Yesterday, my wife and I drove back to Vancouver on Route 99 after delighting in the mountainous scenic wonders at Whistler, BC. Midway, as we approached a series of winding cliff-hugging Nascar-wannabe tracks, we approached a sign about the prevalence of motorcycles on the road. A few minutes later, we felt the full brunt of that notice. While driving on the right-hand lane, we were startled by decibel-defying high-pitched roars to our left. Without warning, a muffler-challenged convoy of motorcyclists whipped past us.
It took a while for our nerves to settle. But not for long! A sluggish camper trailer was barely ahead of us in the right lane. Before we had a chance to pass it, we had a jolt. A motorcyclist behind us, who could well have been a stunt driver, sped between our car and the camper. To accomplish this potentially fatal feat, he had to lean his motorcycle sideways so that it almost scraped the road before whooshing past us toward the left lane. We almost had a close encounter of the last kind. Or, as my one and a half- year old granddaughter would squeal, “Ah-oh.”
If it Ain’t a Motorcycle, It’s a Truck.
This morning, I began my power walk on the rain-soaked sidewalks of Maple Ridge, BC. None of the abundant cars on the road splashed me as they passed by, but a pick-up truck gave me a scare. I wasn’t aware of the vehicle until the driver tried to slow down at a stop sign right next to me. Suddenly, I heard the mother lode of all screeches. The truck’s tires must have been pretty bald, and the driver must have had to pummel the brakes to avoid going through the congested intersection.
For his own safety and that of others, I hope that the trucker soon gets new tires. Otherwise, he will have to tread very lightly with whatever threads of tread remain on his tires.
Don’t Discount British Columbia
Over forty years ago, my wife and I visited the most famous national parks in the Canadian Rockies, all of them in the province of Alberta: Banff, Jasper, and Kootenay. We both marveled at the astounding mountain views and figured that no other unheralded areas in the adjacent province of British Columbia could possibly be as splendid. So we departed Canada without entering that far-western province.
Our assessment was wrong, as we discovered yesterday during our second trip to Canada that began in British Columbia. On the recommendation of our home-exchange hosts, we drove to Whistler Village, located at the base of the Blackcomb Mountains. After taking the cable car to the 6,000 foot peaks enveloping us, my wife and I were amazed at how these snow-encrusted summits resembled the vistas in the Alberta national parks that enraptured us so long ago, especially the swirling wisps of clouds that hugged the jagged mountain tops.
The next day we had another BC revelation at Alouette Lake in Golden Ears Provincial Park, outside of Maple Ridge. As I first looked around, I thought I was in the presence of the expansive brooding, primordial mountains of New Zealand choreographed in the film The Lord of the Rings. And in the distance between two mountain humps there was a constricted waterway that reminded me of the epic fjords displayed in Scandinavian travel guides. Moreover, Alouette Lake reminded us of Lake Louise in Alberta, a scene that my wife has always longed to revisit—as we will later on in our trip.
So far, British Columbia could well stand for bounteous and captivating.
Two Contrasting but Equally Spectacular Venues
The other day in the morning, two of our Canadian friends escorted my wife and me to the wetlands of Pitt Meadows, BC. The mild summery weather was ideal for scouting around (at this time of year, such a venture in the wetlands of eastern North Carolina, close to our home base, would be an ordeal—having to contend with oppressive heat and humidity). From one of the two observation decks, we could see close up a huge heron serenely positioned, content in its habitat, oblivious to our presence.
Further down the road, we met a camouflaged couple intently huddled in front two supersized scopes, peering at a nest occupied, as we were told, by an adult osprey nurturing its chicks. Even without a scope, we could spy the bold outlines of the birds.
But even if we had not seen any wildlife in the Pitt Meadows wetlands, just ambling about, we reveled in its vast expanse. And an added treat was the omnipresent backdrop of mountains.
In the afternoon, our hosts for the day drove us to Queen Elizabeth Park perched high above Vancouver. This wonderland displayed gorgeous arrays of gardens (in fact, it could well have been billed as an inclusive 5-star garden resort) and housed the renowned Bloedel Conservatory for flowers and birds. As opposed to the wetlands, the park was filled with myriads of manicured bushes and strategically placed flowers. Oh, those lush flowers: whether solely one color or streaked, they were richly red, vibrantly blue, creamy white, deeply green, or passionately purple. The birds were just as distinctive, from the chatty parrots to the queenly cockatoos. One of the banana trees in the Conservatory had the most unusual outcroppings I’ve ever seen. A low-hanging leaf had the texture of velvet, five small bright yellow teeth-like projections jotted the top of the leaf, and a bulbous gray gauzy blob plopped itself at the end of the leaf.
The gardens inside and outside of the Conservatory are very people friendly. None of the plants were labeled poisonous.
There is another ultra-plus facet of the garden arena: from one open space, you can gaze at the panoramic Vancouver cityscape.
Yesterday, my wife and I traveled from Vancouver to Victoria, where we spent most of the day traversing the area from pig ironworks to parliament and scouring brochures about the attractions in Victoria and its environs.
But last night, my fond memories of Vancouver unexpectedly resurfaced. As I began reading Linda Fairstein’s Entombed, a novel that takes place in Manhattan, I was taken aback to learn that the lead detective had contacted an incomparable forensic anthropologist to study the remains of a skeleton unearthed in the former home of Edgar Allen Poe. This researcher comes from Vancouver. Now that is an eerie coincidence that Poe would have appreciated.
A Garden of Earthly Delights
Butchart Gardens, on the outskirts of Victoria, BC, is a densely populated effervescent landscape of flowering plants, a Disneylandish indulgence for the senses. The magnitude and magnificence of the gardens is almost overpowering in its profusion of colors and its exquisitely structured array of more than 100 different kinds of plants and flowers. There are no loose ends, no deviations, and no grotesque or surreal offshoots in the grand imperial design of the gardens—whether you stroll by battalions of bamboo or become immersed in acres of rainbow-tinted blooms a la Little Pony in the labyrinthine Sunken Garden.
There is one exception, however. At the far end of the garden is an uncultivated miniature rain forest with occasional flowers sprouting haphazardly.
It would be a shame to leave Butchart before dark because you would miss the artfully choreographed fountain extravaganza in the Sunken Garden. It is a spectacular display that reminded me of the laser shows at Disneyworld: Geysers of multi-colored water spurt at various prearranged heights and sequences; and wavy columns of water from either side of the fountain slowly reach out to each other and embrace as if they are praying. Rivulets of steam that envelop the bottom of the fountain are another awesome touch.
When you add free evening summer concerts (a Klezmer band played last night) and a variety of reasonably priced restaurants and gift shops to the beauty of the gardens, you would want to go back the next day. In fact, if you keep your receipt, you can return the next day for just one-tenth the entrance fee. What’s not to like, eh?
Yesterday, my wife and I drove to Oak Bay, BC, a municipality of Victoria, intending to browse through various artisan shops touted in the Vancouver Island travel brochures. Our GPS didn’t cooperate, but in our quest for the galleries, we happened to weave in and out of roads (beachfront and inland) bejeweled with mansions just as mammoth and ornate as the ones in Kahala, the ultra-posh beach community that we habitually frequent when we stay in nearby Waikiki. There is another similarity as well. Both towns have a 5-star hotel on the waterfront, and both have panoramic views of mountain ranges, lush Koko Head Koolau Mountains at Kahala and the partially snow-tipped Olympia Mountains at Oak Bay.
While Oak Bay reminded me of Kahala, it has one astoundingly delightful difference: upright pianos sporadically placed on the beach strand. These pianos are surprisingly playable, and a couple of them have been painted on all sides with idyllic ocean scenes.
After being dazzled by Oak Bay, we drove further “upland” to the village of Cadboro. Like Kahala and Oak Bay, Cadboro has plenty of gorgeous homes and spectacular mountain vistas, but it also has a smattering of unhospitable parks. You can’t see them from the road. You must climb lots of steep steps leading to a tiny desolate craggy abutment overlooking the ocean. There is no greenery, no picnic spot, no playground. It is utterly untamed, bounded by boulders and chilling—physically and psychologically.
After winding through more of Cadboro, we found a park that actually looked and felt like one. It was expansive and inviting. Children were frolicking on the grass and peeping out of colorful tubes dotting the play-scape. The adults engaged in animated, good-natured conversation with one another. Unlike the other parks, this one was friendly, not forbidding.
My wife and I may have been unsure where the art venues were located as we rode back to Victoria at dusk, but we may try again in a day or two. In any case, we certainly don’t regret inadvertently getting off course yesterday: we saw resplendent mansions in Oak Bay and Cadboro and a couple of mind-boggling oddities: pianos plunked on the beach, and rock-strewn postage-size parks.
A Farewell to Oak Bay
Thanks to a coordinated effort from our rental car’s GPS and my wife’s uncanny instincts, we finally located the artisan shops in Oak Bay that had eluded us the other day. All of the featured items— from miniature figurines to mammoth collages—were produced by local artists. Although I don’t care for modern art (a few of the abstract paintings looked like splattered vomit, the deranged doodlings of a toddler), some of the abstract paintings in the first shop we visited surprisingly appealed to me with their vibrant colors and intricate interweaving of geometric designs. In another gallery, I was fascinated by photographic sequences of a tree depicted from dozens of slightly different angles. At the back of the last shop we visited, I found three over-sized frog sculptures that, if my wife and I weren’t getting rid of the clutter in our lives, I would have bought on the spot. One frog, clinging to a smooth boulder, grins and appears to be blissfully content. Another frog, clinging to a ragged boulder, grimaces with an undercurrent of repressed rage. And the third frog, clinging to a pockmarked boulder, is ill at ease and looks a bit bewildered.
Later on, near the end of our excursion, my wife and I drove by a fairly small Chinese cemetery. There were no delicately carved monuments, no grandiose mausoleums, and no pompous or bombastic markings of mortality. Every headstone was vertical, short, narrow, and slightly rounded on top. At first glance, the cemetery, stark, drab, bleak, didn’t move me. But after more reflection, I appreciated its modesty, its unadorned simplicity: so unlike the glamorous, pretentious, cemetery superstructures that my wife and I roamed through in Europe a couple of years ago.
Before we left Oak Bay, we bundled up on a bench overlooking the ocean as dusk approached. It was a comforting scene: the glistening sea gradually changed color from aquamarine to light blue, and Mt. Baker’s creamy snow-caps became tinted with filmy pink hues as the sun was setting.
Oak Bay, just a few miles from downtown Victoria, is a tourist’s treat, whether you are a bohemian or a Brahman, whether you want to skydive from a cliff or just stroll along the beach.
Misperception is Sometimes the Name of the Game
On the way to Duncan, BC, my wife and I stopped at a coffee shop called Serious Coffee. I couldn’t find a plastic stirrer for my wife’s mug, but I did see a bunch of silverware spoons in a metal container. The one I picked was a bit smudged, so I reached for another one. It too was smudged. I figured that the dishwasher had done a lousy job.
When I had my wife examine the spoon, she explained that all of the utensils in the container that I chose were used spoons and were labeled as such. I turned the container a bit and then saw the writing. My wife was right.
Okay, but then where were the clean spoons? I didn’t see any of them. My wife, ever so patiently, pointed to another container at the other side of the countertop. When I had picked out the smudged spoon, I had seen another container, but it didn’t appear to have any spoons in it at the time. Now they were filled with spotless spoons, and the container, if you twirled it around a bit, was labeled “clean spoons.”
I was misled at Serious Coffee. For the future, I suggest that the management put a bigger and longer label on the spoon containers so that it is obvious which one is used and which one is appropriate to use. Also, it would be a good deed to refill the clean spoon container as soon as it is emptied—seriously.
B and B—Butterfly Gardens and Beacon Hill Park
Today, my wife and I self-toured two highly recommended sights in greater Victoria, BC, Butterfly Gardens and Beacon Hill Park. We were not disappointed.
At Butterfly Garden is a misty indoor habitat that encloses parrots, flamingos, koi, ducks, parrots, turtles, and a lone iguana as well as omnipresent butterflies.
The first plaque at the entrance related that butterflies tasted food with their feet. At a nearby station containing peeled bananas, oranges, and cantaloupe, butterflies (large and small, multicolored with speckles and small squares on both sides), were methodically feasting on the fruit with their feet firmly planted on the nutrients. At another station, humongous blackish/brownish butterflies with a big black and white **bleep**
The fish and the birds were entertaining. The koi continuously scurried around the pond as if they were trying out for the Olympics. The ducks were oblivious to all of this commotion. They moseyed along in any direction that they chose, apparently ready to ward off anything that might encroach on their serenity. One of the most impervious ducks had strikingly unusual colors. Its body was black, and its head was white. Three pastel pink flamingoes slowly and gingerly stepped about in the pond, but at one point, the largest bird flamboyantly flapped its wings for a moment—just to let us know that it could do so if it wanted to. Above the pond were a few parrots. One of them had little to say. Instead, it ferociously chewed on the branch it was perched on until it was able to eat some tasty fragments.
The turtles in the pond created a lot of drama. Small to medium sized ones clustered around an upside-down giant turtle who was attempting to right itself. None of them offered any aid. They all watched unmoved as the poor turtle tried to gain its balance. One of its legs was caught in some weeds. The other one was trapped underneath another turtle’s hind end. For at least five minutes, I watched that besieged turtle struggle. Finally, it got loose from the weeds and wrested itself from the other turtle. No sooner that it did so, the oversized turtle stuck its head into its shell, as if it needed to regroup. In the meantime, the other turtles caroused with one another, their claws raised in mock battle and their heads bobbing in and out of their shells.
Before my wife and I left the garden, I noticed a totally still iguana plopped on a post eye level with me. We stared at each other for a minute or two. Neither one of us flinched. It was a draw.
Racing koi, imperial ducks, a histrionic flamingo, a wood-devouring parrot, turtles playing war games, and an imperturbable iguana: Wow!
Later that afternoon, my wife and I visited Beacon Hill Park. At first, on a whim, we drove to the most isolated spot at the top of the promontory. It turned out to be a scenic overview of Washington’s Olympic Mountains that looked as if they were delicately wrapped in gauze. Within this array of mountain ranges the peaks that were lightly glazed with snow appealed to me the most. It is also possible that the pungently swirling second-hand smoke from two potheads below us may have intensified my pleasure.
Interspersed throughout the remaining expanse of Beacon Hill Park are delightful oases of vivid flowers, gentle fountains, and contrasting foliage (from spiny firs to weeping willows) that would have incomparable Butchart Gardens earlier in the week.
But Beacon Hill Park did have one astounding thing that I never saw at Butchart Gardens. A few ducks, while searching for food, dove to the bottom of a lily-filled pond with such intensity that all that I saw were their tails shot upright for a few incredibly suspenseful moments. After they came up from the depths of the pond, the ducks who evidently weren’t satisfied (perhaps because they found no food or, if they did, they wanted more of it) again and again submerged themselves with only their tails visibly erect.
Watching these ducks scrounge around for food made me hungry. Realizing that it was suppertime, my wife and I left the park to dine on something other than worms, insects, or rotted vegetation.