It's mid-October and we're both sitting here in the living room bundled up in flannel pants, robes and blankets. It's raining outside and we need to have the lights on to read. Unfortunately we (and by we I mean Alan) never made it up on the roof to fix the floo for our chimney so no fires in the fireplace today. Oh well, maybe next weekend. Oh wait, it's supposed to be back in the 70s.
With all of the posts about trips and upcoming vacation ideas, I've neglected to actually talk about what's going on around the casa.
As previous posts indicated, we were on the hunt for a new vehicle to replace the Saab when it came off lease. We started our research early on in the summer as we knew there were several cars we were interested in but had no idea which ones would be the best for us. We liked the Volkswagen Tiguan but the dealership never got back to us with the color combination we were looking for, the Subaru Forrester was okay, but I didn't love it. The BMW X3 felt small. The Mercedes GLK had a really tight suspension and felt more like a car than an SUV, the Honda Pilot drove like a truck (a really nice truck) and the used Land Rover Discovery had a really weird interior that didn't really work for us.
In the end, we found ourselves going back to the Toyota Highlander. Because Alan's dad used to work at the dealership in Oakland we were able to negotiate a really great deal. They also stayed open late for us so that we could pick it up after work instead of having to wait until the weekend. The deal happened rather quick - quicker probably than any other major purchase we've ever made together. On Sunday afternoon we were talking to Alan's dad and we told him we thought that was the car we want but we were surprised by how much it would cost for a Toyota. Then I showed him the colors we liked and didn't like. On Monday at 2 p.m. Alan called me to tell me they had the car available in the exact right color combo (pearl white with tan leather interior) from a dealership in Novoto and it was ours if we wanted it. I said okay. Then around 4 p.m. he called back to say that one had been sold but there was one in Sacramento that was nearly the same except it had gray interior. I said let's go for it. And we did. Our payments are about $200/month higher than they were on the Saab lease but given that this is the second Highlander we've decided on, this time we're buying and hoping to have it for many years.
We're also in the process of trying to do something about the death trap we call a back deck. When we moved in the inspector told us that it was terribly constructed and probably wouldn't last many years. Then, in the past year the wood started rotting and my heels were going through the boards. This summer the railing down the steps came away. It was time. We called our neighbor's family friend who came last week to look at it and give us an estimate. We knew he "wasn't cheap" and that he did good work but we had no basis to compare what was expensive or inexpensive when it comes to decks, so we got the estimate and were kind of shocked when it came in around $2k more than what we put "at the high end." It's not that we don't have the money, but I think we'd set our mind on one price and this is well above what we had guessed. (I say guess because it really was.) So we're calling in one more person to come and give us an estimate. If it's at all close to the first we'll likely go with that guy since he's a family friend of our next door neighbor and pissing us off would make their lives hell.
We're planning on spending Thanksgiving in Lake Tahoe (notice, I say planning ...) with Alan's family and then Christmas with my sister's family in Ohio.
Other than that, we're spending a lot (a lot!) of time at work just trying to make it to the weekend.
Long-time readers know that every February we go away for a week (or so) to celebrate our wedding anniversary. It only seems right, given that we were married in Maui.
Let's see ...
2003 - Disneyland & Catalina
2004 - New Orleans (during Mardi Gras)
2005 - Kauai
2006 - New York City
2007 - Maui (5 years)
2008 - Paris
2009 - Seattle
2010 - Jamaica
This year our anniversary falls smack dab in the middle of RSA Conference 2011. You know, one of my biggest accounts (not to mention the world's largest IT security tradeshow & conference). So yeah, we need to postpone ... much like we did last year. I was bummed that we weren't going to be able to go away for our anniversary since it fell two weeks before the Conference and there was no way I was going to get time off, but my pal Jen convinced me that going on vacation AFTER would be much better anyhow because then I could really relax. And she was right. Jamaica was that much better for having no worries at all. And because I was supremely exhausted so there was nothing I needed more than to sit on the beach for a week.
For our anniversary this year we had talked about going to Venice the week of March 5. This also happens to coincide with Carnival and the week of Alan's birthday. Technically, this is entirely doable. Technically. But I've noticed something lately. When we take vacations during extremely busy times, I fail to plan. And a failure to plan is a failure to execute and we've run into snags when I can't plan. So ... what's a girl and a boy looking to celebrate their love to do?
Maybe go back to the beach and save Italy for our 10 year anniversary when we can take TWO WEEKS off and go to Tuscany too? Yeah, that sounds good.
So now I'm researching Tulum. The flights are cheap and that's good. The only all-inclusive resorts I'd want to stay in are expensive as hell, so we'll probably look to book a cabana on the beach at an eco resort. Although really, I'm seeing those priced at $300/night too so who knows. All I know is that right now nothing sounds better than crystal blue water and all the tacos I can eat.
Saying goodbye to Tofino, our trip back to Vancouver was quite long and drawn out - 4.5 hour drive, 1 hour bus ride, 2 hour ferry trip, 1 hour bus rid, 15 minute taxi. As you can imagine, we didn't do a whole lot of anything except try to make it from point A to point B.
We stayed at the Sheraton again, this time in a room in the original tower and let me just say it made me miss the room in the new tower. It had furniture circa 1989, the internet connection was a 30 foot cord that you had to drag across one of the double beds to get to the desk and the bathroom had mold in the shower around the fixtures. I tweeted about how disgusting it was and management called to see if we wanted to move. At that point, we were only staying two nights and didn't feel like re-packing so I told her all I wanted was for the cleaning crew to come scrub the bathroom and vacuum up all the dust. Needless to say, they didn't. Eventually, I took a washcloth and scrubbed the tub. I'm getting the heebyjeebies just thinking about that black sludge.
Our last day started off well enough. We had booked two seats on a whale watching tour out of a fishing village about an hour outside of Vancouver. We ordered room service, showered and were getting ready to be picked up when the whale company called to say that the morning tour was cancelled because we were the only ones that booked. Awesome. We hung around the room for a couple of hours, finishing up breakfast and reading and then finally made our way out to Steveston. Knowing what I know now, I'd have rather taken the boat out of Victoria because they take you out almost all the way to the San Juan Islands of Washington to see the Orcas so it would have been a much shorter trip with less time getting to/from where the whales always hang out.
The orcas we saw are local to the area, traveling in pods. Our naturalist (or marine biologist, not sure) identified them as Granny and Ruffles; Granny is nearing (or over) 100 and Ruffles, her son, is well over 50. They are some of the oldest orcas around and are famous for having been included in the closing scenes of Free Willy.
People with fancy cameras like the Nikon I left at home kept stepping in front of me to get better shots of the whales, and after awhile I got tired of fighting for pole position, so Alan and I just sat down and enjoyed the cruise. There were some baby orcas breaching but you can't really get a good picture of that with a point and shoot camera, but it was fun to watch.
Leaving the whale pods, we made our way back through the Gulf Islands to Vancouver, passing a habitat of harbor seals along the way. They're supposed to be incredibly shy, but this particular group was very interested in us ... staring and cocking their cute little heads trying to understand what was going on.
Our flight out of Vancouver left at 8 a.m. so we left for the airport before the sun rose, getting back to San Francisco around 11 a.m., exhausted and ready to be home. If we had to do it over again, we'd skip Vancouver all together and just stay on the Island. Apparently you can fly from Victoria to Tofino, but it costs $$$. Maybe someday when money is no object we'll be visit that way.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming ...
On our last day in Tofino we took a "hike" through the Pacific Rim National Forest, choosing to do the Boardwalk loop because it sounded so utterly cool. And it was, but damn was it hard. You see, that boardwalk is slick and covered with algae and giant banana slugs and it takes serious effort not to slip and sprain an ankle or fall off the path. What was about 1.5 kilometers took much longer than normal because you go down a bunch of steep steps and then back up slippery inclines as you make your way through the forest.
From the forest we drove down to Ucluelet to go for another hike on the Wild Pacific Trail in the other half of Pacific Rim National Park. I have a bit of a thing for lighthouses and there is a trail that goes directly past one so I thought it would be fun to walk it. The great thing about this hike is that it hugs the coast and you get spectacular views of the Broken Group Islands on a clear day and a much different - more rocky & savage - coastline than up in Tofino. Before leaving on the trip we really struggled with deciding whether we wanted to stay in Tofino or Ucluelet and having seen both I am sooo glad we chose to stay in Tofino. A couple of posters on various travel forums talked about Ucluelet as being what Tofino was 20 years ago and that may be true but from a traveler's point of view that's not necessarily a good thing. Not that it's ugly, but I didn't really see a reason to hang around downtown or wander away from one's accommodations. There's a definite reason the places down here are all much cheaper than you'll find in Tofino. Anyhow, the hike itself was, again, just beautiful. Near the lighthouse we saw a whale breaching off in the distance. Then as we rounded the corner I spied what I'm sure was a bald eagle flying around its nest in one of the offshore islands. Finally, as we neared the end of the trail we sat to watch another whale and its baby breaching off in the distance. There was no wanting for wildlife viewing on this hike.
On the way home we stopped for lunch in Tofino in a little shopping village that reminded me so much of the one in Hanalei. We thought we were going one place and ended up instead at a place that makes what is by far the best "burger" I've ever eaten. I had a cod BLT and the piece of fish was huge and I think there were shrimp and giant chunks of avocado on it as well. Alan had a spicy scallop burger that was also huge and tasty. The meal was so good, and so filling, that I'm pretty sure I ate a chunk of bread for dinner that night because I was far too full to actually eat a real meal.
Like the night before, we walked down to Mackenzie Beach to watch the sunset. I think because it was getting closer to Labour Day weekend there were more people up in the area - including campers dotting the coast - but the beach felt a bit more crowded than it did the night before. Not in a bad way at all though; the mood was very convivial and festive and everyone there was generally very happy. You saw a lot of couples - including us - walking down the beach, holding hands, with big goofy grins on their faces. As you can see from the pictures, the sunset was even more spectacular than the night before.
(I'm just going to pretend it's not taking me two months to write up this trip report so that I don't feel guilty about the turnaround time. Although really, the only person reading is my mom (hi mom!) and she doesn't care how long it takes.)
On our first morning at Middle Beach Lodge we made our way to the main Lodge room for what was described as "continental breakfast" on the website. No one had really talked about it on TripAdvisor.com so I had no idea what to expect. We've had some amazing continental breakfasts in Rome (salami in the morning? Yes, please.) and some why bother continental breakfasts all over. The spread at MBL doesn't change from day to day but it's a perfect way to start your morning off right - orange juice, apple juice or grapefruit juice; bananas or apples; corn flakes, cheerios or granola; muesli with yogurt; bagels or toast; muffins and the most amazing cinnamon bun you'll ever consume.
Before coming to British Columbia one of the things I knew I wanted to do was go bear watching. The time of year was perfect - they're fattening up for the long winter ahead - so you're pretty much guaranteed to see them down along the water's edge looking for crabs and other foodstuffs. The boat we went on held a number of people and it was a lot different than I expected it to be, but going on this vessel meant that we didn't have to wear the giant yellow water suits which would have been terrible given that the temperatures went up to about 70 degrees that afternoon. Unfortunately, by being on this boat it also meant that we were trapped with three children under the age of four for several hours. The oldest daughter was okay, but the two youngest were terrible. It's not their fault though; I blame the parents. Why would you take young kids on a boat where there's nothing for them to do but watch the scenery for hours on end? Within the first hour the baby was crying (and continued to cry on and off for the five hours we were on the boat) and the middle kid was running around and howling about how he was hungry and bored and it was just generally a bad scene. Yes, I realize the parents probably wanted to see bears, but by choosing to go on this trip, they basically sacrificed the enjoyment of 38 other people, including their children. There are some activities that are child friendly and others that are not. This was not one of them.
We had pretty much perfect weather for the entirety of our boat ride, if a bit warm for my liking. The sky was crystal blue and the inlet like glass. On the trip we saw a lone male black bear and then a momma bear and her two cubs, two bald eagles and a group of harbor seals. I would call this light wild life seeing as how the boats on the trips the couple of days before us reported much more activity but we got what we paid for so I can't really complain, especially given how utterly beautiful and magnificent our surroundings were.
After our bear tour we stopped at what is probably the most "famous" restaurant in Tofino, SOBO. It started out as a food truck but as it became more popular the chef (who focuses on sustainable, organic foods) moved into a larger, more permanent space. I forget what Alan ordered but I had probably the best peanut sauce I've had my whole life. I could have drank it (and probably made myself sick, but I would have been been a happy camper on the way down). We also stopped in to the local liquor store, which incidentally is the only place you can buy beer and booze, to pick up beer as we'd been doing a lot of beer drinking on this trip and we knew we needed to stock up. We also stopped at a local fish story (Trilogy, I think) to buy fresh from the boat crab for dinner that night. Before eating though we made our way down the highway to check out Chesterman Beach which is where a lot of the cold water surfing competitions take place, and a major spot for winter storm watching. While we were there the weather was calm as a lake - a slight breeze and the tinest of waves lapping the shore. You could walk for miles in each direction (we did) and just wonder at the beauty of this area and how it's not become overrun with tourists and buildings. Initially we had wanted to stay at a place on Chesterman but at $400+/night, the most beautiful place to stay is also the most cost prohibitive. In the end, I'm happy we got to visit but I actually much preferred our location and Mackenzie Beach, just down the road.
For dinner we ate the crab we bought earlier on the day out on the porch and drank the wine we'd purchased the day before in the Cowichan Valley and it was the absolute most perfect dinner you can imagine. No fancy restaurant, no waiters or waitresses - just us, our food and the beauty of the area surrounding us. If I sound relaxed about it all it's because by this time I had vowed that I never wanted to leave and declared Tofino my other happiest place in the world (Hawaii being the other).
After dinner we grabbed our local beer and "hiked" down to Mackenzie Beach to watch the sun set. While there were probably hundreds of other people down there - including the campers from the campsites along the trees lining the beach - the beach is so wide and long that you don't really feel crowded at all.
With the sun set, we hiked back to our room (getting smacked in the eyeball by an errant twig along the way), took a long soak it the huge tub and settled in for the night with good books and comfy blankets. All in all, a very good day.