Part 1 Hawa’a Haida Gwaii – I arrive
Hawa’a means thank you in the Haida language. Haida is an oral language and you will see various spellings for this expression.
I listened as the guests in my bed and breakfast in Sandspit talked about their experiences on different kayaking excursions they’d just returned from. They spoke of mystical dreams and extraordinary experiences. I was intrigued, but the skeptic in me wondered at how much fabrication had gone into the telling of the tale.
A bit ungenerous of me to be sure. My only excuse is that I was here to take just such a kayaking tour and I’d been left swinging in the wind by my tour operator. I had arrived in Sandspit on Moresby Island in Haida Gwaii, a relatively far flung destination on Canada’s furthest northwestern coast. I was looking forward to kayaking with my arranged outfitters, like a kid, counting the sleeps before launch date. I’d heard great things about it and had crammed my schedule tighter than 10-litre dry bag to fit it in. There I was. Abandoned. Confused. Stressed. Reeling. Angry. Mostly disappointed.
I arrived on Saturday afternoon after a surprisingly decent flight – Air Canada all the way. The Moresby Explorers office, where I was to go to sign in for the Bayview Bed and Breakfast room was about a 10-minute walk from the airport on Beach Road. Burdened by my laden pack, my awkward but beautiful peacock-blue leather Italian carry-on and my canary-yellow hard-cover waterproof camera case, I took closer to a half an hour to get there. I rested frequently and looked over the Hecate Strait that separates Haida Gwaii from the mainland and down the wide and rocky beach. And I began breathing the rich moist air of the northern rainforest.
Finally, I staggered into the cosy store-slash-reception area of Moresby Explorers and gratefully dumped my pack onto the sofa, flopped down beside it and looked around. I located the office on the right of the entrance, door ajar revealing someone at the computer. I leaned in and announced myself.
A young, wholesome-looking woman turned around and greeted me.
“I’m Amber, Welcome to Sandspit. Nice to finally meet you,” she said. “I’ve been trying to reach you. Your group has you booked in for next week.”
I wasn’t too concerned.
“Oh no. I’m booked. They definitely know I’m coming. I sent both of my contacts there my itinerary as confirmation and they both confirmed that they received it.” I was emphatic.
Amber was equally firm.”There’s no room for you this week.”
I fumed and struggled with anger and disappointment. I found the e-mail string as testimony to my story – and I’m sticking to it – and tried repeatedly to reach someone anyone from Tofino Expeditions to hear my story and help me, somehow. I got a call centre that assured me they would contact someone. Saturday evening. Fat chance. I tried calling the PR company I’d booked through. What good’s a cell phone if no one answers it I complained to the voice message. Finally my brain began to process the implications of this situation. Tofino Expeditions wasn’t an option. I wasn’t about to turn back and come back in a week – that schedule was unyielding.
Sweet Amber was ahead of me. She let me get mad, get sad and use her phone. She patiently called people for me and wrote names, numbers of people for me to call. All the while, her gentle voice was telling me “I’ve found a couple of other options for you.” And finally, I heard her. Well – a four-day Zodiak trip staying in lodges at a cost of almost $1500. Gulp. A Zodiac? The mere thought of spending four days being ferried around in a Zodiac was enough to throw me into despair. Maybe, I told her, but only if there were absolutely no other options.
Well, there was another kayak trip going out on Monday – Green Coast Kayaking – a good company – $1,750. Could I change my return date home. No – damn schedule. Amber suggested that I could possibly go on the trip and get transport home with a Zodiac. Sunday? Well no. No space on Sunday. Saturday? Less than perfect. If necessary, I guess. I needed to go on a kayak trip. I was writing a story and the Herald was saving space for it. And I just needed to do this.
So, after conversations with GCK guide Dominic and talking it through with Amber – possibly one of the kindest people I’ve ever met – I booked a shortened trip: six days instead of eight. Then Amber softly suggested that I go to my B&B to relax. She was going for a run. I thanked her profusely and took her advice.
Amber epitomizes the hospitality I found time and time again during my stay in Haida Gwaii – as opposed to the indifference we so often meet in our urban lives and in some cultures. Her genuine consideration and zen-like patience set the stage for a week of personal transformation that wasn’t even on my radar.
orphan adopted, embraced
by strangers at sea.