Vancouver Island: Ucluelet

photo: An immature (but still huge) Bald Eagle by the Wild Pacific Trail outside Ucluelet, B.C.

An immature Bald Eagle perched on a dead tree.

Barkley Cafe in Ucluelet for breakfast (of a sort): I had a very nice strawberry-rhubarb square and a Strawberry Mocha (the special of the day), which was both interesting and quite good.

I spent three hours in the morning walking the Wild Pacific Trail Lighthouse Loop, which was brilliant. (It's 2.5km, and not particularly strenuous: that it took me three hours should tell you something about the views.) It's a good chunk of the Ucluelet end of the peninsula kept as raw coast, and it's incredibly beautiful. Groomed gravel trails. One of the highlights was walking up to one of the dozens of viewpoints and stopping dead muttering "Holy Shit!" because there's a massive raptor perched on a dead tree about five metres away. He didn't seem much fussed by me or the four other people who were quietly admiring him. I got a bunch of photos before he finally flew away - possibly because he spotted his lunch. The folks at tourist information helped out again: Bald Eagles are very common around here, but this guy didn't have the distinctive white head and white tail. That's because he was a two year old, still immature (at one year they have different plumage, so you can actually distinguish). Very cool.

I visited the Native Arts gallery in downtown Ucluelet: some nice stuff, but no argillite.

I drove up to the other end of the peninsula to Tofino. To my surprise, the drive is actually fairly dull: the road is flat and the Pacific Rim Park keeps it well away from the shore, so it's just a pretty drive through the forest with nothing much to see. My first stop was Wildside Grill, an open air place at the south end of town recommended by a Parks guy (who wasn't supposed to make recommendations, but I'm glad he did) where I got the oyster burger I didn't manage to have a couple days ago. In case you're wondering: you take 5-7 panko-coated oysters, deep fry them, and stuff them in a bun with typical burger fixings. It was good.

Tofino itself is very similar to Ucluelet based on my very cursory examination: more stoplights, more surf shops, more surfers, more money apparent in the quality of the buildings. But mostly a long, narrow one street town, just like Ucluelet.

I finally did a hike in the actual park (the previous ones were both in Ucluelet), doing the recommended Schooner Trail. The Parks person I talked to used the magic word: "tide pools," and I was on my way (at low tide, or at least a couple hours before it). Nice one kilometre walk to the beach, all mossy boardwalk. And then a short walk across the beach itself to two tiny islands that can be walked to when the tide is out. Green anemones everywhere, and quite a number of starfish in purple and orange. Mussels (always, everywhere). Sculpins, hermit crabs. Are hermit crabs always tiny? I think the biggest I've seen hasn't broken the one centimetre mark - I thought they got bigger. The scenery around the islands was lovely too, so a very rewarding walk.

Next up was the Shorepine Bog Trail. I think bogs are beautiful, but evidently no one else does: I usually have places like that to myself. Stunted evergreens (parks info claims some of them are hundreds of years old), most of which are about my height. The big ones get up to about four meters, but mostly it's just moss and twisted stumps (photo below). There was a sign at the beginning of the trail about insect-eating plants, so I assumed they'd have signs on the trail to point them out, but no luck. And I didn't manage to spot any of them. The sundew is a pretty small and unassuming plant even at full growth, so I'm not surprised I didn't spot them early in the season. But the trees: I love those trees.

My last hike of the day was the Nuu-chah-nulth Trail, another Parks personnel recommendation: sadly that ended the day's hikes on a bit of a sour note, because it was dull, with no distinguishing features.

Dinner at "Green House Market" (named after the colour of the house) which is in fact a minuscule Chinese market that also sells Chinese meals and Sushi - to go, or you can eat it on their patio (they have one table inside, with seating for two). I went there on the recommendation of the lady at the hotel: "the Chinese place by the Co-op, not the other one." Which is pretty easy, given that "the other one" doesn't appear to be open out of season. My diet so far during this trip has consisted almost entirely of sugar and seafood (which inevitably comes with a side of fries, the crab last night being a happy exception), so I was feeling a distinct lack of vegetables in my blood. I ordered the "Ma Po Spicy Tofu," which they do vegetarian. And I think I need to thank the lady at the hotel: it was really, really nice. I'm also taking something of a technical interest, as I make Ma Po Dofu fairly often myself (with pork). Aside from the tofu, this has small amounts of diced green pepper, red pepper, zucchini, chinese mushroom (one of the milder ones), onion, and raw green onion. And of course lots of sauce. I love seafood, but I needed a break. I've been very lucky with food on this trip: let's hope it continues!

I'm finishing the evening at the sports bar in the centre of town: their beer selection isn't great, but they do have Grower's Pear Cider. Grower's Honey Crisp Cider is one of my favourite drinks right now, but the selection of Grower's products available in their home province is unsurprisingly large than in my province. Good stuff - most pear ciders are quite mild, but they've managed to bring the pear flavour front and centre without distorting it or making it taste artificial. Too bad I haven't seen it in Ontario.

Shorepine Bog in Pacific Rim Park: an incredibly twisted dead tree stripped of all bark.