The next day Steve’s dad and his wife picked us up from our Airbnb and took us to a Vietnamese restaurant for an early lunch. Here I had my first encounter with Vietnamese coffee. How have I survived all these years without trying Vietnamese coffee? The food was good too.
Afterwards, Paul showed us the sights of Nanaimo waterfront before dropping us off at Steve’s brother’s house. We had a very pleasant evening chatting and eating before an early night.
Robyn and I were catching the Greyhound bus to Port Hardy. Or so we thought! Confusion arose. Steve’s family were sure Greyhound, much to the residents’ annoyance, had stopped their services on The Island. But, I had tickets! Even the departure point wasn’t clear. Robyn rang the office which directed us to the ferry terminal. We waited. A Tofino Bus company service to Port Hardy arrived and loaded. We waited some more. When we were the last people left, we discovered the Greyhound wasn’t running, but Tofino Bus Company were honouring the tickets. What a relief! We sat in the two empty seats at the front. The lady behind observed that they hadn’t sat there because they had reserved signs. We hadn’t noticed. She appeared a little aggrieved!
The bus driver was very chatty. Sufficiently so for me to comment to Robyn that I hoped he didn’t continue in that vein for the entire 8 hours to Port Hardy. The door made a horrendous whining noise when closed so he kept opening and closing it, or left it open. We liked it open but others didn’t. I understood his frustration. Like many bus drivers, he was very informative. We were behind schedule the entire way as the bus company, according to him, kept changing the timetable and it was now impossible to adhere to. Our break in Campbell River was therefore shortened. However, it didn’t prevent him from parking by a picturesque river for us to admire the view or stopping at Voss, a settlement comprising a petrol station/shop and a cafe and no other sign of life.
We arrived at Port Hardy at 5.30pm, checked into the North Coast Trail Hostel, and headed straight to the supermarket to buy our provisions for the long ferry ride the next day. Robyn is not her most amenable if she is hungry! We were very indecisive and by the time we came out, the liquor store was closed. This was a disaster as she had visions of wine and cheese on the ferry. The hostel owners told us of another store and we set off. She was on a mission! It was another balmy evening and an enjoyable march to the pub by the marina. We got a takeaway pizza for dinner and spent the rest of the evening preparing for an early start.
The shuttle, an old yellow school bus, arrived just after 5am. Although the ferry didn’t leave until 7.30am we had to be there two hours prior. There was a longer queue of cars than usual, according to the bus driver. A ‘director of traffic’ eventually waved us to the front of it. Robyn insisted on a cabin which I, in my meanness, hadn’t booked. A staff member directed her to the ferry office where she queued for 30 minutes only to be told that both of us had to be there with our I.D. so they could issue our boarding buses. (I had stayed with the luggage). We queued again and waited whilst other passengers bought tickets. I needn’t have booked online. The cashier advised us to ask the purser on board about a cabin. Two minutes later, at the foot of the car ramp, we parted with our pristine boarding passes and waited for cars to load before being allowed onto the ship. Luckily, there was a cabin available. Robyn retrieved our luggage, which in the confusion we had had to check in, and we settled in for the 16 hour trip.
It was very foggy and remained overcast and dreary until 4pm when the clouds miraculously cleared. In the meantime, we sat in the cabin, read, wandered the decks, drank and ate. The route took us up the isolated Inside Passage where there is little or no habitation. Tree-clad mountains arose on either side the entire way and we were only exposed to the open sea in two places.
We had one stop at Bellabella where a large group of kayakers disembarked. It has no road access and is the site of a large First Nations reservation. We had met one resident, Conrad, whilst waiting to board. He visited Port Hardy regularly to stock up on provisions as it was expensive to buy anything in Bellabella. According to him, his spare bedroom was filled with goods! We noticed all the crew knew him by name. Whilst watching the activities at the dock, I chatted to Marion. She had been practising her clarinet earlier on the top deck and was heading for Smithers, where she lived many years before, to play in a festival. She also hoped to move back to B.C. from Quebec and was visiting potential places to live. How well I know the agony of that decision!
We arrived in Prince Rupert at 11.30pm. Robyn had already showered in our private bathroom and was in her pyjamas. We were desperate to get to our hostel, the Black Rooster. However, we had to wait for all the cars to disembark before being allowed off. Foot passengers were definitely not the priority on this ferry!
No taxis were waiting. When they arrived, the drivers were reluctant to take people going to different accommodation in one vehicle. The passengers thwarted them and organised themselves!
With all the dilly dallying and waiting, it was 1am by the time we slumped into bed. It was a long but enjoyable day and I appreciated that Robyn had insisted on the cabin. It made all the difference.