PEI Bootcamp: My Humble Abode

Hey Internet! So, did I mention that I’m in PEI for a week? I was accepted into the PEI Screenwriters Bootcamp. Huzzah! Emerging screenwriters (IE: people with little to no experience) submit ideas for movies. If you’re selected, you join a five day intensive workshop to learn how to turn the idea into a first draft of a screenplay. Did I mention Huzzah?

Day 2 will start in 34 minutes, and my brain is already on information overload. So instead of saying more about the bootcamp, I will share pictures of my lovely accommodations at the Aloha Tourist Home. It’s a lovely creaky old building with sloping floors and dark corners to lurk in.

Aloha Tourist Home 1

Aloha Tourist Home 2

Aloha Tourist Home 3

Church Spires

My West Coast Moment

West Coast

I’m having a moment. Please bear with me. (Note that six words into this post I had to stop to figure out if it’s “bear” or “bare” or a third mystery spelling I’m unaware of. I googled “please bear with me” and found whole blogs dedicated to the phrase, and several forums of people discussing my exact same question. The internet both scares and delights me.)

So, my moment.

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Vancouver. I’m surrounded by well dressed people with toques and Macs and stainless steel coffee mugs. We all have wet pant cuffs and shiny faces thanks to the constant rain, and yet all of us are too cool to carry an umbrella. The setting is all too familiar, a staple of my years spent living on the west coast.

East Coast

To recap, last spring I got rid of most of my belongs, stashed the remaining items I couldn’t bear/bare to part with in my dad’s basement, and hit the road. Four months of meandering through Canada, of driving and camping and bathing in Walmart bathrooms. It was slow and quiet and wonderful. It took me 15,000 km to drive the approximately 6,000 km between coasts. Then there was the three months of what can best be described as chillin’ in Halifax. Of yoga and writing and too many episodes of tv series’ and old friends and new friends and a lot of knitting.

Four days ago I was on a plane, watching the satellite tracking of my flight back to BC. My four month trek east took eight hours to erase.

I feel disoriented, like I just woke from a deep and dream-filled sleep. Did the last seven months happen?

It’s great to be back on the west. Don’t get me wrong. It feels like I never left. But I did leave. I have a thousand photos and a severely depleted savings account to prove it. So I guess I’ll just sit here and feel weird for a while.

And in a month, when I’m back in Halifax, I’ll likely spend some time wandering around the commons, cursing the snow and my lack of warm footwear, wondering where all the trendy coffee shops went.

Girl Meets Canada: The End

First night camping back in May.

As you may have noticed, I’ve ben avoiding writing a post for almost two weeks. This is for a reason. Not a great reason, mind you. But a reason none the less.

My reason is as follows: it will be my last post of my Girl Meets Canada series. Because my road trip is over.

It’s been over for a while now. Almost two weeks, as it were. I just don’t want to admit that. Out loud. To the internets. But, internets, it’s time you knew the truth.

I’ve hung up my keys.

The van is parked.

Trip. Over.

There, I said it. That doesn’t feel so bad.

Day 121 (Tues, September 7th)

Typical Van Meal

I sat at Dr. Iguana’s kitchen table, writing postcards to everyone who helped me along the way. All the family members, all of the friends, all the friends of friends, all the random strangers. Everyone who fed me, sheltered me (I was going to say “bedded me” but that just sounds dirty), entertained me, supported me. It took a long time. I got a pretty bad wrist cramp.

And then there are all the folks I ran into, shared a beer with, or helped me out whose addresses — and in some cases, names — I never got.

I sat at that table, staring at the stack of postcards, feeling so incredibly blessed. I have been insanely lucky to have had the opportunity to meet and be cared for by all of these generous, giving, loving people. This trip, these last four months, would not have been the same without their love and support and kindness. And I don’t have a clue how to thank them properly. Any ideas?

I finally left Dr. Iguana and his furry side kick, Her Orangeness, and headed to Argentia to take the 16 hour ferry back to Cape Breton. Two and a half weeks in Newfoundland isn’t nearly enough time. But I guess I’ll have to go back. Often.

Near Moose Jaw

Near Moose Jaw.

My trip ended pretty much as it started — with stuff falling off (or out of) my van as I drove obliviously onward. I survived the ferry and on Day 122 (Wed, September 8th) I drove back to Halifax, leaking coolant the whole way. I didn’t realize until I pulled into my friend’s parking spot, got out of the car, and noticed a small lake forming by my rear tires.

Is anyone getting sick of reading about my van leaking fluids? Because I sure am getting sick of writing about it.

Over the passed few weeks a lot of people have asked me, now that you’re trip’s over, what have you learned? What was it all about?

My initial reply to this was nothing. North America harbours a belief in the sacredness of THE ROAD TRIP. It’s this epic, almost holy event that people look at with awe and reverence. People seem to think that if you embark on one you will be given a new spiritual path, or shown the secrets of existence, or other such nonsense.

Sunset in the rearview.

Sunset in the rearview.

As a road trip addict, I can tell you that all that is a lot of hooey. Driving is fun and you get to see new things and meet neat people and have lots of time to think. But it’s just a distraction, like most things in life. At that end of the day (or week or month or year) you are still the exact same person with the same problems, and driving hasn’t solved any of it.

But, this time I think I actually have — not learned something, but  I’ve figured something out. See, I was planning on moving away from Victoria. I was sort of using this trip as a scouting mission, to see where I’d like to like. I was expecting/hoping that somewhere would jump up and scream HERE! YOU NEED TO BE HERE! NOW!

And a lot of places that I visited were fantastic. As I was there I would think yeah, I could live here. I feel good here. Small places. Big places. West coast places. Prairie places. Strange, new, wonderful places. Houston, BC. Calgary, AB. North Battleford, Sk. Winnipeg, MB. Ottawa, ON. Val Morin, QC. Wolfville, NS. St. John’s, NL. To name a few.

Sivinanda Ashram, Quebec

It’s just in the last few weeks, looking back on all of these places that I explored and enjoyed, have I realized the real reason why I felt like they could be home.

It wasn’t the places. It was the people.

It seems so freaking obvious. But I’ve always assumed I liked a place, or didn’t like a place, because of the place itself.

Place. I’ve typed that word so many times in the last few sentences that it’s lost all meaning.

Anywho, I have finally figured out — after years upon YEARS of traveling — that the place doesn’t matter so much. If you’ve got the right people, anywhere is fantastic. And yes, a big part of people is other beings. But another big part of people is me. Who I am and how I feel and how I treat those others that I claim to care so much about. I’ve realized that I don’t need to keep driving and driving and DRIVING to be happy. I probably need to figure out how to stay still. And I should pay more attention to the people in my life because they are so worth the time and effort.

PEI Sunset

This is getting mushy. I didn’t mean it to be. If you’re new to my blog, welcome! And, no, I don’t normally get all touchy-feely.

So, that’s it. Quietly, in a small parking lot, my trip came to an end. I hadn’t arrived at my next stop. I had arrived home.

That’s right, internets. Halifax will be my home. For the next ten months anyway. I have decided to stay put for a while, and will be taking a yoga teacher training course. It’s part of that previously mentioned “learning to stay still” thing. So you can look forward to months of zany a-funny-thing-happened-on-the-way-to-yoga stories.


Girl Meets Canada: My St. John’s Meltdown

Day 114 (Tuesday August 31st)

Cape Spear

Since I left Halifax 23 days ago, I haven’t spent much time with other people. It’s mostly been short exchanges at grocery stores and gas stations, and most topics of conversation have revolved around requests for me to sign little pieces of paper, and me complying.

Let’s backtrack even further. Since I left Victoria 114 days ago, any time anyone has asked me where I’m going I’ve vaguely said St. John’s, Newfoundland. It was easier than saying I really don’t know, I’m just sort of driving aimlessly with the hopes that something will jump up and hit me over the head screaming THIS IS YOUR NEW LIFE because I really don’t know what I want to do or where I want to do it and a road trip seemed like a good way to avoid decisions for a while, you know?

So I’d say St. John’s and people would say cool!, and I’d think yeah, I know, and then go about my business.

Saint John's Street

And then, 114 days later, something happened that I had never really considered. I actually arrived in St. John’s. There I was, in St. John’s. My destination. And it was the middle of the day, and sunny, and there were lots of people around, and the roads are really steep and didn’t make much sense as to where they led and I didn’t know anyone and OHGODWHATAMIDOINGHERE???

So I left the downtown area and decided to take shelter in the part of Canada I have come to know intimately. The big box shopping streets. Every single town in Canada has this. It’s wonderful. You can drive for hundreds and hundreds and yes, even thousands of kilometres and drive into a place you’ve never been in a province you can’t even spell and it’ll feel like you’re driving home. It’s all Walmarts and Costcos and gas and fastfood and Home Depots and parking lots and car dealerships and garden centres. It’s the part of any town where I can handle all of the people because it is so totally anonymous. I understand these parts of town. I can function in them. I can find what I need and slip in and out without being noticed and without feeling guilty for not appreciating my surroundings.

Saint John's Harbour

I decided to ignore St. John’s and do laundry instead (and no, I didn’t launder my sunglasses or wallet this time). While my clothes spun and tumbled I sat out in my van eating Vienna sausages and cheese slices while checking my email on a very weak wi-fi connection.

Yeah, so, I had a bit of a freak out.

In my defence, I’d just spent three weeks in a cabin on the coast of Nova Scotia, then on the beaches of PEI, and finally in the wonderfully underpopulated west coast of Newfoundland and Gros Mourne park. All this civilization would have overwhelmed anyone. Right?

I was starting to do travel math (how long do I need to spend in this place before I can leave without looking like a total loser for bailing too early) when my phone buzzed. It was a text from Terry.

Terry is a friend of a friend. One of those Oh, you’ll be in that place and I know someone there so you should look them up! things. My luck with these sorts of introductions have been 50/50. I’ve met some fantastic people this way. I’ve also had some very awkward phone conversations and cups of coffee.

Reasons to move to Branch, NL.

So Terry was texting me to say he was heading out of town the next morning for a few weeks and was really busy that night, but if I could come over right away he could squeeze me in for a beer. I almost said no. I was perfectly happy lying in my van feeling sorry for myself and waiting for it to get dark. Making small talk with a stranger sounded like hell.

Fortunately, the whiny, self pitying part of my brain — while always present — is rarely in charge. I headed back into town and this time, with a local guide, it was much better. I actually managed to sit in a bar and drink my Guinness without cracking up. Go me!

Terry had this absolutely wonderful quality that endeared me to him for life. He actually felt bad that he was leaving town while I was entering it. Seriously! Me, a total stranger who just waltzed in and was all I know Andrea and so do you. He seemed to feel the need to provide shelter and entertainment. Sucker!

So he brought me over to his friend, Dr. Iguana*. I can see how maybe Terry would feel like he should look after his friend’s friend. Dr. Iguana, however, had absolutely no reason to be nice to me. But he took me in, gave me his couch, a place to park, and became my own personal tour guide and chef.

St Mary's Bird Sanctuary (you're looking at 50,000 Northern Gannets).

Day 115-120 (Wed Sept 1st-Mon Sept 6th)

Dr. Iguana and I have gone to Cape Spear, the most eastern point of North America, with tons of scary cliffs and angry waves. We spent a day driving down to St. Mary’s bird sanctuary, which is basically a massive cliff face where thousands and thousands of birds hang out and mate. We walked around Branch and enjoyed their list of 21 reasons why moving there is a good idea (they hope to increase the population to 500 over the next 15 years). We went down to Ye Olde Inn in Quidi Vidi village and drank beer at the smallest, kitchiest bar I have ever seen (the decor was primarily licence plates, hockey sticks, baby shoes, and seal clubbing tools). We’ve traipsed through the museum and art gallery. Along with Alien Boy** we drove around Bell Island looking for abandoned mines and drinking beer with local hooligans.

Dr. Iguana & Alien Boy

We’ve eaten cod tongues and moose, and we’ve looked — unsuccessfully — for flipper pie.

And my temporary insanity seems to have disappeared. I have not felt the need to run away and hide in a massive parking lot, and I haven’t even been tempted to buy a can of Vienna sausages. I’m cured!

* Not his real name. He requested this alias specifically. Swear!

** Another self selected alias. These boys, I tell ya!

Girl Meets Canada: What’s in a Name?

Day 111 (Saturday, Aug 28th)

Twillingate Lighthouse View

I put way too much faith in maps. Not so much in their ability to tell me where things are in relation to other things (I have faith in their ability to do that for sure, but I wouldn’t call it “too much” faith. I think it’s the right amount of faith). No, I seem to assume that the merits of a destination are somehow reflected on the map. For example, sometimes it’s hard to tell what location the name of a town is referring to, and I’ll think that must mean the town is either hard to get to or not worth visiting. Or if the name is in a bigger font than other names it either is a larger town (which means it will obviously contain whatever amenity I’m currently looking for) or it has something superior about it that I need to check out.

This is how I found myself disappointed in Grand Falls-Windsor. It has such a royal name — two names, actually, and “Grand” is right in there, telling you the place is, well, grand. Plus the font was significantly larger than surrounding towns.

Twillingate Coast

No, Grand Falls-Windsor was a big strip mall with bad roads. But wait! Gander is only an hour a way. And if you squint and look at the map sideways it really does look like the font is bigger still. My TomTom told me there was a movie theatre in town (the amenity I was currently interested in). Plus, I’ve heard of Gander. And it has punny potential. Let’s take a gander at Gander! Weee!

Turned out that Gander was smaller and less impressive than Grand Falls-Windsor, with a theatre that shut down in the 90s. Thanks, Tom! Though the roads weren’t as bad. I spent a surprising amount of time driving around trying to find a place to eat that wasn’t a) fast food and b) closed permanently. I finally found a pub in a hotel and when I asked what local beers they had the answer was Canadian. After a pasty bowl of clam chowder I retreated to my van and spent the night in the Walmart parking lot.

Day 112 (Sunday, Aug 29th)

Dildo Run Campground

Considering how well the previous day of choosing locations off a map had gone for me, I decided to do it again. See, there was this area close by that had two reasons to visit. One, it had a fun name — Twillingate. And two, that section of the map had been blown up into more detail. Why would a map do that, unless the place was fun and exciting and worth checking out?

So off to Twillingate I tootled, and was happy to discover that this time my map had not lead me astray. Twillingate is a few islands all connected by causeways. From the look of it, it gets just enough tourism money to keep it looking nice and tidy, but not enough to become an obnoxious tourist trap. It’s a quiet place full of windy roads, cute coastal communities, and lots of walking trails. I walked around the cliffs by the lighthouse, did the Top of Twillingate hike (with panoramic views of the islands) and ate a moose sandwich for lunch (tasted sadly like something from Subway).

In the afternoon I found a lovely campground on the water with the wonderful name of Dildo Run. Seriously, Newfoundland, you’ve named a few things Dildo. What do you think it means?