Clear skies for as far as the eye can see. Mount Rainier shrouded in a purple haze. Glistening peeks of the Olympic mountains and the tranquil blue waters of Haro Strait. This idyllic summer setting is where the Southern Resident orca pod come to feast on salmon, play, and raise their young. If you’re an orca enthusiast like myself, this is your Disneyland.
I planned our Pacific Northwest getaway to correspond with the yearly Orca Sing, a summer solstice event where the orca loving community gathers at Lime Klin state park (Whale Watch park) to sing to the Southern Residents, in hopes they sing back or at least make an appearance. This year, Seattle’s City Cantabile Choir attended, along with a song and drumming performance by Orca Annie and her husband Odin, a member of the Alaskan Tlingit tribe.
Firday Harbor’s weekly market is on Saturday, just the time we were scheduled to arrive by ferry from Anacortes. Our first stop at the market was the oyster purveyor..not because that was our intention, but because of how incredible they looked as we walked by–they caught our eye for sure. They were the biggest oysters I had ever seen. As the Chef and I shopped, my parents found a place to munch down on the local market fare and meet the locals.
Haro Haiku, our vacation rental, wasn’t due to be ready for our arrival until the afternoon, so we headed over to the Whale Museum to pass the time, and so that I could get my fill of everything orca. As the proud sponsor of the orca, Ocean Sun L-25, (thought-to-be-mother of Lolita orca kept at the Miami Seaquarium) I had been looking forward to this museum for quite some time. Ocean Sun L-25 had been in the hearts of myself and my 22 fourth graders all year. Sure enough the museum was a everything I had expected. Very kind and enthusiastic staff members, great informational displays and everything ORCA! It was hard to leave, but by the time I had read each display and had my nose into every book, it was time to check into the much anticipated Haro Haiku, our island home for the week.
Let’s just say when I set out to experience everything orca, I made sure the accommodations were everything orca too. I wanted to be able to lay in bed and see the orca if I wanted…and that’s what I got! Literally I could do that. It was that idyllic. Haro Haiku sits on Hannah heights, a large hill (mountain) along the west side of San Juan Island. From the deck, kitchen, living room, and master bedroom one has 180 degree unobstructed views of Haro Strait over to Victoria, BC. Mount Rainier rises in the distance as do the Olympic mountains that tower over Port Angeles (where the Chef and I spent our 4th anniversary chasing vampires :-) That’s another story…
Haro Haiku is a home unlike any other I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in. It was the first time I had visited a place where I truly felt peace and serenity. Many evenings I found myself sitting at the windows, hot tea in hand, just gazing out across the vast horizon of water, watching the orca porpoise in the waves just below the cliff until twilight gave way to night. As much as I adore Texas and Maine, there was just something about San Juan Island that fed my soul. My heart literally ached the day we departed.
While watching orca from the deck of the house was incredible, it couldn’t compare to being on the water next to them! Captain Jim Maya from Mayas Westside Whale Watch Charters got us as close as the law would allow. I had contacted Jim about six months before our trip to ask about chartering the entire boat. As we talked, we learned we had some commonalities in life. He was a retired teacher and had a daughter in-law with a name similar to mine! Jim knew how fond I was of the orca and made sure to get us to the prime viewing spots. Accompanying Jim was Jeanne, a naturalist who has been living on San Juan Island for 20 years. Jeanne writes the blog “Whale of A Purpose” and is an orca aficionado. She can identify each orca almost immediately upon seeing their dorsal fin and has a story for each. The Chef and I were blow away by the amount of knowledge she had on these majestic creatures. She’s dedicated her life to chasing orca from dusk till dawn to better understand their relationships, characteristics, and overall existence. Through the lens of her camera, she’s able to capture what their daily life is like. No day at
SeaWorld SeaPrison can even come close to comparing to what it’s like to witness orca in the wild…FOR REAL. They are incredible.
Captain Jim kept me informed everyday of where the orca were. On many occasions the Chef and I found ourselves literally on a chase in an instant. We would get the text from Jim that the whales were headed up or down island and away we would run…either in the car or on foot. Once we were having lunch in Friday Harbor when I got the the text…and off we went. Running like crazy people down the rocky beach to Lime Klin, heavy camera in hand, legs about to give way, following the dorsal fins and listening for the “spout” of air. It was exhilarating. We weren’t the only crazy orca chasing people either! A photog dude, about 60 yrs old totally passed me up while running uphill following a rather large orca just offshore. He only passed and beat me to the lookout point because my hat flew off during the run, and I had to turn back…not because I’m out of shape or anything ;-) By the way…chasing orca is a great workout! I do recommend it.
While whale watching is a big draw of the tourism to San Juan Island, it isn’t the only attraction. There’s great shopping, plenty of outdoors activities like kayaking (which we did…and did not see orca, but harbor seals and porpoise). There’s a good amount of local cuisine and restaurants to try, though we mostly ate at home because the kitchen at Haro Haiku was meant for a chef! There’s a distillery that makes apply brandy and gin; a vineyard; cheese maker and lavender farm! It’s a splendid little island.
San Juan Island…The Traveling Pear will return!