Luce and I have planned all the trip, and so while much of it is a surprise to experience, it is not a surprise in fact: we know that we are going to Vancouver, for example, and luckily we are all in once piece and we end up in Vancouver.
But I thought it would be nice to create a little surprise.
I was given a great idea by Seb, the chap I went biking with in Los Angeles – he mentioned that his family live up near Vancouver and riding in a seaplane is an amazing experience.
So in one of the 3 minutes of the day when the children are not clawing at me, I managed to buy some tickets.
I told them we had a surprise:
‘Oh no Dad, is it hiking? I bet its hiking. You always do this don’t you, you know we hate hiking.’
‘Oh good, I see this trip is a success and you’re developing a love of the outdoors.’
‘Shut up Dad – it better not be walking or hiking.’
‘Is the surprise bears – are we going to see bears. You know we are scared of them – pls don’t let it be bears.’
Luce just gives me that look I know so well: this surprise of yours better be good…
The taxi takes us towards Vancouver International Airport and the team get confused – are we getting on a plane? Do you have our passports? I play dumb.
We bypass the main airport and drive down an inconspicuous road with a lagoon on the side, the kind where bodies are disposed of in the middle of the night, and suddenly they see the seaplanes lined up – bingo. And relief.
I’m so glad its not hiking or bears.
Checking in takes 30 seconds and boarding takes 2 minutes. The captain says: your flight will be 11 minutes and suddenly we are airborne en route to Salt Spring Island. It is one of the gulf islands at the south end of Vancouver Island – they are idyllic and magnetic, at least in the summer, full of the three tribes that you find in such beautiful places near a large city: locals, holiday home owners and tourists.
We are not plane geeks but it is interesting that the sea planes fly from zero to 1500 foot. They leave the 1500 to 2000 foot to emergency helicopters and then 2000+ foot is for the more regular airplanes.
The flight is a dream – skirting low over Galiano Island so we see all the cabins and villas and private jettys. Our whole trip is a treat and so this kind of day must be a treat². Landing is effortless, or at least our pilot creates that illusion. He tilts the plane up the the back of the floats hits the water and the friction slows the plane down. It feels far safer than landing on earth – at least we have a natural drag force to help us. The plane comes to a halt in the middle of Ganges Harbour and the day begins.
Salt Spring is known for its arts and crafts and artisan food entrepreneurs – it seems like every building on the island is making bread or cheese or ice creams or selling paintings. There is a big market every Saturday which everyone seems to talk about.
We have from 12.30pm to 5.30pm on the island. We visit the aforementioned cheese maker (chevre only – infused with garlic or basil) then we find the most perfectly located bakery on the planet, run by some old hippies with big views of the sea and the islands. Our lunch: goats cheese and fresh focaccia. Could we be more middle class?
We are there on the Friday before a Bank Holiday Monday, so the island is full, there are queues to drink tea in the cafes and a sense of self-satisfied expectation pervades.
We do some hiking and sitting in the sun, plus some searching for fairies (there is a mountain with fairy doors but we can’t find them – they are elusive) and before you know it we’re flying back as the only people in the plane. A private flight to Vancouver as nobody else would be leaving on the Friday night. The sun stay strong behind us and we fly 200 foot parallel to the sea all the way back. “We fly low and slow, it’s the only way” our pilot says. This is his 8th flight of the day. It seems the whole West coast is plane-crazy in August when the tourist market is red hot and those holiday homes are calling.
For the plane gurus, we fly back in a Dehavilland Turbo Beaver. Only 68 were ever built and apparently this dates from 1956 to 1962 – our pilot tells us the design was never bettered, it has the perfect balance of capacity and wing and payload (getting out of my depth with the jargon here). At least he seems very proud that his company have two of these planes. It sits 7 passengers and the Cessna Caravan from earlier today sits 9.
We have a new co-pilot on the way back – is this treat ³ ?