Comox, Vancouver Island
Trip Start Jun 15, 2007
74Trip End Jun 27, 2008
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Thankfully for us that is exactly what was awaiting us in Comox, Vancouver Island. Cathy is a life long friend of my family and is a native Vancouverian (is that what you call them?). She came over to the UK for a visit about two weeks before we left and it was there that we promised if our path took us to Canada then we would pop in for a coffee. What Cathy didn't realise is that our 'pop in for a coffee' involved three nights stay at her apartment.
Again to get the cheapest price we went for the 'stupid o'clock' flight, leaving San Francisco at 6am. This meant a 3am start not only for us but also for Scott who had very kindly offered to take us to the airport. The day didn't start well. United Airlines, God bless them, have come up with an 'automated' check in system that absolutely beggars belief. You queue up for an age to then go through an automated process on a screen that asks you for name, passport number, etc etc. This is now fairly normal, particularly on budget flights. What then happens is that you are left standing like a lemon as the system doesn't bother to inform you that a baggage ticket has been printed off out of sight and that you must wait for the one man, who is covering check in gates 1 to 879, to come along and stick the ticket on your bag. Understandably, said man is not a happy bunny and you get the feeling that given the chance he would happily stick the ticket somewhere else.
Once you have said ticket stuck on said bag, you then have to queue up again and get your boarding pass. Why they can't issue you with a boarding pass at the same time like every other airline, I do not know. Unfortunately, you are not informed that this is what you are supposed to do so you are left standing again looking like a lemon. Nic went up to a 'customer service representative' and asked, in a very polite manner, what the hell we should do and was totally ignored. I am not talking about someone pretending to not listen here. I am talking someone stopping, looking Nicola straight in the face, waiting for her to finish and then walking off. It was so bad and so farcical, it was hilarious. Thankfully everyone else was feeling the same. Couple this with a 3am start and there were some frayed tempers. Hilarious. Oh, and then, walking through customs I got randomly selected to be treated like a terrorist suspect and put in a booth with no information on what would happen. I was left to stand there for a couple of minutes wondering whether they were going to carry out a controlled explosion on me, when of all a sudden blasts of air came from all angles, scaring the absolute life out of me. The officials all thought this was hilarious and then asked me to move on and have my personal belongings scrutinised by a wannabe leader of the Gestapo. GOD LOVE AMERICA and their absolute paranoia about everything!!. OK, rant over. I don't know you wait weeks for a blog and all you get is moan moan moan. Anyone that has flown, particularly in the States will understand exactly where I am coming from. Airports are zero fun and certainly not at 4am in the morning!!
Thankfully, the day and the next few days got better and better. We arrived in Vancouver at 9am and Cathy was waiting with camera in hand and big smile on face. I cannot tell you how much we loved seeing a friendly face at an airport. It really makes your arrival a whole more pleasant knowing you don't have to go looking for cabs, buses, working out who was ripping you off etc etc (my god, we really are travel weary aren't we? What happened to the fresh faced approach of accepting the world and all it's foibles with a big smile?).
So after a cuppa and a muffin we headed off to catch the ferry to Vancouver Island. Now it has to be said that we had absolutely no knowledge of Vancouver Island. Our decision to go there was very much last minute so we did zero reading up and knew nothing - we put our fate and time there in the hands of God (well, Cathy to be more precise). So, when we were told that it was a two and half hour ferry crossing over to the island, followed by a two hour drive to Comox we were a little discombobulated to say the very least. I had it in my head that the island was just off the coast of the mainland and was a small place. Turns out it is HUGE and has nothing to do with Vancouver itself other than share a name - it is not part of the mainland and is a separate entity all together. The provincial capital of B.C, Victoria, is on the island and the regional parliament is there. So, needless to say we were not expecting such distances - next time we'll be a little more prepared.
We were absolute zero company for Cathy on the way over as all we did was sleep, but by the time we got to her apartment we were feeling in a lot more buoyant mood, especially when we saw the HUGE comfy double bed in our own room awaiting us. You have never seen two people get so excited over a bed before.
Quick shower and change of clothes and we headed out for a beautiful meal at a bistro in Comox, with spectacular mountain views. The food was fantastic, the drinks went down far too well and we were in great company. Cathy talked to us about what she had planned for the coming days and we went to bed that night feeling very relaxed and looking forward to our time there.
We planned a steady start the next day and had a leisurely breakfast and then took a walk to Comox Marina. Comox really is a beautiful place, on the waters edge and surrounded by snow capped peaks. It has such a nice feel to it and everything seemed very relaxed. Down at the Marina there was a local seafood festival so we got to have a look at some of the local produce. One of the less appealing was a Geedong (I suspect I have got that name wrong). Basically a huge brown long slippy disgusting thing that looked like something from a science fiction film. This was on sale to sample should anyone be brave enough... we were not.
After a ponder around and a spot of lunch (not Geedong) we set off up Mount Washington, which in the winter is the local ski / snowboard mecca and in the summer it is transformed into mountain biking heaven. Needless to say, every second up there was agony for me as I was itching to have a go, particularly on the custom built bike park. Another time - that is what I have promised myself. We had coffee up there and took in more spectacular alpine views - this is exactly how I imagined this part of Canada to look. Snow capped mountains, acres and acres of forest and lots of crystal clear blue waters. All that was missing was a brown bear catching salmon as they jumped up the stream. After a wander around it was back to Comox for dinner and an early night ready for a big day out over to the other side of the island.
Today we would be heading for Tofino and Long Beach - a good three to four hour drive from Comox (I told you this island was huge). En route we took in more views and enjoyed the drive through mountain passes alongside rivers and even stopped at Cathedral Grove, home of several huge, and I mean huge, Douglas Fir Trees. These things are massive, none of the photos we took do the enormity any justice. It was here we met a couple of German women, aged seventy plus, who were climbing on trees without any shoes like ten year old kids. They had us in stitches with their antics - give them credit they were very very agile and nimble, but it did have our hearts in our mouths a few times.
After a quick stop at Tofino and Long Beach, we headed for a coastal town by the name of Ucluelet. One thing I have not mentioned so far about Vancouver Island is the number of bald eagles swirling around - and being a bird lover (twitcher to give me my proper title) this filled me with many hours of enjoyment watching these magnificent birds soaring hundreds of feet above us. At Ucluelet there seemed to be more than anywhere else and as we walked down to the waters edge a huge eagle came flying past only a few feet above us - WOW!! And then it parked itself atop a lamppost and just sat there. Absolutely amazing - those sort of experiences money cannot buy. He just sat there, preening himself, watching what was going on around and every now and then, when another bird was above he would let out a piercing screech. I could happily have sat there all day and watched the goings on. Unfortunately, we needed to head back as Cathy had a very long drive ahead of her and it was getting late.
17th June and this was our last day with Cathy and on Vancouver Island. The plan was to head to Victoria, spend the morning and from there Nic and I would catch a bus and ferry to Vancouver mainland. Another early start and another long drive for Cathy. We stopped off at Chemainus along the way, home of several murals depicting life in the region in former years. Some of them were very good and made for an interesting visit. We also stopped off at the university near Victoria, which is the home of Hatley House. For anyone that has seen the X-Men films would have recognised Hatley House as the school were the mutants attended.
And then before not too long we arrived in Victoria, provincial capital and home of the local government. Victoria feels more British than Britain and therefore felt very homely. We really liked Victoria, particularly around the harbour. We stopped for a spot of lunch at the harbour and before we knew it, it was time to say farewell to Cathy and board our ferry to the mainland.
We had a very relaxing time with Cathy and cannot thank her enough for taking time out to show us around. She took us to places that we would never have considered going and as a result we got to see lots of the island. We arrived feeling totally exhausted and left feeling totally recharged.
The journey over to the mainland would take us four hours plus, and we had arranged to meet up with Warren who, if you remember, we had met at Mount Cook in New Zealand.