The time in England flew past too quickly and it was soon time to head off again for the second phase of our trip. We were due to catch the Easybus to Gatwick airport at 6.30am on the Monday morning. The 6.30 bus did not show and we eventually bordered the 7am one. This got us to Gatwick at 8.50am for our 10.10 flight and this earned us a telling off from the lady at the check in desk, even though we had already checked in on line. We looked suitably ashamed of ourselves (!) and hurried through security and straight to the gate for boarding.
9 hours later and we landed in Vancouver. We caught the skytrain into the City centre and a taxi to our hotel. Our budget hotel. Whilst the hotel itself was perfectly adequate, we had not realised that it was in one of the dodgiest areas in Vancouver, East Hastings Street. We soon realised this when we took a walk. It was incredibly sad to see so many people clustered in a few streets who clearly had a huge range of problems including homelessness, significant alcohol and drugs use and mental health issues. Neither of us had ever witnessed such a sad sight, in such a volume, before. People who were clearly in a desperate state, moving around as though they were zombies due to the nature of the drugs they were taking. This impacted on us so much we read up about the area on line. We walked to Gastown and Canada place, where we watched the sea planes land and saw one of the huge cruise ships that leaves here for Alaska.
The following day, we caught the ferry to Vancouver island which was to be our home for the next 4 weeks. The ferry ride was beautiful-as we headed towards the green, tree clad hills and rugged coast of Vancouver island. We had arranged to do a voluntary placement for 5 weeks at a vineyard in Cowichan valley. Following the ferry crossing, we caught the local bus to Cowichan valley and were met at the bus stop by Mark, our host. He took us the short ride to the vineyard, Rocky Creek, in a beautiful location overlooking the hills. Mark and Linda are the owners of Rocky Creek and we also met Kathryn and Mikkel, 2 other volunteers from Denmark. We were really impressed with Rocky Creek and Mark and Linda`s passion for the wine and their business. They started making the wine in the basement of their last house, before moving to their current location, which they have built up with the help of friends and family. Everything is grown on the island, they have 4 vineyards and the grapes are handpicked, processed and hand bottled on site. They hope to pass the business on to one of their daughters , who is studying wine making at University, one day. They have won more awards than any other vineyard on the island and we were very proud to have worked for them for a short while.
The next 5 weeks were spent working at Rocky Creek and we had such a wonderful experience. We carried out a variety of tasks including gardening, bottling the wine (over 2,000 bottles), working with the grapes in the vineyard (shooting is the technical term!), washing glasses for the tasting room and working at a stall on a huge outdoor market. I got off to a typical Jen start, as full of enthusiasm on day 1, I ended up falling over with the hosepipe, which I switched on and proceeded to douse myself with water! Rocky Creek is a small family owned and run vineyard and in addition to growing grapes and producing a variety of wine, there was a tasting room in the beautiful gardens at the back of the house. Tour groups and individuals visited on a daily basis and we got to meet some of them when working in the gardens. We slept in a caravan at the back of the vineyard and ate in the house with Mark and Linda and the others. Mark was an excellent cook and we were treated to a huge variety of really tasty dinners each evening!
We both really enjoyed the gardening-to the extent that when we visited other gardens on our days off, I was pulling up the occasional weed! We spent some time bottling the wine, by hand, with 4 of us working as a team on the process. This was great fun, my job was to cork the wine after Mark had bottled it-and I used a machine that pressed the cork into the bottle. Gav`s job was to heat seal the bottles. We bottled about 2,000 bottles and it was really satisfying to see them packaged and ready for tasting and sale. We had some great chats during the process and also the occasional dance when becoming a little stir crazy after bottling so much wine!
At this time of year, the grapes are still in the process of growing and were absolutely tiny. Our job in the vineyard was to work up each row of vines and snap off shoots that either had no grapes growing or not many grapes growing on them. This will then give the other grapes the chance to grow bigger. It was repetitive work and we covered a lot of vines across the 3 vineyards in different locations. We worked in sunshine and absolute pouring rain, with our waterproofs on and our ipods on to distract us from the repetitive nature of the work.
Gav and I spent a day at a Street market in Victoria, staffing a stall for the winery. We both really enjoyed talking to the customers and I (Jen) was pouring small samples so they could taste. We sold quite a lot of wine and I ended up with purple fingers from so much wine pouring! We were also selling the wine that we had helped to bottle a few weeks earlier, which was a great experience.
Canada is bear country and I had already watched some you tube videos when back in the UK, about how to stay safe from bears! Very early on morning 1, when walking to the toilet from the caravan, I realised I had not checked about the bear situation with Mark and Linda! One of the tips to prevent a bear encounter, is to make a noise, so I started to click my fingers in a bit of a rhythm as I walked the few hundred metres to the loo! Later I checked with Linda that there have been no bears around the vineyard so no more musical trips to the toilet were needed! A week or so later, we were out in a hire car and saw our first bear by the side of the road! We stopped a reasonable distance away and watched in awe as it crossed the road a couple of times, before ambling back into the forest. There are between 9 and 11,000 black bears on Vancouver island, alongside wolves and cougars! I have read all of the safety leaflets and purchased some bear bells, which allegedly will let the bears know I am coming, so they will avoid me!!
We got 2 days off a week and I think we appreciated them more because we were working. We visited Victoria, the capital of the island and really enjoyed exploring it`s coast, including cattle point and the quaint floating houses and restaurants at Fisherman`s wharf ; the lovely Beacon hill Park which hugs the coastline and has the world`s tallest totem pole; the imposing British Colombia Parliament buildings and the fantastic Royal BC museum which was so interesting and informative about First nations people, the natural world and the history of BC. We went on a whale watching trip from Cowichan Bay and were delighted to see a few orca (Killer)whale families, with young whales about 3 month old who would come right out of the water as they were swimming. We also spotted bald eagles, native birds of prey to North America. We also visited the imposing Cathedral Grove rainforest, where the trees were dense and massive; and the rugged Pacific rim national Park where we visited the huge beaches which are lined with dense rainforests and full of huge pieces of driftwood from trees. It was a beautiful place and we did some short walks through the forest onto the beaches , whilst taking care to make enough noise so the bears, wolves and cougars would avoid us!! There were notices up about the bears, wolves and cougars and I have all the safety leaflets so am now an expert in how to avoid or deal with an encounter! We also drove into Tofino and went to the wonderful botanic gardens which led down to the shore.
So where is Ruby whilst we have been working and enjoying ourselves on Vancouver island? She is still sailing the high seas! She left Chile on the 12th May, apparently got delayed somewhere near Panama, changed ships in Mexico and is still at sea!! She is due to arrive in Vancouver on the 23rd May and we hope to get her back the following week. Our wonderful friend Dane, who we met in South America, and lives and works in shipping in Vancouver has handled the whole shipping process for us and will help us get Ruby back!
We are due to leave the wonderful Rocky Creek on the 25th May, when we will head back to Vancouver for a week. We will spend my birthday and Canada day there, before heading North towards the Alaskan border. It will be great to see her again and get going on the next phase of this epic road trip!