Tuesday 12th August 11:00 p.m Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Not such a brilliant day for hitching, but what a brilliant day! Cindy drove me to the highway nice and early, but it took well over four hours to make the one and a half hour trip from Nanaimo to Victoria. I passed up the first two offers- something I rarely do. They were only going a little further along the highway. But when a third car stopped and it was also just going to the other side of town, I jumped in. I waited a long time there, and two other hitchhikers turned up while I was standing there. They each stopped to chat, before taking their place further down the road, leaving me first place in the rank. It was ironic then, that by the time I finally scored a lift, they were already gone. Hmm...maybe I better shave this beard off. But I got there in the end, and luckily in plenty of time for my whale watching!
WILDCAT ADVENTURES departs from Wharf Street downtown. I dropped my gear at their office and had an hour to wander around downtown Victoria. Very pretty. Very English, with cobbled lanes and old fashioned shopfronts. It was a bright sunny day in Victoria, and the ice cream stands were doing a roaring trade. Buskers strummed and drummed and juggled on street corners. Boats of all shapes and sizes ambled in and out of the harbour. This town made a very convincing first impression on me. I phoned my host here in town and left a message that I'd call back after whale watching.
I didn't have high expectations, I must admit. Cindy had told me that when she went whale watching some time ago, there was not a whale to be seen. The tour operators in Juneau, Alaska had told me that they were finding humpback whales and the like regularly, but hadn't seen orcas in two weeks or so. I wanted orcas. I've seen humpbacks before in Australia. Today I wanted to see an orca. Even a decent glimpse of a dorsal fin would be enough, but I crossed my fingers for more, and more was what I got! We saw two separate pods of orcas, between thirty and forty in all. They were playing and leaping and showing off to their captive audience. On two occasions, a number of them swam directly under the boat. Thirty humans gasped as huge black and white shapes disappeared under one side of the boat, to emerge from the other side in a chorus of loud exhalations.
The Wildcat boat was built in Australia. It's a sixteen hundred horsepower catamaran, and that's enough power to push us from a slow crawl to our cruising speed of thirty knots, in a few seconds. They kitted us out in all sorts of warm gear and off we went. Our guide for the trip was Casey,a trained biologist and unashamed whale lover. He's been doing this 'job' for five years and I reckon he's enjoyed just about every day of it. Casey kept us entertained with interesting facts about whales, and patiently answered all our stupid questions. We couldn't 'chase' the whales of course, but he and our skipper would position us so the whales would come to us.
Interesting facts about orcas:
*The southern tip of Vancouver Island is home to three pods of orcas, unimaginatively named J,K and L pods. These three pods share the same language, and are known as a clan.
*The area inhabitated by this clan is also visited by pods from the north, and 'transient' orcas from outside the region. The local orcas feed on fish and have never been seen taking marine mammals. The transients eat seals, and will refuse to eat fish.
*There is no inbreeding within a pod. Males from J pod will mate with females from K and L pod, and so on.
*Orcas do not fight with each other, not within their own pod or between pods.
*Orcas were named 'killer whales' by the ancient Greeks, who saw them feeding on dolphins. The name given to them actually traslates as something like 'whale from the realms of the darkness of hell'.
*Many orcas are found to have bullet wounds. In the U.S it is legal for a fisherman to shoot an orca that interferes with his catch.
Casey further impressed us by conjuring up a round of hot chocolate as we were coasting into the harbour. *it was a c..c..cold ride* I ran to the public phone and called Anne again. She answered straight away, and said she'd come and pick me up; she knew what I looked like from the website. "Just look for the old woman in the white Toyota" she said. Remember that I don't keep records about my hosts; just name, email address and location. I didn't know if Anne was eighteen or eighty. As it turns out, she's somewhere in between! Anne emigrated from England thirty years ago. She took early retirement from school teaching to move to paradise on Vancouver Island. I get the feeling she hasn't regretted the decision. We chatted until quite late, but I've had to call it a night. I'm still tired from such a big day yesterday, and tomorrow I head south to the United States.
My last night in Canada. Tomorrow, my backpack will be at least two kilograms lighter. My Lonely Planet Alaska guidebook can be sent home, Lonely Planet Canada can be sent on to New York since I won't be needing it until then. My second pair of jeans can accompany the Canada book- if I haven't worn them so far in Canada and Alaska, I doubt they'll be much use in California and Texas. The water bottle may as well go home; it's been well and truly superceded by the Camelbak. And I've finally gotten rid of those two cans of Budweiser that have been weighing down the backpack for the last week. So as I enter the United States tomorrow, I should be walking with a spring in my step.