We drove around a lot while on P.E.I., which as I’ve mentioned is small and mainly rural. Who hasn’t seen their famous images of rows of potatoes growing in the bright red soil? Mitch had told us all the really interesting sights were on the back roads, and we went down quite a few of them. The main roads are also pleasant, with non-corproate, non-franchised ice cream stands, and of course the omni-present red cliffs and beaches.
When we had first arrived on P.E.I. and Step had bought the 100% legal Shine at the liquor store, I had been very surprised not to see potato vodka. It seemed like an obvious product to produce locally, since P.E.I.ers are so into thir potatoes, but there was none to be had. While driving down the roads of Eastern P.E.I. we saw Prince Edward Distillery: Open, so in we went. And there were shelves full of potato vodka. We asked for a tour, and even though Julie, the owner, was very busy she gave us one.
There’s not a lot to see in the distillery, except, you know, vats of mash and a giant still, but that didn’t stop it from being interesting. It turns out the reason there’s not a lot of potato vodka, despite it being the best vodka, is because it really takes a lot of potatoes to make it, relative to grain vodka. Julie distills other kinds of liquor, but vodka is the flagship product. Julie had once trained as a dental technician, but she and her partner had vacationed on P.E.I 10 years ago and had fallen in love with it. They opened a B&B but the work was too seasonal so Julie had to think of something more year ‘round. Well, her family had a rumrunning history, and many of the farmers around P.E.I. still make their own (don’t put that in your blog) so a micro-distillery was the obvious choice. It’s doing well and she’s loving it, and that Prince Edward vodka is premium, yes! I sure wish I could drink a lot of it, but because of medical reasons I can only have a bit.
I wanted to go to Basin Head Beach because I knew that Singing Sands was a very popular beach there, so after driving around the northeast tip of the island (more wind farms) we went there. At first we were put off because the big parking lot was full and the beach looked much more crowded and developed than other beaches on P.E.I, but we carried on down to the water. And Mama Mia, what a beach it is! It’s not so much that there’s a huge sandbar that creates a massive natural warm water pool, or that beyond that are warm water waves high enough to body surf (but not high enough to be dangerous), or that the pristine white sand “sings” when you walk on it—because really it just squeaks loudly—that makes it so great. No, it’s the abandoned fishing wharves that set it apart and make Singing Sands a truly special beach experience.
The wharves flank both sides of a river or outtake going into the ocean, with walls maybe 25 or 30 feet high on both sides, and a metal foot bridge spanning it. There’s a sign that says “No Jumping Off the Wharf” that is for liability purposes only, because jump people do, as soon as there’s a gap large enough to be safe, or, not to put too fine a point on it, not that dangerous. Plunk, plunk, splash, plunk plunk, splash. One man told us on the weekends the rows of crowd were 6 deep waiting for a turn. And people jump off the bridge as well, which is nerve wracking to me, because once in the water there is a strong current which carries you out into the sand banked ocean pool, so anyone jumping before the bridge floats out from under it, and you can’t see them when you’re actually on the bridge, until it’s too late. We were there mid-week, so while it was crowded it wasn’t crazy (in these pictures the sun had gone behind a cloud and so they show far fewer people jumping than when we first got there). The tide was low and there was a sign posted saying the water was 19 degrees. 19 degrees! Most people heat their house to about 20 or 21 degrees so that’s almost room temperature!
Step had to get something from the van so while I awaited his return I watched people jump off the wharves and eventually got really nervous about doing it myself. Would I get water up my nose? Cannonball? Belly flop? Or—horror of horrors—give myself a highboard enema? By the time Step returned I was a bit of an internal wreck. I knew I must jump off this wharf or forever hold regrets, but how to work up the nerve? And I felt that was silly because little kids and old people were jumping. A guy next to us told us the water was so low we would hit the bottom, but it was deep loose sand, and the water was really warm (19 degrees!). Finally Step and I counted 3 and jumped together. I did get water up my nose, but other than that it was like jumping into a liquid down pillow, and our feet sunk into the warm sandy bottom and it was soft and when we surfaced we were caught by the current and that was fun, too. The first time I jumped I swam to the side and climbed up the metal ladder, but the round rungs hurt my feet so after that I would just float out to the ocean. I was nervous every time I jumped but that didn’t stop me from doing it, and Step did it more times than me, even. I would have been happy to never leave, but eventually I went and got the camera and took a few pictures and then we drove down the road to Red Point Provincial Park to camp for the night.
Because of our self-sufficiency in the Boogie Bus, we were able to get another premium site right on the cliff over the ocean. The next morning the sun wasn’t out for the first time since we got to P.E.I., but that didn’t dampen it’s charm one bit, and we walked on a red rocky stretch of shore and saw sail surfing on yet another sandy beach. I can’t put my finger on why P.E.I. is so lovable. I’ve gone on and on about its beaches, its pastoral scenery, its nice but somewhat reserved peoples, the slow pace of life, the excellent garbage management (even the campsites had composting), its rural socialist attitude, its tongue in cheek Anne of Green Gables broohaha, I just love it so much! (Someday I will visit the Ile de Madeleine, off the coast of P.E.I., which is where P.E.I.ers go for magical vacation time). Maybe it’s the fact that until 3 months ago you couldn’t buy beers in cans? And then there were many things we did not get to enjoy, such as the free daily concerts at the College of Piping, and biking along Confederation Trail, which extends fully across the island and is almost all flat—yes Prince Edward Island is a mecca for the long distance cyclist, as well.
I don’t know what or combination of what makes P.E.I. so fucking special. I only know I never wanted to leave, and I was mopey and teary by the time we got to the ferry port to go to Nova Scotia. The ticket lady asked how we liked P.E.I and Step told her we didn’t want to leave, and she replied “We’ll keep ya!” and that only made it that much harder to get on that ferry.