ĂŽles de la Madeleine, Quebec

“You’re from Vancouver?! How did you end up here?”

It’s almost as if people are disappointed that someone’s let out their best-kept secret. Quebec’s popular summer vacation spot, a tiny archipelago barely visible on a map, accessible only by ferry from PEI or by prop plane, is already pretty full in the summer. (I’m here at the very tail end of their season, the crowds having thinned out before everything closes.) Already well-known everywhere east of Quebec, the islands remain practically unheard of to most of us folks west of Ontario. Being strongly and primarily francophone gives it even less visibility out west, I’d assume.

So what’s the big deal?

A twelve-hour plane-hopping journey from one coast to the other, my arrival was unceremonious and in the dark of night, arriving at 1am with no taxis at the airport. Barely minutes in and I already receive the famed hospitality of the islands — a stranger, picking up another passenger from my final flight, sees me looking confused and offers to go out of their way to give me a ride to my hostel. I’m extremely grateful — I certainly wouldn’t have been able to walk the distance, let alone find the place down a gravel side-road in the dark. Disoriented, jet-lagged, and forcing myself to speak a ragged out-of-practice French, I’ve lost all sense of place in my own country.

And then I wake up the next morning.
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Ha! Ha!

Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec

Roadtrip! Conni planned our route, and it was to a region I’ve admittedly never heard of. A giant fjord. Sounds interesting!

But first, we had to rent a car. With Conni having not driven in three years and me having not driven (but for 10 minutes) in seven years and Xavi not a licensed driver, we were a bit nervous as to how we would fare…but we picked up a tiny little Fiat and were ready to go, no problems at all. There’s a first.

After a 4 hour drive to Lac St-Jean where we took our time and stopped several times, the skies opened and out came the rain. Well, there goes the beach day. The lake is huge though, easily mistaken for the sea when you’re next to it. We promptly decided to call it a day, heading to our next Couchsurfing hosts, Martin and Karyne and their three children in La Baie, a borough of the sparsely-populated but sprawling city of Saguenay (not to be confused with the region, fjord, national park, or river).

I can’t forget to mention that La Baie is so named because it sits at the mouth of la Baie des Ha! Ha! — or Ha! Ha! Bay in English, if you prefer. That is indeed its actual name, exclamation marks included.

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Quebec City, Quebec

It’s odd how long it’s taken for me to backpack in my own country. I’ve always imagined it as being hard to travel without a car.

Well, it is. A bus from Montreal to Quebec City costs about $60 one way, for a 2.5 hour ride — uhh, no thanks. We skirted that one with a rideshare, but getting a bus into town from a gas station on the outskirts of town was as much of a doozy as in some of my more obscure destinations. (You know the drill — questionable directions, haphazardly marked bus routes, exact change required, no stop announcements…) At least it’s comfy and with plenty of leg room.

Anyway, backtracking a little. A year ago, I met Conni on the street in Nicaragua, travelled with her for a week, and had a great time. Now, she and her boyfriend Xavi have moved from Costa Rica to Montreal, we’ve visited each other a few times, and we decided to do a short little road trip together around the province! It’s been quite some time since I’ve done a non-solo trip, and this is also the first time I’ve ever done a road trip.

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