Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Vancouver Island Road Trip: Fish Tanks and Goat Roofs

Given the heavy-footed sounds we heard from the nearby stairway as were turning in Friday night in Ucluelet, we were pleasantly surprised the next morning not to have been awoken by fishermen departing at 4:00 a.m.. They are pretty serious about sportfishing here, with the room guide advising you to put the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on your door before retiring if you don't want housekeeping knocking anytime after 6 in the morning!

If memory serves, we had a light, smoothie-based breakfast in our room at the Canadian Princess before making our way up through the boot room and checking out. We had intentions of eating a hearty lunch at Hanks Untraditional BBQ which never came to pass, sadly, as they are only open for supper.

We stopped to do a little souvenir shopping, where Glory found a cute ladies wallet with a vintage postcard illustration of an octopus on it that I thought was quite fetching.  I was a bit disappointed when she instead purchased a similar one adorned with sand dollars, since we had actually seen quite a few of these creatures while swimming in Qualicum Beach two days prior, compared to zero octopuses. Fair enough, I supposed, but I personally preferred the far less boring octopus.

The big attraction of the morning was a trip to the Ucluelet Aquarium, about a two minute walk from Jamie's Whaling Station. It is a fairly small facility, with an interesting model: they are a catch-and-release aquarium.  Every spring, they gather new exhibits from the waters around Ucluelet, and add to it thoughout the year, but at the end of the year, all the sea creatures are released back into the wild.

Much of the floor space of the exhibit area is taken up by a large pool set up as a mock harbour bottom and filled with decent-sized (say, half a foot to two feet) fish as well as crabs, anemones and the like.

A number of aquarium tanks at eye level make it easy to observe a number of different species, but you may find yourself drawn at first, as we were, to the touch tanks.

Here you can touch, feel, and pick up a variety of different marine animals, including sea anemones, hermit crabs, urchins and sea cucumbers. We all took our turns doing this, often surprised at how different the actual texture of the animal was compared to what you might anticipate.

Outside the window, Audrey and Fenya saw a harbour seal swimming in the harbour, possibly hoping for scraps from the fisherman we caw cleaning salmon on a table on the stern of his boat, but Glory and I were not fast enough to spot him.

The two of us had been captivated by what we all agreed was the aquarium's most interesting denizen: a giant Pacific octopus.

I have been simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by these immense cephalopods since I was a boy, watching them grapple menacingly with G.I. Joe and other adventure heroes deep beneath the waves, or seeing Jacques Cousteau express his own fascination with these shy creatures.

I found watching the octopus to be absolutely mesmerizing.  I had seen another specimen years before at the Vancouver Aquarium, but it was far less active than the one here in Ucluelet.

It even provided us with at least one cool photo op:

The staff, all young biological sciences students, are friendly, knowledgeable, and passionate about the creatures in their care, which makes the entire experience that much more enjoyable.

With the sad discovery that Hanks was not open, we elected to grab a quick Ukee Dog and then get out of town.  I had a delicious pulled pork hot dog and a cup of chipotle yam soup while the girls enjoyed Canadians with bacon and cheese.  The dogs took a while, which was not too bad, but the rapid accumulation of wasps at our picnic table made it almost impossible to enjoy them, and it was far too warm inside the tiny shop.

After lunch, we made our way out of town, but not before stopping at the souvenir shop so Glory could exchange her sand dollar wallet for the one with an octopus.

Our next destination was the Country Market at Coombs, something we had enjoyed a great deal back in 2009, but first the ladies were kind enough to indulge me in a stop at the Martin Mars firebomber base.

After a brief encounter there with a tremendously decent security guard, We made our way a little further down the road, not far from Qualicum Beach, to Coombs and the famous Goats On the Roof Market.

We wasted no time getting ourselves sorted out with all manner of exotic groceries, including 5 different types of potato chips, 4 different varieties of dried salmon (including the legendary candied salmon), 4 or 5 bottles of condiments and sauces, and more than a pint of pure Mexican vanilla. Then we sorted ourselves out with some ice cream took a load off for a spell.

In the used book store next door, I managed to find a good copy of John M. Ford's Star Trek novel, "The Final Reflection", and a latte to sustain me for the drive up to Courtenay, and that night's lodgings.

We only had one more full day left on the island, and I hoped we could make good use of it.

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