I’ve been meaning to get our vacation post up for a very. long. time. I mean, we only got back from our vacation a month ago. At the speed I’ve been moving it was going to be Christmas if I didn’t watch out and get on it.
This year was the first year since 2007 that Chris and I were able to take a “normal” summer vacation – meaning we got to leave Haiti in the summer for several weeks solely for the sake of relaxing, visiting and regrouping. Since 2007 we’ve either been stuck in Haiti because of adoption paperwork, or I was 9 months pregnant and squeezing a little person the size of a large watermelon out of my body, and then recovering. Sorry, but that was no holiday last year.
We were excited to load the kids in the van and head out of Seattle. We did a lot – visited Grandma & Grandad, saw friends in Bellingham, saw Nanna & Pappa and other family in Armstrong, visited other friends in the Okanagan and had lots of fun soaking up the sunshine there after they’d had mostly rain for weeks.
Then, then we started the greatest adventure of the summer – camping with a 4 and 1 year old. In a Volkswagen van. For 10 days. Call us crazy.
We love our van. Chris bought it for $500 a long time ago. We honeymooned in it. We’ve vacationed in it. We’ve had fun in it. We weren’t sure if the fun would still be fun with two kids in tow.
We eventually emerged from the woods and I’m happy to say that excessive fun was had. I’m pretty sure mom was wondering if we were going to make it when we pulled out of the driveway.
Our goal was to get to Vancouver Island to do some camping, see Tofino and Uclulet, then head down to Victoria to see Aunty Abby for a few days.
We decided to use our trusty guides – “Camp Free In BC” and a series of Backroad Mapbooks. If you like to camp, and you don’t like to spend money on a campsite when you do it you NEED to check out these books. Our personal philosophy is that camping is enjoying God’s creation, and with so much land in Canada we shouldn’t have to pay an arm and a leg to do it. These guides direct you to FREE camp spots all over BC (and other parts of Canada, too). And by camp spots, I mean places that have picnic tables, fire pits and outhouses. They’re user maintained so you bring it in, you carry it out. But, why shouldn’t we take responsibility for our garbage and things like that? Some of, okay, most of the places we’ve found have been AMAZING and often there aren’t that many other people camping there, and if there are they are like minded and really nice.
We decided to break up our trip going down to the Lower Mainland over a couple of days so we didn’t have to do a long drive and catch a late ferry or try to find some place to stay close to a ferry terminal. We took the road through Lillooet and stopped for our first night at Roger Creek. After we got everything set up we realized the kids were made for this. Olivia fell asleep and we set up the whole camp and van before she woke up. When I start tickling her to revive her so she could see “camping” for the first time she told me, “But I did see camping. I looked already.” Apparently she peeked and then fell asleep again. Olivia got to ride her bike in the woods, which was fun, and Alex discovered that crawling around in the dirt, all the time, was super fun!
Our second night was between Whistler and Horseshoe Bay at Riverside Rec Site. It was along a big river and was decent, but not the nicest place we found. It was really ideal if you wanted to camp with a larger group and weren’t really concerned with the landscape. It was a place to sleep. Alex woke us up around 4 am and didn’t want to go back to sleep so we decided to get a really early start and surprised ourselves when we pulled up to the ferry terminal ticket booth, got our ticket, got in line and then boarded the 8:30 am ferry over to Nanaimo about 20 minutes later.
Neither of the kids had been on a ferry before so Chris and I were excited to do this with them for the first time. Olivia kept asking what a ferry was and the grin on her face when we started to pull away from the terminal told us instantly that she thought it was a great idea. Alex loves anything mechanical and big and thought it was fabulous to sit on the deck in his stroller and watch the world go by. He has this little thing that he does when he’s excited – he says “Ooh!” with enthusiasm. There was lots of “Ooh-ing” going on. We had fun exploring the ferry and deciding where we wanted to go after we hit land.
We headed north and then west through Port Alberni so we could find a campsite along the Alberni Inlet. When we arrived there we discovered a hidden gem. Arden Creek “runs” down into the inlet, but it looked like it was all dried up – until the tide went up and freshwater started pushing up from the ground. Olivia had so much fun playing on the rocks as the tide came up.
As I was snapping pictures of her she said through giggles, “Mom, aren’t you so proud of me?? I’m not afraid of the water! I’m not afraid of the rocks! I’m not afraid of the fish! I’m not afraid of the sharks!” I was proud of her because I didn’t expect her to have so much fun. It was such a special spot that we stayed two nights. Chris even got to show off his manliness by catching fish barehanded…
I promised the story behind that, so here it is…
In the morning Chris found live fish flopping around on the rocks. As the tide was going down they got caught and were easy to grab up with his bare hands. He caught three that would have otherwise died in the sun, and they joined us for lunch.
One of the other cool things about this place was that it was in old growth forest so there were really big trees all around us. It’s humbling to be in nature like that and to see what God has created. To be in a place where you can reach out and touch trees that have lives longer than people is so cool. And, it was just the start of our fern gully/Jurasic Park camping. “The Island” is so amazing that way.
After two days at Arden Creek we ventured down the logging road to Nahmint Lake where we found another great campsite, again in an old growth Hemlock forest where many of the trees were 7-8 feet or more in diameter. It was a nice spot and we met some nice people.
The next day we made the drive through the pass to the west coast. After buying a park pass and getting lots of great info from the woman at the visitor info booth we set out for a day of exploring Tofino and area. Our first stop was a walk through the rain forest. The lady assured us that it was an easy 1 km walk we could do with the kids, and we were excited when we started down the boardwalk. That is, until we got to the stairs. Chris had already gotten into the habit of picking up Alex’s stroller and sort of throwing him over his shoulder so we didn’t have to take him out etc. We kept moving, ducking under trees and stopping along the way for pictures. It was beautiful. And then there were more stairs. Alex, it’s a good thing your Daddy loves you. He carried all of your 28+ lbs up about 200 stairs. No joke. He got his workout that day.
We headed into town, found some delicious fish and chips, bought very expensive groceries and then headed back out toward Long Beach. On the way we took another walk in a peat bog. This time the board walk was indeed flat and it only took us about 20 minutes to do the 1 km trek.
What can I say about Long Beach other than the fact that the kids LOVED it. I was thinking that putting their bathing suits on was really just going to be for show and that the water would be way too cold for them to enjoy.
I was wrong.
Oh, the water was cold alright. But they loved it just the same. Alex loved standing and letting the water roll over his little toes. He found a mussel shell and wouldn’t let go of it. Eventually he just started crawling around and didn’t care that cold water was soaking his little butt.
Olivia had so much fun running and splashing in the waves as they rolled in. When Chris took Alex back to the blanket she held my hand and kept taking me out further and further until she was almost waist deep in the water. She thought it was pretty fun until a wave rolled right up her front and into her nose :)
That night we had probably our worst night of camping because we ended up out on a forestry road that seemed fine, until the sun started to go down and the mosquitoes came out in full force. After doing some wandering around Chris realized that we were in fact parked in a bog. Let’s just say some of us spent a lot of time in the van and we made a very early start the next day merely for our sanity’s sake.
I think we’re at day 7 now???
We went into Uclulet for the day and had a lot of free fun.
Our first stop was actually getting the muffler on the van welded back together because it fell off going down one of the logging roads. The guys at the Petro Can only charged $15, which was nice of them, and we appreciated how quiet the van was afterward.
We went out to Amphtrite Lighthouse. I wanted to take the kids there because I remember going as a kid and remembered how beautiful it was.
As we stood enjoying the scenery I noticed a spray of water come up way off in the distance near some boats. And then another. We realized we were seeing whale blowhole spray. Every year between May and October about 20,000 Grey whales migrate up to Alaska and we were seeing evidence of it. We stood there for about 20 minutes watching spray after spray. And then we saw whales surfacing, their huge back breaking through the grey blue water. It was amazing. But, the highlight was when a whale surfaced and rolled over, waving one of it’s fins at us. A few days later we realized that it wasn’t a Grey whale, but a Humpback. It was one of the highlights of the entire trip for Daddy and I. I think for me, seeing that in nature made me feel so small. God has created some amazing things. People are just one of those things.
After the free whale watching expedition we went and found some tide pools. Olivia had so much fun taking me climbing on the rocks. At one point we had to duck under and tree that was growing over the water and she just said, “Come on Mom, I think you can go under.” You didn’t realize that I wasn’t quite as bendy as you :) I did, however, make it under – twice.
Later that day we saw a sea lion swimming in the harbor, two bald eagles watching us from the trees, I saw a black bear on some rocks, and just enjoyed wandering around town. If anyone reading this is ever in Uclulet you should check out Ukee Dog. It’s this little restaurant that serves a crazy variety of hot dogs and sliders, and cookies and cinnamon rolls and… and… and… I had “the Whole Hog” which was this hot dog with pulled pork and candied onions and bbq sauce – yum!
After some grocery shopping we decided to head back toward Port Alberni. Since it’s only about a two hour drive we made it to our next campsite and still had time to swim before dinner. While this wasn’t the most amazingly beautiful place, it was on a lake that was warm enough to swim in and the kids loved it. We decided that we’d done a lot of moving around and that a couple nights in one place sounded like a good idea.
Alex surprised us all the next day when we were in the lake and he turned into a merbaby. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. One minute he were happy in my arms and the next he were kicking and flapping his arms and trying to get away. And then shock of all shocks, he slammed his face right into the water. I thought he was just thrashing around and that he would be freaking out, but he pulled his face right back out and started giggling. Then he did it again. And again. And again. I guess he is part fish after all.
After two days we went into Port Alberni and did some shopping, got some stuff taken care of and did some sight seeing. I’m not one who normally talks about the food I eat, but I have to mention this because it left such an impression on us. We ate lunch at this little mom and pop type diner. When I was looking at the menu they had something called “Fried Chicken and a Waffle”. I asked our server about it and she said, “It’s kind of weird. It’s a waffle, with french fries, and then fried chicken on top drizzled in pecan sauce.” I ordered it because it sounded to weird not to try. And you know what? It was SO good and Chris was jealous because the weird waffle chicken thing was definitely weird, but also very delicious. So, don’t be afraid to mix your food groups people!
We spent two more nights at the same place and then headed into Victoria to see Aunty Abby for a few days.
We had so much fun seeing the sites around the city. The Busker Festival was on so we got to see some great street entertainment as well. We toured the Parliament Buildings and saw the picture of my great, great Grandad Oliver on the wall of Premiers (he was the Premier of BC from 1900-1907 I think).
Chris and Olivia went to the Undersea Gardens while Abby and I checked out the street vendors on the Inner Harbour. We ate food from food trucks. Alex, you napped in the stroller. We went to IMAX and enjoyed the big screen and the air-conditioning. We spent a morning touring the Royal BC Museum. We ate ice cream. Lots of it. We had supper at Fisherman’s Warf. We went to Fisgard Lighthouse and Fort Rod Hill and spent hours walking around. We had a ton of fun with Abby.
From Victoria we took the Anacordes (sp?) ferry from Sidney, BC through the San Juan Islands. We spent a few days in Bellingham again, then down to Seattle long enough to repack our bags, then to Roslyn to spend the weekend with friends, back to Mum and Dads in Vancouver, WA, and then back to Seattle for one night before we flew out to Haiti.
We had such a good time. Typically by week 4 or 5 Chris and I are starting to feel ready to come back. By week 6.5 I was still having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that we had to come back to life here. I was happy when we got home, but vacation was so fun. I think the best part was just watching the kids explore and discover. It’s such a gift as a parent to watch the world open up before their little eyes and to see how they interact with it, what is interesting, what is fun. Sigh. I loved it.