Vancouver Island is massive. Imagine a chunk of land from San Francisco to LA, from the coast to the I-5. Bigger than the entire Hawaiian Island Chain, as large as Southern Ontario. Half the size of Florida, as big as Belize. And mostly just rocks and trees, with a few good mountains, and some amazing Wild Pacific Coast thrown in for good measure. Dotted with fishing villages, eco-retreats, secluded coves, and even a couple of cosmopolitan cities, this is the type of place you could spends weeks, if not months exploring.
Armed with our motorhome and a week of free time, we were hoping to explore the bottom 1/3 of the southeast coast with a jaunt out to the Wild West coast of Long Beach and Tofino. The raw power of an unspoiled wilderness meeting the fury of a North West Winter is a spectacle that leaves one speechless. You will rarely find a place in nature as captivating as this.
Not to say that downtown Victoria can’t be equally as captivating. After spending two days immersed in its unassuming small-town-in-a-big-city feel, we found ourselves coming up with excuses to come back the next day. We began to imagine what life would be like as residents of our provincial capital. As though on some kind of drug, we found ourselves craving more and more of the essence of this city of contrast. Where else could you watch the uber-spoiled rich shop for the latest in Hilton-esque fashion, and then be asked for spare change by a toothless junkie without even having to cross the street? What better place to watch the punks hang out with hipsters in the hemp shops?
Wandering through the self-proclaimed ‘narrowest alley in North America’ (Fan Tan Alley, for those taking notes), we found ourselves immersed in a mini-china town. Realizing that we were starving, we popped into the first café we came across, the coincidentaly named ‘Fan Tan Café’. I long ago gave up expecting much from Chinese food, other than the excitement and optimistic hope that my fortune cookie might hold some nugget of true wisdom beyond “You will succeed in your business ventures” or “You shouldn’t have eaten the Won-Ton soup”, but this place was as un-“Chinese-Restaurant” as you could get. Painted in muted tones, with subtle artwork adorning the walls, and a Caucasian waiter, we were starting to feel like it was some kind of put on. Like it was some reality TV special on the food network, where people’s expectations are challenged to create some shocking drama. But the food! If ever there was an accolade of Chinese west of the Great Wall, that surely was it. Now, just hearing the word Chow Mien now gets me salivating.
In the end, we never left Victoria. Our entire vacation was spent within the small land-locked peninsula, finding new excuses to come back each day. With a slew of museums, shops and touristy attractions, we had more than our fair share of things to do.
One of our favourites was the Victoria Bug Zoo for the kids. Deceptively plain and unassuming from the outside, your child will never forget having a living 8-inch millipede draped over their arm, or the thrill of holding a live scorpion. I felt no need to also share these experiences with the children, as I could have participated if I really wanted to, and so didn’t need to actually do so. I’m sure there’s a grain of logic in there somewhere. There are also the usual touristy things like the IMAX Theatre, wax museum, Miniature World, Underwater harbour observation etc. In the end, we felt like we could have spent weeks exploring all of the possibilities. Not bad for a city of 300 000! Now if only it were tropical, we would have no need to travel any further.
With our week of urban adventure over, we headed back to the lower mainland, returned our motorhome, said farewell to friends and family, and headed west into the great unknown. Although, to be honest, the unknown was, at this point, a place we were very familiar with…