Thurs. Aug. 27, 2015:
Victoria to Salt Spring Island, BC:
Our hotel did not have free breakfast and we were all out of snacks. My iPod would not open iTunes and in my hungry state I actually attempted to load podcasts onto the iPad- it was not a good idea, in fact it was quite awkward. I made in-room coffee but somehow while I was brushing my teeth it had managed to overflow the mug and spill everywhere. When we got to the car rental place I noticed that the internet had lied and it actually opened a few hours earlier (even if that meant having to wake up early).
The TransCanda Highway appears to be the only route between Victoria and Nanaimo. We wondered aloud what happens if there is an accident, and then we saw that they had u-turn pull offs for just such cases. They also had scenic overlooks. We missed the first one and there was no easy to way to get back to it. Five minutes later there was another one so it all worked out in the end. We had gorgeous views of the river and the islands the mountains. We could see Salt Spring Island where we would be staying and the San Juan Islands where we had previously stayed. We were using Brent’s phone to determine what we were looking at.
We were going to Nanaimo, BC with sole purpose of me getting to eat as many nanaimo bars as I could whilst IN Nanaimo, BC: the namesake and the birthplace of one of the best desserts of all time. There were many (seriously, over twenty) places to choose from. I had researched it ahead of time and had narrowed it to two contenders, with an open slot: if I passed anything whilst walking between the two I might stop. Nanaimo bars are rich and prone to melting, making them terrible to binge-eat and difficult to save for later, hence the truncated tour of the Nanaimo Trail. (Seriously, they called it that and there was even a map on the website).
The first stop on our mini tour was Serious Coffee. Although it is a chain coffee shop, apparently only in Nanaimo do they serve nanaimo bars. The reasoning was twofold: 1.) coffee, enough said. 2.) they were the popular choice, having been voted best nanaimo bar a few times. It gets creativity points for having peanuts in the base and it had a lot of filling. Was it the best? That is hard to say, it was good but not outstanding. We also made the mistake of getting a lemon bar, it was not that good and too much food. To fuel me for our walk I had a cinnamon latte. On the way we passed by a bakery that had a Nanaimo trail sticker in the window. I had to go in to Mon Petit Choux and investigate. The nanaimo bars looked delicious (even though I had just eaten one). It was served to me in a small box with a ribbon. Maybe it would survive transport to be eaten later? it would have to because there was no way I could eat it at the moment. I was really intrigued by it, the filling was a lighter shade of yellow making me think maybe it was not as rich and somehow that made it seem even more appealing. Stop two, well now three, was Pirate Chips: a pirate themed restaurant. This nanaimo bar was the exact opposite end of the spectrum: the novelty pastry. I was here for the deep-fried nanaimo, finally I would get to sink my teeth into it. For years I was curious about it since it was supposed to be sold at the CNE until the vendor pulled out at the last minute. I placed the order to-go and the lady warned me that it would not survive well later. We walked down to the marina with it and pretty much devoured it. The ice cream and the whipped cream were completely unnecessary. The nanaimo held up surprisingly well, maintaining its structure and it deep-fried very well. It was so melty and delicious and it had just the right amount of batter. I had reached nanaimo-satiety. Downtown Nanaimo was ok, it was like any other small town main street. The whole time walking back I was worried that my massage bar from LUSH was going to melt, I had left it in the car.
Driving to the ferry to take us to Salt Spring Island we drove by the world’s stinkiest factory. It was a mixture of sauerkraut, all-dressed chips and stale farts. We had a clear view of the smelly offender from the ferry. As we queued up to board the ferry there was a giant truck in front of us, however it was not clear if he was also queued up or just waiting for the ferry traffic to clear. Once the cars ahead started moving he just sat there so we started going around him. As we pulled up beside him Brent rolled down his window to clarify if we had cut or not, and if need be to apologize. Turns out we had skipped the line but the guy did not seem to care at all. We also had no idea what he said, we guessed all this. We had missed the 12:10 ferry and assumed we would be departing on the next one at 1:15. However, as soon as we boarded the ferry left. No arguments here, I do not care if they stick to the schedule or not. The ride itself was only 15 minutes long. Again we had many beautiful views of the surrounding landscape and we saw a seal. Walking back to the car I passed by the giant truck and for a second was alarmed to see feet sticking out from underneath. Sitting in the car waiting to disembark, even with the windows rolled down, the car was a sauna and we could not turn the engine on yet. I was getting antsy in addition to the dizziness. I was worried about my nanaimo bar and massage bar. Both did not deal well with heat.
We drove by a yellow-grass dried out golf course. I could hear in my head what it was must sound like to walk on it, crunch crunch crunch. You could see how bad the drought was. We passed a sign for the Salt Spring Cider Co. but I had noticed it too late. Or so I thought, Brent pulled a nice u-turn and we headed back. On the side road we also saw a deer on its way back into the woods. It stopped for a moment to look at us. At the ciderworks I could see people peeling apples and feeding them into a big juicing machine. I had high hopes for this cider. It had better be good I thought, what with the exorbitant price I paid. The high price was only slightly dampened by the nice swing top bottle the cider came in. And the size of the cider bottle too I guess.
We were staying at the Hastings House, it was cute and cozy. There was no a/c but at least this time the room had a fan. Our names (yes, my behemoth of a last name) were written on our door. It was a nice touch. The info binder in our room informed us that there is lots of wildlife to be seen on the island, especially bald eagles. We had not given up on that quest. Our room also had a gorgeous antique wooden chest just mocking me. I was tempted to steal it, for only a split second. Nanaimo bar #3 had suffered from the heat and was in a terrible state of melt. I put it in the fridge but after about 20 minutes I could not wait. Surely it would have re-solidified and regained structural integrity? If only I had been more patient. The nanaimo bar was still very melty and difficult to hold. It was an awkward situation and almost as if in slow motion, I brought it to my lips and in that upward action it started to teeter and collapse in on itself, tumbling in the air, bouncing off my shirt and *plop*…. A terrible, horrible, awful mess on the carpeted floor. It was just about the worst possible thing that could have happened. At least if I had gotten one bite! But no, all I got was a lick of filling. And it was damn good filling, much better than Serious Coffee. Quite possibly the best nanaimo bar filling I have ever had. And now it was all gone, in a horrible CSI-worthy mess on our hotel room floor. The kicker was that this was lunch. And it was too early for afternoon tea at the hotel. I was lunch-less.
Drove to see what “downtown” was like. It was just a few shops around a marina and no sign of fast food. We were going to Ruckle Park because according to the internet this was our best bet for seeing a bald eagle. On the way we passed by a lot of hitch-hiking hippies, quite a few of whom were heading to Ruckle Park. We started to wonder where exactly it was we were going. Was Ruckle Park actually a hippy commune?! It was a nice easy hike, really more of a scenic walk. We had beautiful views of the other islands, and we could see the ferry we had been on a few days ago, off in the distance. Again we could see the San Juan Islands too. There was a lot of looking at places we had just visited and realizing we had been looking at where we were now. We did not see any whales or any eagles. All we saw was dried out landscape. We had to cut our hike short because the path was quarantined. The only wildlife we saw was a deer in the parking lot a few feet away. We could hear it rustling and slowly it came into view. Driving back to the hotel we saw 4 young deer grazing by the side of the road.
I was getting hangry, very hangry. Back in the hotel, we had just missed afternoon tea so I resorted to eating the lemon bar. With each bite I made a face. Watching the Food Network did not help matters. Thankfully the Merridale Cider I had from Vancouver was delicious and enough to distract me until it was time for our dinner reservation at the hotel restaurant. The hotel had two restaurants, one was a fancy place with a prix fixe menu and the other was a bistro. Tonight we were having a fancy dinner so we had to dress the part. We had quite the debate over who had ordered the better appetizer. It was really difficult to decide, both the scallop ceviche and the venison carpaccio were delicious. I contend I won for the best main, I am not a fan of halibut but it was delicious. I’m also not a fan of lamb, even if it is locally raised lamb from the island. For dessert we split a chocolate pate and a cheeseboard. The chocolate pate was a little too rich for me. I was also not having the goat cheese, although I discovered that plum preserves can make it (and by proxy themselves) quite palatable. The overall winner of the dinner was actually the amuse bouche: a pickled quail egg topped with salmon and caviar. We overheard the lady at the table ask the waiter, in the utmost serious manner, “who peels the quail eggs?” and then she chuckled to herself at the thought of someone sitting in the kitchen peeling a pile of small eggs.