The Midnight Glide
Before sleeping our first night in Victoria, we booked a late-night kayaking trip. Paddling in the dark may seem odd but, if it doesn't seem uncomfortable enough, add in the strange scheduling for us as Marylanders. The 9:30 to 11:30 PST tour was actually midnight to 2:30 EST. Since we had been getting up at 4:00 a.m. EST for half a year to let ourselves exercise at the start of each day, the time difference meant we were arranging for ourselves to arrive back at our room roughly around the time we should have been waking up.
Still, it was good.
But not as good as it sounds. We went on the kayak tour to check out the bioluminescent sea life around Victoria. It's not impressive. It's only plankton. When you make the plankton fire off with your hand in the water, it's like being a human sparkler. That part is nice.
As small as plankton are, their fluorescence is barely noticeable. And yet it is there. You can feel fascinated by the sparkling water.
Backing up a moment - the trip started at sunset. There was light in the sky as we set the kayaks in the water. Our group was six people in three two-person sea kayaks plus two guides in single-seaters. We pushed out into an estuary that connected to the Salish Sea.
Within a minute, we saw something in the water swimming toward us.
"A seal!" one of the guides shouted.
We saw only the head of an animal. A moment later, the seal dove. The ripples behind it disappeared. A second later, we saw another seal, more distant and swimming in a different direction. There were at least two. Our boats seemed to scare them off, though. After the first glimpses, we never saw them again.
As we continued to our bioluminescent rendezvous, we met more large animals. To our left, north, we saw blue herons. To the south, we passed three different types of geese. Later, a pair of ospreys circled over our heads. Apparently we were paddling next to a tidal shallows where about seventy ospreys roosted. Each time the tide went low, it revealed their nests. The osprey call from one to another is a light sound, not like the harsher tones of an eagle, vulture, or hawk. We heard it a lot.
As nice as it all was, I'd say you shouldn't travel all the way to Vancouver Island for a late night glide into the dark shores only to witness the bioluminescent plankton.
"Is this it?"
"Yeah, those little lights." When it was dark enough, disturbances in the water triggered the plankton. The guide demonstrated with his paddle. He stroked the surface. "Those little flashes."
"I can barely see them."
"Plankton are small."
Not satisfied by the sparkle and glow from my paddle since it was so faint, I stuck my left forearm in. The water felt fine. I shook my hand. Twenty specks of greenish light flew up. I shook more. The motion turned my fingers into faint but natural sparklers.
The plankton store up energy from the sun all day. Their bodies allow them one shot to emit the energy as light. As far as anyone studying them can tell, the flashes they emit lure small carnivorous predators. An example: perhaps a minnow nearby is looking for something to eat. An even smaller herbivorous creature, perhaps a snail, is swimming over to the plankton. The plankton feels vibrations from the snail as it closes in. Alarmed, it gives off its flash of light. That's when the minnow takes notice. It swims over to see if there's something to eat. The minnow doesn't notice the plankton. Instead, it finds a delicious snail.
That's how the flashes of light are useful to the plankton. They help eliminate the animals that would otherwise feed on them. After the one burst of light, though, each phytoplankton needs more time in the sunlight to charge up. Each time I played in the water, I was surprising some of the plankton and making them act in self-defense.
Knowing that makes you (well, me) give up after a while. Still, it was neat to see.the faint fairy lights in the water. The plankton must store an astounding proportion of the solar energy that they receive during the day.
The return trip was quiet but it was as beautiful as the trip out to the cove. I hadn't been kayaking in such darkness before. We docked quietly so as not to wake the people in the village. Then we drove back across Vancouver Island to our rooms, tired but giddy.
We rose late, after waking up several times and returning to our sleep in the west coast darkness. Finally, we left our bed at seven a.m. PST.
We tried breakfast at Floyd's Diner, another place that didn’t look like it would be much good. But the food was better than usual. The owner/manager talked to us about the places we should try for dinner. We chatted with her a while about other things, too. She knew the inside scoop on local restaurants right down to who was having trouble keeping staff and why.
We spent a fairly gentle day in Victoria. We drove around and walked, too. Our rooms at the AirBNB gave us access to the laundry room so we spent part of the time on chores, a general life penalty for going on a lot of outdoor trips that require changes of clothes.
That night, we had a terrible dinner at a golf course restaurant. Well, it happens even with local recommendations. When you live in a hometown like Frederick, one that has had great food for the past decade, it can be startling to find that people in other towns consider mediocre food to be really nice.