August 19, 2017: Whales, a bald eagle, and a First Nations cultural center

I’m beginning this post by backing up a bit:  We arrived at the Vancouver Airport at midnight on Thursday, having taken the train from Ghent to the Brussels Airport in the morning, flown to Reykjavik, Iceland (three hours), flown on to Seattle over astounding territories in Greenland and the islands northeast of Hudson Bay (nearly eight hours), and stayed in the Seattle Airport for five hours after going through Customs and Immigration. From the Vancouver Airport we rode the subway and then walked to Martin’s apartment, arriving about 1:30 am on Friday and spending the rest of the night there. Friday was occupied by doing various chores, including laundry and electronics shopping in Vancouver, and at about 7 pm Walt and I shared a small aircraft with a number of friendly, rowdy tech workers heading for Port Hardy to begin the company’s annual fishing trip. We had a great time chatting, joking, laughing, and enjoying the amazing views of the BC coast. After landing at 8 pm, we picked up the rental car we’d reserved, drove to Port Hardy, purchased some breakfast items at the local Save-On market, ate a late supper at the A&W, loaded the groceries and our roller bags and our tired selves onto Braesail, and collapsed into bed.

On a mostly-cloudy Saturday morning we fortified ourselves with bagels and drove back to the market at about 8:30 am to purchase many bags of provisions for the next several weeks of cruising among the Broughton Islands and then back to Everett through Desolation Sound, along BC’s Sunshine Coast, and through the Canadian Gulf Islands and the San Juan islands with a stop in Vancouver. By 10:30 am we were heading southeast to the terminal from which we took the 11:30 ferry to the formerly-prosperous fishing village of Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. We spent the afternoon visiting the very-educational and well-designed U’mista Cultural Center (the excellent First Nations museum whose displays and videos center around the Kwakwaka’wakw people and their potlatch traditions and artifacts); looking with sorrow at the empty area next to the cultural center where St. Michael’s, an abusive residential school for the First Nations children, used to stand; walking around the town and viewing many fascinating totem poles, ancient and recent; stopping by the Visitors’ Center for advice and printed materials; entering a small, attractive 1892 Anglican church that I was happy to find open; and reading about the history of Alert Bay on informational placards as we walked over five miles. We found a tiny eatery at the end of the village’s main street and there shared, at the recommendation of the lone woman cooking, a tasty one-dish meal that was like a taco salad, but with the taco shell replaced by cubes of fried bread; on top of the cubes ground meat, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, salsa, and sour cream were heaped.

We took the 6 pm ferry back from Cormorant Island to the mainland of Vancouver Island, and on the way spotted two groups of several “whales” each that were playing near the shore; they were too far away for me to see what they actually were, but it was marvelous to see the creatures cavorting in the blue-gray water! In the terminal on the mainland we met a man who told us about his experience of abuse at St. Michael’s Residential School and how he never learned his native language, his subsequent work there as a night watchman, and the alcoholism that plagued him for over 40 years until about five years ago. I could do no more than listen with sympathy to his story and thank him for sharing it, and I pray that he finds a home and the help he now needs. We drove back to Port Hardy, considering somberly the suffering inflicted on North America’s First Nations by Europeans and inflicted on those of lower class and wealth by the rich and powerful, and the violence that racism, classism, and lack of reconciliation processes continues to fuel.

Before having to leave our rental car for pick-up at the hotel near the Port Hardy Marina, we did a little more grocery shopping, and as we carried our purchases to Braesail, we noticed a bald eagle perched atop our 70-ft. mast and conversing with another eagle on a mast nearby! We’d been warned prior to our European trip that eagles sometimes nest at the tops of the taller masts standing handily in the marina, and can damage the electronic equipment installed there, so we somewhat-reluctantly banged on our mast until the disgruntled bird flew away.

Walt and I were more tired than hungry by this time, and so I did some writing and caught up with e-mail after Walt had used my MacBook for his own purposes (we are now sharing my laptop after the loss of Walt’s), and Walt read some of the boating magazines Martin had brought from our Everett condo for him along with his back-up computer drive (Martin and Hans had left the boat in excellent shape after their little vacation, which we both appreciated greatly!). We tumbled into bed early, anticipating a quiet “catch-up” day to come.

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