AMERICAN actor Vince Vaughn is slouching in the lobby of Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel, clutching a cup of coffee and a wearing face full of pain. Vince looks like he’s had a big night and I know how he feels. I’ve flown some 13 hours from Brisbane to arrive in these palatial surrounds and about the only two things that aren’t elegant in this gracious hotel lobby this morning are Vince and me. Vince is in town to film the movie Deadpool but I’m here for another pool…of fish. I have bigger fish to fry than Vince.
This is a story about fish and fear. About how three years ago when I was up in Canada on another assignment I’d heard of an amazing adventure where you can snorkel with the salmon. I’ll take any chance to snorkel or swim anywhere in the world and this story angle had me hook, line and sinker. And so late last week I found myself in Vancouver, preparing to fly over to Campbell River and the Salmon Capital of the World, to try my luck on yet another jaunty journey.
As per usual, all sorts of irrational thoughts cross my mind. Last year, when I was in Canada, I went on a walking safari with the polar bears up in Churchill but I was more frightened of the minus 14 degree temperatures than those gentle giants out on the arctic tundra. But grizzly and black bears? They seriously scare me. I’ve seen all sorts of nature documentaries where the bears wait for the salmon run and stand on the edge of the river and pluck them straight out of the water. So how, exactly, would I fit into this equation? In terms of Mother Nature’s mathematics, surely I would be more filling and tasty than a salmon?
My Campbell River cab driver Winston Pittendrigh, 76, picks me up at the airport and tells me snorkelling is not his “cup of tea”. (As a curious aside, there doesn’t appear to be a taxi driver in the Salmon Capital of the World who is under 75, so ladies, if you’re looking for love, this may not be the place for you). But I digress.
“I don’t mind the water but I’m not too keen about going underwater,” Winston says.
“There are lots of black bears around these parts. I’ve seen enough whales and bears, I don’t need to go on a tour.
“I’ve been as close as that door (he points to the passenger door) to a bear. The hair rose on the back of my neck. I opened the door and there was a bear looking at me. He looked at me for four or five seconds and then he went back to eating.
“Bears even wander into our homes of the morning. I’ve seen them. I’ve seen one of my neighbour’s porch.”
The next day, Destiny River Adventures owner and tour guide Jamie Turko, who runs the Snorkelling with the Salmon experience, warns us not to wee in his wetsuits or they will become ours, at a price. I’m a little worried, this is a three-hour tour during which we will spend a good part of the time in crisp 14 degree waters. I can’t guarantee anything and hope if I do pee myself, Jamie can’t spot it from the boat. I suspect Jamie sees everything.
Jamie gives us an extensive safety briefing and then asks us “who is responsible for your safety?”.
“You!” I respond, enthusiastically and incorrectly.
“No,” Jamie says, with a dash of disdain, “you are”.
So, I am the only thing between me and a bear. I will definitely wee in my wetsuit.
“It’s important to lay with your face in the water and to keep an eye on the river hazards, such as the many rocks you’ll dodge along the way,” Jamie says.
“The number one hazard is river rocks. You need to fly like Superman or Wonder Woman. At this water level it’s like a giant game of pinball and you are the ball.
“The number two hazard is wood. There are also lots of fisher people in the river and you don’t want to be their next catch.”
This was not in the brochure, I want to protest, but instead, I take the plunge, flying down the river like a super hero in a four-inch wetsuit, salmon whizzing past my face. At one point, caught in some whirling rapids, I think I may die, or at the very least, get hit in the head by a rock as it’s all just white water like I’m in a washing machine spin cycle. Then fear turns to bravado. How cool, I think, if I survive this, imagine explaining the gash and bruises back in Brisbane. I realise this is my very own dead pool. Perhaps Vince Vaughn needs an extra in his movie? I exit the rapids with a huge smile on my face. Jamie is sitting in the river raft grinning at me.
“That was awesome,” I yell across the river.
And I didn’t wee myself once.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Destination British Columbia http://www.HelloBC.com.au
For all the exciting details of this entire Snorkelling with the Salmon adventure, and other fishy “tails” to have in British Columbia, keep an eye out for Vacations and Travel Magazine. For a poetic version about the symmetry of salmon snorkelling on the Campbell River, keep an eye out for Senior Traveller. Both stories appearing soon.