Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Going to high school

Markus is going to high school next week! Wow, he's a big boy now in a big school, the same one Gabriel is attending, as did Mickey and Gino.

I took the afternoon off yesterday to bring him to his school orientation. On the way, I gave him a bus orientation. Although I'd be dropping him and Gabriel off on my way to work in the morning, they'd be taking the bus home. I was a bit apprehensive.

"You have to go home with Kuya Gabriel for the first few days until you get used to taking the bus," I told Markus.

"I know how to take the bus, Mom. You get on the bus, drop your ticket, and walk to an empty seat," he replied. "And no talking to strangers..."

"Yeah, but you need to know where to get off," I answered back.

"I know where to get off, by Budget Brake," he said, sounding very confident.

"Yeah, but you need to know when to pull the string. You have to do it before the stop," I said.

"I know that, Mom. Just like you do in Seattle," he said.

Yeah, but... yeah, but... yeah, but... I wanted to make sure he was really getting it.

"No skipping classes. You can't go to the mall during class. Go straight home," I stressed.

"I know, Mom," Markus answered.

"You have to be serious with your studies now. You're in high school," I said. "Join a club. Have some extra-curricular activity. Just don't neglect your studies...."

No to drugs... No to gambling... No to fooling around with loose girls...

Yes to good company..
. Yes to good grades... Yes to hard work...

I didn't actually say all these things yesterday, but I might as well throw them in here. After all, Markus has heard them from me before and will be hearing them again many times over.

As Markus steps into Grade 8, I have mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety. But I believe he will transition well and do a great job. MrBlossoms and I are praying regularly about this. Go for it, Markus!!

Friday, August 22, 2008

One-woman cheering squad

I enjoy the Summer Olympics. This is something I look forward to every four years. Nowadays, I stay up late at night and watch again at dawn to check Canada's medal standings. Go Canada!!

When it comes to sports, I am a very excitable spectator. My kids know this well. I cheer, I scream, I beat my hand on the couch... I could be watching anything--basketball, baseball, swimming, gymnastics, even what my boys say is the most boring game in the world--curling.

"Mom, the neighbours can hear you."

"Mom, what was that?"

"Mom, you're not allowed to watch sports."


"How can you watch a game without getting excited?" I retort. It's like sneezing without a sound. Not fun!

When Michael Phelps won gold in one swimming event, a TV station played back his mom's wild cheering at the the stands.

"See? That's what moms do!" I said.

"But he's not your son, Mom!" my boys said. Imagine if he were my son. You wouldn't want to sit next to me.

Sometimes I make the game more exciting to watch by rooting for the losing team. I like to see the underdog catch up and take the lead.

For instance, when the USA Redeem Team played against China, at the start I was cheering for the US basketball team although I'm not an NBA fan. "They're our neighbours," I said. When the US started leading, I shifted to China. "Come on, China!!!" My boys, who were busy playing on the computer, were more interested in reacting to me, rather than in watching what was happening on TV.

"OH NOOO!!! My team is losing!!" I said.

"What do you expect, Mom? You want the losing team," Markus said, somewhat befuddled.

Unless Canada's in the game, I don't really care much about which team wins. So I change sides depending on how I feel about the athletes, or who's winning or losing.

Although I may enjoy a game, it doesn't mean I understand how it's played. So I could be cheering for the wrong reason. Or, the wrong team.

"Mom, do you know what you are cheering about?" one of my boys would ask. No, not all the time. Does it matter? I'm not betting on any one.

It could take only a few minutes of watching a game to get me into a cheering mode as if I were a long-time fan. Then commercial break comes, I change the channel, and forget all about it.

This Olympics, I learned to whistle with my two fingers between my lips. A close-up of a whistling lady was flashed on the arena's huge screen, and I thought I could learn to do that, too. That got me started. Shwooo, shhooo, shwoooo... my whistles sounded airy and pathetic. I kept trying and trying, annoying the boys in the process.

"Mom!" Gabriel and Markus complained.

"I'm learning to whistle," I said. "You should learn something new every day." Whistling with my fingers is the new thing I will learn today.

After many attempts, I finally succeeded in producing a real, though faint, whistling sound. Whooot...

"Yay, I did it!!" I blurted. Every time Canada came out to play, I whistled with my fingers, though not always successfully.

"Mom, that's sad. That's why Canada is losing," my boys teased me.

Eventually, I got better at it. Whoooot... Still not consistently good, but getting there.

"Hah! You're just envious because you can't whistle," I tease my boys.

The Summer Games will be closing soon. My cheers will die down. But I will continue practicing my Olympic whistle. It will be better in 2012! Whoot! Whooooot!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


After an afternoon on the beach, we hiked the Rainforest Trail before going back to Ucluelet. The Rainforest Trail has two loops, one on each side of the highway. For lack of time we only took Trail B, which is 1 km. long.

This temperate forest is very thick. As you walk further, it becomes moist and very cool even on a sunny day. I read that only 5 to 10 percent of sunlight filters through the forest canopy. The red cedar and hemlock trees are old and gigantic, and the undergrowth, dense. There is one tree that is supposed to be more than 800 years old.

The trail is a boardwalk. It goes down, down, down,
then around and up.

It feels eerie in this forest. Very quiet. I made weird sounds to let any wildlife know that we were approaching. You don't want to surprise a bear or a cougar. Occasionally, my boys conspired to scare me by hiding behind trees or walking further ahead. Oh these boys...

Thank God, we made it out of the forest without any close encounter of the bear kind.

We made sure we were at the Ucluelet Campground before sundown because we still had to pitch our tent and cook our dinner. There is no electricity at our tent site.

Entrance to the Ucluelet Campground.

As soon as we found our site, the boys, led by Mr. Blossoms, immediately got to work. We were excited about our location under big tress.

Gino and Markus lay down large pieces of cardboard on the ground. Then they cover these with a blue tarp.

Next, setting up the tent and the canopy for the dining table.

Because we had not gone tenting in a long time, we did not know that one of the tent poles was broken. Thankfully, we had duct tape. We taped a little branch beside the pole like a cast. "Never leave home without duct tape," I said. In case you didn't know, I'm one of those people who think most anything can be fixed with duct tape and twist ties. I brought both.

The tent looks okay now.

Then Gino inflated the airbed.

Later, we discovered that the airbed was deflated. It must have a leak. Fortunately, we had a spare one.

Pitching a tent is not as cumbersome as I remembered it to be. Now that the kids are grown, there's more manpower to do the job. I helped some but mostly I left it to them. Sometimes getting on each other's nerves.

Starting the fire.

For dinner, we had bread, soup and bottled spicy sardines. Then we roasted hotdogs and marshmallows.

After dinner, we hid all the food, utensils and garbage in the van because these attract wildlife. Then there was nothing to do but sleep or stargaze. The boys slept. Mr. Blossoms and I watched the stars and satellites in the clear sky.

When it was time for me to sleep, I went inside the van and bundled myself in a sleeping bag at the back. I had no plan of sleeping in the tent. ("I call the van!") Besides only the 3 boys fit in it. Mr. Blossoms stretched himself in the inclined driver's seat. It was cold at night, but we were prepared for it.

I didn't sleep well because my left shoulder started acting up. In the morning, Mr. Blossoms and the boys were already making breakfast when I woke up.

Bacon and eggs.

I'm liking this.

After breakfast, I went to the shower with a token. You pay to use the shower here. $3 dollars for 6 minutes.

Then it was time to pack up. Camping was not a bad idea after all. The boys even liked it better than the hostel. We should have done this for two nights. I could have saved some.

Preparing to leave

We started our long trip back home at 10 am. While we were enjoying the sights along the highway, we saw a black bear again. Too bad, we missed another photo op.

We stopped at a national park in Port Alberni, hiked a trail again. By this time, we had seen enough forests. We did not stop anywhere else.

We were home before 6 pm. back to the comfort of our beds. We plan to go camping again. Next time I will sleep in a tent -- maybe.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chesterman, again

After lunch, we brought Gino to a surfing school in Tofino. I think he paid $79 for a three-hour lesson, including rental of the the surfboard and a wetsuit. When I feigned interest in learning to surf, Gabriel and Markus protested.

"No, Mom! You can't do it. You'll only hurt yourself," they said. Why, do you think I'm too old to surf?

"You haven't seen me surf," I said. (And that's because I haven't tried.)

"We've seen you skate. You kept falling every time you stood up," they echoed. Ooh, ouch! ... Ouch!

"It's different on the water," I kept throwing in arguments, for argument's sake. They kept biting.

"No, Mom. Just don't," they said every time.

Gino thought otherwise. He asked me if I wanted to have a surfing lesson too.

"Will I wear a life vest?" I asked.

"No," he said. That settled it for me. I can swim, but I don't like to be out in the ocean without a life vest. Besides, the water was too cold. Okay, the lesson was expensive. You lost me at $79.

After dropping Gino off, we went back to Chesterman Beach. We were excited when the sun came out at 3 pm after a cloudy morning. It was very warm and bright. The sunny forecast proved true though a little late. We thought it would be another false-cast.

Here are some photos taken that afternoon:

Gabriel and Markus spent a long time on the rocks watching the waves or wading in the water.

Eventually, they went waist-deep in the cold water. I read that water temperatures there range from 6-12 degrees.

I strolled on the beach hoping to see Gino among the surfers who came in groups, probably as a class. It was hard to recognize anyone from a distance. I kept looking for someone in dreds. I learned later that they went to a different beach.

I enjoyed walking barefoot on smooth sand. It felt good on the feet. Then I soaked my feet in the water but I didn't last a minute. I went back to our spot. We found a nice one where we laid our picnic mats and spread out the boy's towels on a large log.

That's me.

It was a wonderful afternoon--make that a wonderful day--to enjoy the beauty of God's creation. Ahhh, simple joys...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Beaches and trails

Right after breakfast, we packed our belongings, left the hostel and drove once again to Tofino where we planned to spend the whole day on the beach and the trails. We stopped over at the Pacific Rim Visitors' Centre at the Tofino-Ucluelet junction. If you are travelling to this area, I suggest you stop at the Visitors' Centre to get a map of the area and some useful information about the Pacific Rim National Park.

It was here that we learned that we needed to get a park pass to be able to park anywhere in the national park. For one family, it cost almost $20. This was good until the next day.

We also found out that mussel gathering was not allowed at all in the national park. "It is illegal to collect and remove natural or cultural objects," according to the brochure. Imagine, if we hadn't stopped over at the centre, we could have been charged or fined for breaking the law like collecting shells and sand, and parking illegally.

"How come the group was able to do it at Chesterman?" we wondered. I checked the map; it was outside the reserve.

At the centre, you can also find bear warnings so you can avoid those trails where there was a recent bear activity. Remember, this is black bear country. Wolves and cougar country too.

Our first stop was Wickaninnish Beach, one of a series of beaches comprising the 22-km Long Beach Unit. The beach was vast. In fact, the Long Beach Unit has the most extensive sand dune on Vancouver Island as you can partially see in the picture above. Here are more pictures from Wickaninnish Beach:

We enjoyed walking on the sand.

We proceeded to the South Beach trail, which is 800 m one-way.

Trail to the South Beach. The boardwalk made it an easy hike.

The South Beach was spectacular. Water activities are not recommended in this area because of the potential danger from large waves and strong currents. It was pretty calm when we were there.

There are many large rocks on south Beach.

We all climbed the rocks and watched the waves from the top. I can stay here the whole day!

I love this!!!

And I love these!!! Mussels a-plenty. Yum-yum! South Beach diet.
Oops, not allowed in a national park.

It was fun watching the water rush through this narrow opening.
More mussels on these rocks. Sea anemones too.

From here, we went back to the Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre where we decided to eat lunch at the seaside restaurant.

Nice view. Very good food too. We each ordered a different
dish and passed our plates around to get a taste of

So this was our morning. The afternoon was longer. I'll blog about it next time.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A night at a backpackers' hostel

My preferred choice of accommodation in Ucluelet was a hostel. I thought about tenting, but been there, done that. I wanted a little comfort, after all this was a vacation even though a short one. As one of my blossom buddies, a fellow immigrant from another third world country, said, life back home was already like camping, why do that again here? Hello, blossom buddy, you know who you are.

So I booked an overnight stay at C & N Hostel for 5 people in a dorm room. The hostel was like a big 3-story house with a basement. It had 6 double beds in a room at $25 per bed. Mixed male and female. No shoes allowed anywhere to keep the wooden floors clean and quiet. No free breakfast, but there was a fully equipped kitchen in the basement. Internet at $2 per 10 minutes.

In front of C & N

For dinner, we had loaf bread, sauteed corned beef and potatoes, luncheon meat, juice and lots of fresh fruits. It sounds simple but still entailed quite a bit of preparation and presentation. Other guests ate sandwiches and ramen. I felt we could have made our meal simpler.

A sign by the kitchen sink said, "Your mother or maid is not here, so wash your own utensils..." Something like that. Didn't apply to my boys. We used so many utensils, it felt so much like home. I didn't want to leave the washing to these boys to make sure things were cleaned and returned properly.

The next morning, while the boys were still sleeping, Bud and I explored the huge hostel property at the back, which faced an inlet. The landscape had so many tall trees and wild bushes. There were many benches, tables and hammocks to match the ambiance. See some pictures below.

View of the hostel from the backyard.

It was drizzling lightly.

Follow the boardwalk to the waterfront.

I think this is the Ucluelet inlet.

That's me just outside the woods behind the hostel. I didn't want to go any further because this animal suddenly appeared.

"A deer!" Bud exclaimed as he waited for a photo op. "Does it attack people?" was my startled reaction. "Of course not!" "What if a bear was staking it out?"

Going back to the hostel, I said, "I like the wildlife except for the wild."

"You are looking for the Garden of Eden," Bud said.

"Exactly... where the lions and the lambs live peacefully together." Or the bear and the deer.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chesterman Beach

Along the Ucluelet-Tofino highway, there are several streets branching westward towards the beach. The first one we visited was called Chesterman. We were excited to finally see sand and sea. Because it was low tide, there was even more sand to walk barefoot on. The boys enjoyed it.

I miss this kind of beach in Vancouver, long and wide and sandy, facing the open sea. This reminded me of our beaches back home and the one we visited in Oregon Coast some time back.

"Mom, if you stand facing the ocean, that is where Mickey is," Gino said.

The water was so inviting. But like most bodies of water here, it was very c-c-c-cold! Your are right, LHB! This was nothing like our tropical beaches in the Philippines. I didn't even have the courage to wet my feet.

So we just sat and walked on the beach, and enjoyed the view while the boys did their own thing.

I was attracted to some large rocks on the shoreline. A group of people were gathering something, and I was curious to find out what it was. The lady I approached said they were mussels. Mussels!! I love mussels!

Some people collecting mussels from rocks.

I got excited. This was my first time to see mussels in their natural habitat. I didn't know they grew on rocks. I knew they came in boxes from New Zealand.

There were thousands of them all over the rocks. Wow! I became more excited about them than about the beach. However, the ones I saw were small unlike the ones in the plastic bags of the mussel-gatherers. When finally, I saw a large one, I tried to take it out.

This was not as easy as I thought. Not easy at all.

When Gino saw what I was doing, he exclaimed, "Mom, you can't do that! You need a license."

I asked Mr. Mussel-man passing by if he had a license. He said yes. Uh-oh. There goes my baked tahong. I let him have the one mussel that I struggled to get.

That afternoon, I learned something about mussel gathering. You can't do it here without a license. And you can't do it without an awl or some pointy thingy. Mussels cling tightly to rocks you can't pry them out with your bare hands. And they have lots of barnacles attached to them too. I got little cuts on both hands. All that for nothing.

We stayed at Chesterman Beach until early evening. The sky was overcast from the time we arrived so we were glad to see the sun finally come out at 4 pm. Come out, sun! Bring on the heat!

We drove back to the hostel in time for dinner preparation. Bye-bye, beach, we will come back tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Finally in Ucluelet

We arrived in Ucluelet a little past 2, which was check in at the C & N Hostel. Located along the main road, the hostel was not hard to find. I think nothing would be hard to find in Ucluelet, because there are not a lot of streets there. Ukee is a little town, also known as the cheap sibling of Tofino. According to Hello BC, its population is only 1,487.

Oh yeah, what we found hard to locate was a place to eat. No fastfood centres or familiar restaurants. Tired of eating snack food and not wanting to eat our stock of canned goods, we drove and walked around what looked like the town centre to find a restaurant.

"Is this the town centre?" we asked one another. Looks like it, but the only eating places we saw were a few cafes.

"Mom, we want real food," they boys insisted. No sandwiches, hotdogs or pastries. They wanted real lunch. Gino said he would foot the bill.

There was a big restaurant across our hostel but it was named Delicado. We couldn't get past the name. In Tagalog, that connotes danger.

So we drove off to Tofino, 42 kms away. We were planning to go there that afternoon anyway.

Tofino is a busier town, more shops and structures. More eating places too.

We ate at a restaurant which looked fancy to me. I hesitated to go in because the menu posted outside seemed pricey, but everyone else was getting impatient or hungry or both. So we dined in and ordered different items for each one. Then we ate from each other's plate. Gino didn't seem to mind the bill. I was glad I didn't have to pay it.

After lunch, we checked out a souvenir shop, walked to the marina, and back to the van. It was time to go to the beach!

Next -- Chesterman Beach, great beach and photos.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The road to Tofino

(the continuation)

About 10 minutes from where we stopped at Taylor Arm, we saw several vehicles parked on the roadside.

"What are they looking at? Let's get off!" We made a quick stop. And this was what we saw.

A giant log, huge rocks...

We eagerly went down and explored the place further. It was a lovely sight.

Picture perfect!

There's Gino...

...and there's the rest of us.

As expected, the boys were quick to hop from rock to rock, even going to the edge of cliffs. It freaked me out.

"Stop!... Don't go there!... That's not safe!" I kept yelling.

"Mom, you're the only one screaming," Gabriel said, embarrassed. "Mom, you sound like a chihuahua..."

"Stop!... Don't go there!... That's not safe!" I repeated in a low booming bark.

"Mom, stop it!" He wasn't amused.

These boys have no fear of heights or rushing icy water.

I had no problem with these rocks.

After this stopover, we went on our way. More forests, lakes, and inlets. Nearing the Ucluelet-Tofino junction, we saw a black bear on the roadside.

"A bear!!" we shouted. It was my first time ever to see a bear in the wild. Was I glad to be inside the van. Too bad I wasn't ready with a camera.

The sight of a bear was a clear reminder that we were in black bear country. If one could be seen walking where vehicles passed by, what about the forest trails that we planned to hike? Please, no bears....

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The road to Tofino

The distance between Nanaimo to Tofino is 208 kms one way. From Nanaimo to Ucluelet, it is 182 kms. The drive to Ucluelet/Tofino is one of the most picturesque I've seen here. Pristine forests, mountains, rocks, lakes, inlets, rushing stream... "Super Natural British Columbia" indeed.

After the town of Port Alberni, the mountain highway stretches on, long and winding, sometimes zigzagging, up, down... Not a house in sight. Just pure wilderness. Make sure you have enough gas in your vehicle to last you for at least 85 kms after the last one in Port Alberni I think.

We stopped at a rest area in Taylor Arm. While BudBlossoms tried to catch some sleep, the buds and I found a little lake with shining water tucked between the restrooms and the forest.

The water is ice cold though, otherwise, my boys would be jumping in. Maybe I would too.

Instead, we just watched the fish.

"Oh there's a big one!" I pointed excitedly to a fish about one foot long. I couldn't say if it was a salmon or a trout. "Could a bear be far behind?" I kidded. Just then, nearby, we saw the head and tail of a big fish under the water.

This could be the work a bear indeed. Who eats fish like this? I started to feel uneasy.

Before leaving the rest area, we took more pictures including this one of me.

"My mom flirting with a First Nations mask," Gino said in his Facebook. Hahaha.

(to be continued)

Friday, August 08, 2008

To Ukee!!

If you want to see long sandy beaches or to go surfing here in BC, Tofino is the place to visit. It is located on the western coast of Vancouver Island facing the vast Pacific Ocean. Last BC Day long weekend, our family traveled to this place with excitement. Finally, beaches like we have in the Philippines!!

To economize, we--or rather, I--decided to book our accommodations, in Ucluelet (yu-clue-let), a town south of Tofino, about 30 minute-drive away. I got this idea from a friend who said accommodations were cheaper in Ucluelet, Ukee for short, than in Tofino where tourists flock. At first, I booked an overnight stay in a backpackers hostel for all five of us. When we decided to do 2 nights, the hostel was already fully booked. We had to look for another place to stay. Gino found a campground.

We left our house at 5 am. on Saturday to catch the first ferry leaving at 6:20 am. from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Unfortunately, even though we we there before 6, there was a long lineup of vehicles already. We had to wait for the next sailing time at 8:30. "This is longer than the US Border Crossing wait," said one of the boys. At east we could turn off the engine and sleep or get off the vehicle.

More than two hours later, we were boarding one of the large vessels of BC Ferries. My jaw dropped upon seeing the fare we had to pay one way. Oh well...

This is one of the ferries sailing from Vancouver
to Nanaimo (photo from the BC Ferries website).

As soon as we parked the van on Deck 2, we walked up to one of the passenger decks to enjoy the scenic view of the Strait of Georgia. We also checked out the gift shop while Gabriel and Markus played at the arcade. Occasionally, we went out to the sun deck to feel the cold breeze. Brrr...

Imagining this was a cruise on the Mediterranean

Speaking of Mediterranean, I learned from a presentation on board the ferry that the popular Gulf Islands on Georgia Strait have a Mediterranean climate. Interesting.

After 1 hour and 35 minutes, we were in Departure Bay, Nanaimo to begin a 2-and-a-half drive to Ukee. Yippee!

Come back for more stories and pictures...