Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Travel: 11/6/09, Thursday: Tofino, Vancouver Island

Bird silhouetteI haven't really said how great the breakfasts were at our bed and breakfast. In fact both the bed and the breakfast were splendid. And I do feel the bath should also have got a mention. But somehow Bed, Bath and Breakfast never caught on. Probably because it sounds like a novelty American store or a doss-house. There was a lot of thought and effort gone into these breakfasts. And our keepers must have got up so early to make them. I couldn't run a bed and breakfast place. Bed and lunch, perhaps. But not bed and breakfast.

As I'd said before this is an area chock full of First Nationals (this doesn't seem to be the correct term, despite seeming like should be) and there are a few places to find out about their culture.

Nuu-Chah-nulth Trail GuideOne tribe have organised their own trail (seemingly with some help from the queen who apparently is an expert in the tiimapt and poo-up flowers). The Nuu-chah-nulth trail (previously the Wickaninnish trail) begins with the Wickaninnish Interpretative Centre, which sounds like a dance studio, but is in fact a museum undergoing refurbishment and gift shop. BTW, an interpretation of Wickaninnish is Nuu-chah-nulth.

Wickaninnish Interpretative CentreAt the museum we picked up more brochures on what to do in case of bear attack. Apparently it depends on the type of attack. Sometimes you play dead and sometimes you retaliate. And woe betide you do the wrong one. Basically, pregnant or nursing female bears require the opposite tactics to curious male bears. Which all means that the only way to know how to survive a bear attack is to be a competent bear psychologist and gynaecologist. Seems that bears are not the simple picnic-hamper-stealing creatures we all thought.

Bear Sign DetailsIn one part of the Interpretative Centre, a ranger was giving advice in a strong Scot's accent. I think that made him a Celtic ranger. (That was the kind of joke you should play dead for.) I was disappointed his advice was not something along the lines of "ye be'er no bother a bear wi' bearns." (That was the sort of joke you should attack with a stick.)

First thing you see on the trail is a totem pole donated by the Nuu-chah-nulth tribe. It depicts an eagle standing on a whale which is balancing head-first on top of a bear eating a fish. The Nuu-chah-nulth are presumably circus folk. Although I am pretty certain "Nuu-chah-nulth" was a hit for Bananarama in 1986.

Nuu-chah-nulth Totem PoleNear the totem pole is a stony beach covered in shell fragments. Here we had another encounter with the mysterious local habit of balancing stones on top of rocks. Apparently it stems from basic First Nations trail signals, and the stones mean things like, "turn left here," "bear seen ahead" and "wasp nest 300 meters South-West in the leaning tree." (You could say they were "really saying something," which is the last Bananarama joke I will ever tell, I promise.)

A little way on there is a barrier with not one but two signs warning you about bears. In this part of Canada, bears seem to be the equivalent of paedophiles in Britain and terrorists in America. I was expecting a sign saying, "Current Security level: Bearcom 3"

Bear warningsFor all these warnings, bears seem to be pretty thin on the ground. (Not unlike paedophiles and terrorists.) On no part of the pathway, sorry, trail did we see a single bear, curious, pregnant, male, female or otherwise.

The path, however, was a haven for that neglected and oft vilified member of the animal kingdom, the slug. Give it its own curly home and it's cute. But, homeless, it's disgusting and slimy. People are so shallow.

Wickaninnish Beach Island
Wickaninnish Beach
Wickaninnish Beach Stones
Wickaninnish Trail Tree
Wickaninnish Trail Fallen TreeWe never had time to get all the way to the end of the path (at Florencia beach), but we got close. We rested near a couple of surfers who were discussing where the best places to surf were. Surfers, stoners and hackers. All three only ever talk about that one thing they do.

We traversed the trail back to the gift shop and then drove further along the coast to the small town of Uclulet. The exciting part of the trip is that you pass a tsunami hazard zone. Although, I believe tsunamis are actually more scarce than paedophile bear terrorists.

Tsunami warning signUclulet is much less quaint and we didn't even stop. (Sorry Uclulettians.) We headed back to Tofino where we took in a gallery of First National stuff, a couple of shops and then ate Thai food at the Schooner restaurant. Here they played a reggae version of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. (This was probably Dub Side of the Moon by the Easy Star All-Stars, who have also redreaded the Beatles and Radiohead.) It worked remarkably well, but then one is famed for being laid-back music beloved by stoners and so is the other.

Evening Beach SurfersIt was another day with a lack of bears. They must have been off terrorising Americans or hanging outside British schools. Despite this lack, it was quite the wonderful day and could only be rounded off with a bath overlooking the jungle.

Evening Beach Flying Bird

Bear Security Level

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Travel: 10/6/09, Wednesday: Tofino, Vancouver Island

TreesAgain I seemed to be on an early schedule and got up and read on the balcony long before Cath and breakfast were served.

First order of the day was to get our clothes cleaned. Hotels charge to clean things about what it costs to buy them and by now we were getting low on fresh clothes. So we found a laundrette; slotted in the clothes, piled in the coins, and waited. We killed some of the time in an outdoor clothing emporium and a tiny little health-food shop that was squatting a much larger closed-down store.

Trail PathAfter lunch, we took one of the many trails the island has to offer. We picked the Schooner trail, presumably named after the pub/restaurant. The map warned the trail was "steep in places and passes the community of Esowista, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation." Well, perhaps it's fairer to say it "noted," rather than "warned." In the olden days a wooden sign painted red would have merely stated "cliffs!!! Injuns!!!"

The trail was not really steep, as Canadians like their trails to be safe. For almost all of it, there was a wooden walkway and inclines were stepped. To me this is not a trail. It's a pathway or promenade. This doesn't mean that it's entirely safe; there were still warnings about bears and signs indicating the dangers of dancing to Bon Jovi albums. Only in Canada are such signs necessary.

Slipper when wet signThe trail led to another great stretch of sandy beach, next to the First Nation community. These were not made up of wigwams, tepees or tupiks but template houses like any other in the North Americas.

After the trail, we headed home and then out again to eat. We chose SoBo which does great world cuisine. I had a mushroom enchilada fit for a gourmet, Mexican hippy.

On the toilet doors, a nautical theme was there to cast no ambiguity over which door to use. The girls had a mermaid and the men a highly phallic conch.

Phallic conchThat night we leafed through a magazine highlighting the wildlife photographer of the year and decided to ditch the tiny little pocket camera in favour of finding something with a bit more oomph. There were 12-year-old kids winning categories with far better cameras then we had. Mind you, it turned out in all cases that the parents of these kids were also wildlife photographers. It's not often what you know, but who spawned you.

Path Steps Under path bridge 1 Under path bridge 2 Fern Beach 1 Beach 2 Bird on beach Bird on beach Beach sculpture Beach homes and wood

Monday, October 26, 2009

Travel: 9/6/09, Tuesday: Tofino, Vancouver Island

Eagles NestIn our bed and breakfast, the latter is served disturbingly early by our chirpy British hosts. I was still on some Mid Atlantic time so it wasn't an issue for me. But Cath, when she is determined to sleep, could represent her country at the Slumberland Olympics. I wrote on the balcony (that is I wrote on paper whilst on the balcony) and listening to the chirping of chirpy birds and scurrying of scurrying mammals. Setting myself up for the main wildlife event of the day: whale watching.

Whales are contradictions. Lumbering yet intelligent. Fish-shaped yet mammalian. Less fun than dolphins, yet the phrase is "a whale of a time." Dolphins don't even have a phrase. Except perhaps, "dolphin friendly," which ironically means fish dolphins don't hang out with.

Island 1That afternoon, we boarded a boat with about 20 or so other tourists armed with water-proof clothes and cameras. The boat then took us to likely and recent whale spots. We were lucky to come across two whales pretty soon into our trip. This was fortunate because we didn't see another whale for the rest of it. The boat hung around the whales for a while we got millions of shots and metres of footage of the whales lying just below the surface and the occasional glimpse of whale tails as they dived down for another serving of cold krill.

Despite not seeing more whales, we did see many beautiful islands, eagles, puffins and big fat sea lion suitably annoyed to be bothered during his afternoon nap.

Whale 1 Whale 2After the whale expedition, I was feeling somewhat queasy. More to do with the sea than the whales, really. Cath, however was hungry. We went to a place called the Schooner, which looks like another nautical word appropriated from the Dutch, but in Dutch it means "cleaner" as in "more clean" so where not sure where the boat got its name.

The menu had a broad cross section of things. Many of which sounded exciting, although one, something like steamed fish with boiled vegetables. It seemed the sort of thing that would never get picked being in the same column as the crabs and Herb Crusted Salmons.

We are the birdsIn there was a couple that excited Catherine because they could pretty much eat nothing. Cath has a couple of allergies and aversions that means she can't just wolf down every thing that happens upon a menu, but these poor souls had to give so many pre-requests before their food was prepared: gluten and dairy free and devoid of nuts. But things weren't so bad they had to order the steamed fish with boiled vegetables. Having got their abridged meal, they complained constantly about it to each other. And they could drink wine, we noted, although they complained about that as well. It was actually heart-warming in a way. It was great that they had found each other.

I am the WalrusAnd before we left, an elderly lady came in and ordered the steamed fish with boiled vegetables which pleased and astounded us no end.

Having eaten too much, we had to walk it off on the beach. Poor us. Here we observed more of Canada's wonderful wildlife. Sand fleas and types of seaweed with which I was not familiar hopped and lay along the sandy shore.

That night we watched Aboriginal TV before going to bed. Yes, there is a channel here called Aboriginal TV. We watched a documentary on a man who became a hockey star, then an alcoholic and then a community leader and hockey coach. It tried its best to be upbeat but somehow failed. But it helped us realise something about Canadian culture: It's all aboot hockey, eh.

Flower in log
Stain in sand
house in trees
Sand Flea

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Travel: 8/8/09, Monday: Vancouver and Island

Turns out Blenz must have been good as I went back there the next day. I was getting coffee to take in the car, which being American had dozens of places to hold drinks. From in number of drink holders you get in American cars, you would think that the average American drove everywhere with half-a-dozen cokes and coffees ready at any moment to be slurped. Some cars even have pull-out trays for eating burgers whilst driving, and I'm sure there are Sat-Nav systems that can automatically send your drive-through order to the nearest outlet of your choice. The obvious joke is to call it a Fat-Nav, so I won't. I'll call it a TumTum system instead.

We checked out of the hotel and drove to one of Vancouver's many ferry terminals. It seems to be Vancouver's top export. We had allowed a lot of time, expecting Monday morning traffic to be quite heavy, but instead arrived super early. We paid up and joined the queue. We were on holiday and I had coffee, so waiting was not a problem.

We were waiting for the ferry that would take us to Vancouver Island, British Columbia's wilderness paradise. Well, actually British Columbia is nearly all wilderness paradise, but this bit has even less trucks driving through it as it's an island.

The ferry, it was announced, was delayed due to a "stall on discharge" which is a very serious medical complaint where I come from. We chuckled a while, getting the full comedy value from the statement. But we acknowledged that it was a pretty bad thing to happen to you. Experiencing a "stall on discharge" and holding up all the other people eager to discharge behind you is bad enough, but to have it announced over the tannoy on top of that... Gloik!

After an uneventful and somewhat productive crossing we went back to our car. Those of you familiar with comedy karma (or karmady), will not be surprised at what happened next.

Sitting at the front of the boat, scores of cars behind us, I turned the key, but the car wouldn't start. It just stood there. People behind us got annoyed, eager to shoot off out of the hull. We got flustered, I turned the key in all sorts of directions, pushed it, tugged it, nudged it, but nothing we did could start the car. We had "stalled on discharge." We had not only delayed people the way we had joked about other people doing, but presumably it got announced to the next generation of passengers, who sniggered into their coffee beakers like stupid immature children.

It was acutely embarrassing and I'll never forget the look of disappointed seamen. But it does happen to a lot of drivers. You've heard that, right?


Welcome to TofinoOnce safely on the island and moving, we headed for the tiny harbour of Tofino. It wasn't too long before Cath spotted her first deer and sometime later a chipmunk. This could only mean more wildlife was on its way. We started reading up on what to do in case you encounter a bear.

Bear AttractantsSoon we arrived at Tofino and the guest house that was to be our home for the next week. They excited us with news that only that morning they had to scare a bear away from pestering their bins. It's funny that one of the very things we wanted to see was actually a pest to those who lived there. But I suspect there are people somewhere in the world who yearn to see a rat, pigeon or mosquito.

Our room was a nice size and shape and the furniture new and clean. The bathroom window opened up on a splendid view of the forest. It was almost like bathing in the jungle.

Bath viewAfter settling in, we drove into Tofino itself to check out the lay of the land. It's a quaint holiday village still with a thriving local population. A large part of this thriving local population is Native American. There are numerous Native American settlements around the area. A small group of teenagers hung outside the supermarket, you know, like they was regular kids and all that. Cath was quite surprised to hear them refer to each other as Indians, as in the US, the word has long fallen from favour. Especially as it was wrong in the first place. Well, it makes sense they are not called Native Americans in Canada, and Native Canadians sounds silly. In Canada, they call them Indians, Aboriginals or First Nations People. Or, often, by their name.

That night we ate at the Shelter pub/restaurant where Cath tried the local delicacy Thai yellow curry.

If Bear Attacks

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Microsoft Mouse Instructions

These instructions came with a Microsoft mouse. I love their simplicity and beautifully illustrated statement of the bleeding obvious.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Travel: 7/6/09, Sunday – VA, BC, CA (Vabcca)

The racial mix of a city is often what gives it its identity as much as the architecture, street signs and predominant shops. Certainly as far as visitors are concerned. Vancouver has a very large Asian contingent. It seemed to me, from my unscientific survey, even more so than San Francisco, but Wikipedia said, "No." Seems that they came to dig for gold, build railways and, more recently, to get away from Hong Kong to somewhere else with the Queen's picture on the money.

Blenz, babyOn a junction near our hotel, two Starbucks stand on opposite corners like identical twin boxers. Starbucks breed like rats and spread like fungus. It has a business model very similar to that of cancer cells. We adjourned to a branch of local chain Blenz and planned our day. (We don't know that Blenz is actually any better, but their clone army is no where near as developed as Starbucks' and so they seem less dangerous.)

In fact, having taken too long to write this up, I am no longer able to read my writing fully and can't be sure whether the coffee at Blenz was "tasty", "nasty", "pasty" or "roasty." I think the latter. And the breakfast we had there seemed to be very gree.

Metro headlinesIt was a slow news day in Vancouver, which I am sure is an expression somewhere. "This conference is as dull as a slow news day in Vancouver." The local Metro headline read: "Vancouver 2010 Games Ticket Design Unveiled." I realise that it's the Olympics, or at least the Winter Olympics, but in very few places round the world would the unveiling of ticket designs fill the front page of anything except the Ticket Designers' Gazette. Or perhaps also The Counterfitters Courier. But not normally the newspaper for a city this size.

In other non-news, a scout volunteer faced sex charges. Again, this would not normally be news. We were under the impression there was now even a badge for that.

canadian 20 dollar billHaving failed to be entertained by the newspaper, we moved on to the money. The money is actually very interesting. It has both French and English on it as well as a picture of the British Queen. On the back of the 20 dollar bill, there is a depiction of a small boat laden with Native Americans or, as the Canadians call them, Indians. They looked like refugees trying to find somewhere to preserve their culture.

Fully caffeinated, we ventured off across the city. We walked over a long bridge that passes over the island of Granville. A sign advised us "Left turns restricted ahead, use hemlock." Hemlock is a good old fashioned poison, the one that was supposed to have killed Socrates, in fact. Somehow it seemed to us that no matter how impossible it was to turn left, resorting to any form of poison seemed a tad drastic.

Hemlock signWe fully expected to see follow up signs like, "Lane closed ahead; consider driving your car over side of bridge" and "No Parking: It really is quite pointless when you really think about it."

As our next point of call after Vancouver City was the semi-wilds of Vancouver Island, we were heading to an outdoor clothing store to stock up on non-extreme survival products. We caught a bus for the rest of the way. Canadian bus drivers are very, very friendly and very, very helpful. In most places in the world, bus drivers are grumpy and petty. Not in Canada. Here, they are more than happy to tell you how to pay; to not worry about a lack of change; where you should get off; how far you will have to walk afterwards; and what better ways there are to get there. It was only marred by the fact that our bus driver on the way back told us to change to get a connection that would take us closer to where we wanted to be, but the second bus never came. It could mean that beneath the very, very friendly exterior, Canadian bus drivers are actually more twisted than bus drivers elsewhere, but I find that hard to believe. We were probably too impatient by Canadian standards or something unexpected had happened, such as the bus driver stopped the bus to help deliver a calf.

Coyote warningIt wasn't a big problem as we were not too far away from where we wanted to be and there was an ice cream store on the way. The weather was that kind of ice cream hot. It was also in part a pleasant walk, through a small park where a sign warned of coyotes. Coyotes were very much dissed in this sign. I'm sure they're just cute, misunderstood pooches who just need a hug and a tummy rub.

We traversed a small wooden walkway and found ourselves on Granville island, which is basically a huge market place filled with sumptuous, fresh delights and a gathering point for street performers. There is even a theatre there where a local group of thespians do some of that improv stuff I've been hearing so much about. How do they do that? They're like magicians or something. You should really check it out.

We took a cute little Disney ferry back to the main downtown area and walked back to our hotel.

Canadians, as well as having the Queen on their cash, do spelling correctly. Harbour has the necessary extra "u" and centre is spelt like that and not the American way, which I believe is "santa."

Gastown entranceFor dinner, we took ourselves to the Gastown part of town, famed for its gas. We ate so-so food and drank great self-brewed stout at the Steamroom bar, built around a room famous for its steam. After eating and visiting the Vapourcloset, we jumped on a larger ferry across a larger stretch of water to North Vancouver.

The ferries are almost exactly the same as the ones that chug people and bikes to and from Amsterdam North. Already a tad delayed, we had a little trouble finding the way out of the ferry terminal on the other side, which made us even later. Eventually we found a way out and climbed the steep, deserted streets to find a tiny community centre. I had managed to locate us some improv on a Sunday.

Way back, when the hills were mere mounds and people still believed electrons moved around the atom, I learned how to do a crazy little thing called improv. It's basically making stuff up like kids do and follows a simple pattern of basically agreeing with everything. One of my first teachers was Canadian Alan Marriott. Since then he's gone back home and formed his own group there.

Sunday, when the sun is still shining, in a part of town barely connected with the centre are not things that help shows have audiences. We arrived (late) and doubled theirs. But, we were on holiday and so having what felt like your own improv show given by one of the best improvisers I've known just adds to that holiday feeling. After all, it's what a Saudi prince would do.

bear pyjamasAfter, we took the ferry back and wandered around Gastown, with its trendy and sleazy drinkeries. We found these kid's pyjamas. Had the shop not been shut, we would have bought them for any of our nephews and nieces we were planning to give nightmares to.

We eventually decided to grab a Guinness in the Lennox Irish bar on the edge of the old China town area. We sat near the window and watched people catch the helpful busses home. We also realised that even in Canada, there are people who are homeless. "Jebus, where is this Utopia you promised us? You did promise us a Utopia, right?"

hotels at night