I was born in the British Isles and grew up in the North Island of New Zealand, an island country. I wrote my my first blog post on the Isle of Wight. Now, somehow, I’ve ended up on Vancouver Island. Islands follow me around like a bad smell, islands often have bad smells. This part of the island had a weird feeling but the smell was ok. Vancouver Island is actually the size of Israel and is off the coast of continental North America. In the United States you can drive your car into a large boat and be in Vancouver Island a few hours later. My girlfriend and I are waiting for our host to do exactly that. Both of us sheltered by our rain jackets in Victoria harbour, BC.

Jess and I watch on as the ferry docks and unloads, Impressed by the amount of vehicles they can fit in the cargo hold. I am anxious, I dont know the woman we are about to meet and we will be jumping in her minivan and driving for over 50km into the middle of nowhere. I found a Workaway project in a house that is near Shawnigan Lake, an hour north.

We are staying with strangers, what if they don’t like us? What if we don’t like them? Our host waves from her minivan as it rolls down the loading ramp, “see you soon!”, I like her. After 15 minutes in customs she parks and takes our bags.

Our host Martha has her car packed with food and plates with blankets covering everything. I ask her if everything was bought from the US, “yes” she replies. As I wait for an anecdote about the price differences – anything to lubricate the conversation – I buckle my seat belt tight and she pulls onto the freeway. I have done one workaway project before and I overcame similar anxieties and had an experience I’ll always remember. At this point I’m telling myself everything will be fine, (I’ve been to Nepal, this is Canada!) Meanwhile, Martha is telling us about her brain damaged son who ran away a few years ago. A sad story and oddly personal for a person we just met, then again we are on our way to her home.

An hour went by and we are now driving on the west side of Shawnigan lake, I try to catch glimpses of the wharfs through the tall pine trees lining the road, it’s overcast and a little gloomy, Our host tells us a lovely story about how she had plans to move to New Zealand and they were spoilt by her ex-husband dying. She then points in the direction of the township as we take a left away from it. “You can borrow our bikes and go into town along here”, pointing to a road with no path of any kind. The road changes to gravel and the pine trees thicken.

I’m nervous, shifting in my seat, I start smelling petrol. Why does it smell like petrol? In my mind we are being gassed. I slowly wind the window down, smiling through clenched teeth.  “So…do you host a lot of people?” Jessica asks. “Oh yeah” Martha replies. 
“Do any of them make it out alive?” I think to myself.
We pull into the wide gravel drive as I gasp through the half opened passenger window. A running, happy looking, dog greets us. The house is beautiful, stained timbers and stone chimneys. They have a large section with pigs, chickens and it is all surrounded by tall pine trees. I’m feeling a little calmer, I get out of the car. I don’t know how Jess is feeling but I know my fears stem from nervousness that I need to overcome.


We walk in the front door and into a home that is unlike any other I have visited. Imagine 10,000 coffee mugs stacked throughout a house, thousands of plates stored in every direction you look. Lamps, hundreds of lamps – not plugged in, just stored. Boxes of 8-track tapes – not cassette tapes, the bulkier version that preceded them. The kind of cassette tapes you couldn’t rewind because it was technically impossible. There are ornaments and figurines so varied in style that they could only be compiled by a dedicated person over a long period of time and never thrown away, no matter how useless.
Despite being surrounded by this I am not paying particular attention. I am preoccupied with the determination to build something so I can politely leave. I ask if I can get started straight away. Martha leads me to an upstairs living area and points to a huge pile of boxes and ornaments, taking up a third of the room. 
Below the boxes are cabinets, It’s a kitchen that “somebody was just gonna throw away!”.
The amount of stuff that emerged from inside of those kitchen cupboards was incredible. Piles of glass lids for casserole dishes (where were the dishes?), more mugs with printed designs. My favourite mug was “yard sale maniac” – they knew they had a problem. I had a problem too, I was out of my comfort zone.

Later in the evening we sit around drinking tea and talking with Martha, she is a nice person who has been through a lot. The fact that she let us in her and her husband’s home impressed us both. 
We all have our issues and they manifest in different ways.. We laugh at ‘crazy people’ who talk to themselves, even though everyone of us does it internally. Hoarding is a personal problem that you only expose by inviting people to your home. I am betraying a person’s trust, no question about it.

We wake in the morning and explore the property. There is a pig pen with a huge boar they borrowed. The boar is there to impregnate one of the pigs they already have. It is pretty clear which pig it likes the most, judging by the bald patch on ‘Ginger’s’ back. Later in the day some hillbilly left a voice mail on their phone “When am I get’n ma boar back?!”

Jess and I start putting the kitchen together as best we can, taking up the old flooring and assembling cabinets while allowing room for appliances. I am trying to build something on every continent, does an assembled kitchen count for North America?. There is also a chicken coup with about 15 chickens in it. They asked me to hang a door on the coup, I did so while the chickens sat and watched. 

We had nice meals and good conversations. Jess and I warmed to Martha and John and enjoyed the time we spent with the two travellers that were staying there.

Suska and Ben, who arrived at the house before us, had a minivan and were great company. After work we walked down to Canada’s tallest timber trestle bridge. The bridge was just down the road and it used to be used to transport logs for the forestry industry.

We stayed a couple of nights and ate really well thanks to Martha. Martha’s husband John showed us his party trick, he made the cat jump from the kitchen bench across the room and onto his shoulder. We said our goodbyes and Ben and Suska were kind enough to drive us into a part of the island that was on the bus route. Honestly without this couple there we would of struggled. 

The bus system is infrequent and we need to get all the way north to Nanaimo for a ferry back to Vancouver. After talking with people at a service station Ben drives us further north to Duncan. Duncan has more of a transport hub and we’re hoping it will be easier for us to catch a bus. We pull into the gas station and park.

I go into the shop and ask the clerk for directions “yeah just up there on the left” he points. A local guy in the store tells us we will struggle to get a bus up to Nanaimo, 
 “I can give you a ride, I’m heading that way, you guys don’t seem like maniacs. Where are you from, Australia?” 
He asks, innocently. 
“New Zealand.” we reply. 
“Oh, i’m sorry!”.

We walk into the carpark and there, shining like a beacon of light, is a Black 1976 Cadillac convertible, leather interior. I don’t know much about cars but he tells me this car has spent the last 30+ years in a garage, preserved.
Jess and I look at each other like they do in Hollywood movies when two people can’t believe their collective good fortunes. 
“This is your car?”
“We are hitching a ride in this?”
We hop in, and as the sun drops toward the horizon we cruise up the freeway in a drop-top cadillac, taking photos and reminding ourselves that just outside your comfort zone is where the memorable things tend to happen.


I'm a Carpenter from New Zealand. I completed a Carpentry apprenticeship and decided to build something on every continent. I started this blog so I could share the journey with people!

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