Transcending America’s Pacific coastline aboard Amtrak’s Coast Starlight.
After eight days exploring North America, it was time to visit some more westerly extremities. Flying out from Toronto, my first stop was Saltspring Island, via Vancouver Airport and a float plane. This is the more expensive means of reaching the Gulf Islands (the other being a succession of ferries) but it’s by far the quickest — and the most exciting. I saw views to die for. For small propellor driven aircraft that use harbours to take off and land, float planes are surprising comfortable.
In what’s becoming a regular feature of recent travel, I headed to Saltspring to meet my friend Phil, who I previously dinned with when I was in Melbourne. Having bought a beautiful house that previously served as a bed and breakfast, he was more than happy to put me up for a few nights too. I also got to meet his wonderful wife Claire and their lovely children, Amelia and Lily.
I quickly found myself drawn into island life. I started my first day with a filling breakfast (and a spectacular waterfront view) at Auntie Pestos before a quick drive to the top of Mount Maxwell. This was followed by a gruelling hike up Mount Erskine, where I left a message in the logbook sat beneath Rosie’s Bowl. Recovery was aided by a tasty hot chocolate from Talia.
The sense of community on this island of 10,500 is palpable, but even more so during Halloween. Workmen fixing power lines joined parents, teachers and children wearing fancy dress costumes throughout the day. That evening we went trick or treating. A small cul-de-sac of houses happily welcomed the hoards of kids that had descended on their quiet neighbourhood. We were greeted by cobwebs, ghastly decorations, intricately carved pumpkins and plenty of ghosts, with one controlled by a willing conspirator on a roof, tasked with dangling white sheets from a fishing rod!
Phil and I then checked out the haunted house. On display was some seriously scary amateur dramatics performed by kids from the local school; humorous and heart warming at the same time. As the evening drew to a close with a fireworks display over the harbour, I rejoiced in having experienced a very memorable Halloween.
The next day Claire gave me a tour of the south end of the island, including breakfast at Rock Salt and a walk around Ruckle Park. Yet my stay on the island was concluding all to quickly. I planned to return to Vancouver by ferry, but a three hour journey with multiple transfers couldn’t compete with another flight on a float plane — especially one that would include a flight over the city of Vancouver.
Sat in the front seat of another float plane, I enjoyed a breathtaking view of Vancouver as I descended into its harbour. For such a densely populated city, I felt I’d arrived somewhere small and friendly.
Some cities are best arrived at by air; only by flying over Sydney, London or New York do you get a sense of their scale and majesty. San Francisco is best approached by car, with some of the best views of that city seen as you cross the Bay Bridge. Others are best suited to arrival by train. Toronto is one such city.
After four days in Washington, it was on to another North American capital, Ottawa. I encountered a city that was cold yet plentiful in ATMs that would refuse to accept my debit card.
My North American adventure started in Washington DC; ostensibly so I could attend an edition of this year’s An Event Apart conference. Yet it was also a good excuse to catch up with Shannon, who graciously planned a tour of the city for me and Andy.
Having tried so diligently last year to reduce the amount of flying I do, I hoped to keep this year’s long-haul flights to one. With an important part of my family now settled in São Paulo, and some of my best friends based in San Francisco, maybe such lofty goals are foolhardy. Before I write about my most recent travels, I address the hypocrisy in taking such a trip.