June 27, Tuesday
Around 4 pm, Julie drops me off at Dane County Regional Airport on the north side of Madison, WI. So starts this particular adventure. For those who missed the post two weeks ago, I’m going to a poi retreat on a primitive island in the Strait of Georgia west of Vancouver, BC.
You know how airports have little stores catering to the state they’re located in? If you don’t fly much, let me tell you that they do. The one at Madison features a lot of Packers gear, and a stand with cheeseheads out front, very classy. For those not familiar with Wisconsin, a cheesehead is a foam wedge of cheese with an indent cut out of the bottom, you wear it on your head. In the back of the store is a refrigerated stand with actual Wisconsin cheese.
There isn’t much else here. A restaurant, a couple other little stores. My plane starts boarding about a quarter after five. I’ve chosen window seats for all of my flights this trip because flying is still enough of a novelty that I enjoy gawking out the window at the view. On later flights, I become even more glad that I chose window seats because it gives me a wall to lean against and nap.
While I’d ordered my ticket for this retreat over six months in advance, I didn’t buy the plane tickets until about 90 days out. I’ve read somewhere that that is something of a sweet spot when it comes to prices. I’ve also read somewhere that it doesn’t always work out that way and the rules are always changing.
If you do a little digging online, you’ll find there’s a pretty robust community that exists around the subject of travel hacking, that is finding the best deals for traveling. If I end up doing more airplane travel it’s something I’ll probably look into since flying can be expensive, but it wasn’t something I worried about for this trip. My round-trip cost from Madison to Vancouver with one layover each way was about $600 – the flight out costing less than the flight back, perhaps because of the day of the week. There were one or two cheaper options with more layovers, I avoided those.
My first plane from Madison to Dallas, TX departs on time, so far so good. I’m flying American Airlines on the way out, and a snack and drink are included for economy passengers. Mini pretzels and orange juice, exciting.
As the airplane approaches Dallas, the clouds get interesting. The setting sun highlights the tops of isolated thunderstorm cells. I’ve been monitoring the weather for Madison, Dallas, and Vancouver for a couple days and before boarding I’d noticed a flood warning for parts of Dallas. You always hope for clear skies when flying.
Sure enough, there’s a delay for landing due to the weather. The storms have passed out of the area but earlier flights were delayed and our arrival gate still has a plane in it, we need to wait for it to leave. My Dallas layover is a good two hours so I should be okay, but other people on this flight have shorter connections and some of them are worried. Once we land, I wait to get off to allow those with sooner flights the best chance.
My second, longer flight from Dallas to Vancouver departs on time. Two other retreat participants are on it as well, and I just so happen to be sitting directly behind one of them. I can tell she is with our group because her carry-on item is a set of hula hoops. It’s a poi retreat, but we were encouraged to bring other props as well. We talk a little, but are too tired to hold a real conversation. I don’t sleep though, it’s just not comfortable (or I’m not tired enough yet). The plane disembarks about 12:30 am local (Pacific) time, for me it feels like 2:30 am.
June 28, Wednesday
I’m a little worried about going through customs, what do I say if the lady asks what I’m here for? Most people don’t even know what poi is, and it’s very hard to explain. In front of me, Julia of the hula hoops gets asked and says it’s a dance retreat, which is probably the best explanation given the circumstances. She passes through quickly.
The lady looks at my receipt and my passport, and then looks up at me. She checks off my receipt and without a word I’m through.
The three of us sleep on the seats at the airport for a couple hours. This is the first time I’ve tried such a thing. It’s not comfortable.
Currency exchange opens at 4-something am and by 5 we’re out of the airport with the appropriate money. Now comes the hard part of the trip – getting to Lasqueti Island.
I do hope you’re paying attention, because this gets complicated. Luckily I looked it all up ahead of time and have transfer points and names saved in my phone GPS. Unfortunately, neither of the two others with me have looked into it as closely as I have, so I sort of end up being in charge of getting us there which adds to the pressure.
We cross the street from the airport to get to the SkyTrain where we purchase two-zone tickets on the Canada line. The sun rises as the train rumbles over False Creek.
At Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver, we get off the train and walk a block and a half to the junction of West Georgia Street and Seymour Street to wait for either the 250 or the 257express bus, both which go to Horseshoe Bay. Much later I find out that if we’d gotten off the SkyTrain one stop earlier, we could have avoided the block and a half walk and just crossed the street again for the bus, but looking back I’m glad it worked out this way, downtown looks beautiful in the early morning light.
I’m amused by the way people in Vancouver line up in a organized single-file to board the bus. No one directs them to do so, it just happens. There is no cutting in line, no one crowds anyone else, it’s all so neat and orderly and very different from how boarding a bus goes in the US. Later I speak to another retreat participant who is from Toronto and he says that there are no neat lines there either – it’s a Vancouver thing.
Getting on a city bus with a bunch of luggage is a huge hassle. Plus we don’t have the swipe cards that all the rest of the passengers use and it takes us a while to count out the coins to cover fare. I can tell the locals are a bit miffed with us.
We end up on the 250, which is the slower route with more stops, but on the plus side it follows the ocean so the view is pretty sweet. By this time though, I’m too tired to pay much attention to my surroundings and I’m beginning to have misgivings about this retreat. This is a heck of a lot of work for a trip that is suppose to be relaxing. What if it doesn’t end up being worth the money spent?
At Horseshoe Bay, the three of us buy tickets to make the ferry crossing to Departure Bay (Nanaimo) on Vancouver Island, and we meet up with more retreat attendees – all as tired as we are. The ferry is huge, big enough for vehicles and a cafe. I step out on the deck for photos. Have I mentioned yet that Vancouver is surrounded by mountains? It is, and it’s very pretty.
As soon as we land two hours later, the Tofino Bus (the one thing we all had to make reservations for ahead of time) is waiting to pick us up. We load all our stuff into the storage bays underneath and tell the bus driver to drop us off at French Creek which is past Parksville. This is a vital step, because the bus won’t stop there normally. The drive along 19A is nice.
We don’t actually get dropped off at the harbor, but at the turnoff for Lee Road, it’s a short walk though.
The ferry for Lasqueti doesn’t leave until 2:30 pm, it’s about 12:30 now. Our group sets up in the outside dining area at French Creek Marine Pub. In the spirit of trying new things I order Poutine, a Canadian comfort food consisting of french fries and cheese curds topped with gravy. I’d estimate it at roughly a million calories. I’m only able to eat a fraction of it because it’s so filling, others help.
To board the ferry for Lasqueti, one needs to obtain a ticket from a post out on the dock ahead of time. If you don’t have a ticket, you don’t board. So one of our number watches the post like a hawk, waiting for the tickets to go up to make sure we can all get on. Over the two hour wait for the ferry, more participants (poi-ticipants?) show up, there are about twelve of us now. We all obtain a ticket, almost there now.
This ferry is much smaller than the one between Vancouver and Nanaimo. It’s foot traffic only out to Lasqueti, only residents own vehicles. We all fork over $11.75 in cash as there’s no credit card reader on board. Likewise, any purchases on the island will need to be made with cash.
And finally, around 3:30 pm, we arrive on Lasqueti Island. It’s taken almost 24 hours to traveling to get here, and I dozed off for perhaps an hour max during that time. How very different from RVing, where I travel perhaps four hours a day and always have my own bed to sleep in at night.
As our group exits the ferry we’re greeted by a surreal sight on this tiny little dock: a black limo with a whale painted on the side is waiting for us. All of our luggage goes in there, while we make our way to Leviathan Studio on foot. My misgivings about the trip begin to fade as a second wind of energy finds me among the tall conifers of the island. Even running on an hour of sleep it’s easy to see the beauty here. As we ascend the final hill to the studio, Karina – one of the instructors – makes her way to the front of the group. She says she loves seeing the look on people’s faces when they see it for the first time and wants to be in a good position for it.
We pass through the gate and step inside. I can’t help but make the face Karina’s been waiting for. Nevermind how much effort it took to get here, in this one moment all has been made well.
For part 2, click here!