Sunday, June 29, 2014

Twisted Vagabondage Tale From Vancouver Island

As a paying contributor to The United Negroe College Fund, for sage reasons of philanthropy as well as tax evasion, I was surprised to find absolutely no black people in the maritime city of Vancouver Canada—only Commonwealthy Europeans and Asians plus a few Native Canadian Kwakwaka’wakw redskins. Still, Vancouver is indeed an international city on par with other slightly vanilla claimants like Portland or Seattle, with many fabulous bistros to recommend it, including some proudly locavore and part of the so-called Slow Food movement. Meaning: they are too lazy to import.

Flying under the radar into Vancouver for the annual meeting of an oil concern, I was quite excited by the quality of Canada’s light crude, which had the color and consistency of Canada Dry Ginger Ale. Flush in petro royalties and British Thermal Units, I decided to go native and visit a globally renowned restaurant on Vancouver Island, purportedly a favorite of Canadian musicians Randy Bachman, Anne Wilson, Geddy Lee, and Brian Adams that uses only local indigenous ingredients: Sooke Harbour House.

Since this famously expensive restaurant doesn't allow smoking on their premises (even amid wild rumors they bake homegrown pot into some of their dishes), I booked a room in a little Norman-Bates-style motel with a flashing neon sign and hot tub just down the road, owned by an obvious sexual deviant who dildoed away most of her time reading steamy romances with painted Fabios on the covers—a married man’s worst nightmare.

Off a boat and onto a gangplank, my Rockports landed in the wonderful cityscape fantasia of Victoria on Vancouver Island, named after George Vancouver who explored the Pacific Northwest between 1791 and 1794. Giddy with vertigo, I blinked in the twinkling out-of-season Christmas lights and wondered about the island’s exact measurements.

A speedy perusal of my braindead Fodor’s Guide exacted the info: 460 kilometers long and 80 kilometers wide. Especially memorable when lit up at night, Victoria suddenly made me feel very British and patriotic. I even put on a fake Received Pronunciation accent as I ordered “Ice Wine” at an al fresco (which means both outside and mafia controlled) joint lined with Maple-Leaf embossed Canadian flags. Yet, instead of “Oh Canada!” I sang: “I alone love you, I alone tempt you, I alone love you, British Mafia!” (misheard from “I Alone” by LIVE).

I eventually left this festive outpost with my eyes welling up. In no time at all, I parked my rental car outside Sooke Harbour, set in a pleasant arbory of Douglas firs and Western red cedars with its very own herb garden. I felt like Canadian Mounty Dudley Dooright, when I disturbed a sleeping marmocet, who scampered across the gravel driveway willynilly in a most amusing way.

Nighttime approaches. “After all, tobacco is a kind of herb!” I reasoned with the morose and oversensitive waiter, whom I suspected was the master chef in disguise. (The restaurant forbids smoking both inside and outside.)

“I suppose you can smoke on the beach,” he meagerly relented. I felt like snapping my fingers under his rather sad and ridiculous looking Van Dyke beard while saying, “Fiddlesticks!” Outside, I memorized the egregiously gorgeous view resembling an infinity pool where earth meets horizon. I imbibed the Native American weed down to its caramel-colored stub. Not bad, Du Mauriers! Not bad at all. Except for the graphic warning label on the pack, featuring the diseased gums of an anonymous cancer victim.

Consistently ranked in the top ten lists of various magazines, Sooke Harbour House occupies a sumptuous 1929 clapboard farmhouse. The restaurant is owned by Fredérique and Sinclair Philip, offering 28 beachside rooms for meals that don't come cheap at over 300 Canadian dollars plus a 15% tax.

I felt like a character out of Finding Nemo while I immersed myself in this culinary octopuses’ garden. As a gourmand rather than a gourmet, I'm proficient at isolating ingredients, but in this completely original establishment I had to ask many questions: sea urchins, triton snails, sea cucumber, abalone, squid, gooseneck barnacles, crabs, scallops, and geoduck (the largest Pacific clam).

A serious locavore PC eatery with an attitude, Sooke Harbour House always gets high marks for its mélange of French, Japanese, and Pacific Northwest Native food, but many Internet reviewers give it thumbs down on service. One critic claimed the waitstaff were 
abysmal. What comes to mind from my experience is “snarky.” Perhaps, some snootiness is justified. The Philips grow over 500 different edible flowers in their private gardens.

Overwhelmed by the Inner Space menu, I finally ordered Merlot-braised venison shoulder with buttermilk and Hyssop spaetzel, plus some savoy cabbage with green apple, oregano, braisage, and hazelnut—all of it from the nearby gardens and wilderness. “Are these truffles?” I ask, a little unsure what they look like whole. 

“No, bear!” the master chef disguised as a waiter admits sotto voce with an amused expression. When I mentioned I would like to try moose, the waiter rolled his eyes and orbited his pointer finger around his head.

Not much happened beyond that. I ate well, went back to my motel for a spin in the hottub, then went to sleep, radiating with a mean buzz from nicotine and British Columbian ice wine.

Daytime arrives. Driving back, I passed some chicks in orange down vests known locally as Orange Girls. I then spotted an outrageous gift of serendipity: a black bear! Parked and whipped out my digital Elf as three candyass tourists with Hunter S. Thompson floppy hats reluctantly joined my potentially dangerous stalking of the beast.

The poor bear, a crybaby killer separated from his mama, just stood there flinching at the barrage of paparrazi flashbulb clicks. “Crybaby killer cry cry. Crybaby killer cry cry!” --from Jack Nicholson’s film debut, Crybaby Killer.

The black bear did a doubletake and bounded back into the dense woods, while we fraidycats, the three and the twee, rejoiced to be out here in the wilderness experiencing wildlife. At last, nature had dropped her knickers and put out. Now it was time to track down a different kind of wildlife, following the patchouli-like scent of female arousal, which smelled an awful lot like the mozzie repellant Cutter. Say hello to the gorgeous Orange Girls!

John M. Edwards is a writer and photojournalist. He has traveled five continents with experiences ranging from surviving a ferry sinking off Siam to getting caught in a military coup in Fiji. His writing has appeared in CNN Traveller, Entertainment Weekly,, Condé Nast Traveler, Islands, Matador, World Hum, BootsnAll, and other publications. He received five NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) Awards, two TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Awards, and three Solas (sponsored by Travelers’ Tales). He edits the Rotten Vacations anthology.


  1. I think I've met the hotel sexual deviant with the romance novel Fabio covers! Or there's no shortage of them.

    Good post!

  2. That chef disguised as waiter..haha! The food looks amazing though. Great read!