Today was the first day our Barb’s Mystery Adventure and all I was told was that we had to leave just after 10:00 this morning to catch a ferry to somewhere. It was only once we were aboard the ferry that our destination was made clear based on the announcement by the ship’s staff: Salt Spring Island.
To pretty much anyone living in the Vancouver area, a ferry ride to either Vancouver Island or one of the Gulf Islands like Salt Spring is a fairly common experience. Although it’s been a couple of years since we have been on a ferry (we went to the Sunshine Coast area with Barb’s parents – see my article Combing the Beaches on the Sunshine Coast) , neither of us have ever been to Salt Spring Island. For me, it’s been over 35 years since I have been to any of these islands other than Vancouver Island. If memory serves me correct it was Galiano Island that I last visited when I was a kid.
Salt Spring Island is a place where Barb and I have talked about visiting for quite a few years. A lot of the local cheeses that we have bought are produced on Salt Spring and it has a reputation of being a very rural, organic farming type of place.
One of the few details that Barb has given me is that we are staying in a B&B – which is not too unusual as there are known to be several B&Bs on Salt Spring and they enjoy a pretty good tourist trade. Next to Vancouver Island, Salt Spring Island is probably next on the list of islands to visit when coming to Vancouver. As I’ve been thinking about this more and more during our ferry ride to Salt Spring (that we’re on now as I write this section), I’m surprised that we’ve taken this long to visit here. But this is always the case, isn’t it? Barb and I think nothing of flying to Paris for a week yet exploring our backyard, so to speak, takes us years to finally get done. I think that we’ve got to make a point of doing more of these quick getaways to explore our part of the world in more detail.
Listening to the Bird Song
Barb and I arrived on Salt Spring Island in the early afternoon this morning and from the ferry terminal; drove straight to the main town on Salt Spring: Ganges. The word town may be overstating the case. Unless you happen to be slowed down by a number of pedestrians crossing the street, within 2 minutes of driving into town you’re seeing the end unless you happen to stop. Perhaps village is a more appropriate word to describe Ganges.
Sidebar: I’d always been curious why a town on the west coast of Canada would have an Indian name like Ganges? A little research found out that the British ship HMS Ganges (which was actually built in India) first explored these waters and the name was given to the ship.
It being Saturday afternoon when we arrived in Ganges, we had planned on going to the farmer’s market as it was one of the more popular events that occur here on the weekend. Actually, the really big event that everyone whom we spoke to reminded us of is the Fall Fair which starts this weekend. Apparently this must-see event has been around since 1896 so I’m sure if we don’t show at least passing interest in the fair to the locals we’re probably going to be run out of town on a rail.
However, first things first and as we were both pretty hungry, decided to get some lunch before we did anything else.
Whenever Barb and I get into a new place and we’re both hungry, we always agree to not walk around the new place endlessly looking for the perfect place. This almost always translates into finding a place where all of the locals eat and the tourists don’t. Of course, by every definition by the locals we are tourists so it’s kind of a paradox but I think that you get the point. Anyway, the worst possible scenario is that we go from place to place, getting more and more cranky as the minutes pass and then finally settling for the same touristy place that we started looking at. This almost happened to us on our first day in Ganges but we were lucky enough to dodge that bullet and found a really good place to eat. The Salt Spring Inn was on the main drag and pretty much where we started looking for lunch and we didn’t survey the other patrons to find out if they were local or not but regardless of all of that we had a great lunch there and it gets my full recommendation. My personal recommendation is to order the Margherita pizza – the crust was as good as I have ever had on a pizza and it was topped with generous amounts of tomatoes and roasted garlic.
After spending the time at the Salt Spring Inn for lunch we ended up only having about 20 minutes to spend at the Saturday market and as a result many of the vendors were closing up as we walked by. It’s too bad because we would have loved to have spent a lot more time there. However, it was time for is to move on and check into our B&B.
Just a few minutes drive outside of Ganges was all it took for us to find the Bird Song Bed and Breakfast. The first thing that we noticed when driving up their driveway was a small deer walking on their grass. It could not have been more than about 2ft tall. Off to our right was a small fence where we saw 3 or 4 sheep grazing. However, the best view was still to come.
One of our hosts, Bill showed us to our room and we were introduced to the number one selling point of this B&B: the view. From our window we had a spectacular view of the water through the trees. In conjunction with the overall quiet serenity of the location, the view was just an extra benefit that you got for free. The B&B name really does make sense as the sounds of birds were a pleasant background ambience that was on at all times.
Getting the Lay of the Land
As we would with any new place that we have gone to, Barb comes armed with months of research of all of the places to go and see. As a result, there is never a conversation that we have ever had that would go like this:
Me: So what do we do?
Barb: I don’t know.
More likely, the response is along the lines of a laundry list of about 200 things that we could do. The only real conversation is the order in which we attempt to do any of them. As it was getting towards dinner time but still a little bit early, we decided to drive up to the top of the nearby Mt. Maxwell to get a view of the sunset from the west side of the island. Without a doubt, the view from the top of Mt. Maxwell is spectacular. For those moments just before the sun sets, the sky changes colour to a hue of red and the layers of mountains inside of Vancouver Island (which is right next to Salt Spring Island) become much more pronounced.
About the only down side to the Mt. Maxwell trip was almost breaking my car’s suspension driving up there. You see the road going up the mountain starts off fairly nice in fact having my M Roadster made the drive through the twisty roads to be quite fun. The problems all start when the road changes to a gravel road. At this point I really should have turned around but for some reason I felt that it would get better. It didn’t. For the last 3-4 kilometers I was driving around ruts in the road that were about 6-12 inches deep. I should point out that my car probably has about 6 inches of clearance, if that. This road really should only be travelled on a car with 4 wheel drive and not a sports car.
Dust and Gravel
The great weather this whole weekend really made the entire trip to Salt Spring Island. We were walking around in shorts the whole time and our biggest problem was whether we would put the convertible top up or down as the sun was so strong.
Even before the planning to come here started, one of the things that we had know that Salt Spring was famous for was its many cheese producers. In general there is quite a large agricultural community on the island and countless farms that produce all kinds of dairy, fruit and vegetable products – most of them organic or naturally grown. Given our love affair with cheese, going to see a cheese maker while on Salt Spring would be assumed. The only real question would be to which cheese maker and to how many of them.
Looking on the map which showed all of the artisan locations on the island, we discovered that there was a cheese maker that was quite close to our B&B called Moonstruck Organic Cheese . We had actually bought their cheese from several local cheese shops in Vancouver so to be able to actually visit the farm where it was made was going to be very interesting for us. The Moonstruck farm turned out to be quite a bit smaller than I had imagined. The cheese “store” was really just a small building about 8x10ft. In this cheese room , there were about 4-5 types of cheeses and some toothpicks with which to try them. In the corner of the room was a small refrigerator with all of the cheeses in wrappers that you would buy them in a store. On the wall was a sign that said:
Choose the cheeses that you want to buy and write it in the book with the amount. Put your money in the cash box and take change if you need.
On the counter was a book and a cash box full of money (and some cheques). Everything was self-serve on the honour system. My only thought was that this is so Salt Spring Island.
That night we stayed in our room at the B&B for dinner which consisted of a fantastic Baby Blue cheese that we had bought from Moonstruck as well as some pat é and what passed for a baguette from the local grocery store. Perhaps the only thing to equal the Baby Blue cheese that night was the bottle of French wine that we happened to pack on our trip. While enjoying the wine and cheese, we could hear the song of the birds outside – the only thing that could make the French wine and Salt Spring Island cheese better.
Driving around Salt Spring Island was a mixed pleasure. On what can be called the main roads, it was quite fun to drive the often winding roads in my car. With the convertible top down and the warm sun shining, there wasn’t a better view in the house of the countryside where old barns and artisan shops were around every corner. However it was also a mixed bag driving on many of the roads as there seemed to be the annoying issue of driving along a perfectly fine road then it would change to a gravel road for 1-2 kilometers for no good reason! I imagine that if you were driving along in your truck or SUV that driving on gravel roads would not be given a second thought but I found it really strange that these sections of road would appear out of nowhere. It’s almost as if the people who owned those properties along that stretch of road didn’t pay their taxes or something.
I’m writing the last sections of this article on the ferry home from Salt Spring. It’s a full 3 hour journey as we have stopped at three other islands before our final stretch to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal. As a result we won’t be home before about 8:00 tonight. The 3 day weekend on Salt Spring was a great idea and it was close enough from home that we didn’t have to spend that much time getting there (despite needing over twice as long to get home). Tomorrow our lives return to normal again as we go back to work but very shortly all of our thoughts will begin to turn to Africa as it is less than a month before we depart.
This Excellent Weekend Getaway is likely to be the first of many that we will plan in the future. It has already given me several new ideas of how we can make a quick getaway by making our own long weekend. Stay tuned for the next one some time early next year.
I will be back very shortly with Barb and Baden’s Excellent African Adventure – Part 1.