We followed the beautiful coastal road along Johnstone Strait and were on our way to the Pacific Ocean on the other side of the island. On arrival in Port Albeni, we happened to see fellow travellers Thomas and Sima and Rudolph and Moni in the car park. In the sunshine, it was pleasant to have a chat and we exchanged tips again, as they just returned from the Pacific Rim National Park.
To Ucluelet, it was another 90 kilometres on a road that literally winds through the forest. We drove on to the end of the peninsula where there was just enough time to hike the Lighthouse Trail. A circular trail along the beautiful rocky coastline with, of course, the lighthouse. We really enjoyed the views. Views over the sea we hadn’t experienced in a long time! We felt like we had now really crossed Canada from the Atlantic coast in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west! Free overnight options are sparse in this area, but we eventually found a pretty nice spot to spend the night along a gravel road`in the forest.
The highlight of the west coast on Vancouver Island is Pacific Rim National Park. A rainforest area with mighty douglasie and cedar trees, some of which are more than 800 years old, with trunks so thick that with five men with outstretched arms, you still wouldn’t have rounded the tree. We took a breath of fresh air on Long Beach and went for a beach walk after a long time. Lovely that wind and the vast ocean! In the town of Tofino, we were done in no time. This village overrun by tourists and surfer dudes is not what makes us happy and we decided to turn right around again, stopping at the Rainforest Trail on the way back. The strange thing about this rainforest is that it is dead quiet. No bird or other animal sounds to be heard. Surely a rainforest always makes noise?
Back in Ucluelet, we walked another stretch of the West Coast Trail. The beautifully landscaped trail along the rugged coastline with many benches and vistas towards the ocean. Here, too, there are occasional large trees scattered through the forest. We wondered what these trees had already been through.
From a German tourist we got the tip to drive to the Ucluelet harbour. Here, a number of sea lions and sea otters were swimming around. It was a nice little harbour and after we had indeed seen a sea lion, we drove another 20 kilometres back towards Port Alberni in the dark, where we found a place for the night between the highway and the river.
We woke up to the highway sounds. We drank our coffee and after the sun showed up from behind the mountains, we put on our swimwear for a quick wash in the river. On the way towards Port Alberni, we stopped at Ha`uukmin Tribal Park (Kennedy Lake Watershed). The water here ‘falls’ over 100 metres from one rock to another and with the low water level now, we could enjoy the super clear water left behind in the many pools while scrambling. Sprout Lake invited a lunch break. As we have seen so many times in Canada but which still makes us very happy is the quality of the picnic spots or ‘day use areas’. Again, this one was top-notch. Good facilities, all clean and located on a lake…so swimming! We also took a hot shower and ended the day at the Walmart car park in Port Alberni.
It was one of the less comfortable nights. Some people have no sense of their surroundings and think it is the most normal thing in the world to switch on a diesel generator in the middle of the night, keeping the entire car park awake with it. We woke up with small eyes, but fortunately had something nice to look forward to. We were on our way to Nanaimo. At the beginning of our journey in Great Village/Nova Scotia, we had met Xu Ray. A Chinese woman who had married an Indigenous man and immigrated to Canada as a result. It was quite the love story! When we said goodbye in Great Village, we promised to visit her in her home on Vancouver Island.
On the way to Nanaimo, we visited Cathedral Grove and Little Qualicum Provincial Park. At Cathedral Grove, there are still several specimens of giant cedar and Douglas fir trees that one can comfortably gaze at over a wooden boardwalk. The oldest giant measures 76 metres and is more than 800 years old. We could not get enough of these giant trees, they are really quite impressive.
A little further down the road at Little Qualicum, we walked through the forest and viewed Qualicum Falls. After that we had another brief stop in Coombs, where the goats live on the roof of the quite touristy Country Market, before looking for Xu Ray’s house in Nanaimo. On arrival we were welcomed by James, Xu Ray’s husband. A little nervous, we were taken inside the house and a little later Xu Ray stepped inside as well.
After the ice was broken and the nerves subsided a little, we were fully assimilated into the household. There was delicious cooking for us and where we would sleep was also decided by now. The evening progressed and we had interesting conversations especially about the history of Xu Ray and James. Xu Ray was born and raised in China and James is a native from the Dakelh First Nation. So there was a lot to ask and tell. And to listen. Tired of all the new impressions and stories, we fell asleep in the guest room. After 4 months of sleeping in the camper van, it felt almost uncomfortable to stay in a normal house.
The next morning, we enjoyed a cup of tea and coffee on the terrace overlooking the channel where Vancouver was waiting for us on the other side.
We decided to use this day to do some maintenance on the car. We had some problems with our petrol gauge, which showed a much higher diesel consumption then we were used to. We bought a new air filter because after so many kilometres on gravel roads, it definitely needed replacing. We also had the oil changed. After a wash, it turned out that we really do own a white car after all. The only thing left was the sudden high diesel consumption. We looked for a number of possible causes and decided to start with the simplest…filling up, to see if the number of litres would match the kilometres driven. Fortunately, this was the case. Repairs with high costs were already haunting our minds, but apparently we didn’t need to worry.
After lunch, Xu Ray took us to her secret spot where she ‘disappears’ daily to unwind. In a lovely spot by the water, we sat on a bed of moss and listened to the lapping of the sea in the background. We walked over the rocks and through the forest back home where we began preparations for dinner.
In 2007, I had travelled to China for the first time and could clearly remember what I ate for breakfast every day. Small dough balls filled with all kinds of different ingredients. I just didn’t remember what they were called, but when Xu Ray mentioned the name I remembered it again…Boutse! It is a typical Chinese delicacy that can also be fine on the menu for dinner. Xu Ray told us that making these dumplings takes a lot of time, but if we helped her we could eat this just fine tonight. The most fun was trying to ‘fold’ the dough together into a ball which we did not really manage to do neatly. The dexterity exhibited by Xu Ray was impressive.
In return for the hospitality, we helped James move and assemble a table he had restored and cut the grass in the backyard. We enjoyed the hospitality, the conversations, the delicious Boutse and…Andre Rieu! James loves classical music and is a big fan of Andre. The TV was turned on and so we sat at the table in Canada with a Chinese woman, an Indigenous man, a German woman and a Dutchman. We ate Chinese food with Andre Rieu as background music. Sometimes it cannot get any crazier.
If it had been up to Xu Ray and James we would have stayed another week and although this seemed an enticing offer, we made it known to them that we would leave today anyway. We ate last night’s leftover boutse and had one last chance to ask James how he experiences his life as a First Nation in the new Canada before we said goodbye. In the car, Romy and I looked at each other and realised how privileged we are to be able to meet such lovely people from whom we have already learnt so much in this short time.