Sunday, November 19, 2017

Autrans Cross Country Skiing - Start of the Season

It's that time of the year again, when a white blanket covers the surrounding peaks and we dust off our skis.  It's quite not enough yet for downhill skiing (at least not in the near vicinity), so today we went out for a short cross country trip with the kids in Autrans.  A 7.0km loop in 1h20, not bad :))

Winter is here, but some still resist...

Taking a water break after the long climb up to the station.

Surprisingly the kids are not complaining too much.

Tom is sporting a green goatee on his chin ;) 

The most entertaining part of the trip.  Penguin sliding.


10 points for the perfect body alignment.

The duo.

Ahh that sibling love.  Actually nice when they get along ;)

Not much, but better than sitting at home.

Friday, April 7, 2017


Our Vancouver Island trip was rather epic partly due to the vehicle we chose to travel in.  We decided to take our beloved 1990 Astro Chevy, which was our former Canadian vehicle that took us around on trips thousands of kilometers including the US.  At this point, the retired grandpa vehicle had been repaired, patched up and has seen many places in its lifetime.  Currently, it serves my mom as a camping vehicle on rare occasions.  In order to save some money on car rental, we opted out for using the van but already in Victoria we noticed a few minor "flaws".  One day we went to the swimming pool and as it was a hot day, we opened the windows to cool down.  In a matter of moments, I felt like my eyes were full of dust particles and then realized my face was also covered with some grit.  We soon found out that the polyurethane ceiling liner was basically disintegrating and was crumbling down on top of our heads which was not the most pleasant experience.  I told the kids to put on their swimming goggles and towel on their heads for the ride back home in order to avoid being coated in plastic particles.   Clearly, we could not travel like this, so Jakub the toolman fixed the problem with the help of my mom, by taping garbage bags onto the ceiling with duct tape.  It gave our van a whole new stylish look...the kids started giving the van various nick names:  duster van, garbage can, hippie van, etc.  On another note, the suspension was practically non-existant in the car, so on any type of bumpy road (there are plenty on the trip up-island), we were bouncing up and down in our seats, as if we were on some amusement ride.  

When Jakub told our friend Adam we were traveling in this car (which was supposed to take us around Vancouver Island and the Mainland), he made a bet with Jakub that we would not make it all the way.  So the winning party would get a bottle of hard liquor.  The bet was set, we packed our camping and sports gear, and off we went for another adventure...Our trip was structured around nature (and re-visiting places we used to go when we lived in Canada) as well as our friends; to visit as many as possible and to catch up.   I was really craving the space and wilderness that we don't have in Europe, but to my dismay I realized, that things have changed in five years.

Sombrio Beach

This is a popular spot for surfers and campers and it's quite amazing.   It was always the "hippie beach" where tourists would not go as much.  The beach is far from the parking lot, so it's a bit more remote, meaning that hopefully there would be less people.  Unfortunately on a summer weekend, the beach was very busy with people, but we still managed to find a nice spot to camp and enjoy the ocean views.

Anna exploring the cold ocean waters.

Jakub bravely swimming in the ocean.

Sunset sausage dinner.  Yum, yum.

Picture - perfect! :)

I think this was moose sausage from Adam. ;)

S'MORES!!! The typical north-american campfire treat.

I must admit I really missed the Westcoast sunsets in Europe.  You never really see the low sunset in the mountains where we live.

We had two tents.  The kids had their own at this point.

Driftwood Shelter.

Cowichan Valley

Our next stop was at the Gordon River where we visited Jeff's memorial.  We then followed the dirt roads to the Cowichan valley, realizing our back doors did not seal properly, so all the road dust was now covering our belongings and the car inside needed a good de-dusting.  At this point we ran into our first serious issue.  The steering wheel stopped working properly and Jakub just barely drove our car to a parking lot near Cowichan lake to stop and inspect.  It was clear from the ground that fluid was leaking from the car and by logical deduction, we discovered that the steering fluid had leaked out completely. Upon closer look, Jakub found the tubing was broken and every time we drove into a turn, huge amounts of fluid were leaking out.  It was like a punctured aorta to be more precise.   We had no back-up fluid so the plan was to reach the nearest shop to replenish the fluid and try to temporarily tape up the tubing.   Since the car was not going anywhere anyways we went for a dip in the lake first.

Kids enjoying the lake - here we met only 3 people.

But the water was cooooold.  I think this is as far as I went.
We did manage to drive to the nearest shop (even though it was a nail biting situation) and bought steering fluid + some fluid to clog the hole - this did not help.  So we had to keep pouring liters of fluid in as we kept driving, and try to drive straight only - ha, ha.  You should have seen us trying to park without turning the stirring wheel.  We now made our way to Stephen and Cara's farm in the Cowichan Valley near Duncan - Brightside Blueberries (and such).  Cara and Stephen have a wonderful farm that they run themselves, where they grow many veganic crops and they also take care of several cats and two dogs.  We first got a tour of the farm, then the kids went swimming in the tiny lake on the property, and finally we had a nice evening chatting over vegan dinner and some drinks, including Chartreuse that we brought along on our trip to share with everyone.  The Chartreuse is quite specific - either people love it or they hate it....  Anna fell in love with the cats and spent most of the time hanging out with all the new animal friends.

Farm life is so peachy.

Like a pro.

Getting the farm tour.

Sweet blackberries.

Blueberries - apparently the most profitable.

Kids cooling down in the lake.

Goofing off.

Furry friends.

The next day, we drove to Wayne and Glenna's place.  They are such sweet and hospitable friends.  Our kids got to use their hot tub while we chatted downstairs to catch up on the past five years.

Hot tub time!

With Wayne and Glenna.


Our next mission was to reach Nanaimo visit Joe, Gill, Norah and Phoebe.   While we were waiting for our van go get fixed, we went to the lake and had a nice visit with our friends.  This was our first time to meet Norah and Phoebe - two very energetic girls.  The boys (and Norah) then helped out Joe chop some wood.

Building sand castles.

Tommy loved this lake tree.

Phoebe, the little cutie pie.

Tommy helping uncle Joe chop some wood.

Norah was also helping out.

Jakub and Joe working hard.

As far as the van repair went, the car shop did not have the correct tubing because our car is after all 27 years ancient, so they had to order it in from Vancouver.  Because that would delay us two extra days, we decided to move on to our most northern destination with the plan to get it fixed on the way back.  So off to Tofino we went.

I forgot to mention that we bought some colorful spray paint to make graffiti on our hippie van, but due to time and weather constraints we never got around to it - what a shame!!!


In my mind, five years ago, Tofino was still a total hippie village where the surfer bums would go and hang out.  Uculelet was a total little hole, unknown to most people.  Well this has changed radically. It now seems to be the tourist place to go, with every surf rental place packed with people renting boards and suits (including ourselves).  Villas, expensive clothes and brand-names everywhere. Hippies outnumbered by snobs and tourists.  Justin Trudeau spending his family vacation there.... and then came the search for a camping spot.  There are only so many campsites available, as it is inside the national park and everything seemed to be completely full.  We lucked out and managed to find a spot for one night, but then had to look for another spot in a different camp the next day.  If you wanted to make a campfire, there was no wood in the forest and even if you caved in and were willing to pay for wood, it was sold out anyways.  I don't remember it being like this before.  Where are the "good old days" I asked my self over and over.  I felt trapped and not exactly free.  While it's still a spectacular place to visit, off season might be smarter, because the crowds just destroy the magic.

The last spot we found in a camp of several hundred sites.

Like two peas in a pod.

Tofino is all about being cool hipster and buying expensive stuff.

The whole point of going to Tofino is to enjoy the ocean, which means you gotta get in it of course!  So we planned to do some surfing and sea kayaking.  First on the list was surfing.  We rented out boards, nice warm wetsuits and off we went.  We had decent weather (relatively warm) and good size beginner waves.  Tommy was super addicted and loved it.  He was screaming with joy and we spent the whole afternoon in the water.


Our two little penguins.

Anna with the body board.

Going out to catch those waves.

A little bit of surfin'

Tommy surfin' - he never stood up, he preferred to just lie on the board but enjoyed it.

Jakub having a go :D (OK the wave was wayyy bigger at the start)

We also had time to explore the beach a bit. Jakub went for a 10k run while we went to the visitor center.  Then I went jogging for a 7k run and this is when I finally felt totally liberated.  It was a foggy afternoon, not a person in sight and while I was running along the ocean, whales came up several meters from me, blowing water out of their blowholes.  It was just amazing.  And then a few minutes later, eagles were soaring right above my head, also just mere meters away.  I was absolutely mesmerized.  What a great memory!  I guess you just have to get away from the main beaches where everyone practically drives in.

One evening we met up with Conor.  He came to our camp and we had a bunch of beers together.  He was very busy with his fishing job so he could stay only shortly and we did miss seeing his family this time around - hopefully next time we can meet up better ;).

Going for a walk along the beach.

Anna in action.


Like father, like son.

Beach Treasures

On our last day in Tofino, we went on a guided sea kayaking tour to Meares Island.  Our guide was a very sympathetic young guy who knew the history and ecology very well.  His talk was very captivating and even the kids were interested.  It was nice to see the giant cedar trees and old growth forest again.

Anna and Jakub in double sea kayak.

Tommy and I shared another kayak.

Really neat cedar boardwalk trails in the old growth forest.

The ancient grandpa cedar tree.

Neatly parked on the shore.

Back at the colorful wharf.

After a nice west coast dinner (hamburger with yam fries and a pint of homebrew), we finally went to our duster van to move on to our next sleeping destination.  But something was odd -- the control on the dashboard was indicating we had less than a half charged battery. There was suspicion that we left the lights on, but the battery should have recharged while we were driving, and it did not.  Jakub quickly figured out it's a serious problem - the alternator was dead.  It was night, we did not book any campsite, and our battery was draining slowly but surely.  Since we had to use lights, it was draining that much faster.  The plan in this case, was to find an emergency camping spot along the road on the way back to Victoria to save energy.  In the morning we would try to drive back as far as possible on the remaining power we had.

We basically parked on the nearest dirt road we found, but it was still a decent location considering the situation we were in.  The next morning we had our fingers crossed if the car will start up.  We were very lucky because miraculously we got it going, but after hopping in, we could not stop - no pea breaks, or lunch breaks, we had to keep driving to be within 200km of Victoria, so that our insurance would cover towing us back.

By the time we drove to Port Alberni which is 194km from Victoria, all the electronics died but the one bar of battery still allowed us to drive to the Canadian Tire parking lot.  From here we called the tow truck and had to salute our duster van goodbye as it was towed back to Victoria.  At this point we decided we would not invest money to repair it for the second part of our trip and rented a car instead. It was quite exciting to be riding this old hippie van, but at some point you want to use your free time for vacation and not worry about car repairs or whether the car will make it one more day.

What an adventure though!!  In case you wonder what happened to the Van, it was repaired and it's still alive at my mom's place.  And the bet?  Well Adam won it, and we still owe him that bottle of Chartreuse ;)

Duster Van getting prepped for the towing back to Victoria.

Grandpa van got tired.

Saluting our van.   He served us well.