"I don't like any government," says the man kneeling on the back of my legs and pulling my arms up and backwards towards him. Can this really be happening, I wonder? I'm lying in a First Nations' teepee, getting a Thai-style massage from an American man who fled Chicago 40 years ago for a freer life on Canada's West Coast. Oh, and the island we're on is totally off-the-grid.
I might have laughed at the absurdity of it all, but the way Reiko is wrenching my arms, I figure it's safer to humour him. Besides, I get the appeal of this place — a fantasy island lush with life, where eagles soar overhead and psychedelic pink and purple starfish cling to the rocky shoreline. Outside the teepee, enormous cedar trees soar skyward, their tops out of sight, holding secrets from when Captain Vancouver sailed past 250 years ago.
Maurelle Island is about 250 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, deep inside the famed Inside Passage. A few kilometres away, cruise ships ply the widest channel on their way to Alaska, the thousands of passengers cut off from the natural world by virtue of their ship's size and speed.
The week I visit Feather Cove on Maurelle Island, there are only six guests, which is to say, the usual number. They include a corporate lawyer from Toronto, a filmmaker from Vancouver, a pair of young honeymooners from Calgary, a retired dental hygienist from Victoria and myself.
Ostensibly, we're here for a multi-day kayaking adventure with Go With The Flow Kayak Adventures, but as soon as we're dropped off by motorboat and wade ashore it's as if we've gone down a rabbit hole and emerged in a different world. The forest that looked dark and impenetrable from the water opens up into a light-filled space the size of a cathedral. Pine-needle paths wind through a tangle of native ferns, salal and huckleberry bushes and lead to three cedar cabins and the large white teepee. Aboriginal people on the West Coast never used teepees — they're a Prairie Indian abode — but why not? This is the "left" coast.
Wrapped in a plush robe, I pad barefoot down the path to check out Café Cabana and the wood-fired hot tub. Brody Wilson, co-owner of Go With the Flow Kayak Adventures, is loading it with wood he chopped earlier, so it'll be nice and hot for when we return from our first paddle.
This island is where Wilson grew up, and while it's easy to make fun of his organic tastes and roots — his parents were part of a housing co-op developed in the 1970s for back-to-the-land types and they still live on the island — I'm envious of his childhood with summers spent outdoors, Huck Finn-like, running through the forest, swimming in the ocean, and fishing and foraging for food.
He's now putting his survival skills to good use. "Rock crab are strong enough they could take off the end of your finger," Wilson tells us one day as he holds up a squirming red crab with formidable looking pincers. While I've been giving myself a seaweed facial after our picnic lunch at Octopus Islands Provincial Marine Park, Wilson has been catching dinner. Armed with just a diving mask and a stick with a hook on one end, he's managed to catch half a dozen of the feisty crustaceans.
Back at Feather Cove, Wilson's business and life partner, Cristina Fox, is no doubt gathering the rest of our meal from the garden she cut out of the forest. When I visit with her one day I'm astounded by the luxuriant growth. Swiss chard rubs shoulders with kale and mustard greens. Beets push out of the loamy soil while beans sprawl over a sagging fence. It's not a pretty patch, but it sure is productive.
That night we gorge on crab and fresh picked veggies while watching the tide creep under the outdoor dining veranda. "It's going to be a full moon tonight" says Wilson, who is completely attuned to the weather and tides. Good job too, because the tidal currents here are some of the strongest in the world.
The next day, we can hear the roar of water pushing through Surge Narrows half a kilometre away. It's no place for a kayak unless you time your passage for slack tide, which of course Wilson does, leading us safely through, just like the mother duck who skitters across the calm water in front of us, babes in tow.
When we say good-bye to Wilson, Fox, their two young children — Harmony and Kale — and their dog Journey on our last day, it's with a lot of gratitude. Gratitude for a fabulous adventure, yes, but even more for a total immersion in living simply and freely.
If you go:
Go With The Flow Kayak Adventures offers four and five day tours. Their Luxury Base Camp Kayaking Tour is all-inclusive and starts at $1,269 per person based on double occupancy. No kayaking experience is necessary.
Getting there: From Vancouver, drive or bus to Heriot Bay on Quadra Island (about a five hour drive and two ferry rides). From Heriot Bay, you'll be picked up by the M.V. Cosmo for a scenic boat ride through the Discovery Islands and dropped at Maurelle Island.
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