By Francine Van, Guest Contributor
We gathered in excitement, chatting to each other, as we formed our new family for the next fifteen days. What had I been thinking, I thought, waiting in the queue to board. This was a ‘retirement bucket list item’, but two weeks was a long time on a bus with all these strangers. The Maritimes had been calling me for years. My adventure held a different exploration than I ever could have expected.
A spattering of mature ages was observed, and thankfully our age group allowed excuses for not remembering names. Instead I began an association name game for future reference. British Bob and his wife sat in front of me and quiet Quinn across the aisle. Everyone was excited to begin our journey so forced conversation to connect included all our physical ailments.
Anticipation was in the air as we departed.
A late arrival in our first city stop was Montreal, Quebec and we were restless to disembark and find dinner after a full day on the bus. It seemed only hours later we were back. Montreal appeared large from the distance in and out of the city, and although we had received maps to explore, no time had been provided. Perhaps our next stop in Old Quebec City would offer a more restful lunch. The tour guide made promise of cobblestone streets to wander and recommended good walking shoes. Another map was provided. We arrived on St. Jean Baptiste Day, a Quebec National holiday, which dented our travels. Road closures and detours rerouted us making time again an issue. Maps in hand and running shoes ready, we ran for the nearest takeout locations under restricted time once again. At a breathtaking picturesque location, the coffee shop lineup was long as we hastily ordered. I enjoyed a few moments of views. Back on the coach I saw others had found Subway, happy to have a meal before we continued. This was not the romantic lunch I had been promised. A gnawing concern crept into my thoughts or was it hunger.
Onward to St. Simeon for the ferry across the St. Lawrence! We were informed there would be no stops until we arrived, but were assured there was a restaurant on the ferry. We could relax knowing food could be obtained later and snoozed through the three-hour journey of trees. Charming water sights appeared once on board the ferry; however several of us who had not acquired lunch scurried to locate the back-kitchen style restaurant. A homemade soup was available. Thankfully, I ate. Arrival at our hotel in Riviere-du-Loup was late, so of course the grocery store was closed, and the only hotel restaurant was taking reservations, but well into the night. I passed and started to realize I was on a diet tour. At breakfast I was informed by Mediterranean Mary, packaged food had been found at the bar.
Our coach pushed through cities with little time for relaxing breaks and the same tree views continued. I am not an expert driver, but it seemed the roads and locations we bussed were remote. Walmart, gas stations, and grocery marts were the chosen by this tour operator as we foraged for food. The Walmart was a delight to many who were now stocking the overhead bins with processed food. I was not the only one buying Rolaids. A lovely, although rushed, dinner was enjoyed in Miramichi, New Brunswick, a first with fish that was not breaded and a vegetable side that was not coleslaw. This appeared a favorite in the Maritimes, or was it just our stops. A kitchen party had been scheduled and we were entertained with some history, jokes and Celtic music. Delightful, but no food.
Our tribe began straying and groups began forming, as familiarity was found between individuals. The smokers, the Women and Rex, the couples, and the singles! Bonding was happening on the bus.
The next stop was Shediac, New Brunswick for a lobster dinner and cruise, but I noticed the itinerary different from the brochure, now noted as a lobster experience. A lobster hauler offered picnic tables for lunch as it demonstrated how to determine if your lobster is male or female. Really! Boiling water on a BBQ at the back of the boat prepared our whole creature with the familiar coleslaw side and stale bun. I detected butter in the bun basket, but my co-traveller mentioned the allotment per person. I complied not wanting issues with my new hungry friends. My diet theme continued riveted with the little eyes and antennae of my lobster. I could not eat this creature from God, now too close for comfort. I laughed when another bus pal offered her food stashed on the bus. Not everyone can eat lobster Acadian style.
Eastward bound, our arrival on the Confederation Bridge into P.E.I. needed a second glance. This complex engineering creation is the longest bridge in the world over ice-covered water and eight miles in total. The Anne of Green Gable luncheon, “reminiscent of the era,” per the brochure, was a brown bag lunch. A ham sandwich was offered, and I was informed the raspberry cordial kept the advertising in check. I also later learned the Fabric of Canada luncheons offered on this tour were also brown bag sandwich lunches. Was I the only one feeling a little cheated on this advertised foodie tour? I felt a little insulted as a Canadian.
Spectacular views came in Cape Breton, the Cabot Trail a unique scenic experience. I found the scenes in the advertising. I had made it. I weighed less, had vertigo from the bus, and digestive problems, but I made it.
Capers are the known slang for individuals from Cape Breton, and if you visit Atlantic Canada but are not from there, you’re a ‘come-from-away person’.
Canada has more uninhabited room than I ever imagined. We pushed on, the next stop Halifax. Comfortable rhythms veiled the bus, afternoons silent dozing as old movies played on the overhead screens, everyone more comfortable they had stored food. We munched on the bus.
My new family remained nameless as we nodded our greetings. A regular in the mornings, jovial Jim loved getting the coach microphone and telling his jokes. He offered a vow renewal ceremony with his spouse of sixty-four years, claiming he was only fifty-six! She did not appreciate his openness on their anniversary and when asked if she would retake her husband, she replied she would think about it. The moment did not go as planned, and he confirmed it had not been an easy road with her. I was thankful for their humour to start the day.
A new week, we arrived at scenic Peggy’s Cove. Several women came to the back of the bus to show me their swollen ankles. A quiet revolt was developing in the rear seats; we needed to get off —now.
I ditched the tour on day eleven with two others and booked a one-way flight home. The coach was continuing to the United States, but my body would no longer co-operate, and I needed to end my diet. I learned travelling in a tribe has a focus of food and any kind of washrooms. I said my good-byes, and remember one final comment, “take me with you Windsor,” from roaming Rex. It was time for me to leave. I needed to rethink the bucket list.
I received a “Smiles Test” questionnaire from my tour operator upon departure, however I could not smile in response… I laughed instead. I had survived. Next!