used to it) by the time we reached the hot springs. They are essentially natural pools carved in to rock on the sea-shore; geo-thermally heated water flows down to the springs ending in a waterfall-shower. The only concession to civilization (apart from some modest landscaping) was a wooden hut to change in. Speedos donned, we headed for the hot pools. I was the first person there so had the pleasure of walking on dry (and therefore much less slippery) stones and boulders. Piled my clothes on a rock and climbed in. Katy followed not long after and was the first casualty of the day; slipping on a stone, another one flew up and hit her in the mouth… a mere flesh-wound! A few minutes after we were joined by the other ~6 people from our boat. This was about all the springs can comfortably accommodate and we had the place to ourselves for around an hour before another boat-load arrived. We stood (or floated) our ground for another half an hour during which we endured bizarre flurries of hailstones. When a further boat-load arrived we figured it was time to exit (all extremities having turned into prunes). Luckily I’d had the sense to cover my clothes with my jacket; less luckily my jacket was absolutely soaked and the hood was full of hailstones… brrrr. During our soaking we started chatting with a lovely aussie called Sarah who introduced us to the concept of WWOOFing (which definitely has nothing to dowith deserted car parks and steamed-up windows). A brisk rub-down and a snifter from the hip-flask brought back the rosy cheeks and we headed for home. By this time the wind had picked up again and I’m sure some of those waves were bigger than our boat. As we were planning to head off the following day, we offered Sarah a lift to her next stop, Uclulet.

Back in the hostel, we meet a newly arrived couple who were even older than us (a rare thing so far on this trip); you will hear more about John and Donna in due course! We had a lovely little chat over wine, beer and chips (by which of course I mean crisps). They had a wealth of information and travel tips for us and were just absolutely lovely. We mentioned we were moving on the following day and seconds later, John had whipped out his iPhone and was calling their friend who they had just left on the other side of the island. A couple of minutes later and we had our next stop all arranged… result!

The following morning we packed (again) and picked up Sarah and travelled the 20+km to Uclulet where the three of us went for a walk along the coastal paths and exchanged the histories of our travels to date. Sarah had been working at the Olympic venues and afterward had been WWOOFing which in brief means doing a few hours work (which can vary greatly depending upon where you are staying) in return for food and lodging (which greatly reduces the strain on the wallet)… we’re thinking of giving it a go (especially as her last WWOOFing job was to look after a puppy)!

So that was Tofino… a virtual cul de sac on Vancouver Island but we’re so glad we visited and is one of the places we will have to return to in future years.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you're getting to like this Canada place! You are both looking very relaxed & happy.