Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Canada travel log part last

To read this travel log from the beginning, click here.

On the 6th day, we woke up early in Port Hardy and prepared to get on the ferry to Prince Rupert. The desk clerk at our hotel had told us to be in the lobby at 6am to catch the shuttle to the ferry. We got downstairs a little before 6 and stood in line to check out. Another hotel guest asked where the shuttle would pick us up. The morning desk clerk said it was gone, it had left at 5:30. Of course. I had been suspicious of the 6am departure time, but didn't question the clerk. The other guest got kind of irritated. He said he was told to come at 6am and I spoke up and said I'd been told the same. The clerk called the driver who confirmed that he was gone and would not be returning. She told the other guy that he would have to take a taxi. He started to get angry, but Mike and I offered to split the taxi with him, and he calmed down. The ferry doesn't leave until 7:30, so we really weren't worried.
It turned out to be perfect timing. The taxi dropped us off and Mike and I picked up our boarding passes just as they were allowing foot traffic to board the boat. The desk clerk's mistake just meant that we missed waiting in a bunch of lines.

The man who shared the taxi with us was traveling with his wife and teenaged son. They were from Austria. The Austrian man became our new best friend over the next 2 days.

We were using BC Ferries to take us along the Inside Passage from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. Along the west coast of Canada, there are numerous little islands between the mainland and the Pacific Ocean. At times, the distance between islands and mainland is only about 1 mile. This route along the coast is called the Inside Passage, and is known to be spectacularly beautiful. It takes 15 hours to ride from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. From Prince Rupert you could board another ferry that takes you to the Charlotte Islands or continue on to Alaska. Or you could spend the night in Prince Rupert and return to Port Hardy on the same ferry the next day, which is what Mike and I decided to do. We didn't necessarily want to take the ferry twice, but it was the cheapest way to get back.

The trip was fantastic in some ways and disappointing in others. The views are indeed spectacular, and it is mind-numbing to see how it goes on for 15 hours, completely unspoiled. Our fellow tourists all agreed that it was the hugest stretch of unspoiled nature they had ever seen, and we talked to people from all over the world. The view does not vary much along the way though. Green island after green island after green island. I suppose I was expecting more drama in the landscape like we had seen in Hawaii. We, and our fellow tourists, were also disappointed by the lack of wildlife. We did not see any orcas or seals in the entire 30-hour voyage. The bridge kept calling out humpback whale sightings, and I did get to see a big family of dolphins which were so cool. I was sitting next to a window when the bridge called out dolphins on the port side. I was at the port side, and immediately saw them, swimming toward the boat, a dozen or so, and so cute. And then one of them broke away and did a u-turn and chased the boat for a while, right under my window. It all happened so fast that I couldn't take any pictures, but I'll remember the adorable dolphin forever.

You can spend the night on the boat when it gets to Prince Rupert, but we decided to get off the boat and get a hotel in town, even though it would only be a few hours before we had to get back. We wanted to see the town, even in the dark, and stretch our legs. I'm so glad we did. When we got off the boat it was only a few minutes to collect our checked luggage, and then get in line for a taxi. There were lots of taxis and it was a short wait. We checked into our hotel which was next to a nightclub. Prince Rupert is somewhat larger than Port Hardy, and definitely not as charming. In fact, it's rather weird. Then I remembered how close we were to Alaska, and how Alaskan towns are usually described as being quite weird, so it started to make sense. We walked around their downtown area and saw lots of stores selling crap. We looked in the window at a real estate office and saw shacks for sale for $75k, and big houses for $350k. The little houses said "Sold". The weirdest store, to me, referred to itself as selling couture dresses. In the window was a display of the ugliest, plainest, prom-type dresses from the 80s. One of them was wider than a garbage can. I must have not had my camera with me or I would have taken a picture. Maybe this doesn't sound weird to anyone reading this, but I happen to live 100 yards from an actual couturier who sews the most extravagant beautiful dresses I've ever seen in my life. Put their 2 display windows side by side and it would look like Bob Mackie Barbie vs Trailer Trash Barbie.

In the morning, we called a taxi and went back to the boat. Mike had booked us a cabin on the boat for the way back. We immediately checked into our cabin and went to sleep for a few hours. The cabins were very lovely and efficient, even with showers. I had previously thought I would not like to take a cruise, but spending 2 days on the ferry changed my mind. I think it could be very relaxing to take a cruise.
When we woke up, we spent most of the day outside just enjoying the scenery and talking to people and listening to everyone speak in a variety of accents. We amused ourselves by stringing together all of the French words that we know, saying things like vous le vous fromage en biciclet. Then when we actually got in line at the cafeteria behind a French family I had to motion to Mike to be sure NOT to make any vous le vous jokes for a while. I watched movies in the lounge and Mike talked with the Austrian for hours. The Austrian was wonderful and intelligent and honest, and meeting him was also one of the high points of our trip. He told us he wanted to visit San Francisco and other US points of interest, but that his son refused. When we asked why, he only hesitated a moment before looking us in the eyes and telling us unapologetically that it was a boycott. We did our best to smooth international relations. At the dock back in Port Hardy, there was not a line of taxis as there had been in Prince Rupert. We said goodbye to our friend since we weren't going back to the same hotel and he was boarding a shuttle bus. We waited forever for a taxi. Met some nice British people while waiting. They were also quite lovely, and made us laugh when one of them asked us a question about David Beckham moving to L.A., and used the word "football" but then quickly caught himself and changed it to "soccer". It was so adorably sweet of him to "translate" for us and I had to mention it to him later. We amused ourselves by comparing British and American English while we waited forever for a taxi.
When Mike and I finally got one, we headed to the Seagate Hotel. That is where the world's friendliest hotel staff is. When we got out of the taxi, they greeted us by name. Port Hardy hotels are usually sold out when the ferry comes in, and we were last to arrive. There were 3 staff members waiting for us. One explained that they were really only 99.5% booked. They always leave one room open just in case a mother and child comes off the ferry and has no place else to stay. Except a manger. Just kidding. I went to give my credit card and realized with horror that I had left my purse on the taxi. I immediately said something. I don't think I had finished the whole sentence "I left my..." when the clerk was on the phone with the taxi driver asking her to come back. I had my purse back before I could count to 10. I was amazed. The hotel is old, but the service and attention to detail was fantastic, and I definitely recommend the Seagate if you go to Port Hardy.
We caught the Greyhound back to Vancouver the next day (had the same cranky driver), and then flew home the day after. Got to fly first class, too. It was a great vacation.

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