Last few days in Canada

The last few days we had in Canada before heading back south across the border were great and filled with lots of animal encounters of the friendly type. The first animal viewings were on Vancouver Island in Stamp Park on the Stamp river. Just upstream of the park is prime Salmon spawning ground and around this time of year (late August/Early Autumn) the Salmon run upstream and if you're patient you can see them jumping up a couple of small (to human sized things, but huge if you happen to be Salmon sized) drops. We stood for ages just watching the fish and enjoying the tranquility of the area. We had hoped to do lots of walking on Vancouver Island, but with the exception of the couple of days we were in Victoria and when we were watching the Salmon, it rained. Summer truly has ended.

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Leaving Vancouver Island behind us, we headed back on to the mainland, met up with Sarah in Squamish again and had the luxury of cooking inside on a proper stove. The next morning we headed into Downtown Vancouver for the first of two days in the city. Day one was to be spent at the Pacific National Expo – we were expecting a county fair type thing with lots of animals, but got a whole lot more. The expo site is huge and right next door to a theme park/static fun fair. After paying for parking and for entry we didn't fancy paying for the rides, so we headed to the free stuff first in an attempt to see how long it could occupy us for. We weren't disappointed by the range of free activities and spent all day wandering around and seeing shows.

Our first port of call after entering the Expo was the Barn with loads of farm animals. The honey bee hive they had caught our attention followed quickly by the rabbits and then everything else became eclipsed by the baby chicks. The chick enclosure had two sections, one containing little chicks and their food/water and the other contained eggs. Some of the egg shells were empty and lying next to them were even littler chicks, still with wet feathers from having just hatched them selves. Lots of other eggs had small holes in them where the chicks were trying to enter the world, we saw one cracking it's shell, but we didn't see one emerge from an egg, despite the amount of times we returned to watch. These were the cutest animals they had, but they also had pretty cute piglets (playing piggy in the middle when they snuggled up to sleep), ducklings and goats. (Sharon says: the piglets were cuter than the chicks and the dexter calf was pretty cool too) They had a Mooternity area where we learnt how to milk a cow and saw a calf only a few hours old.

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We thought the funniest thing of the day would be the pig racing and it was very funny watching ducks and then pigs race around a small track trying to beat their piggy friends to the donut at the end of the course, but the most laughs came during the Superdog show. I've watched dog shows on TV before and never expected this one to be so much fun, it's hard to explain on the blog, but watching dogs play musical chairs and seeing a St. Bernard race a lap dog around an obstacle course was hilarious. We saw some horse show jumping, racing and parading which was more serious, a high diving pantomime and the best sand castle competition I've ever seen and ever expect to see. We also saw a Wheels of Steel show with young kids doing silly tricks on motorbikes high in the air and not so young kids doing equally silly tricks on ski's and snowboards on a jump ramp. The pyrotechnic finale was a pretty cheesy country rock show involving several artic. trucks, pickup trucks, lots of lights, fire and loud music. I think we spent over 12 hours there and still didn't do everything.

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Despite a busy and tiring day, we were still up early the next day and waiting at the front of the line for the Vancouver Aquarium to open. We'd preordered our tickets and booked ourselves on a Sea Otter training tour at around lunchtime. The first thing we did was go and check out the sea otters – they really are as cute as they seem in photos and video. The aquarium has this great video on their website, shot by a visitor a few years ago:


After seeing them, and promising to return, we headed inside and saw all their local coastal tanks – there's a huge variety of ecosystems right off the BC coast line – more than I would have expected. We then saw the jelly fish and learnt how one jelly baby clones itself to make lots of jelly babies. Heading back out side we saw some Beluga whales – they're pure white and come from the Arctic. Brrrr. They did lots of tricks and splashed people (but not us). The Vancouver Aquarium seems to be the leader in whale noise research (belugas and orcas, but they didn't have any orcas on display) and have recently discovered that whales have different sounds and they use this to recognise family members and that they are attracted to whales with the most different sounding voices, to prevent inbreeding. The dolphins were able to perform better tricks than the whales and threw somersaults and stood up and looked as though they were walking on the water.

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Then it was finally time for our exciting sea otter training tour, where we learnt loads about sea otters and even got to feed one. The eat loads (about 1/4 of their body weight – the same as me eating 150 hamburgers) and need to because they live in freezing cold water. Their fur is amazing and works like a dry suit – it's so thick that they can blow into it and trap a layer of air in it that helps insulate them. They're one of the few species that have so profound effects on their habitat that they're called a keystone species, when man was silly and hunted them almost to extinction the kelp forests (which are like underwater rain forests) they lived in died because the sea urchins came and ate the kelp. Now the sea otter population is on the rise, they're eating lots of sea urchins and the kelp forests are recovering and lots of other fish populations are returning too. They're some of the most playful animals we've ever seen and are really clever too – in order to break the hard shells on some of their food they swim on their back and place a rock on it and then grab their favourite rock (from a special pocket in their armpit) and squash the shell between the two rocks and eat the yummy food inside.

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After the sea otters we watched the dolphins some more, and the belugas more, saw the seals and sea lions and walked around the tropical fish section (they have huge fish in the Amazon and gold splattered piranhas) and then returned to watch the sea otters some more before heading out of Vancouver and saying good bye (for now) to Canada.

At the border we had a bit of a nerve racking moment when the US official didn't believe that we weren't working. Extended stay visas come in two types, tourist and business – had we been working we'd have violated our visa terms, the border control guy thought it highly unlikely that we would actually be on holiday for 6 months (which is the maximum length of time we're allowed in the US) without working and assumed that we'd got a job illegally. It didn't help when he found out I was a web developer and could work anywhere with a laptop and that we were actually on a 12 month work free trip. Fortunately just when we thought we were going to have to get our plane tickets out and prove that we weren't intending on out staying our welcome, he tried to explain the situation to his supervisor. Luckily his supervisor couldn't see his point either and let us through with no problems.

Since then we've had a couple of relaxed days in the North Cascades taking a few hikes and being horrified by the scale of the hydro project that they've got (three large dams, drowning large amounts of the valley under artificial lakes just so Seattle can light itself up at night), and also at how early hydro electricity was being used (first one came online in the early 1920's.)

As our stay here is nearing an end we've put Macy for sale on Ebay . Fingers crossed, she'll find some lovely new owners who'll continue to take her on exciting adventures.

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