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Vancouver Island: Canada's Caribbean

          Culture shock is guaranteed when you set foot on magical Vancouver Island. Whether you soar over the emerald jewels in the sparkling blue water or mingle with the mists as your ferry threads its way to paradise, you have left behind the familiar frosty country. Some say it’s the climate. Others claim that retirees are to blame. Still more fault the hippie infusion from the US in the Seventies and all those VW vans and llama farms.         

First, take a deep breath. Welcome to island time. What’s the big hurry? Go too far in any direction, and you will fall into the ocean. If you’re from the Big Smoke and miss traffic jams, drive to the McKenzie and Island Highway interchange at 8:00 am or 4:30 pm. Slow down, wave to the Serious Coffee drinkers, and wait up to an eternity of ten minutes before traffic picks up.         

Leave all snow paraphernalia behind. In Victoria, you need it once every few years. Even then, the snow melts within a day or two. If you pine for twenty feet of the white stuff, go up island to Mt. Washington and rent a ski chalet.         

Should you be here in the winter, you will need raingear and an umbrella only if you are a fuddy duddy. Our young people trudge in the rain in shorts and hoodies. In January. Mothers push their strollers covered in plastic, and scooters have awnings. Geezers thump along with their carved walking sticks, splashing in puddles. Some rain falls horizontally. SWOW for “solid wall of water.” The rest of the time, it’s RATH, or “rain, at times heavy.” This poem illustrates:

If it’s sunny in Victoria, it’s cloudy in Vancouver.

If it’s cloudy in Victoria, it’s raining in Vancouver.

If it’s raining in Victoria, it’s pouring in Vancouver.

If it’s pouring in Victoria, God help Vancouver.         

Leave all bug dope behind. Flies do not thrive in salty air. Now and then some wise guy says, “I saw A mosquito.” The correct reply is “Really? Where?”          You will notice many vehicles carrying surfboards or wave boards. Winter is even better. More storms. Wetsuits are toasty. This is not Malibu. Para-kiting is also very popular and makes colourful pictures. Seals and otters may come out to bask and watch.         

Bring your own foxes and skunks. They didn’t make the trip. In addition to brown bears, elk, cougars, and displaced rabbits exiled from the University of Victoria to Texas, the rainforest has one of the most marvellous creatures on earth: the amazing banana slug. They come in three basic varieties: black, leopard, and khaki, though the black version is a garden slug.  Slugs are detrivores and ooze around cleaning  debris at the bottom of the rainforest. They adore rotting vegetation, horse manure, and other dead slugs. With only one lung, they hump around without complaint. They are also hermaphrodites with the world’s most bizarre mating ritual. I cannot describe it here for fear of censors and even censures. Huge equipment, slime and cannibalism are involved.         

Victoria is called the City of Flowers. Ever April we do an elaborate count and snicker at the rest of the country, still plowing snow. Banana trees, though an herb, are common. Rhodos and daffodils start our spring, and roses aren’t far behind. Fields of heather and lavender stretch into the distance. Growing lemons is our last challenge. There are rumours about a few in sheltered spots in Sidney.         

Should you decide to stay, you will not be alarmed at house prices if you come from Toronto. For the rest, assume that your 2000 sq ft lakefront home on one acre in Sudbury will buy you a nice garage with an upstairs suite. In yee-hah Sooke, not the big city. BC is short for “bring cash.”         

Tides are important to us. A high 10.0 rolls in heaps of seaweed, which has its own aroma, although it is also made into cosmetics, soil enhancer, and even eaten in gourmet restaurants. Low tides, 1.0, are good for strolling beaches. Do not pick the mussels. Red tides happen. Gumboot chitons have been eaten in desperation, but they are not recommended.         

You’re in fishing country, too. Salmon, halibut, and crabs are yours for the taking. The prize-winning hali this year weighed 162 pounds. And it has eyes only on one side of its face, unlike politicians..         

Look over at snow-capped Washington State from the southern parts of the island. Yanks are pretty much the same folk as we are, but they like parading their navy across the strait and shooting off munitions in gunnery practice. Our west-coast sub is very old. We bought it second hand from the Brits. Not that we’re competitive, but it helps to close our eyes and think of the loonie, now at $1.05 US.          

The ferries are our life blood even though we complain about the rising costs. But the chow is great, and you can get a facial and manicure while you sail. Besides, an island’s not an island if it has a bridge. At one time, 95% of our food was grown here. Now it’s 5%. We could be in big trouble with our transport lines cut, during a tsunami, for example. Tsunami warning signs used to dot the coast from Victoria to Port Renfew. Then most were removed due to complaints from nervous business people who thought they would deter tourists. To me, they added an exotic flavour, and with their image of a little person running up a hill, it was clear what to do.         

 So many features, so little time. Whales, sheep, border collies, wineries, meaderies, Chinatown, fine dining, museums, shopping, Rogers chocolates, and even ghosts! These attractions you can discover for yourself. It’s easy to get here, but be warned. It’s hard t