We made it to Alaska! We took an unconventional route to get here. After leaving our friends, Doug and Jackie, in Seattle on June 2nd we drove to Port Angeles in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State and took a vehicle ferry to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Victoria is the capital of British Columbia. It lies in the southeastern corner of Vancouver Island. Our intention was to explore Vancouver Island for a couple weeks before taking another ferry up the inside passage of British Columbia to Prince Rupert. Bonus, we would be visiting sailing friends who live on a small island off of Vancouver Island!
Those couple of weeks turned into over 3 due to my new no-planning philosophy. Reservations for the ferry to Prince Rupert sell out in advance. When we finally made them we had to choose later dates. No problem. Vancouver Island was wonderful and we are now looking forward to returning eventually as we left much of it unexplored.
We used our Boondockers Welcome subscription a lot on the island. Not only did it give us more free options for stays we met lots of interesting peeps who gave us great suggestions about where to go on the island and on our journey to Alaska. And since we really had no plan that is just what we did – followed any and every suggestion we got. Most of them were great!
We had just a couple of issues on this leg of our never-ending journey. The first was entering Canada. As we disembarked from the ferry, I remarked to Greg that this looked like it would be the easiest border crossing ever. We were one of the first vehicles off the ferry and I expected our entry into the country to be quick and painless. Not so.
We pulled up to the customs kiosk where a friendly customs agent greeted us. We handed him our passports. He asked us the usual questions. Did we have anything to declare – fruit, alcohol. Greg told him we had a couple of old apples, 17 beers, and half a bottle of tequila. Next, the agent asked whether we had a gun. No, we told him. Perhaps our emphatic No was too emphatic because then he asked us when the last time a gun was in the van. Never! He asked for our vehicle registration which I had to locate somewhere in the back of the van. While I was in the back he asked what we were planning to do in Canada. Tour around and visit some friends, Greg told him. Where do these friends live, he asked. Greg couldn’t remember. I yelled back to the front, Malcolm Island. Perhaps we had too many fumbles. Maybe he didn’t believe us about the guns. Maybe one of us was exuding guilt. Who knows. They asked us to pull over to the side and wait.
Another agent came up to the van. I tried to hand him our rotting apples but he told us to step out of the van and take the apples over to a small building, put them on a table, and wait. He then proceeded to enter and search the van.
Now we have had border and checkpoint searches before. But we have never had such a thorough search. Across the parking lot, I could barely see into the dim light of the interior of Ballena Blanca, but it was obvious that the agent was taking his time opening every cabinet door. I’m sure stuff fell on his head like it usually does to me when I open certain cabinets. Of course, I knew the search could only be so thorough without actually removing things from the van. I have managed to pack all kinds of stuff in that van. No nook or cranny goes unwasted.
After about 20 minutes or so he called us over. He asked where the half bottle of tequila that Greg had declared was. I replied that it was under the bed and that I could go get it for him. He said that wasn’t necessary. He told us he had found a full bottle of tequila. Yeah, oops. We actually had a full and a half bottle of tequila. Greg had forgotten about the full bottle of booze when he made our declarations and I hadn’t corrected him because I had already decided that this was going to be the easiest border crossing ever and I was sure that they wouldn’t check. I was fully prepared to relinquish the tequila or whatever needed to be done. But instead, the agent asked us if we had anything else to declare. We said no. Then we were asked us about guns again. “If I search this van I won’t find any guns, right?” “Right,” we assured him, “we don’t have any guns”. The agent gave us a stern talking to and told us that we didn’t want to end up on a list. He let us keep the bottle of tequila and we were on our way.
Whew. So glad he believed us because I lied. I had a bottle of mezcal hidden in the van for Greg’s birthday.
Our second issue this past month was in the van troubles category. One morning the van started up with a very loud very awful noise. We had never heard a noise like this come from Ballena Blanca before. Greg looked at the engine, turned the van off, turned it over again, and the noise persisted. We were clueless. We were also in a spot with no cell coverage. Our only choice was to drive (or walk 4 miles or so) and hope the noise wasn’t Ballena Blanca in her death throes. We were on an island with few services but luckily this is the island where our friends live. We managed to drive to town and back into cell range with no problems. After having no luck finding a mechanic on our own we called our friends (who didn’t know we were there and whose house we weren’t supposed to arrive at until the next day). They told us to call Mike.
We met Mike at the yellow house behind the Burger Barn. As we pulled up he had an immediate diagnosis. We had a power steering fluid leak. Mike filled the reservoir and BB’s “death throes” faded away. Thank goodness. Mike didn’t fix the leak but gave us the rest of the bottle of fluid and charged us $20 (we were so happy we gave him $25). Later that day we made a plan to get it fixed, hoping the leak would be slow enough for us to make it to Alaska where we’d take it to a Ford dealer. That plan hasn’t exactly worked out as we hoped (and is still in progress as we write this). More on this saga next time.
And our total expenses for June were…
Here is the breakdown of categories…
When we were traveling through BC we paid anywhere from $2.16 to $2.22 a liter for gas. At approximately 3.79 a liter to the gallon and considering the US dollar to Canadian dollar exchange rate this means we were paying around $6.54 to $6.78 a gallon. Gas is expensive in Canada. Of course, we saved some gas money by taking the ferry. But then again the ferry wasn’t cheap. The ferry to Victoria was $118 and the BC Ferry to Prince Rupert cost us about $640 US. So the ferries ended up being less of a cost-saving means and more of an experience and time-saving device. Just one of the bigger costs of adventure!
Food is also super expensive in Canada. I saw a can of refried beans for over $5. I thought I’d have to start soaking and cooking dried beans but eventually, we found a can in the $3 range (still expensive!). Considering our cost for groceries is 20% lower (due to the exchange rate) than what Canadians pay I don’t know how they afford to eat.
We knew that alcohol would be much higher than we are used to paying in the US but surprisingly it wasn’t nearly as costly as we expected.
I was surprised to find so much free camping in BC. But even the pay camping wasn’t nearly as expensive as some places in the US – especially with our 20% US discount (the exchange rate). Anyways the free camping and the Boondockers Welcome locations were one of the areas where we could make up for the high cost of everything else.
June Camping Stats:
We spent $41.67 camping in June.
1 – night in friends’ driveway
1 – night at a Walmart
11 – nights at Boondockers Welcome locations
2 – nights in a Regional Park ($24.60)
1 – night at a Harvest Hosts winery location
5 – nights in free BC recreation sites
1 – night free island campsite
3 – nights inside friends’ house
1 – night at a ferry terminal ($17.07)
2 – nights free at a Provincial Park
1 – night at a free First Nations Campground
1 – night at a trailhead
* To see all of our expense reports, click here.
* If you are interested in reading other expense reports from nomads who really know how to live cheaply while still having a good time, check out the blog from our friends Mark, Liesbet, and Maya at Roaming About.
* All pictures are click to enlarge. Once enlarged they can be viewed in a slideshow. Hover over the pictures in tiled mosaics for captions. Click pictures in the tiled mosaic to see full captions.