Monday, May 13, 2013

Port Angeles to Victoria

Entering the port at Victoria, British Columbia
At the ferry terminal, one woman operates the ticket booth, which explains last night's attempt to get information by phone. “There is a boat leaving just now,” she had said before putting me on hold and rushing off to ensure that it did so without incident.

We buy tickets, fill out forms, show our passports, and board the ferry.

Back in the 1980s, when Americans didn't need documentation to enter Canada, I was visiting family in Michigan one summer. One day we drove across the Detroit River to spend an afternoon in Windsor for some forgotten reason. The gentleman at the checkpoint asked us our purpose, and I blurted from the back seat–I was a teenager and knew everything–“tourism.” This fellow's eyes lit up and he asked again. My father and stepmother made it clear that my involvement in the conversation had come to an end, and after they discussed the issue further with our wide-eyed checkpoint friend, he let us pass into the Great White North. Later, I realized that he must have thought I said “terrorism,” which would indeed provoke a wide-eyed response. Something rather like terror, I should think.

We sit at a table inside. There are chairs outside also, but it is cool and windy. An upper deck offers views of the mountains behind us, although they are obscured by clouds this morning. Also, this is where the smokers congregate to form their own clouds.

After snapping a few photos, I return inside to the galley and buy some Boyd's Coffee and Ivar's Famous Chowder. When we visited Seattle in 2000, Sandra enjoyed the clam chowder on a ferry to Bainbridge Island. She still talks about it.

Ivar is Ivar Haglund, a folk singer from back in the day who opened a fish and chips bar in 1938 as a companion to Seattle's first aquarium, which he built. Ivar's Acres of Clams opened in 1946, and two more locations have opened since. Ivar's chowder is famous, as is his saying, “keep clam,” which calls to mind Spinal Tap's “Clam Caravan.”

Haglund, for his part, kept impressive company as a folk singer. He hosted Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie when they traveled to Seattle in the 1940s. And Haglund's “Old Settler's Song” served as the theme for his restaurant, the song's first stanza concluding:

No longer the slave of ambition
I laugh at the world and its shams
As I think of my happy condition
Surrounded by acres of clams.

We can agree that not everyone would think to rhyme “shams” with “clams.”

Meanwhile, the jaunt across the Strait of Juan de Fuca–that 95-mile-long strip of water that separates the Unites States and Canada–takes about 90 minutes. Plenty of time for us to enjoy Ivar's chowder and contemplate this Juan de Fuca fellow.

So named because he served under Phillip II, King of Spain, Juan is Ioánnis Fokás, a 16th-century navigator who claimed to have explored what was then known as the Strait of Anián. The veracity of his claims likely will never be known, but the English captain Charles William Barkley renamed the body of water in Fokás' honor in 1787.

To further confuse matters, it is called Juan de Fuca Strait in Canada. Whatever the appellation, we cross it and arrive in Victoria, where we pass through customs and walk up to street level in search of the coach (Canadian for bus) that will take us to Butchart Gardens.

Between customs and the street, retired folks in bright red tops greet visitors with a smile and a map of Victoria. The man who gives us our map asks where we're from.

“San Diego,” I say.

“Oh,” he replies. “That used to be a rough town but it's nicer now.”

He gives a knowing nod. I respond in kind (when in Canada...) but have no clue what he means. Sandra suspects he is thinking of downtown. I suspect he is thinking of Bangkok.

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