There’s more to do in Tofino, B.C., than catch waves, whale watch and chill in the hot springs.
Tla-ook Cultural Adventures offers a variety of tours, from black bear watching to wild salmon barbecues and sunset paddles to grocery walks on Meares Island.
Eager to find out about West Coast flora and fauna, I signed up for a trip to Meares Island. This four-hour excursion has tourists foraging for food and learning about edible roots, shoots and berries from a First Nations perspective.
Around these parts, the tides determine tourist activities. For this adventure, low tide is best, so before paddling through Clayoquot Sound in a traditional hand-carved canoe, my guide Gisele Martin and I had to wait a bit.
Once the tide was low enough, we headed out to Meares Island, home to Tofino’s water source and a 10,000-year old forest. It’s a rugged patch of coastal temporal rainforest that’s been left relatively untouched, except for a protective boardwalk called the Big Tree Trail. This path of wooden planks weaves through the old growth forest of massive western red cedar trees.
Once on the island, visitors are introduced to a variety of plants traditionally used by the First Nations people. Licorice root saved European sailors from scurvy, while skunk cabbage’s fragrant flower was helpful when cleaning and gutting fish.
Rooting through a patch of shrubbery, Gisele plucked a handful of fiddleheads. Eat these fronds raw and they can cause a vitamin C deficiency in your body, but fry them with a little butter and they’re a perfect addition to any grilled cheese sandwich.
“The forest is a grocery store,” she explained. “There’s tons of food but you just have to know where to look.”
Many tourists have a hard time recognizing the subtle differences between plants and, while some are suitable for eating, others are poisonous. “The Banana slug is one thing you definitely shouldn’t eat,” Gisele explained. These slimy creatures aren’t the least bit tasty and will even cause your lips to go numb. They are, however, excellent weathermen. If you spot them in the open air, basking on tree leaves, you’re sure to know that rain is on the way.
On the web
• For more information on Tla-ook Cultural Adventures visit www.tlaook.com
• Catch the second season of Word Travels, a documentary series that follows the real-life adventures of travel writers Julia Dimon and Robin Esrock. It airs Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on OLN, with a repeat at 11:30 p.m.
– Julia Dimon is co-host of Word Travels, airing Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on OLN; www.juliadimon.com.
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