Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Travel: 13/6/09, Saturday: From Canada to the US Border

It was time to leave this sleepy paradise and begin our journey back towards civilisation (via the US). We said goodbye to our temporary landlords, from whom we bought a couple of great wildlife pictures, and then drove across the island towards the ferry.

We followed the windy, windy roads, through the mountains and past rain forest and lakes. Shortly after starting out, we got to cross off the last big thing on our holiday to-do list. There in the morning mist, by the side of the road, a mother and baby bear were chewing grass. It was a better sighting than we could have hoped for. Pity we were not able to stop and take a picture, but that's life.

Bear Security LevelAlthough there were several bear spotting trips organised in the area we stayed, they all started at about 6 am or before. We were too much on holiday to get up and be active at such a time. Not even for bears. Many of the reasons I am not a religious icon are the tenets by which I live. These would translate religiously as, "If the mountain won't come to Morehammett, then, quite frankly, I'm not going skiing;" and "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. And even then, you try sewing a button on with a camel."

Not long after the bears, we passed another deer. This one was dead. I think we managed 2 dead and one living on the deer front. I never saw this deer; Cath did and uttered, "Oh. Deer," which I heard as "Oh, dear," and didn't relate to the presence of any horned, woodland creatures. Ah homonyms.

One of the interesting things we noticed about signs in this area ("go on," I hear you say) was that the French names for places were usually exactly the same as the English ones. The only exception we saw was Green Point, which, as you guessed, had been translated. To Pointe-Green. Even I can do a better translation than that.

We eventually found our way to Nanaimo and Duke Point ferry terminal. Here we waited for the next boat off the island and had some of the worst coffee ever made. It was hard to say exactly what was wrong with it, but at a guess I'd say: the milk was off, the coffee decaffeinated and it had been stirred with a festering rat foot.

On the island, tannoy (PA) announcements are much more sensitive than those on the mainland. No "ha ha, someone stalled on discharge" here. In fact all the announcements were for the "craft fair." We had time and the tent containing the dozen tables of jewellery, cards and dog-related products was on our way back to the car. Somehow even the term "craft fair" was bigging it up a little.

The ferry trip took 2 hours and I passed some of the time with a soup and a roll which nicely used up our Canadian coins. Then, we discharged without embarrassment and headed south.

Van with crucifix on it.After the normality of the island, the mainland seemed weird. We passed llamas and signs telling people not to drive on the central reservation (the way they did in The Blues Brothers). I suppose that's the danger of half the population driving off road vehicles.

The mainland is also not nearly as beautiful as the island. At least that bit wasn't. I think if we'd headed north, it might have been a different story. We passed through a grassy savannah called Prairieland. It was exactly how you picture somewhere called Prairieland. At one point, we even passed two old men sitting on the veranda of an old, wooden house. They were just sitting there watching the cars go by, and, one imagines, spitting into spittoons and muttering that if one of those cars heads this way, they'll reach for the Winchester. This was almost as great as seeing the bears.

Eventually Canada ran out and we joined the line of cars for US customs. The US border patrol has to justify the employment of thousands of men and women who otherwise would clog up the army or mail service. One way they keep them busy is a computer randomly selects people for a search. This is called a "compex" search because the piece of paper they give you says "compex" on it. It all sounds sinister, but the computer side of it, it seems, is not some clever algorithm to find likely people to search, it’s completely random. The computer side of this system would have taken about an hour to develop including testing. Although I suspect the US Government was charged for several months.

How it works is: a man in a Perspex box is told by the computer to direct you over to where a surly man with more gun than charisma tells you to park the car and sends you to an office where someone with no gun but an ability to deal with people makes you wait while he has a quick look over the car for things he knows he won't find because the car has not been selected as a likely source of problems, but randomly by a computer. Many of these people are so hopped up on the thought they are defending their country, they forget that most people coming in are not actually the enemy.

Once the guy with people skills finds nothing amiss, you are free to continue, feeling you've experienced some of that good old-fashioned American hospitality you hear about.

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