Islands

ISLANDS

( End of July, Early August 2017)

Soundtrack: On Ira (We’ll go) – J. J. Goldman

Oh belle, on ira
(Oh beautiful, we’ll go)
On partira toi et moi, où?, je sais pas
(We’ll leave you and I, where? I don’t know)
Y a que les routes qui sont belles
(Only the roads are beautiful)
Et peu importe où elles mènent
(And it doesn’t matter where they go)

Islands

This part of my trip is the hardest so far. After leaving Gaspésie, I end up in Campbellton, where I have nowhere to spend the night and no idea where I am going to go or what I am going to do next. Not that it really stresses me out anymore, I am rather relaxed about it, but I also find it a bit exhausting, and for a few days after that, I am having a bit of a harder time enjoying myself. I can’t find my place in the places I go to, I am having trouble meeting people and I don’t feel so comfortable. I realize I am too shy to go and talk to people when they already are in a group and if when I arrive somewhere the other solo travelers (or travelers all together) have already met, than most likely I will stay on my own, feeling awkward and out of place. I am perfectly fine talking and bonding with people when they approach me but I can’t quite find the courage to do it myself. I get migraines sometimes and feel more irritable and less patient with people and all in all I enjoy myself less than in the beginning. I wonder if the excitement of the first days has just faded and along with it the feeling of empowerment and courage that came with. Maybe I have reached my limits and one month is the longest I should travel on my own. I also have to make a big decision, one that I did not expect to have to make, one I am not ready to make, and I only have a few days to make it. This decision will determine my future, professionally and personally, and at the moment, all possible outcomes seem like a trade off. I thought I was starting to find my way, that I was slowly making up my mind about what I want to do next, but this decision changes everything, and nothing feels really right anymore. I wish I could wait until the end of the trip to make up my mind, but I can’t, and somehow, this pressure also prevents me from truly enjoying myself.

I find it interesting how cyclically things go. Good days and bad days, bad days and better days. Of course, I haven’t faced any obstacles I felt I could not overcome or felt so bad I did not want to stay anymore, but not all days are shiny and bright, and I want to talk about that too. I write these words in my journal while I am on the Magdalen Islands (the Maggies as the anglophones call them here), after a bad day with shitty weather and big migraine. Maybe my mindset will be entirely different again by tomorrow, or by the time I publish this article, but today, for the first time, I feel it would be okay if it was time to go home. It is not like I want to run away or run back home crying. It’s not like I feel so bad I do not want to stay, I am happy to stay, but for the first time, I feel it would be fine too if the trip was over in a few days. Bad days and good days. Of course, things are not as dark as I just depicted them. They never really are, are they? And they were some great moments too. Some magical moments that I will remember forever, and as usual a lot to learn.

When I arrive in Campbellton, I check into a B&B, a little off my budget but I can’t sleep under a bridge, can I? I use most of the day to plan my next steps and decide to take the bus to Moncton early the next morning. There, Jeremie welcomes me for a night in his home. He picks me up at the bus stop during his lunch break and drives me to his place. We spend the evening together over dinner and a few drinks. We get along instantly and have great conversation. Tristan, another couch surfer, offers to host me the day after and to show me a few places around Moncton that he likes to visit. We spend the day driving around, hiking, chilling and talking about books, travel and American college football. In the evening he goes out and I stay home and the next morning he treats me to breakfast before dropping me off at the highway entrance for me to hitchhike. The routine hasn’t change, and I still feel a bit anxious every time I have to hitchhike. I usually stress a little, up until I am in someone’s car and realize how kind people are and how great it is to meet them. This time is no different, and everything goes perfectly well. In fact, I haven’t even reached the spot where I want to settle and stick my thumb out that a couple stops and asks me if I need a ride. Three drives later, I am in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

The hostel seems fine but somehow I have a different feeling towards it, as if I wasn’t too comfortable. I don’t stay inside for too long and quickly head downtown. Charlottetown is a very charming little town. It is the capital city of PEI but the historical center is relatively small. It is also the birthplace of Canada, where the Maritime states decided to unite and create the confederation. A piece of history they are very proud of off course and that is emphasized everywhere downtown. I stop at the tourist information to get an impression of what their is to do around here since I will be staying for a few days. The island is not very big but without a car it will be difficult to get around. I can either rent a bike of hitchhike. We will see. I spend the first two days just in the city. Their isn’t too much to see but the water front is quite nice and I like the atmosphere around here. The minerals are different on the island and when the red rocks erode and the tide is low, it uncovers miles of red sanded beaches. It’s beautiful and different and with the blue of the water and the lighter blue of the sky, the contrasts are quite stunning. Back at the hostel, I don’t really meet anyone. Somehow I am having trouble socializing and I don’t really know why, I should be used to it by now. Instead, I stay on my own and watch Game of Thrones, because, you know.. Game of Thrones is life.

The third day, I rent a bike at the hostel and decide to cross the entire island to go to the National Park. It’s probably 60 km back and forth but part of it is on the Confederation trail, a biking trail created on the old railway tracks. It’s flat and pretty much protected from the wind since it is surrounded by trees. But after a while, I have to leave the trail and bike on the side of the road to reach the park. And here “trouble” begins. It is really hilly and the wind blowing in my face slows me down. I do end up reaching the park and even though the scenery is nice, it is not quite as beautiful as I expected, especially considering all the beauty I have seen before. I am a bit disappointed, or maybe I am just too spoiled by my previous experiences. I feel as if I have wasted my time here in PEI seeing all the wrong things and missing all the essentials of the island. I only have one day left and I don’t feel like biking again or hitchhiking for that matter. Before leaving the park, I run into a family of foxes, beautiful, wild, red foxes, unafraid of tourists and just playing around in the parking lot. My heart is a little lighter after that. But the ride back is painful, there is no space on the side of the road and as I take a different way, it takes me forever to reach the confederation trail again. I arrive back at the hostel exhausted and disappointed and while in the kitchen that night, I am quite irritable. I am tired and soar and out of patient. It’s nobody’s fault but mine really but I am very close to losing my temper and snapping at someone.

And then Karen approaches me, and turns my entire PEI experience around, in the best possible way. She is a tour guide, living in Halifax Nova Scotia and on holidays in PEI for a week. She comes here every year and knows everything about the island. She offers for me to join her the next day and I gladly accept. She drives me to all the main spots and shares with me her knowledge about life on the island. She tells me the story of Lucy Maud Montgomery, a famous author from PEI who wrote Anne of Green Gables, a classic. A lot of the tourists’ attractions here on the island revolve around her life and her characters’ lives. We drive on small country roads, away from the main highway and look at old abandoned houses, dreaming of all the treasures they probably hide. I fall in love with the countryside landscapes, typical of the island. Blooming potato fields, red soil, blue sea, yellow crops and purple flowers. A palette of colors surrounding old countryside houses waiting to be explored or cared for. That evening, I eat my very first lobster. Karen cooks them for us and teaches me how to eat them properly. Delicious! The next morning, we roam the island again together, she introduces me to the East Pointers, a local band of 3 musicians playing the guitar, fiddle and banjo. I love them instantly. At one, she drops me off at the ferry that will bring me to the Maggies. I download the East Pointers album on my Spotify playlist and we say our goodbyes. I board the boat happy about how my PEI experience turned out. Thanks again Karen.

Arriving on the Maggies, I have to walk a few kilometers to reach the hostel. I could have hitchhiked but for some reason I can’t quite grasp, I did not. When I arrive, my back is killing me, but the place is simply amazing. Lisa and Mitch, two 25-year-old from the islands and in love with travelling bought the place a few months back. It used to be a restaurant and a bar but in only a few months, they turned it into the most beautiful hostel I have seen so far. It has an amazing view on the water, it is beautifully decorated and impeccable.  They opened on the 15th of July only but the place is packed already. Other guests have been staying there for a few days already and friendships have formed. I feel instantly intimidated and I know I won’t be able to find my place. I try to tell myself that it is on me and only me to approach people and try to connect with them but this is still my weak spot. I am too shy and unsure to just create a spot for myself in an existing group.

The first day on the islands is pretty lame. The weather is awful and I have a bad migraine. I have to hitchhike to get places and even though I should be used to it by now, I realize that I don’t enjoy it when it is for short rides like this. Back at the hostel after the day, I have a quick dinner on my own and stay isolated from the rest of the guests. I seek refuge in my writing and decide to go to bed early. There is no point in dragging the day along. The next morning the sun is shining and everything is better. I meet Nadine and her husband Yoakim and their two beautiful kids Annouk and Ulysse at breakfast and things brighten up a little bit. I spend the day wondering around the islands, I stumble upon a symposium of painting and linger for a while, watching the paintings come to life under the expert hands of these artists. I walk to a lighthouse a few kilometers away and end up on a beach. The islands are truly beautiful: dunes, endless sand beaches, grey and red cliffs, colored wooden houses and the sea, anywhere you look. At dinner again, I meet with Nadine, Yoakim and their kids. We talk about our lives and start bonding. He is a painter by trade and she is a former sculptor now teacher, we talk about my trip and their life in Canada. Nadine is French too and we discuss cultural differences between French and Quebecois. A good evening with good people.

But I barely sleep that night. Someone in the dorm is snoring his head out. I am in a terrible mood the next morning and decide to do nothing but relax and spend the day at the beach. At first, I do calculations in my head, trying to identify what I will and won’t have time to see in the remaining days now that I have decided to “take a day off”. I have to remind myself that I do not have to see everything for this trip to be a success, that a day at the beach here on the Maggies is not wasted, on the contrary it is just as much a unique experience as biking 60 km or hiking for 7 hours would be. I tell myself that it is not about visiting every single point of interest along the way but rather about enjoying everything that I do get and choose to see, without worrying about what I might have missed. It is the journey that matters, not the destinations. And from this moment on, things turn brighter and brighter. I enjoy the sun and read for the rest of the day. I spend a lot of time with Nadine and her family and we quickly bond over shared experiences and moments of laughter. Annouk and I discuss Twilight, that she is eagerly reading at the moment and I chat with Ulysse about his adventures on the islands. And on days like these, when everything goes smoothly, when the sun shines and hitchhiking works like a charm, I want to stay forever, forget that there is a life after this trip and new destinations to reach. I extend my stay in the Maggies twice. I visit beautiful spots on the islands, swim in the sea and tan on the beach, I try on land kite surfing and hike on the sand for several hours. I spend quiet days on my own and unforgettable evenings in the company of people I just met but feel like old friends. We share our meals and our life stories, we joke and make plans to see each other again. And I secretly hope we’ll be friends forever.

And then, as it always does, the time to leave finally comes. I say goodbye to Annouk, Ulysse, Nadine and Yoakim. They give me big bear hugs and we promise to stay in touch. I am sad to leave them but I know I will see them again soon, as they will welcome me into their home when I head back to Montreal in a few weeks. In the meantime, I promise to keep them updated on my progress. I find it incredible to discover that there is still so much to learn in life when you are already 26. Each new day on this adventure brings a new life lesson and with my time on the islands the realization that the journey matters more than the destination and that not every day can be a bright day. I learn to embrace the cycle of events and feelings, to welcome each beautiful day that comes my way and accept any bad day that I might face, because these won’t be the ones I remember most when this is all over. And if anything, they only make the beautiful days shine a little brighter. Leonard Cohen wrote “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in“. I’d like to interpret it as meaning that nothing can ever be flawless, and that the little imperfections are what in the end makes the adventure perfect. I hope, before I go back home, that I’ll learn to get out of my shell a little more, find the courage to approach people instead of waiting to be approached, let my voice be heard not only in writing but also in person. But if that doesn’t happen, I’ll be fulfilled just the same, because this journey is about discovering who I am, not becoming someone I am not…

‘Til next time,

Openheartedly

F.

Charlotte town Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island

Magdelen Islands

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