Monday, April 20, 2015

Escape to Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Despite my incredibly youthful looks, I lived a childhood created for someone 20 to 30 years my senior. It originated from my obsession with programming featured on Nick at Nite and TV Land. Don't get me started on my love for old television shows like Petticoat Junction or Green Acres (best theme song ever, second only to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air). If my life plan works out, and I'm on Jeopardy kicking the shit out of a 77-year-old Ken Jennings in an all-stars tournament, I'll be sure to dominate the category "Groovy Movies from the 60s." 

As a kid, I fell in love with a 1968 book called Escape to Witch Mountain, which involves a pair of orphans with supernatural powers who run away to Witch Mountain to uncover the mystery of their past. The book was followed by a tremendously wonderful and campy film version starring Kim Richards, best known for her Real Housewives of Beverly Hills fame. No idea if her current rehab battles are related to the emotionally-wrenching performance in the movie, but I like to assume that's precisely the case. 

The movie resonated with me because it was about taking an adventure to connect and rediscover your roots -- that, and trying to avoid getting sold into the child sex trade by a creepy millionaire. So when Spencer and I decided to leave our home, sweet RV in Whistler and take a getaway to Vancouver Island, I jumped at the chance to recharge my batteries and embark on a different type of adventure than the one that occupies our "normal" lives. 

We packed up our Volkswagen Golf R, drove to the ferry docks and embarked on our cruise to Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. 

Although big rigs like ours can squeeze on the ferry, it's outrageously expensive. It's very un-American in that the bigger your motorhome, the more it costs. Hello, our RV obviously has an overeating disorder and she can't afford diesel bypass surgery. After we weighed the financials, we decided it would be significantly cheaper to book Airbnbs for the week. I even found pet-friendly rooms so Ellie could join us! Note: Ellie was actually looking forward to a weekend alone to get into some trouble a la Risky Business

Despite the windy and gray morning, the boat ride to Victoria was still eerily gorgeous. 

Our Airbnb was right in the James Bay neighborhood, a stone's throw from the water and lush Beacon Hill Park. 

The neighborhood is adorned with charming Victorian dollhouses on every street. Here's a beautifully restored home that used to belong to Canadian author and artist, Emily Carr. It's now a museum and a historical site. 
Emily Carr house in James Bay
Since our getaway coincided with Spencer's birthday, we decided to splurge on a whale-watching cruise with the hopes of spotting some orcas. 

Not only did we see a pod of orcas, but I coincidentally forgot my camera so I couldn't capture any amazing photos. Not to worry: This is nearly a spot-on artistic representation of what we saw.
Warning: Artistic rendering. This is not an actual orca. 
We also got to see Spieden Island, once owned by John Wayne in the 1960s as a big game preserve. Yes, money and fame will make you do crazy things. Today, it houses various types of deer and sheep. Friendly sea lions like to swim along its rocky shores. 
Look closely and you'll spot a sea lion poking up to say hello.
After we got out land legs back, we took a stroll around the wharf, which is home to floating houseboats and restaurants. 
A quick tour of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings was also in order. Built at the turn of the twentieth century, the government buildings are a breathtaking example of Baroque Revival architecture. 

Victoria is a city that will pique any architecture junkie's curiosity or any Disney-obsessed princess-wannabee. Did I mention there are castles?
Craigdarroch Castle
Hatley Castle

Built by a father-son duo named Robert and James Dunsmuir, who clearly had no delusions of grandeur, these castles are open to the public to tour. Hatley Park is actually an administrative building for Royal Roads University. They remain shining examples of moments in history when rich people had more money than sense, and when being heir to a coal empire was equivalent to being employee no. 8 at Facebook pre-IPO. 

If castles aren't your thing, plebeian, you can always practice your Cockney accent and drown your financial shortcomings in a spot o' tea. 

After that caffeine indulgence, Spencer and I were recharged to visit Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse, a national historic site along the coast. Be forewarned: You may soon envision yourself owning a charming bakery in Maine with Amy Schumer. 

Eventually it was time to move on from Victoria and begin our route to Tofino, a surf town along the island's western coast. Spencer and I stopped throughout the scenic Cobble Hill region, which is known for its wineries. Our first detour was the beautiful and unique Merridale Ciderworks, famous for its ciders. 
Merridale Ciderworks
We also popped into Cherry Point Estate Wines, where we sampled some delicious dessert wines and chatted with one of the owners. 
As we continued driving, the route grew more winding, isolated and magnificent. Sure enough, we spotted a black bear grazing along the road. 
He was just as startled to see us, as we were to see him.
Once we arrived in Tofino, Ellie was over-the-moon that the beach was right across the street from our suite. Tofino brings surfers and storm-watchers alike to its shores to ride and witness its killer waves. 

Armed with an unusually sunny April day, Spencer, Ellie and I decided to visit Meares Island and hike the Big Tree Trail. Accessible only by boat, we took a water taxi to the island. 
The giant cedar, spruce and hemlock trees along the boardwalk range from 1000 to 1500 years old, making them some of the oldest living beings on the planet. 
In case you need some perspective. 
After the hike, we earned some delectable Mexican food from Tacofino, one of Tofino's many culinary gems. The ratio of good restaurants to people in this small town is seemingly 18:1. A British Columbia institution, tourists come from all over North America to devour a couple (or six) of the truck's tacos.  
It did not disappoint. 
We spent most of our time in Tofino indulging in oceanside walks and hiking in the nearby Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Not to say we didn't spend a teensy-weensy amount of time slurping down refreshing blonde ales from Tofino Brewing Company. Like barely, though. Because we're really healthy. Didn't you read about the hiking?! 
The cause of and solution to all of life's problems. 
Before we knew it, the sun was setting on our escape to Vancouver Island. It was time to ferry back to our gypsy life, sans supernatural powers, but armed with a refreshingly new outlook on how we travel -- also, with a six-pack from Tofino Brewing Co. 

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