“There is no place I would rather be.”
Last weekend, I took off on a British Columbian ferry to the beautiful Salt Spring islands on the West Coast of Canada. It was a much needed break from a difficult few months, months that had been filled with challenging work projects, cross-country red-eyes and desperate house hunting. When last Friday came along, I was ready for a jaunt. A jaunt with just me and my little car with the top down. Here are some pictures to share with you the natural beauty of this part of the world I’ve just begun to discover.
My decision to go on this solo trip was made late Friday afternoon, a few hours before work finished. Nothing was planned or booked. As soon as I logged off work and closed my laptop, I jumped in the car with my weekend bag and got to the Vancouver ferry terminal just in time. My car was the last one they let on. From there, I looked up Airbnb and found a lovely couple of ladies on the island who were renting out their spare bedroom and had two nights available. Pure luck.
I was on the milk-run ferry that day. It seemed like we stopped on every island on the Georgia Strait along the way. But with the Pacific sparkling around me, a warm bench to sit on, a good book in my hand (Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and Other Stories from Desolation Sound – a really good book), and the wind and sun on my face, I had nothing to complain about. The only question on my mind was if we’d see any Orca whales that day, especially since a pod was seen swimming in and around the Vancouver harbour that week. Instead, seagulls galore swooped over the ferry and a few smiling seal heads popped out of the water a few times, making the kids on the ferry squawk like the gulls.
No, I had absolutely nothing to complain about.
It was past eleven at night when the ferry docked on Salt Spring Island. I followed the other cars out and drove along the snaky, curvy road, occasionally glancing at my GPS to make sure I wasn’t missing any turns to the bed and breakfast. There was not a street light or sign in sight, just the headlights of the car on the asphalt. The wind was cool now, but still pleasant. I looked up at the darkened sky from my open car. The stars – more numerous than in the big city – were twinkling like far away disco balls hung up in the heavens.
Salt Spring Island is a beautiful place with rolling green hills, vineyard valleys, ocean beaches and views of the giant snow-capped mountains of yonder. This island was first inhabited by the indigenous people of the Pacific North West region mainly from the Salishan nation. Then in the late 1850s, a group of African Americans running away from slavery in the United States made home on the island joining European settlers from the UK and Ireland. Today there are about 10,000 people living on this northern island paradise.
As I drove around the island the next day, I saw deer and geese in fields, lamb and horses in farmyards, and children playing on pebbly beaches. Magnificent, tall and dark firs, cedar and hemlock trees lined the winding island roads. Every once in a while, I’d turn a corner to see a blue bay, shimmering under the sun just in front of me. It was heaven. I was travelling slowly with eyes wide open and a goofy grin on my face, trying my best not to get distracted by the scenery. There were a few times I had to move over to the shoulder and wave to let local traffic by and not hold anyone up. No one honked or got mad at the tourist, obviously from the “Mainland”. They just sailed by with a smile.
That weekend was the one time of the year when local communities teamed up to offer free boat rides between all the Gulf islands, a program aptly called Tour des Iles. Sunday morning, I jumped into one of the sailing boats and joined the locals who were visiting friends and family on the neighboring islands. These islands are full of people from everywhere, including retired judges, a senator or two, university professors, architects, designers, plumbers, farmers, writers, artists, and outdoor enthusiasts. This region has the highest per capita retired PhDs in the country, or so I was told. PhDs or not, everyone I met were nice, friendly, down-to-earth and showed me around and explained the history of the place they lived.
The sail boat ride from Salt Spring Island to Galiano Island, as part of the Tour des Iles, was the highlight of my weekend. Imagine sitting on a white washed deck of a sleek sailboat, captained by the owner who was volunteering his time and his boat to show strangers around his watery neighbourhood. On a beautiful sunny day to boot. Everyone on board had a story to tell, a joke to share or a scarf to offer if the wind got too cold. At the end of our trip, the captain helped each one of us down the stairs by hand, saying “Thank you for visiting the islands.”
No, thank you, lovely islanders. Thank you for such a treat, a brief but unforgettable get-away, a weekend that made me forget my troubles and put a grin back on my face. For that, I’m grateful. I’m thankful to live in a place where paradise is only a ferry ride away.