It was on the evening of my third day in Vancouver that Mother Nature started to get a little moody. What began as a bewitching late spring day transformed all too quickly into a picture of dark foreboding – seemingly forecasting dramatic changes to come. As I enjoyed a late dinner at The Teahouse in Stanley Park, whose claim to fame is the lingering sunsets, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of escapades my last two days on the west coast would bring. Given the overcast evening, I was denied the sunset spectacular that The Teahouse had promised but was presented with a hint of pinks and oranges winking through the clouds. While more modest than grand, I was still very happy to bear witness to the sun’s western repose.
The morning of my second last day started with light rain showers coupled with a somber heaviness to the air; the clouds were hanging low and sight of the distant mountains was virtually nonexistent. While normally not a big deal, on this day I was being granted the ride of a lifetime – a private helicopter tour over Vancouver and Howe Sound. I knew when the pilot called me during breakfast that the news was not good. “Not sure we can do the original tour you booked,” he explained “the clouds are really low over the mountains, doesn’t make for good flying.” Slightly heartbroken but not exactly shocked, I responded with, “Is it safe to go?” “Oh yeah, it’s totally safe to go. We’ll just take another route if that’s okay with you.” Take another route we did and while the experience was both breathtaking and exhilarating I couldn’t help but think cursed thoughts later on after learning that my pilot had a second charted flight scheduled for that afternoon – conveniently when the clouds parted with divine like intervention, revealing the baby blue sky beyond. In order to preserve the integrity of this blog I will not share what was going through my mind when I saw my same helicopter fly over English Bay Beach several hours later while I attempted to get warm in the afternoon sunshine after schlepping myself around Granville Island in the pouring rain. Got to love nature.
Now before I get into the details of the whale watching adventure that occurred on my final day, I should preface it by saying that I am not an idiot when it comes to viewing wildlife. I KNOW that animals are wild and that they don’t have scheduled times and locations for appearances; unlike some tourists who seem to not only expect National Geographic like scenes throughout the entire tour but also that the animals will be doing some sort of song and dance complete with top hat and cane. The worst reaction I ever saw took place while I was in Queensland, Australia where I watched a woman take a strip off a tour guide because the ONE crocodile we saw on a river cruise had the audacity to be sleeping when we puttered by. So I reiterate, I am not a dolt when it comes to observing wildlife – I appreciate that sightings are a gamble. That being said, I feel I should have better prepared myself for what transpired during my first ever whale watching trip. I’m not sure if it was the freak hail storm or the apparent rare claps of thunder, but looking back now it would seem both instances were harbingers to the outlandish aquatic exploration that was to come. And one heck of an epic day on the Canadian west coast.
Shortly after we piled onto our OPEN boat (as in no top, just you and the elements – great idea on paper, not such a great idea during a downpour) – myself, seventeen other credit card paying arm chair adventurers, and two overly excited guides, all sailed due north, to where sightings of whales were supposedly quite frequent. Upon our arrival we were only met with more rain and thunder along with a small group of harbour seals who, based on the judgey looks they gave us, seriously questioned our sanity about being out in such dreadful weather.
Looking back now, I realize how much I life-coached my way through the entire experience – both mentally and physically. I managed to navigate through several stages of self-actualization and mental reasoning in order to justify my decision to pay someone to take me out on a boat in absolutely despicable weather only to participate in the oceanic equivalent of Where’s Waldo – or the liquid version of trying to find needle in a haystack. While I can’t speak for my fellow whale enthusiasts, I strongly suspect they, too, were experiencing similar WTF emotions.
Here is the Coles notes account of what my brain processed during the SEVEN HOURS we were at sea – with no whales in sight…
- First 90 minutes. No whales sighted but even though it was pouring heavily the scenery was stunningly beautiful. I congratulated myself on being fortunate enough to even have the experience.
- Hour 2 to 3. After talking with our tour guide about whale behaviour – specifically breaching behaviour (Do you know they are going to do it or does it just happen? Answer: Usually just happens) I telepathically started willing nature to have a whale breach within view just so we can say we saw one in all its grandeur and finally head home to dry out.
- Hour 4. Excitement abounded when we saw what we thought was the dorsal fin of an Orca, only to find out that it was what is humourously referred to as a Cedar whale (that is, a floating cedar log with a large limb still attached which looks like an orca’s dorsal fin from a distance). At this point I started agreeing with the harbour seals and began questioning my own sanity for willingly PAYING for the experience of being damp, cold, and literally stuck out at sea.
- Hour 5. As we headed back to Vancouver harbour and Howe Sound, our starting point, our captain got word that a whale was spotted about 30 minutes away. As a united front we mumbled agreement between shivers to extend our journey in the hopes of finally seeing a whale. Thankfully we were not disappointed. Hallelujah!
- Hours 6 to 7. While tracking a female humpback for the better part of an hour the sun FINALLY peeked through the clouds. My hands started to thaw out and my melancholy lifted…slightly. You see the thing about whales that I should have realized is how incredibly LONG they can hold their breath. After seven hours of rough seas, frigid downpours, and cursing Mother Nature, I got to see about five quick glimpses of the back end of a whale. Majestic and stunning, yes, but at that point I was so over whales, being on a boat, and Mother Nature herself, that I would have done ANYTHING for a hot shower and a sandwich. It took everything in me not to kiss the dock when we finally made land. Peeling the damp monstrosity that was my boat “outfit” from my body was the best feeling of life – I simply cannot describe it.
So was my last day in the great land of British Columbia. Admittedly, as I methodically packed my suitcase for my trip home (which may or may not have been filled with B.C. made dog treats) I felt a little sad for having to leave such a magnificent location – one that was not only naturally majestic but environmentally conscious. I am extremely fortunate to have been able to see the city by land, sea, and air – an interconnection deeply rooted in the First Nations community who first called that land home. As I boarded my plane I made a promise to myself that I would return, only next time I would head to the wilds – on land.