Category Archives: Canada

Tofino, Vancouver and Victoria

September 3 – 15, 2015

After our incredible day watching the orcas and humpbacks we had a quick lunch at our new favorite restaurant the Killer Whale Cafe in Telegraph Cove. Based on the advise of Jen and Dave we decided to spend a couple of days in Tofino. It’s a beautiful windy drive out to Tofino. For some time we drive along a river and then through a temperate rainforest. We camped at Bella Playa which is set amid a coastal forest. The coast was just a few steps away from our campsite and we spent every evening enjoying the colorful sunsets.

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With so much to do in Tofino, our time here was far too short. There are a number of hikes in the Pacific Rim Rainforest park but we only did a couple of them. We spent most of the time walking along the beach where I enjoyed watching the star fish action. It’s a little like watching paint dry but I think it’s much more entertaining. 🙂 We also went on a couple of short hikes through the rainforest. I love walking through these forests which are so different from the pine forests I’m more familiar with in Tahoe or the massive redwoods along the Santa Cruz mountains.



We had a chance to break out our kayaking skills in Tofino on the Islander Tour with Tofino Sea Kayaking. This tour explores the Clayoquot Sound and the islands near Tofino. It was nice getting out on the water and seeing the area from a different perspective. I’m kind of enjoying this kayaking sport! Maybe we’ll be good enough one day to kayak the Napali Coast one day in Kauai!


We took a short side trip to Vancouver where we spent a few days enjoying the city. From Nanaimo on Vancouver Island we took the short ferry ride over to Vancouver. There is a great campground, Capilano RV Park, just under the north entrance of Lion’s Gate Bridge. The campground’s location made for easy access to the city.

On our first day in Vancouver we visited the Vancouver Aquarium. In 1996 the Vancouver Aquarium became the first aquarium in the world to commit to no longer capturing cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) from the wild. All of the whales, dolphins, and porpoises cared for by the aquarium were either born in an aquarium or suffered some sort of trauma in the wild and now considered unreleasable due to their situation. These ambassadors from the wild hopefully can impress upon visitors the importance of safeguarding our oceans and the planet.

I find the jellyfish exhibits to be the most beautiful at any aquarium. I love watching their graceful movements through the water.


One of the two pacific white sided dolphins at the aquarium. Both of these dolphins were rescued from entanglement from fixed fishing nets and were rehabilitated by Japan’s Enoshima Aquarium. Unfortunately their injuries were too severe to release them back into the wild.

This is either Helen or Hana. I can’t tell them apart.

The beluga whales at the aquarium are a mother (Aurora) / daughter (Qila) pair.  Qila is the first beluga whale conceived and born in a Canadian aquarium. The pair will spend the rest of their days at the aquarium entertaining the visitors. It’s disappointing to learn that the aquarium promotes the breeding of captive whales rather than strictly limiting the number of cetaceans to rescued and rehabilitated animals.

Beluga whale spraying the trainer.


We spent one of our days walking through much of Vancouver. We started with a stroll across Lion’s Gate Bridge then spent some time enjoying the sprawling Stanley Park along its southern entrance. As we walked across the bridge we were passed by dozens of bike commuters. Vancouver is a beautiful city that seems to be commuter friendly although my research for this blog post seems to contradict what I assumed based on my observations. There are bike lanes everywhere and we saw public transportation full of riders making it look like a lot of people actually use these two commute options yet the city is struggling to meet ridership projections to support the extensive network.

Darryl and I spent much of our time exploring Vancouver on foot. which is a favorite way for us to explore the cities that we visit. Driving through an area feels too sterile but walking the streets gives me a real sense of a place. It’s the perfect way to get a vibe on the city and its people.

Entrance to Lion’s Gate Bridge


Vancouver reminds me of the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz with buildings of glass creating a skyline that looks at once fragile and solid. I can’t imagine how it must feel to live in these steel framed glass houses growing out of a concrete landscape, disconnected from nature.

Orca street art along Vancouver wharf.


We walked along the waterfront from the park to the gaslight district enjoying the changing scenery. Eventually we succombed to taking a cab rather than walking to the Science Museum across town. After the museum we stopped at The Patty Shop which quickly hit my list of must try restaurants after reading the reviews on Yelp. If you ever make it to Vancouver you absolutely must make a side trip to The Patty Shop! This is a very small restaurant that only makes Jamaican patties (think empanadas). There is no place to sit inside but trust me that it’s worth a trip. Our first taste made it mandatory that we make a special side trip on our way out of town to stock up on the spinach patties and vegetable curry patties. I packed our refrigerator / freezer in the back of the cab with enough frozen patties to last us a couple of weeks!

We returned to Vancouver Island and continued south toward the beautiful city of Victoria. There was the cutest neighborhood of floating houses where we passed a few hours watching the local seals begging for food and photographing the quirky homes. What a fun little neighborhood! It might be a fun place to live if it weren’t for all of the tourists disturbing the peaceful setting.






The Royal BC Museum had the most beautiful exhibits that I have seen yet in a museum. Many of the exhibits had a wonderful interactive element to them which I found to be extremely engaging. All of the displays were impeccably designed giving me a new appreciation for the talents of museum curators.

Part of the beautiful natural history exhibit at the Royal BC Museum.


Totem Pole exhibit at Victoria’s Royal BC Museum.


At the museum we learned about the chalk festival that would start the following day. Below are a couple of artists working on their 3-D chalk art piece inside the Royal BC Museum. The museum did a wonderful job promoting the existence of the chalk art exhibit but nowhere on their brochures or website could be found a location for the exhibit! None of the museum employees knew where to find the street exhibits either. Luckily we found a local who directed us to where the exhibit was staged.

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We spent the following afternoon admiring the chalk art on the streets of town. There were a few blocks that were cordoned off for the artists to display their talent. They spent one to two days drawing the art for the public to enjoy before traffic or the elements wiped their street canvas clean.

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The streets were packed with admirers.


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No, we didn’t stage this photo of a tourist with a matching tie die shirt!




Our time on Vancouver Island drew to a close as we bumped up to a previously scheduled engagement on the East Coast. We jumped on the ferry to Port Angeles, Washington then drove to Seattle to catch a flight out of Seattle for a wedding. On the way to Seattle we had our first mechanical failure with our truck. Wouldn’t you know it, the one time during the trip when we have to meet a schedule we would break down! We called AAA and had our truck towed back to Ford in Port Angeles then made alternate arrangements to fly to Seattle to catch our flight. Now for a short break from the trip to spend time with family and friends.

Goodbye Vancouver and Vancouver Island. I’m sure we’ll be back some day to explore more of this area!


Killers on the high seas

August 30 – September 2, 2014

The ferry dropped us off at 2:00 AM in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada. Rolling into town in the middle of the night is one of my least favorite things to do. I have absolutely no room to complain considering that with the XP, all we have to do is park the truck and push a button (literally) to raise the camper. Voila and we’re ready for bed after a few minutes of minor set-up. This is easy compared to our fellow campers Brent & Janis who traveled Alaska by motorcycle and tent camp everywhere. We meet many motorcyclists along the way and spend hours talking to them about their experiences. It’s a mode of travel that we have considered but will have to wait for another trip once we have some experience. We’re not up for learning how to ride in a foreign country like the 3UpCollective group that we met in Baja earlier in our trip.

We had the whole day to explore Prince Rupert so decided to walk to the town and see what there was to see. Sadly, it is a very depressed looking town with most of the stores boarded up and the few that were open looked like they rarely saw any business. The grey weather added to the dreariness of the area. We asked some residents where we could get lunch and were pointed to a section of town called Cow Bay. It appears that this is where the city has spent all of its economic development money creating a quaint neighborhood along the bay next to the marina. We arrived when most of the restaurants were closed, just after lunch and before dinner, so we settled on a dark tavern whose menu has probably not been updated since it opened sometime in the late 70’s based on its decor. We just had bad timing considering that the other restaurants looked inviting with interesting menu selections.

Later we dropped by the community art center and wandered along the marina before returning to our campsite where we spent the rest of the evening talking with Brent & Janis, or motorcycle traveling neighbors. They both live on Quadra Island which sounds like paradise! Brent recommended that we go to this tiny town, Telegraph Cove, and take the Stubbs Island Whale Watching tour. He was a tour guide for the company years ago and said that it is the best in the area. This turned out to be the best recommendation ever! Thanks Brent!!!


I said it was a sleepy little town!


The next morning we were treated to a major upgrade in ferry service when we boarded the BC Ferry. This felt like a luxury liner after the Alaska Marine Highway’s 30 year old ferries with food service that rivaled hospital meals in blandness. The ferries were new with a cafeteria style restaurant and another smaller cafe both serving freshly prepared meals along with a substantial selection of healthy, tasty vegetarian options. There was a small theatre room where we watched Tina Fey’s “Admissions”. The only downside was that the observation deck was reserved seating only. On the Alaska Ferry we spent many hours on the free observation deck watching the spectacular views provided by the Inside Passage so the restricted access to the BC Ferry observation deck was our only very small disappointment.

We reached Port Hardy on Vancouver Island in the very early morning hours and caught a few zzzzz’s before making the short drive down to Telegraph Cove. Once we rolled into Telegraph Cove later in the afternoon we immediately booked our tour with Stubbs Island Whale Watching. I was excited to see that their calendar showed orca and humpback whale sightings on every day over the past few weeks. I left feeling confident that the next day would be the highlight of our trip!

We had dinner at the Killer Whale Cafe where I fully expected to be underwhelmed. I was so wrong! If you ever make it to Telegraphy Cove be sure to stop in for a meal. Everything we tried at this family run restaurant was exceptional and the service was outstanding.

In camp later that evening we met Dave and Jenny, an English couple whose vacation on Vancouver Island was drawing to a close. They provided the entertainment for the rest of the evening with their banter about their lives in England. They figured out how to set boundaries between work and personal life, not allowing work to get its greedy claws on their personal time. This was a lesson that took me years to understand yet I never internalized enough to change. I quickly accepted the paid cell phone which also gave my employers free access to my personal time. I bought into the Silicon Valley myth that longer working hours were badges of honor rather than warning signs that I had an unhealthy emotional life; all work and no play. Thankfully my husband is a very wise man and steered us to an early pre-retirement to travel the Americas!

The stories that Dave & Jenny told us about the small town of Tofino on the other side of the island convinced us that maybe there was more to Vancouver Island than we first imagined. We originally gave ourselves three to four days to travel the length of the island. After our evening with Dave & Jenny we will definitely need to revise our estimates!

The next morning I was practically giddy with excitement about seeing my first orca. I expected that the tour would be the usual: pack a bunch of tourists onto a boat and take them out to the usual local places while the captain shares a mostly scripted commentary about the area in an unengaged manner. This tour was nothing like that! I can’t begin to praise Stubb’s Whale Watching enough for their genuine passion for their work creating an unforgettable experience for us.

Captain Wayne had more energy and excitement at 7 am than most of us can pull together after mid-morning and more than a few cups of coffee. This man loves his work and he was not putting on a show. He introduced us to Jackie (The Marine Detective), our on board naturalist who would share with us her knowledge of the orcas and whales that we would hopefully see. Jackie is truly passionate about her work. She became a naturalist on Vancouver Island after coming to the island for a vacation. She took the whale watching tour and was hooked. After her trip she returned to Europe where she was teaching, quit her job, packed up and moved to Vancouver Island to pursue a career studying marine mammals. When you watch Jackie and Captain Wayne at work you see true joy.

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A couple of bald eagles watching us pass by.
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Darryl caught the wider view. Can you find the same two bald eagles in this photo?

We were underway for less than 5 minutes when we saw the first family of orcas! Jackie identified them as the A30’s matriline, or family group, of Northern Resident orcas which are an inshore fishing group. Family groups are tracked by the matriarch and referred to as matrilines. Individual orcas and families are identified by distinctive markings on their dorsal fins and saddle patches. Swimming amongst the orcas were Dall’s porposes and Pacific White-Sided dolphins. The interesting thing about the Pacific White-Sided dolphins is that they were once extremely rare in the BC waters during the 19th & 20th centuries and some thought them to be extinct until 1956 when a fisherman spotted one north of Vancouver Island. Only since the 1990’s have there been regular sightings of them in the area. We stayed for almost an hour watching the orcas and dolphins. At one point an orca came swimming right alongside the boat! Eventually Captain Wayne received news of humpback sightings not far from where we were so we bid the orcas farewell.


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We easily spotted the blow, which can reach up to 9’, from a humpback hundreds of yards away. Once sighted, we started in the direction of the whale and soon we saw another whale, and then another whale! Captain Wayne had a very good problem, we couldn’t be at three places at once so he had to make a choice. The whales stayed in the general area and we were able to see their tails as they made their dives. Jackie is able to identify the various whales by the unique markings on the underside of the tails. Regular sightings of humpbacks in the area started again just in 2002. Whale hunting decimated their populations and they are just now starting to return.





We were lucky to witness a whale lunge feeding. Jackie and Captain Wayne identified the place where it was likely to happen. They could see that the birds were gathering and diving into centralized area. This behaviour will frighten the fish causing them to come together in a large group. The whale then comes up from the bottom of the school with its massive jaws opened taking in the fish, water and sometimes an unfortunate bird. The water is squeezed out of its mouth through the baleen then swallowing the fish that remain.

Our whale watching tour came to an end and we had to return to the dock. During the return Jackie gathered the group together inside the boat to talk about the current state of the orcas and whales. The orcas are dying too young due to the high concentrations of PCB’s in their systems. The concentrations of these toxins increases as you go up the food chain. Orcas and whales are high in the food chain and carry these lethal dosages. Because the chemicals are concentrated in the fat and the fat content of the female’s milk is extremely high, the females are able to release much of the poisons in their systems when they nurse their young, feeding the young this concoction of poisons.

The other threat this wildlife faces is the possible opening of the no-go-zone for boats / shipping in their hunting and migration route. Because of pressure from the business and shipping industries the Canadian government is considering opening the boating no-go-zone to commercial traffic. Just when these animals are getting a second chance and starting to come back they are facing yet another threat. Talk about hitting an orca when its down!

The whales are also fighting against declining food sources. They feed on krill but also schooling fish like herring, sand lance and pilchard pitting them in direct competition with our increasing aquaculture industry. Who do you think will win? Increases in aquaculture (fish farming) result in the capture of feed stock, like herring, for these farms. Between 50%-80% of all prey fish captured are fed to farmed fish and the majority of the remaining is fed to industrially farmed pigs and chickens. If you’re interested in learning more read the 2009 Oceana report “Hungry Oceans: What Happens When the Prey is Gone?”.

Want your omega-3’s without the risk of PCB’s & Mercury? Eat flax, hemp, soy and walnuts. The orcas and whales thank you for it!


The most scenic railroad, the longest fish ladder and the largest weathervane

July 30 – August 1, 2014

Our ferry from Wrangell to Skagway departed at the insane time of 2:30 AM. These ferries depart and arrive at the craziest times staying only a few hours at most ports. Trying to schedule a trip through the Inside Passage can be difficult given the whacky schedule. We wanted to spend time in Gustavus visiting Glacier Bay National Park but it would have added almost an additional week to the time traveling through the Inside Passage. Since we’ll never be able to see everything on this trip much will be left for future travels; Glacier Bay National Park will be on that list.

During this section of the Inside Passage from Wrangell to Juneau then onto Skagway we saw many glaciers in the distance.

Icebergs from the glacier in the distance. This glacier has retreated 30 miles over the past decade.
Icebergs from the glacier seen in the distance. The ferry slowed to a crawl as it passed through this section.

There was almost a three hour stop in Juneau so we decided to share a van ride into town with a few other couples. We had enough time to walk around the small downtown area which was jam packed with jewelry stores and fur stores. As we were walking through town we noticed that there were blue sheets of paper taped to the front windows of a few shops announcing that that they were Alaska owned shops. Our only guess was that many of the shops were owned by the cruise lines. Since I wasn’t in the market for jewelry or fur, I didn’t do much shopping! We did have lunch at one of the restaurants which was a welcome change to the ferry food service!

How many jewelry and fur shops does a place need? These were cruise ship shops for their tourists.
How many jewelry and fur shops does a place need? These were cruise ship shops for their tourists.

Back on the ferry we spent the rest of the evening enjoying the views and exchanging stories with our fellow passengers.

One of the many glaciers that we saw on in the Inside Passage between Juneau and Skagway.
Just another stunning sunset on the Inside Passage!
We spent our days in awe watching the changing landscape on the ferry through the Inside Passage.


The mountains looked like ice cream sundaes with cherry clouds set aglow by the sunset.

We arrived in Skagway at 4:40 AM. Did I tell you that these arrival times were crazy!? We feel so guilty driving our very loud diesel truck into RV campgrounds so early in the morning. We couldn’t find any open spots at the first RV campground where we had “reserved” a spot so we went to Pullen RV park right next to the marina and found an empty spot.

Before arriving in Skagway the plan was to stay 3-4 days but once we walked through town and realized it was very much a cruise ship port of call tourist town we decided that two days would be more than enough. The beautiful Dewey Lake Trailhead started just a few feet from the RV park entrance. This was a perfect place for a run! We certainly aren’t racking up the miles that we once ran but the terrain is much hillier and more technical than anything we ran in the Bay Area. We took a break during the run to watch some people jump 30 feet into the cold waters of Lower Dewey Lake.

We spent the following day on the White Pass & Yukon Route train tour. Our experience with tours is a bit spotty but we continue to go on those that we feel have the potential to expose us to something that we wouldn’t see otherwise. In this case, we heard that this narrow gauge train ride would take us through some of the most scenic areas of Alaska and the Yukon Territory. The scenery along the railway was breathtaking and considering the challenges of building this railway in 1898 makes it an engineering marvel. Riding the train hugging the mountain sides felt as if we were suspended in air. Looking out the window you could see that the width of the path for the train was only as wide as the train.

There were waterfalls and canyons, mountains and a river with class 7 rapids that have never been navigated. The route is an out and back which created a lot of discussion at the beginning of the trip with people strategizing as to which side to sit for the best views. People really never grow up! There was one man who shoved his way ahead of the crowds trying to get the best view. All of this was unnecessary since once we hit the end of the route the engineers move the engine from the front of the train and put it in the rear of the train making it the new front on the way down. All passengers switch sides and flip the back of the seats to the other side so we all face forward. If you followed all of the it means that if you were on the cliff side during the ride up the mountain then you have a canyon view on the way back down. No need to trample over your fellow passengers to get the best view!

We did the White Pass Summit Excursion on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. The views were spectacular along the tour.


Tourists hanging out on the platforms between the rail cars on the train ahead of us.
These guys did a happy dance for the tourists as we passed by. The earlier trains would drop people off who wanted to hike for the day. The last train would pick them up to return to Skagway.

The rail line was practically obsolete at the time of completion since it was completed during the waning years of the gold rush. Most prospectors couldn’t afford passage by rail anyway! They could barely meet the Canadian Border Patrol obligation that all prospectors have 2 tonnes of supplies with them before entering Canada thus ensuring that Canada would not become burdened with an onslaught of prospectors that couldn’t survive the trip to Dawson City, the gateway to gold country. I can’t imagine the force of will of these men and woman who pursued golden dreams of riches. This is rugged terrain and they were carrying their loads on foot, horseback and dogsled through all types of weather.


After the train ride we had a late lunch and then started our next leg of the journey to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory of Canada. Once we arrived at Whitehorse we spent some time trying to find a secluded spot to spend the night. We saw on the GPS that there was a promising looking road along the river so we tried to find somewhere inconspicuous to park. We found what seemed to be a promising area and when we rounded the bend we were shocked to see Looking4Adventure‘s rig! We were in the middle of nowhere and ran into the same couple that we met back in March in Death Valley! They were actually out for a walk so we didn’t get to say hello. We left them to their awesome spot, not wanting to ruin their privacy.

We gave up on finding anything special so went to the local RV park. I was a little surprised that there wasn’t anyone around to check us in but Darryl gently let me know that it wasn’t unreasonable for an RV office to be closed after 11 pm! With almost 20 hours of daylight my internal clock was completely off!

Yukon River Trail in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory
Yukon River Trail in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

The next morning we went for a run at the place where we saw Looking4Adventure. Unfortunately they had already left but it was a beautiful run along the Yukon River.

Whitehorse is home to a few of the world’s biggest that we just had to see. First on the itinerary was the world’s longest wooden fish ladder. I’ve never seen a fish ladder and really couldn’t imagine what one looked like or even how a fish could “climb” one! They have a wonderful exhibit at their fish ladder and the volunteers are eager to answer any of your questions about the fish ladder. I naively thought that a fish ladder would enable most of the salmon to return to their spawning grounds. I was shocked to learn that only about 1,500 would make it up the ladder this year compared to the tens of thousands that left here for the sea just 3-5 years ago. “Of about 750 smolts that head out for the ocean, only about two to six adults are expected to return to their natal streams.”

“One fish, two fish” art exhibit coordinated in 1999 by local artist Donald Watt to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the fish ladder.
World’s longest wooden fish ladder in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. Only 1,597 salmon passed through it this year of which 372 were wild salmon. The remainder were fish hatchery salmon.

The next world’s largest is this DC-3 weathervane. I just wanted to drive by it to see it but since we were there we decided to visit the Yukon Transportation Museum where it was located. I found it fascinating to see the evolution of transportation in the Yukon covering rail, dog sleds, vehicles and aviation.

Possibly the world’s largest weathervane is this DC-3 which is mounted to point into the wind. It’s installed at the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada.

We would continue our own little journey through the Yukon onto Tok, Alaska in our comfy XP Camper. Next post Tok and Chicken, Alaska!