Wonderful people are everywhere

“From there to here, and here to there, wonderful people are everywhere.”

“We meant what we said, and we said what we meant…We travel to meet people, one hundred percent!” — most of these words by Dr. Suess

We love exploring new places but nine times out of ten it’s the people that make those travel memories special. And travelling by campervan means we get a whole lot more opportunities to meet folks. Not just in campgrounds. Sometimes at a gas station or the side of the road. Sometimes at a shared table in a restaurant. We’ve even met people in the parking lot of a Trader Joe’s. And we’ve discovered that a swamp is just as good a place to meet someone as a museum.

Fifteen such examples follow. We plan to continue this series but we’re off to great places. Monday’s the day. Some islands are waiting so we’ll be on our way.

We’ve booked a spot on a ferry to the Îsles de la Madeleine, Québec, that string of islands in the middle of the St. Lawrence.

Boxing Day, 2014,
A gas station near Salvation Mountain
Salton Sea, California

As often happened while filling up at a gas station, we were approached by a friendly stranger who engaged us in conversation about the van and about where we came from and where we were going. It turned out he was originally from Michigan. Before parting ways, he gifted us with lemons just picked from his friend’s tree and a box of chocolates out of the trunk of his car. While we didn’t often receive gifts we were always engaged in conversation, sometimes at a stop light, honked at, given the peace sign from two lanes over and usually asked the year of our Westy.

July, 2014
Cheryl, Coffee in the Cove
Selma, Dulcie and Eileen; Josh and Julia, Hillsview B&B
L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland

Upon arrival at the northernmost point of Newfoundland, we discovered that we needed a new water pump, which is an easy fix. Turns out getting one delivered to St. Anthony in under five days is a touch more difficult. The crazy thing is that we had met someone travelling in a Vanagon the day before at Gros Morne, who was carrying a spare water pump, just in case! Timing is everything. We had not planned on spending more than a couple of days in this part of NL; however, after all, we were happy we had more time to explore. And, of course, get to meet and know some pretty wonderful people. We stayed at a B&B in Griquet hosted by three beautiful women and an engaging group of guests that joined us in the kitchen each evening for drinks and lively conversation. We went on to meet Dulcie and her husband Mark at the farmer’s market in Calgary the next summer. Josh proposed marriage to Julia a week later their relationship having survived a hilarious but gruelling hike at Gros Morne. One of the guests had gone to school with Christian’s brother in Almonte, Ontario.

August, 2014
Rachel (for peace) and a nice guy named Jim
A gas station and then an ice cream parlour
Kensington, New Hampshire

We ran out of gas. The first and only time this has happened in our history together. And it happened on a steeply sloped exit ramp off the I-95 South. Somehow we were able to pull over, but not off, which just aggravated the other drivers. One really nice guy, named Jim, drove Christian to the nearest gas station to buy a container of fuel.  I waited with the van and endured honking, yelling and gesturing for what seemed like an eternity. This gas station, it turned out, offered the best gas prices in the state. Once we filled our tank with the container of fuel, we drove over to the same gas station to fill up. It was there that we met Rachel who regaled us with tales of family camping trips in her parent’s Volkswagen campervan. After talking for a while, she invited us to follow her to the best ice cream shop in the world. Well, how do you resist an invitation like that? We followed her for so long that we began to wonder why we were driving so far out of our way, and whether ice cream was indeed worth it. In the end, the ice cream at Twin Lanterns Dairy Bar was pretty average. Rachel, on the other hand, was anything but ordinary. We’ve been referring to her as Rachel for peace ever since meeting her because of all of the stickers on her car promoting the concept of peace. 

Canadian Thanksgiving
October, 2014
Milo and grandsons
Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia

We were camping at the state park smack dab in the middle of Okefenokee, which is where we met Milo, Drake and Dylan. They were travelling with their small motorboat and offered to take us on a tour of the swamp. It turned out to be the best darn three-hour tour. We never imagined we could love a swamp or find it to be so beautiful. These boys and their granddad have a pretty special relationship. Lucky boys. Lucky us.

October, 2014
Julie and Ted
Backstreet Cultural Museum
New Orleans, Louisiana

We loved our tour of the Backstreet Cultural Museum, located in the Treme neighbourhood of New Orleans. It was there that we first met Julie and Ted. We didn’t exchange contact information or travel itineraries. Five days later, we were having lunch at Guero’s in Austin, Texas, when we felt taps on our shoulders. It was Julie and Ted! We agreed to meet that night for drinks at the Continental Club. And then for breakfast. And then in Marfa five days later. Except we didn’t make it to Marfa because ….

October, 2014
Michael Laderoute from Toronto
Parking lot of the Austin Motel
Austin, Texas

We had been on the road since June and needed a break from the van, so we checked into the last remaining room at the Austin Motel, the centre of the hipster universe. We received a FB message from a guy named Michael who had seen our van in the parking lot. He asked if we wanted to meet for drinks and music at the Continental Club that night. We did, along with Julie and Ted. It turned out Michael was not only from our old neighbourhood of Roncesvalles in Toronto, but we shared friends in common. Are there just six degrees of separation?

November, 2014
Sixto, the mechanic
Della Shackelford
Marathon, Texas

Ryan Skelton and Buddy
Alpine, Texas

We learned very quickly not to make plans while living and travelling in the van. And when we did, we were usually reminded of why. En route to meet Julie and Ted in Marfa our alternator conked out just as we were approaching Marathon. We were reminded of the water pump scenario at the top of Newfoundland. Again, in a remote location, we had to wait for an alternator to arrive from San Antonio. After a couple of days of waiting in Marathon we consulted Sixto, the mechanic, who agreed we would probably be able to make it to Alpine to meet the alternator. Alpine is about 30 miles from Marathon with nothing but big sky and desert in between. We made it roughly halfway, not a hint of cell reception, not a whole lot of traffic, mostly just big trucks barreling past us with no intention of stopping to help. Until Della Shackelford, the just elected Treasurer for Brewster County, whom we had met the night before in the bar at the Gage Hotel, stopped to help. She called Ryan Skelton, chief deputy and tow-truck operator to get us to Alpine. Once in Alpine, we met Buddy, who installed our new alternator and sent us off to Big Bend National Park with warm hugs and a giant smile.

November, 2014
Buck and Camp, Wrong Marfa
Marfa, Texas

A week and a half later, we finally made it to Marfa. Julie and Ted were long gone. But as per their recommendation, we met the dynamic duo of Buck and Camp, owners of Wrong Marfa. We were instantly smitten with Marfa, and it’s inhabitants, culture and landscape. Buck had lots of tips for us as we headed west. One of her suggestions was for us to meet them in Mexico in January. 

January, 2015
Marta and her husband Mohammed, Marta Sr. and her daughter Lily, Paulina, and the rest of the gang at Islandia Marina including Chocolate and all of the other pups;
Fernando, Ramon and Aurelia with whom we made fast friends and who enjoyed riding our bikes;
Lewis and Brandy from NYC who were riding their bikes through Mexico and Central America;
Kelly, Paula and their cat Toeny (a descendant of the famous multi-toed Hemingway cats);
Larry and Cowboy Omar who entertained us for hours
Viejo Kino, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Buck and Camp were unable to make it to Mexico. Though we know we would have had a whole lot of fun had they been able to join us we remain grateful for the suggestion. We enjoyed a beachfront site overlooking the Sea of Cortez; witnessed the most incredible sunrises and sunsets each day; went to sleep and awoke listening to the waves lapping at the shore; ate beautiful food from local purveyors; made friends with many dogs; and met some wonderful people with whom we still keep in touch. And so we wonder would we have travelled here had we not met Julie and Ted in that museum in New Orleans back in October? 

July, 2015
Louise and Neil, The Soo
Ian and Ivan, Highway 17, North of the Soo
Algoma Auto Garage, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

We were driving west in Canada towards BC at the time. We stopped to see our brother-in-law’s mom, Louise and her friend Neil in the Soo. We were on our way out of the Soo when our phone rang. Neil was calling to let us know that the van had leaked a small amount of liquid, perhaps oil, on the driveway. We stopped and waited to see if there was evidence of further leaking in a parking lot off the highway. It didn’t seem significant (famous last words), plus it was Sunday, plus we wanted to keep moving west, so we drove on to Pancake Bay where we spent the night. Christian diagnosed a loose clamp on a coolant hose and tightened it. He felt he had solved the problem. So the next morning, we continued along. After driving about 15 minutes, we stopped on the side of Highway 17 and Christian slid under the van to check that his tightening worked. Enter a crazy man named Ivan. Ivan slid under the campervan alongside Christian and quickly undid Christian’s fix while at the same time dousing himself in the hot coolant. It got crazier. An old garden hose, a dirty portable toilet, a knife, a gun, a beer, a $20 bill, the loss of Christian’s prized screwdriver and a lack of required medication are all part of the story. Before long, another man entered the scene: a man named Ian Bos who was walking across Canada, from Halifax to Victoria raising awareness for Palliative Care. He was 2300km into his walk at this point. It was here that Ivan decided he wanted to act as Ian’s support person and vehicle though Ian neither wanted or required such support. We kept in touch with Ian and coincidentally were in Victoria to see him finish his walk across Canada. We did return to Sault Ste. Marie where the guys at Algoma Auto Garage moved us to the front of the queue and quickly solved the coolant problem. If only we’d done this from the start we would not have much of a story to tell. The only one of these folks we are not still in touch with is Ivan.

July, 2014
Jane, JD and Officer Andrews
Tilting, Fogo Island, Newfoundland

We had parked the van indiscriminately and were wandering around Tilting on Fogo Island when we heard a siren. We wondered if we were parked where we should not be parked so made our way back to the van. We quickly realized that RCMP Officer Andrews was demonstrating how to activate the siren on his car for a child. We were chatting with Officer Andrews when we saw a familiar looking couple driving up to where we were standing. It was our friend Blaine’s parents, Jane and JD, from Toronto. After introducing ourselves to one another, the five of us began plotting a joke for their daughter and our friend Blaine. Officer Andrews good-naturedly agreed to pretend to arrest Jane and JD and let us photograph them in the back of his squad car. We then sent the alarming photo to Blaine alerting her to their dilemma. The five of us got a lot more laughs out of the stunt than Blaine. We saw Officer Andrews each day afterwards in some other part of the island. Each time he asked us what we had explored that day if we were enjoying Fogo and what we had eaten. Officer Andrews, it turned out, was pretty in love with the food at the Fogo Island Inn. Who wouldn’t be?! Fogo Island, one more reason to love Newfoundland.

November, 2014
Junyah from New Hampshah
Big Bend State Park, Texas
and again in Terlingua, Texas

We met Junyah when we were exploring some old movie set ruins in Big Bend State Park. He was at the beginning of an epic road trip on his motorcycle, compass aimed for South America. Except….he scratched his name or initials into an old sign in Big Bend National Park and then posted the photo on his blog. One of his readers alerted the authorities, and his plans of making his way towards South America were fading fast. He was facing a hefty fine (in the end $550), possible jail time and was not allowed to leave southwest Texas until his court date. The next time we saw him was in the ghost town of Terlingua where we witnessed two National Park Rangers confronting him. He was very compliant and very remorseful. Let this be a cautionary tale not to mess with anything in a National Park, even a sign that has been autographed by hikers for the past fifty or more years.

October, 2014
Leanne and Alan from the Ozarks
St. George Island, Florida Panhandle

Our arrival on this barrier island coincided with progressively inclement weather. A storm was brewing. The winds were fierce. Not long after settling into camp, our phone started making siren sounds indicating we should take cover. There was a possibility of a tornado. It seems a bit silly now, but we weren’t sure that huddling under a bathhouse on stilts was any safer than remaining in our van, so we stayed put under the awning of our campervan. The neighbouring campers joined us under cover of our shelter where we spent several hours talking, laughing and drinking way too many gin and tonics and eating popcorn. We all stumbled into our campers and fell asleep to the sound of heavy rain and wind with big old smiles on our faces. That evening remains one of our happiest van memories. It was still raining heavily in the morning, so we packed up and drove until we reached the sunshine. Our only regret is that we didn’t get a photo of our gin-drinking, storm buddies.

December, 2016
Victoria and Gary
Myakka River State Park, Florida and then
Fort de Soto County Park and Passe-a-Grille, Gulf Coast, Florida

We met Victoria and Gary as we were packing up camp to head home. We had chatted happily for about 15 minutes before exchanging contact information and parting ways.  They said if we were ever in the St. Pete’s area to let them know. Just before Christmas, we were able to get a couple of nights at Fort De Soto County Park, one of our favourite campgrounds in Florida.  We sent them an email letting them know and wondered if they wanted to get together. Gary generously picked us up at our campsite and drove us to their home in Passe-a-Grille, where we met Victoria. The four of us walked over to the Gulf to watch the sunset from a local landmark overlooking the beach. After the sun had set, we returned to their home where a generous feast awaited us. Before returning to our camp, they toured us through a nearby neighbourhood where we all watched in amazement an hour-long musically choreographed patriotic holiday light show at a residential home. We have a habit of accepting invitations from virtual strangers and have more than once hopped willingly into their vehicle and been driven to an unknown destination. And we haven’t yet regretted our decision to do so.

December, 2016
Our Quebecois friends, Pénelope, François, Flora and Calliope
Valérie and Jean
Fort De Soto County Park, Florida

We met because we were all travelling in VW campervans. Pénelope and François were on a year-long maternity/paternity leave with their two daughters, one of whom was just months old and the reason for their wandering family time. Valérie and Jean were escaping the Quebec winter for a spell. Lucky for us that we should all land at Fort De Soto at the same time. We spent a couple of evenings together sharing time, conversation, dinner and a love of wandering the continent in old VW vans. We may or may not have received a reprimand from a park ranger.