Thumbs Up!August 2, 2017 in Canada
After sleeping on my urge to see more Orcas (was I being greedy?) I more or less leapt out of my bunk and went downstairs to the front desk to enquire. All the hostels are generally exceedingly helpful, booking tours etc for you on request and generally getting at least 15% discounts. They found me a spot on a tour with 'Prince of Whales' on an RIB with only 11 other passengers. I couldn't help feeling I was gonna need a bigger boat. Jokes aside it was relayed to us in San Juan that there had been no recorded attacks on humans by Orcas in the wild. All known attacks have occurred in captivity. Sends a pretty clear message don't you think?
Again, being my cheeky self I snagged the front seat on the boat along with Father and young daughter - Dave and Adelaide. They were such good company. Due to the noise of the waves when at speed our tour guide, Ric, asked us to give him the occasional thumbs up just so he knew we were doing ok and weren't getting motion sick. If things weren't going so well we had to give him a thumbs down on top of our head. Little Adelaide didn't fully understand so I told her that by giving Ric the occasional thumbs up he would know we were having a good time and that would make him happy. She got this and every few minutes would turn around to her Dad and I and say 'Thumbs up?!' . If my explanation was accurate I'm sure we made Ric a very happy tour guide!
The ride on the RIB was a thrill in itself bouncing across the water at high speed. I'm sorry I forgot to ask how fast! Regardless, it was a bit like a rollercoaster. Thankfully the water itself was very smooth so no motion sickness experienced. The eery part of the tour was the effect the nearby forest fires were having on the visibility. Once we were less than half a km from the shore it disappeared and we were surrounded by a thick smog watching only grey still waters waiting for a dorsal fin to emerge. We were incredibly fortunate to find a pod of transient Orcas which we happily watched dive and resurface for over half an hour. Nothing can quite describe the fear and excitement that comes with waiting for whales to resurface. There's always that mixed feeling of hope and fear that they will resurface right next to the boat. It's definitely a new natural high I hope to experience again some day. I'm grateful to the friends and family who persuaded me to take this second tour. 'Carpe Diem' as my friend Jon rightly said to me. Whilst a little greedy it's not exactly something I'll get to do again anytime soon!
A couple of interesting whale facts for you. Orcas do not sleep. They rest one side of the brain, leaving the other side active (along with the corresponding eye) and rest on the fin similar to how Albatross 'sleep' on the wing. Orcas will also prey upon humpack calves despite adult humpbacks being far bigger in size. As a result, humpback whales communicate in whispers so as not to be heard by their predators.
Whilst we waited for the lone humpback to surface in another part of the Salish Sea, Ric told us she had been known to swim on her back and wrap her massive fins around the boat and simply hug it for a short while. I still don't know if he was having us on but needless to say it increased the fear and excitement somewhat!
After watching the graceful but shy humpback for a short while we raced across the sea to a beautifully picturesque lighthouse at which a small colony of sealions were resident. Believe it or not these had migrated from San Francisco to fatten up leaving the girls behind - bit of a lads holiday if you ask me. They certainly looked like they'd been having a good time and were lolling around as if they were nursing bad hangovers.
On return from the tour I had a couple of hours to enjoy the town before heading to catch my coach/ferry to Vancouver. Victoria is an interesting place. It was named after our own British monarch and it tries very hard to emanate everything about a quintessential British town serving high tea at the harbourfront hotel for example. Several people had told me I had to see Butchart Gardens which was a short bus ride from the town. The pictures did look beautiful. However on speaking to another tour operator she looked at me and said quite frankly 'You're from England aren't ya? You don't need to go there. I'm sure you've seen plenty of English gardens!'. She's right of course and I hadn't yet seen plenty of whales!
The journey to Vancouver was stunning travelling down through further islands at sunset. Another Orca pod was even spotted but sadly I was in the wrong place! I can't complain though.
Since travelling alone I've been taken aback by the sheer kindness of strangers. Aside from the friends I've already mentioned I got chatting to a chap on the ferry from Vancouver who had just been to the Island to source student accommodation for his son. I told him a bit about my trip and he made some recommendations for Vancouver. It transpired that there was a massive fireworks display occurring tonight and thankfully Jericho Beach (where my hostel was located) would be one of the best places to view them. As he left to relocate his family he came back and asked if they could give me a lift as they lived close to the hostel. Of course I wouldn't have accepted but I'm certain the offer was kind and sincere. Similarly when I wandered down to the beach that evening to catch the fireworks I got chatting to some more locals who offered to show me around the city the following day and invited me to dinner. Again, I thanked them but opted to play safe. You have to when traveling alone really but it does show the slightly sad state of the world we live in when we are forced to second guess the kindness of strangers.
I can't lie, the hostel itself was a bit of a disappointment. Despite the great location there was no amenities to speak of and the vending machines inside all empty. It's a good job there was a free food shelf in the kitchen where I managed to snaffle some hummus to go with my tortillas! I believe it's an old military barracks so it had quite a stark feel about it too. Still, I had my own room with comfy double bed so shouldn't moan.
The fireworks were nothing short of spectacular. Apparently they were part of a competition hence the added WOW factor. Someone on the beach had tuned into the accompanying music from across the water. There seemed something a little sombre about the music with tracks such as Coldplay' s 'Fix You' and Harry Styles 'Sign of the Times'. I wasn't sure if it was referring to the forest fires but even so it was comforting to hear a little piece of home. The lads I met joked that the fireworks display was my own personal welcome to the city. Let's pretend it was shall we?Read more