What I did on my summer vacation…

I missed summer vacation last year, and (living up to my reputation as “hardest working MP”) I was horrified to realize I hadn’t had two days off in a row since Christmas. So I was bound and determined to have some seriously lazy days in the summer of 2014 —  or regret it throughout what will be an increasingly intense time leading up to the next federal election in 2015.

I blocked off August 11 to 22 and then the question – where to go?  The answer was obvious.  I live in paradise.  I didn’t want to go anywhere.  All I wanted was to stay home and visit friends in my own riding.  I had a wonderful restful time.  I almost managed not to work at all.

My holiday began by sailboat.   A friend with a boat is a good thing, and four of us headed out for an easy sail from a Sidney marina to Salt Spring Island.  I had actually started my day much earlier that morning in Ganges to protest the building of a private monster home on top of a First Nations cemetery on tiny Grace Islet.  Just below town.  Vacation or no, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to demonstrate solidarity with the Elders of the Tsawout, Cowichan, Tsartlip, and Penelakut First Nations who had come to Ganges to press for a solution to prevent further desecration of the burial grounds.  I raced back by ferry to join my friends at the wharf for the beginning of holidays.

We stayed ashore with my adopted mom on Salt Spring after a wonderful dinner at Salt Spring Inn.  The Inn is also a welcoming restaurant and we ate out on the terrace to enjoy the warm evening breezes and the view of Ganges Harbour.  The crabcakes are my favourite, but it’s hard to decide because everything is delicious.

The next day we sailed to Galiano where we were giving ourselves a serious treat by staying at the Galiano Inn and Spa.  We docked at Montegue Harbour on the other side of the island to avoid having to navigate Active Pass and the ferry traffic.  Conny Nordin, owner of the inn, drove over to pick us up and made the offer of lending us a smart car for use while on the island (something they offer customers, whether a visiting MP or not!).  But, honestly, once I got to the inn I had no desire to budge.  The rooms have ocean views, with outdoor terraces complete with fireplaces, and are gorgeous.  The paths through the inn lead past lily covered ponds that look like a Monet painting, with a slightly Japanese garden feel due to the little buildings set aside for massage treatments.  It’s really heavenly.  It was a hot day and while my friends decided to shower before dinner, I opted for a dip in the ocean.  The beach right in front of our room had the softest sand I have ever encountered and the water was the warmest I have experienced on the west coast.

I had last stayed at the inn in February when it serves as the venue for the annual Galiano Literary Festival.  The restaurant lived up to my memory of great homemade bread and locally sourced everything.  In fact, a lot of the organic veggies we were eating had come from our waitress’s garden.  And the seafood dishes were fabulous.  But the best was yet to come.  I mentioned loving the swimming to our waitress and she urged us to swim after dark.  “There’s phosphorescence,” she said.

The sailboat captain friend made the mistake of heading back to the boat for the night, accepting Conny’s kind offer of a drive. It took a lot to get my friends into the cold water, but the idea of phosphorescence did it!  While I swam, they waded.  Every time our feet made impact with the sand, a cloud of light burst forth.  I swam in the shallows and plunged my hands into the sand, fingers splayed to create the maximum points of impact.  It was stunning.  The light burst out in little angular shapes, like actual pieces of lightning under water.  I scooped up the sand and flung it around me as I swam.

We breakfasted at another local favourite. Grand Central boasts “the world’s best eggs benny” and I won’t disagree.  The place has the feel of an old fashioned diner, with a giant jukebox, but also an eclectic collection of artwork and bric a brac.

It was rainy and cool when Conny brought us back to Montegue Harbour and the dock.  Our wharf time was nearly up so we pushed off under motor, and feeling a bit glum about the change in weather.  Still, we couldn’t know it would be our best day out on the water.

Motoring along, our captain suggested going down to the tip of Saturna and then up along south Pender Island and then on to Sidney.  I mentioned that Saturna is great for whale watching and that seemed to seal the deal.  Still, no one really thought seeing whales was a sure thing.  We had been doing well in wildlife spotting, although it is so routine to see bald eagles and seals, otters and herons, that it doesn’t seem to count.

As we got close to the tip of Saturna, we could see a cluster of whale watch boats.  We were quickly surrounded by a pod of whales.  Shutting off the engine to avoid bothering the whales, we saw we were in the path of three heading our way.  We could hear them breathing.  And in one breathtaking sweep, a whale crested along our side, took a breath and swam directly underneath the boat.  Her black and white back was visible through the water only a few feet below our hull.

Back on shore, my vacation continued staying with friends in the Highlands above Victoria.  For a treat, we went to Butchart Gardens for dinner and an outdoor concert with the brilliant group of musicians known as Pink Martini.  Between dinner and the concert, we strolled through the gardens.  No matter how often I go to Butchart Gardens, I never tire of the sunken garden, the Japanese garden and the extraordinary story of how a limestone quarry for a cement plant was transformed by the wife of the owner, Jennie Butchart, into one of Canada’s leading tourist destinations.

One last destination was on my summer plan, a visit with an old friend on Saturna Island.  We hiked in the Gulf Island National Park Reserve.  A large part of Saturna is within the park.  Susie and I hoped for more whale spotting, as land-based whale watching is fabulous on Saturna.  Thanks to local fundraising and the persistence of local residents, including former Senator Pat Carney, the old Fog Alarm Building within the park has been restored and is maintained by volunteers and summer students to share the history of the island.  It has become a magnet for scientific symposia exploring what we know, and what we don’t know, about orcas.  We had a great walk to the point, enjoyed the comical oyster catchers with their bright red beaks and flamboyant feet, but no whales.

Still, I thought as Susie and I cleared the dinner table outside after my last meal on vacation, I did have a really close encounter with whales on the sailboat.  And nothing can quite touch the feeling of setting myself alight with particles of sand pretending to be fireflies.  And then suddenly, there they were.  Swimming toward us along Tumbo Channel came five (or was it six?) orcas.  As we whooped and cheered for them, they frolicked.  Spy-hopping and crashing back into the water.  Diving and swimming and crashing in the water just in front of the deck.

Now, I am sure some of my constituents would rather I hadn’t shared all this with you.  But the thing is, Saanich-Gulf Islands is an amazing place.  We want to keep tankers out of our waters because we love our whales and we want to protect forests and waters because we care about our wild salmon.  It is no accident that Vancouver Island is the first place in Canada to elect a Green MP, and it is no accident that we will elect more.  We also have wonderful businesses offering people from elsewhere in Canada and around the world a chance to experience incredible beauty.  Come and visit.

And now, I better finish this blog.  I just took the ferry from Saturna to Pender.  My first day back at work is Pender Fall Fair.  Honestly, I cannot call a day on Pender and Fall Fair work.  Maybe this is just another day off?