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Life In The Slow Lane With Eric & Laurel

~Because it’s all about the journey~

The Wild West Coast: Tofino & Ucluelet

The Wild West Coast: Tofino & Ucluelet

Posted by on Nov 30, 2017 in British Columbia, Canada, Gallery, Travel | 40 comments

“You ARE going to Tofino, aren’t you?” That was the query of everyone we met on Vancouver Island.

Considered the gem of the island, Tofino has it all—astonishingly beautiful scenery, epic outdoor adventures, and a surprisingly sophisticated food scene. All this, in a town of 2,000 perched on the remote and wild west coast of the island. Tofino is also right next door to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and within a few miles of the intriguing harbor town of Ucluelet. Yes, we were definitely going to Tofino.

Highway 4, the road that connects the east coast to the west, is an adventure unto itself. Narrow, two lanes, hairpin curves, and sheer rock walls—you get the idea. I was too busy “helping” Eric drive to take any photos.

Arriving safely in Tofino, we breathed a sigh of relief and squeezed into our site at Crystal Cove Beach Resort. Tide pools and a gorgeous beach are all part of the benefits of the RV Park.

Our introduction to Tofino sunsets on Mackenzie Beach, just steps from our site

After our first glorious sunset and evening on the beach, we set out to explore Tofino the next day on our bikes. This is a surfing town, and for a moment (a very brief moment) we thought about taking a surfing lesson. But there’s that whole ordeal of having to squeeze into a wetsuit and getting into really cold water. Not to mention sharks, and looking a lot like a seal when you’re in a wetsuit, and sharks liking to snack on seals. As it turns out, we were too busy hiking, biking, kayaking, and eating to try surfing.

A setting for a town doesn’t get much prettier than this

Picturesque Tofino Harbor (since we’re in BC, that would be “harbour”)

We spent a half-day kayaking on an awesome tour of Clayoquot Sound. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, this is a pristine landscape of old-growth forest and a maze of inlets and islands. Our guide was terrific, sharing the history of the area and pointing out flora and fauna along the way.

A kayak tour of Clayoquot Sound

The food in Tofino is outrageously good. We ate our way through town, trying everything from tasty healthy fast food at Sea Monster to a fabulous meal of fresh caught halibut at Wolf In The Fog, considered one of the top restaurants on all of Vancouver Island. I think the best meal of all, though, was the salmon chowder at Sobo. Made with both fresh and smoked salmon, it was outstanding.

Best salmon chowder, ever

There are many beaches in Tofino and nearby Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, and we explored them all. Each has a different personality, ranging from miles of expansive sandy coastline perfect for long walks to tiny jewel-like coves. The west coast of Vancouver Island is known for wild weather and spectacular wave action, but the ocean was tame while we were there.

Beautiful Chesterman Beach, our favorite for long walks

After five days in Tofino, we moved about 15 miles south to Pacific Rim National Park for an additional three days. This put us in the heart of the park, and closer to the village of Ucluelet, a less polished version of Tofino.

A variety of hiking trails wend through old-growth forest and along the coast in Pacific Rim National Park. The hikes are generally short (the longest is only 5.0 miles round trip) but most involve rugged boardwalks and zillions of stairs. It’s a quieting experience to walk through these ancient, cedar scented forests.

We hiked every trail in the park. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Trail, named for the First Nations people of this area. Other of our favorites were the Rainforest Loop Trails and the Schooner Cove Trail.

Every trail in Pacific Rim National Park looks something like this

At the start of the Nuu Chah Nulth Trail

Welcome to Ucluelet! (pronounced You-CLUE-let). The locals just call it “Ukee.”

Picturesque Ucluelet harbor

There are three outstanding attractions in Ucluelet: The breathtakingly beautiful Wild Pacific Trail (including Lighthouse Loop), the sweet little aquarium, and the Raven Lady Oyster Forte food truck.

Yes, a food truck made our list of top attractions in Ucluelet. This particular food truck turns out delicious gourmet offerings, including excellent fish tacos and an addictive combination of smoked oysters on fig crostini with whipped blue cheese and pickled red onions.

The Raven Lady food truck courtyard

Gourmet food truck offerings: Smoked oysters and local fish tacos with fruit salsa

As for the seafood we didn’t eat, the Ucluelet Aquarium is a delightful small local catch-and-release aquarium. Each specimen is collected locally in early spring, then released in the fall. It’s astonishing how many beautifully colored, fanciful creatures live in the seas here.

The aquarium has many “touch tanks” and we spent a couple of hours getting to know the different critters of the sea—velvety or knobby sea stars, prickly sea urchins, delicate anemones that feel sticky to the touch (that’s the feeling of tiny poisonous harpoons, but harmless to people), and rubbery-textured sea cucumbers. So much fun.

The wonderful Ucluelet Aquarium

The Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet is one of the most beautiful shoreline trails we’ve experienced anywhere in our travels. The crashing waves and plaintive clanging of the bell buoys just offshore added to the meditative ambiance. I can still hear those bells when I look at these photos.

Beautiful rugged coastline on the Wild Pacific Trail

Amphitrite Lighthouse, built to withstand wild storms

About the campgrounds: 

Crystal Cove Beach Resort is an excellent location for exploring the village of Tofino. It’s truly a resort, with gorgeous landscaping and lots of amenities (wifi, free bikes, movies, morning coffee). The RV sites, however, don’t really qualify as “resort” quality, but they have full hook-ups and are private. With tide pools and a gorgeous beach not far from our site and the bike path to Tofino right across the road, we loved staying here. Book ahead! This place is popular and there were no sites available when we decided to extend our stay. Hence, after five days we moved to the National Park, where we got the last available site for three nights.

Our rustic site at Crystal Cove Resort

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is hugely popular, even in late September. The campground is heavily forested and borders beautiful Long Beach (the best sites have views of the beach). No hookups, but the bathhouses are nice and there’s water available throughout the campground. We liked being close to all of the trails in the park, and it’s just a few miles from Ucluelet.

Our campsite in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Next Up: A Mailboat Cruise: Port Alberni, BC



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Posted by on Nov 22, 2017 in Gallery, Musings, Oregon | 36 comments

As of yesterday, we’re on the road again. After the inevitable flurry of activity that accompanies trip preparations, we woke up well-rested this morning to a gorgeous sunrise at Black Butte Lake, in the golden oak-studded hills of northern California. We’re headed south for the winter, wending our way down the California coast and across the country to Florida by February.

Our visit to our hometown of Ashland was brief this time, just long enough to take care of various appointments and maintenance on our home and trailer. We rolled into town the day before Eric’s appointment with his cardiologist. How’s that for avoidance behavior? I was feeling more than a little anxious about returning to the scene of last fall’s trauma. Truthfully, if we could have just zoomed on by Ashland I would have happily done so (although we would have missed seeing our friends).

It wasn’t that we had any reason to worry. Ever since we were released by the cardiologist last May, we’ve been hiking, biking, kayaking, and living life just as fully as before. Nonetheless, I often turn to Eric when we’re hiking or biking strenuously and ask (in my most nonchalant tone of voice), “How’re you doing?” He’s always doing great. I hope, in time, that I won’t feel the need to ask.

We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of Eric’s unexpected open-heart surgery. Seeing the cardiologist and having Eric receive an A+ (with no need to return until next year) helps somewhat to put the event a bit further behind us. Still, I remain keenly aware that there is no time to waste in this life on anything less than what is truly satisfying on the deepest level of being.

We’re grateful that we have the ability to travel as we do, that we’re able to spend extended time with family and friends, and that we’re welcomed “home” with open arms each time we return to Ashland. Our circle of friends has expanded since we started our travels, and we’re grateful for the friends we’ve made on the road and the friends we’ve made through this blog.

We’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving this year in the hills above Monterey, just the two of us. We’ll miss our family and friends, but we needed to get out of town before the winter storms arrive. (No more deep winters in our trailer if we have anything to say about it!) We have a little Thanksgiving feast planned: chipotle-rubbed turkey breast on the grill, cranberry ginger chutney, roasted maple sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts, a spinach salad with grapefruit and avocado, and an apple crisp. We’ll raise a toast to the splendor of this beautiful world, the small gifts of everyday life, and to family and friends. And we’ll read to each other the poem “Invitation” by Mary Oliver, one of our favorite poets.

Thank you all for being part of our lives, and for being part of our journey. It wouldn’t be the same without you. Happy Thanksgiving!

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude –
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.
                                    Mary Oliver


Next Up: The Wild West Coast: Tofino & Ucluelet, BC

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Telegraph Cove, BC: So Many Whales!

Telegraph Cove, BC: So Many Whales!

Posted by on Nov 8, 2017 in British Columbia, Canada, Gallery, Travel | 42 comments

Nestled into a peaceful inlet on the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island lies a tiny, picturesque boardwalk village with a reputation for outstanding whale watching. This would be our furthest northernmost adventure on Vancouver Island, and we had been looking forward to it since we arrived on the island.

Leaving Campbell River, we found ourselves suddenly removed from all trappings of civilization. After a two-and-a-half hour drive on a two-lane road through a forested, mountainous landscape, we arrived at our destination: Telegraph Cove.

Pulling into our site, we were delighted to find that despite the total lack of privacy in the wide-open RV Park, we had a wonderful view of the Johnstone Strait. In mid-September, there were only a handful of other travelers.

Our site at Telegraph Cove Marina RV Park, with a view of the Johnstone Strait

The boardwalk town of Telegraph Cove is about a five-minute walk from the RV Park. Fishing villages built on stilts and connected by boardwalks were once a common sight in western Canada. Telegraph Cove, with a year-round population of 20 hardy souls, is one of the last remaining. More than 120,000 people make the trek to Telegraph Cove each year, most of them during July and August. Which is why we came in September.

A view of Telegraph Cove from across the harbor

In 1912, the town began as the northern terminus of a telegraph line originating in Campbell River. Through the ensuing years, Telegraph Cove has seen a salmon saltery, sawmill, and the Royal Canadian Air Force come and go. Many of the original buildings still stand, now housing travelers accommodations, adventure tour operators, a restaurant, pub, and a fabulous whale museum.

The picturesque boardwalk village and harbor of Telegraph Cove

Exploring the Crayola-colored buildings of Telegraph Cove

Apparently it ran out of gas…a long time ago

Afternoon reflections

Orcas are the star attraction here

A commercial fishing boat arrives in Telegraph Cove

The pristine, wildlife-rich waters of the Johnstone Strait and the Broughton Archipelago sit at the doorstep of Telegraph Cove. This is home to more than 260 orcas, the largest resident pod of killer whales in the world. Oceanographer Jacques Cousteau called it one of the best places in the world to view orcas in their natural environment.

From mid-July through mid-September, the orcas are attracted by the annual salmon run that funnels through the narrow glacier-carved channel between the Canadian mainland and northern Vancouver Island. We had a whale watching trip booked for Eric’s birthday, and I was hoping the whales would come by to wish him a happy birthday. And they did.

Our whale watching tour boat, the 60-foot Lukwa

The birthday boy ready to go find whales

A pod of orcas, such a magnificent sight!

For three hours that afternoon, we were in the company of orcas. It was glorious. They are magnificent creatures.

Getting closer; they move almost as one through the water

Although they’re called whales, orcas are actually dolphins—really big dolphins, up to 30 feet long and weighing up to 6 tons (about the size of a small school bus, but much sleeker). These glossy black-and-white creatures are intelligent and social. They hunt together, care for each other, and have a highly evolved, complex social network.

Orcas travel in family pods consisting of 5 to 30 whales. Each pod consists of the matriarch (the eldest female), her offspring, and her daughter’s offspring. Males leave the pod to mate, but return to their mothers and siblings. Family pods live within clans that share a common language. They have different accents, but they understand each other’s clicks, squeaks, and whistles.

Male orcas have straight dorsal fins up to five feet tall; females have curved fins

The shape of the dorsal fins and the saddle patches are unique to each individual orca

Each orca can be identified by the unique shape of their dorsal fin, their gray and white “saddle patch,” and telltale nicks and scars. Researchers use these identifying marks to track and study the whales.

Orcas are divided into two distinct groups: residents and transients. Residents eat only fish (primarily salmon), while transients hunt marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, and whales. Residents are very vocal and travel and hunt in larger groups, while transients travel in smaller groups and are stealthy, silent predators, which helps them sneak up on their larger and smarter prey.

We saw both residents and transients on our whale watching expedition. They moved gracefully, fins knifing through the water in a tightly choreographed water ballet. We were hoping to see the whales spyhopping, feeding, or tail slapping, but they just peacefully cruised along. “They’re resting,” explained the naturalist. Whales rest with one half of their brain awake, one eye open, while the other half of their brain sleeps.

Pacific white-sided dolphins on a mission to annoy orcas

The Pacific white-sided dolphins put on a hilarious side-show act, zooming through the water and taunting the orcas. The lightning-fast little dolphins are preyed upon by transient orcas, so of course, they’re not fond of the whales. Gangs of little dolphins mobbed the resident whales, chasing and bugging them, just like a flock of small birds will mob a hawk.

The dolphins are hilarious and relentless

Pacific white-sided dolphins travel in large numbers and are insanely fast

The Johnstone Strait is also the summer home to humpback whales, gentle toothless giants that filter seawater to feed on plankton, krill, and small fish. They spend 90 percent of their time underwater, surfacing just enough to take a breath every 10 to 15 minutes. The blows of the humpbacks surrounded us as we ran from one side of the boat to the other, each time capturing just the rounded back, the tiny dorsal fin, and the mist of the blow lingering in the sunlight.

A humpback whale spout

The mist from the spout hangs in the air long after the humpback submerges

Large colonies of Stellar sea lions haul out on rocky prominences in the Johnstone Strait. These guys are huge and strong and are near the top of the marine food chain—their closest land relative is the grizzly bear. But they’re no match for a hungry orca.

Large numbers of Stellar sea lions haul out on rocks

These guys are noisy! And stinky.

A bald eagle observes the activity from shore

We enjoyed excellent educational talks on our whale watching expedition

Back on shore, we continued our marine education the following day with a couple of hours at the Whale Museum. Lots of whale and other marine mammal skeletons here, and lots of information that’s well presented. The museum guides are wonderful—when they offer to give you a personal tour, take them up on it!

At the Whale Museum on the boardwalk with a replica of an orca dorsal fin

Lots of marine mammal skeletons and interesting information

Charting the orca community

Our delightful tour guide sharing songs of the whales

Our visit to Telegraph Cove was all we had hoped for, and more. We’ll definitely return. On our wish list: additional whale watching cruises (the best option for photography), and an overnight kayak trip, because it would be extraordinary to kayak with the whales!

About the campground:
We loved it! The views and location are terrific at Telegraph Cove Marina RV Park. Full hookups, concrete patios, level sites, and decent internet for a small fee. Stock up on groceries before making the trek here. There’s a general store with a random assortment of stuff; the books and souvenirs looked more appealing than the grocery items. Note: There are two campgrounds in Telegraph Cove and it’s easy to confuse the two. The other campground is deep in the forest and about a half-mile from the harbor.

We highly recommend Stubbs Island Whale Watching. The first whale watching outfit in BC, they’ve been around since 1980 and are ethical and passionate about protecting the orcas and other wildlife. We learned a tremendous amount and had a fantastic time on our tour.

Telegraph Cove Marina RV Park

Next Up: The Wild West Coast: Tofino, BC

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Campbell River And Quadra Island, BC

Campbell River And Quadra Island, BC

Posted by on Oct 30, 2017 in British Columbia, Canada, Gallery, Travel | 25 comments

We’re back in our hometown of Ashland for a three-week visit before heading south for the winter. In addition to seeing friends and enjoying the beautiful fall weather, for the first time in months we have reliable internet. Before life gets away from me, I can catch up on our backlog of posts from our adventures on Vancouver Island.

Although it’s contrary to my nature (just ask Eric!) I’m going to speed things up and post more frequently than usual. My preference is to linger over experiences, both as they’re occurring and when reflecting and writing about them. But I really don’t want to be blogging about this once we take to the road again in late November. So without further ado, here we go!

Arriving in Campbell River, just 95 miles from our last stop in Nanaimo, we both felt for the first time that we were glimpsing a hint of the wildness that we anticipated in our travels on Vancouver Island. The town of Campbell River, midway on the east coast of the island, is civilized—but it’s also the gateway to the wilderness of the remote north and western regions and the rugged Discovery Islands just offshore.

Because we were moving quickly to catch the prime whale season further north, we had only a couple of days to explore. It was barely enough time to get a taste of this interesting town and nearby Quadra Island, the closest and largest of the Discovery Islands.

Vancouver Island, the Discovery Islands are in dark orange (courtesy of BC real estate website)

For thousands of years, beginning with the First Nations villages, the rhythm of life here has followed the movement of the salmon. Campbell River is unique in that it is a migration route for all five major species of Pacific Salmon—Chinook, Coho, Sockeye, Pink, and Chum. Legend has it that at one time, the salmon run was so thick it was possible to walk on the backs of the fish in the river.

The fishing is still legendary here, and Campbell River has held the title as the “Salmon Fishing Capital of the World” for at least 100 years. In our afternoon walk along the waterfront, I was tempted to rent fishing gear. If it hadn’t been so late in the day, I would have tried to catch our dinner from the pier. Instead, we bought salmon on the dock. Not as exciting, but still delicious.

The Rotary Waterfront Walkway

Campbell River harbor and five kinds of salmon, drawings by a First Nations artist

Discovery Pier on the Campbell River

Fishing from Discovery Pier on a chilly but beautiful mid-September day

We stayed at Elk Falls Provincial Park, just two miles from the town of Campbell River. A beautiful hiking trail from the campground winds along the river. Leaning over a bridge, we could see hundreds of salmon gathering on their way home to their spawning grounds.

On the Canyon View trail, heading the long way to Elk Falls from the campground

Fly fishing on the Campbell River

Crossing a bridge high above the Campbell River on the Canyon View Trail

Salmon heading home on the Campbell River

The hiking trail meets up with the trail to Elk Falls. The falls are rather modest, but the suspension bridge crossing the river is pretty spectacular. Built in 2015, it crosses Elk Canyon, with a dizzying view of boulders and rushing water 200 feet below. It was a great hike, we figured about seven miles in total, including hundreds of stairs (no exaggeration).

Elaborate stairways lead to viewing opportunities for Elk Falls

Crossing the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge

Elk Falls, most of the water is diverted for power

We finished up the day with a tapas style meal at Beach Fire Brewing and Nosh House. It’s a fun locals scene, with very good craft beer and a menu that changes daily—the salmon potato cakes and salad with marinated lentils were delicious.

Beach Fire Brewing and Nosh House

No IPA’s here, but the High Tide Pale Ale was very good

A Visit To Quadra Island
Only a 15-minute ferry ride from the mainland, Quadra Island is the largest of the Discovery Islands. We started our day with a hike that turned out to be a bit more than we bargained for, given that we had a full day planned for exploring the island. Chinese Mountain is the highest point on Quadra, and starts off with a relentless steep uphill rocky trail and some interesting rock climbing obstacles. The view from the top is spectacular! It’s not a long hike, but it’s definitely a good workout. Three miles and three hours later, we returned to town.

Heading up Chinese Mountain, we chose to go counterclockwise; it’s steeper but easier going up than down this direction

The scrambling was a surprise, but fun

It’s a gorgeous trail all the way along

The views from the top are spectacular

Heading down the trail and ready for lunch!

While on Quadra, we intended to visit the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre, home to a unique collection of repatriated First Nations cultural items that had been seized by the government during the years when the native peoples were displaced and not allowed to practice their traditional ways. The items were sold to collectors and museums, and only in recent years have been returned to their rightful owners.

As it turned out, the museum was unexpectedly closed for the day. But we were able to enjoy the garden outside with the wonderful welcoming totems. Welcome poles were traditionally placed on village beachfronts to hail visitors. Today, welcome poles are placed at important sites, such as museums, to welcome visitors onto First Nations land.

Welcoming figures at the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre

Wonderful totems at the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre

An offering

About the campground
We really enjoyed our stay at Elk Falls Provincial Park. It was peaceful, beautiful, and well-located for our explorations of Campbell River. The sites are spacious and private, and although forested, most have plenty of light. No hookups and the facilities are primitive, but water is conveniently located throughout the campground. We had cell coverage close to the entrance station, but no internet, of course. In September mid-week, all of the river sites were reserved but we found a lovely site without having reservations.

Elk Falls Provincial Park campground

Next Up: Telegraph Cove And So Many Whales!

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Nanaimo, BC: The Harbour City

Nanaimo, BC: The Harbour City

Posted by on Oct 24, 2017 in British Columbia, Canada, Gallery, Travel | 28 comments

Canadians spell it “harbour,” we write “harbor.” It doesn’t sound any different, but that extra “u” certainly gives the word more panache. Noah Webster didn’t think so, though. When he compiled the first American dictionary in 1828, he ditched the extra “u” in color, flavor, humor, neighborhood (and many more words) in favor of spelling words like they sound.

Seeing words spelled differently in our travels on Vancouver Island was just one of the reminders that we were, indeed, in a foreign country. Another reminder was the road signage. We were delighted to realize that Nanaimo was only 80 miles from Sidney (the sign said 130 kilometers); not so thrilled when we realized that we were speeding along at 60 miles an hour when the speed limit was actually 60 km (37 mph).

After our half-day enjoying the farmers market and totem tour in Duncan, we continued on another 31 miles to Nanaimo, also known as the Harbour City.

With two nights, but only one full day in Nanaimo, we spent the next morning strolling several miles of the beautiful walkway that borders the scenic waterfront and harbor. Along the way is a random but entertaining assortment of artwork. The pieces include an enormous gilded picture frame, an orca made of recycled metal parts, a giant crab carved from wood, and a statue of the former long-time mayor of the city, Frank Ney, in pirate regalia.

Apparently Ney was quite a colorful character. He enjoyed dressing up as a pirate for civic events and initiated bathtub races in the harbor. Also a real estate developer, he allowed his eleven kids to name some of Nanaimo’s streets. If our address was Dingle Bingle Hill or Tiggly Wiggly Road, it would be hard to say it and feel like an adult. Which may not be a bad thing.

An orca made of all kinds of recycled metal stuff

An enormous wooden crab on the Nanaimo waterfront

Swashbuckling Frank Ney, long time pirate mayor

The lovely Nanaimo waterfront walkway

The downtown area of Nanaimo is undergoing an appealing revitalization. We found an excellent little café for lunch, where the chef’s salad was made right: smoked chicken, roasted tomatoes, beautiful greens, and most important, eggs cooked perfectly with no green ring around the yolk.

Downtown Nanaimo, small but interesting

Hopefully the new buildings will be this colorful

The Modern Cafe, with a very cool retro vibe

Two Chefs Affair, down the street and owned by the chefs of Modern Cafe

A perfect chef’s salad at Two Chefs Affair

Piper’s Lagoon and Neck Point are two favorite local spots for hiking, and were recommended to us by our server at the café. We headed there after lunch and enjoyed the trails at both. The one-mile loop trail at Piper’s Lagoon involves a leisurely walk down a lovely spit, followed by some rock scrambling at the headland, where there’s a great view of historic Shack Island and the southern point of Neck Point Park.

At Piper’s Lagoon

Just up the road is Neck Point Park. It’s easy to see how the park got its name when you see the gravel bar that connects the park to a large rocky outcropping at low tide.

On the trails at Neck Point

Boardwalk trails and great views at Neck Point

Easy to see how Neck Point got its name

Shack Island separates the two parks and can be walked to at low tide. Despite their rustic appearance, the small buildings are not abandoned but are summer cabins originally used by fishermen in the 1930’s before motorboats were common.

A view of Shack Island

Colorful shacks on Shack Island and a reminder that we’re in Canada

About the campground:
We scored a perfect site at Living Forest Oceanside RV Park in Nanaimo. The expansive views of the estuary from our site were gorgeous. It would have been an easy place to stay longer.

A very good campsite at Living Forest Oceanside RV Park

The sites are relatively spacious with trees and shrubs for privacy. Sites vary dramatically—apparently some people prefer being deep in the forest, which looked depressing to me. If you want a waterfront view, book early. Because we were traveling after Labor Day (that would be Labour Day in Canada, also celebrated the first Monday in September, just with that extra “u”) we were able to get a waterfront view site with just a few days advance reservation.

The park offers full hookups, very nice tiled coin operated showers, and wifi at a central location. No Verizon here, though. There’s lots more to do in Nanaimo, but we needed to head north on our mission to find whales.

Views of the estuary from our campsite; it really couldn’t be better

Next Up: Campbell River and Quadra Island, BC

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The City Of Totems: Duncan, BC

The City Of Totems: Duncan, BC

Posted by on Oct 16, 2017 in British Columbia, Canada, Gallery, Travel | 26 comments

We sailed away from Vancouver Island on Friday, after five weeks of adventures, British Columbia style. You would think five weeks would be enough time to cover every inch of an island 290 miles long and 62 miles wide. Not quite. But we did our best.

We explored the length and breadth of the island, discovering treasures around every bend. We found whales on the north coast and bears fishing for salmon in the interior. We kayaked in pristine waters, took a mail boat cruise to a remote village, hiked trails through moss-covered ancient forests, visited beautiful gardens, and walked stunning beaches on both coasts. We immersed ourselves in the First Nations culture and the vibrant local art scene. We indulged in a bounty of local foods from farmers markets, vineyards, breweries, cheese makers, fishmongers, tea houses, and bakeries.

The entire experience was pure magic. Except for the lack of internet connection, which was pull-your-hair-out frustrating. If you can’t live without internet, you don’t want to go to Vancouver Island. Your phone might work (sometimes), but your internet connection, never. I’ll share more about this in an island wrap-up post, but for now,  let’s talk about the little town of Duncan, a mere 40 miles north of Sidney.

Leaving Sidney, we envisioned small towns and wilderness ahead. Instead, we found ourselves driving through stop-and-go traffic on a highway lined with strip malls. And then it started to rain. It wasn’t exactly an auspicious beginning to our explorations of Vancouver Island.

But then we pulled off the highway in Duncan, also known as The City of Totems.

There were two things that drew us to Duncan: the large collection of First Nations totem poles, and the farmers market. Both were outstanding, even in the rain.

Totems created by First Nations artists by the railway station in downtown Duncan, BC

The Duncan Farmers Market takes place year round, rain or shine. Every Saturday, 150 vendors gather in the heart of downtown Duncan, laying out a cornucopia of island bounty. The Cowichan Valley is blessed with as close to a Mediterranean climate as you get in Canada, and has become a slow-food mecca for organic farmers, artisanal cheese makers, foragers, fishermen, vintners, brewmasters, chocolatiers, coffee roasters, and chefs. For food lovers (like us!) it’s heaven.

We knew nothing about the Cowichan Valley before stopping in Duncan, but immediately put it on our list for an extended visit later in our trip. As for the farmers market, we came away with feta and Brie from grass fed happy cows, beautiful organic berries and greens, fresh roasted coffee, and local smoked salmon. If our fridge hadn’t been stuffed full of Lopez Island goodies, we would have bought a lot more.

A little rain (or a lot) won’t stop us from visiting a good farmers market!

A local jazz band provides entertainment on a rainy market day

The surrounding Cowichan Valley is known for its Mediterranean-like climate (yes, really)

Along with hosting the largest farmers market in the Cowichan Valley, Duncan has a superb collection of totems in the downtown area. Totem poles are unique to the indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast. It’s not unusual to find totems in British Columbia—many communities raise totem poles as a sign of respect to the First Nations peoples.

It is unusual to find such a rich concentration of totem poles, though. In 1985, the mayor of Duncan initiated the totem pole project to celebrate the close ties between the City and the Quw’utsun’ (Cowichan) people. He also hoped the totems would attract visitors, but that’s not the primary message that comes through (there’s nothing amusement park-esque about the totem poles, fortunately).

Today, 39 totems, all created by aboriginal carvers, are placed throughout the town. The signs accompanying each tell the story of the totem pole from the carver’s perspective. Totem tours are offered during the summer, or you can follow the yellow footprints of the totem trail on your own.

Downtown Duncan has an outstanding collection of First Nations totems

Carved from cedar, totem poles tell stories of individual clans, and communicate history and legends. Each animal symbolizes human traits, personality and values. For example, Bear represents strength, family, and courage. Mischievous and curious Raven embodies creation, knowledge, and the unknown, while Owl signifies wisdom and intuition. Otter is one of my favorites, symbolizing friendship and family, as well as happiness and never ending curiosity.

The Eagle Totem, the first totem created for the Totem Project in 1986

Each totem has unique symbolism and tells a story

The Transformation in Life Totem

Eagle represents wisdom, great vision, and healing, and this totem tells a story of transformation. An eagle carries away a man on a vision quest. He returns as a young person wrapped safely in the eagle’s wings, representing his Guardian Spirit. Now, his life begins again, with a second chance to change his ways.

Totems against a background mural in downtown Duncan

The mythical Thunderbird, bringer of great storms, thunder, and lightning

A bronze water fountain totem, including a frog fountain for pets

If you get hungry wandering in Duncan, the Duncan Garage is a gathering place for locals and visitors offering homemade soups, salads, and lots more, all focused on local foods and with a definite retro hippie vibe. While you’re at it, you can browse the excellent little bookstore and shop the little natural foods store. It’s a cute, colorful place, right along the totem trail.

The Duncan Garage offers everything but gas, oil changes and tires

Hippie comfort food is on the menu at the Duncan Garage Cafe

Ten Old Books Bookstore

We spent several hours in Duncan and then resumed our journey northward. It was a great stop, and well worth the short detour off the highway.

Next Up: Nanaimo, BC: The Harbour City

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