1. Price differential: I paid $45 for the ferry trip from Tswwassen to Sturdies Bay. It was the first stop on the ferry's Gulf Islands route. Three days later, I paid $25 for the return trip. Same distance. What gives?
2. It pays to research ferry schedules. I've never been to any of the Gulf Islands before, and had only a dim idea of the schedule of the ferry that services it. For some reason, I thought there would be one every two hours. There are exactly two per day, most days. I didn't research the schedules beforehand, which is incredibly stupid, although I have had an extremely busy month and got this trip together in a rush. The upshot is that I arrived at Tswwassen at 3 p.m., and learned the next ferry wasn't for four hours. The ticket cashier selling me my ticket quickly handed me a schedule, with a look on her face that said she hoped this dolt could read. So I parked, the only one in the lot for hours, and waited. Meantime, I got to know the new public market at the terminal very well and became a fixture there. The pizza deli owners are naming one of their children after me. The market itself is fine: bright, airy, big windowed, West Coast wood kind of thing, through which waiting tourists trudge the length of repeatedly like a legion of undead shoppers. It has a Starbucks, but it wasn't operational yet. Why they didn't think of a public market several decades ago to prevent motorists from going stir crazy with boredom during the wait for inevitably late ferries, I don't know.
3. I passed the time reading. Looking around, I noted younger people passing the time playing PSPs.
4. Is there a difference between an ax and a hatchet? I bought a hatchet. Couldn't cut blocks of wood to save my life. I arrived at my campground with about an hour and a half, so I set up camp pretty fast, bought some wood, and because of the lack of available kindling, used all my available newspaper, a torn up cardboard box and half a bottle of kerosene firestarter to get the logs going. It worked, after a fashion, as my old woodcraft skills from school and church group outings slowly resurfaced. Hint about fires: build 'em with lots of internal air, because the air needs to fuel as many surfaces as possible to get the conflagration going. You also want heat to reflect off complementary surfaces to create an internal red hot zone of coals. The next night, I scrounged a few branches from the near the biffy (you're not supposed to do that, but ...) and used some solid firestarters to get the fire going nicely. I'm returning the hatchet. Unless I'm going to war 18th century Mohawk style, I don't need it.
5. Galiano is boring. It is essentially one or two roads going from north to south, with a bunch of roads branching off in the deep south, and almost nothing in the north. It has no cleared town centre, just some intersections near the ferry dock overshadowed by heavy bush and high trees. Unless you're into B&Bs (which are fine) or absolutely in love with pottery and ceramic studios, which bore me to tears, there's nothing really to do in Galiano. One of the few stores even had a sleeping dog lying in the doorway. They do have a bit of live music on weekends at the pub, and a local theatre group was putting on Shakespeare, but all of that is during the July-August weekend tourist trade. In winter, I was told, the place closes up. There is one semi-public area, where the tiny library, islands trust office, touristy art store, and a couple of delis are. Also a flush toilet there, which I thankfully used on more than one occasion during my jaunts "downtown." There's also a bookstore, which has a really broad and impressive collection of stuff.
Note that boring was OK. I went to the island to get away, to walk around, hike, explore and read by a campfire. Also to eat a lot. So there's a good tourism slogan for the island: "Galiano, a great place to read a book."
6. Half the people on Galiano are old. The rest are either men in plaid shirts and utility vests (I saw more B.C. Hydro trucks in three days than I've seen in 10 years driving around Vancouver) having discussions about saws and stuff or plain-faced, middleaged women with that equally plain natural foods look. I heard tales of lesbian colonies, but found none, but then I wouldn't quite know where to look. Some kids. A couple of teenagers, but mostly the demographic skews elderly. Almost no babes, aside from the university student at the museum and the two women (who might have been lesbians) reading books about plants or herbs or something outside one of the town's few delis. The lack of youth is interesting. The local theatre group is putting on Romeo and Juliet: can they even find anyone who can play two 15-year-old lovers? Or did they import the actors from the mainland, or even Saltspring?
7. That said, the people I talked to who had been living there awhile like the place quite a bit. Some were born there, some moved there and decided to stay put. I had a milkshake at Scoops, a deli near the ferry dock. The woman there moved from the mainland about eight years ago and rarely goes back. She puts up with island oddities, such as the haywire electrical job in the deli: she has to turn the lights on, even in the middle of a bright summer day, to make the milkshake machine work. I told her I found Galiano very quiet, in a good way. "Yes, but summer is when it gets pretty hectic around here," she said. I looked around to the outside, where in a small courtyard, a family with kids, the two plant-book reading, possibly sapphic women, and a pair of tourist cyclists drank coffees and juice and munched on snacks. Birds chirped. The wind played with the trees. I nodded. Hectic.
8. On the road leading out from the ferry docks through hectic downtown Sturdies Bay, there are one-hour parking signs posted. For what? And who enforces them?
9. I slept remarkably well, sleeping on a thin but comfy mat in a tent barely big enough for me to stretch out in (it's a two person tent, which is great if the two people using it happen to be midgets). The birds at the campsite would make me every morning about 5 a.m., but that was a better sound than construction and traffic noise at 6:30 a.m., which is what I get every other day of the year.
10. Montague Harbour campground is pretty nice: Nice trail around the park for a good hour walk in either forest or along the beach, which included a couple of miles of beach covered in millions of crushed clam shells apparently left over from aboriginal days. (There is an Indian reserve at the very north end of the island, but I'm told no one lives there except for one guy, who makes drums. And he's not native.) The first day and a half, the campground was less than a third full, just the quiet I was seeking, but on the third day a fleet of campers and vans invaded, bringing kids, dogs, more old people. Aside from the teenage girls at the site next to me with their self-involved, inane chatter day and night, most of the people in the campground were OK though. A buoyant Chinese family moved in across the way and down the road some, setting up an efficient campsite in remarkably little time in the dark of night. They had two kids, and when I met them on the trail, their little boy was holding a giant, plastic scorpion in a bug net. "I'm trying to scare people with it," he told me. To add to the diversity, some Quebecers also moved in next door. Didn't really chat with any of them, just met them on the trails or at the water pump and said hello etc.
11. Mosquitoes: not bad at all, despite the campground being in an apparent swamp. Had maybe two bites.
12. Some of the other camps were amazingly elaborate: multiple tents, huge awnings or tarps covering eating and cooking areas, hammocks stretched out in trees, numerous lanterns hung from trees. My campsite, with a simple tent, Coleman stove, weak electric lamp and the truck, was neolithic by comparison. I was fortunate I was there between rains.
13. My great discovery of the trip was Bellhouse Park, which I discovered looks out on to Active Pass, which is what I've been by numerous times on ferries during the course of my life. Now I know what I've been looking at all those years.
14. The official Galiano Museum is smaller than my living room, and I have a small living room. There you'll find native artifacts, some logging tools, a cannonball, an anchor rescued from the sea bottom, genealogies on the founding families (ie the Georgesons, whose name is everywhere), maps and a friendly university student, raised on the island, staffing the place. She'll tell you what's hot and what's not in Galiano. Hot: the quiet life. Not: the museum house, which, if the Islands Trust allows, will be replaced by a new museum building on land donated for the purpose. Fundraising is ongoing. I pitched in $2.
15. On my last night, after good campsite meals of canned organic soups, veggie dogs, pasta with tomato sauce and braised broccoli, I treated myself to dinner at the island pub, the Hummingbird. Mediocre food, and the waitress frequently forgot the details of my order ("Sorry, was that cream ale or honey nut brown?" "Uh, what kind of tea did you order again?"). But she was prompt, the place seemed like a gathering spot for locals and tourists alike (and I think the seafood would have been a better bet for me) and I had dinner with the pub cat, who wandered in after I entered, came up to me when I offered my hand and then jumped up and plopped himself down on a chair at my table. Neither the other patrons nor the staff made any attempt to eject him. He (or she) is a regular, and one of the regulars even came over to pet him. He didn't do much. Napped while I waited for dinner, and then when my food came, popped up and stared at me while I ate. "Not a chance, pal," I said to him, so he left as I started dessert, for better pickings elsewhere. I gather he gets them regularly.
16. I haven't camped in years, so this was an adventure for me, even if the version I experienced was quite mild. Camping in a provincial campground a short ferry hop from Vancouver is no hardship, especially when stores (and flush toilets) are a short drive away. And camping for most people, especially with kids, is an expedition to bring as much technology and convenience with them as possible: trailers or campers with electric lights and propane stoves; radios or CD players; coolers packed with ice bought from stores which get their ice from industrial sources; prepared foods; fishing boats powered by gasoline or diesel; tents, sleeping bags and clothes made from synthetics; chemical bug repellent; and animal companions, ie dogs, whose existence is entirely dependent on human largess and economic surplus. It's a kick to hang out outdoors for a few days, and the forest, wind in the trees and crabs, clams and little animals that squirt out jets of water from tidal pools are great, but this is no wilderness. Just a tame area where you can get some peace and quiet.
Final note: I finished off and re-read parts of The Long Emergency, Howard Kuntsler's book about the end of oil and the dire consequences he says will come about as a result. Leaving aside the accuracy of his claims, it was a wicked kick to read about the twilight of sophisticated, oil-driven economies and the winding down of so much we take for granted as I read in the late evening to the light of a simple electric lantern and a few candles, stripped of many of the energy-driven technologies I take for granted. I also wrote the notes for much of this post late, last night, in old fashioned pen on time-tested paper, as the sky grew dark and the woods became quiet around me. As I finished the book, and then my notes, I looked up, and saw the stars.