Our trip through the mountains took us from luxury accommodations to a pretty basic experience. In fact we packed pillows and sleeping bags in case we needed to sleep in the vehicle, which we were willing to do as we didn’t book any rooms in advance. How freakin’ Gypsy of us!
My partner’s daughter’s finance’s grandmother—are you still with me? Good. Well, that lady has a beautiful home in the mountains in Invermere, British Columbia. The back deck of this walk-out home (I’m not going to call it a cabin, because it’s so much more than a cabin) faces a forest where deer and fawns stroll by casually every evening. The front step has a gorgeous view of the mountains. Every time I looked up at the landscape I was awestruck by how beautiful it was.
This mountain dwelling had all the details of an abode in the Rockies: a fire place, stone details, granite counter (that sat 8-10 people), wood accents and floor to vaulted ceiling windows—just wow. The first thing I felt when I walked in the door was at home. Like, I belong here in this pretty place. My thought was not coming from a place of expectation but a place of deserving. Why can’t I have something this nice? I can.
The second thing I felt was a pretty strong wave of gratitude. This woman offered her mountain home to her grandson and his fiancé and anyone else they wanted to invite. So freaking generous. It is that generosity that I have experienced so many times in my travels—the generosity of strangers, new friends, old friends. The list of experiences is long and it is not lost on me. I am grateful. I am very consciously keeping this feeling in the front of my brain to make sure that when the time comes I can pay it forward similarly. I want to be that woman who says come in, make yourself at home. Help yourself. I hope you’re comfortable and happy here.
We only stayed in the home I deemed a chateau for a week. Other temporary homes were more modest and that’s part of the adventure.
Humble place number one: We stayed at the Econo Lodge in Drumheller. It was clean and within our budget. The young woman at the front desk was kind and courteous. We’ve always been of the mindset that all we are looking for is something clean since we are just sleeping in the room. The point of travel is to explore outside not to sit inside.
Humble place number two: Revelstoke was full of tourists with few options for sleep. I was ready to unroll my sleeping bag but thought we should check out The Cube before calling it quits. It’s a modern hostel, light and super clean. The young man helping us had an accent, potentially from Spain. I didn’t ask. He was friendly, happy and wanted to show us the one room that was left before we committed. How boutique hotel of him. We loved it. That was a bonus because we didn’t have any other options. It was the last room in town but it exceeded our expectations. The Cube affirmed how much I love hostels. In the morning the dining room was full: a group of young men, an Asian family, an older couple. People were chatting happily. Eating. Communal. Human. Holidays.
Humble place number three and four: In Vernon we walked into the Super 8 without reservations hoping there may be a room. We stood in line watching the receptionist, Ishmail, hustle to keep guests happy. He was so incredibly pleasant with those in line in front of us although not all return the courtesy. But Ishmail just kept smiling and doing his best. A young man walked in to cancel his room and asked if we’d like to have it? What good luck! Another last room at a great price.
After supper, walking past the front desk, not manned by anyone I saw Ishmail in the laundry room washing bedding and laughing with another employee of the hotel. This guy was working his front desk tail off, kind, polite and when he wasn’t booking anyone or seeing to the needs of hotel guests he was washing the bedding and towels with a smile on his face. I wonder how much he got paid. I wonder what his life away from the hotel looked like and I wondered if his mama knew what a good job she did.
We had to find a different hotel for our second night in Vernon. That’s what you get when you’re just going with the flow. The Silver Star had a room. We booked it online. It was a basic small motel. When we pulled up to the office a woman watering the containers of petunias wearing fuchsia capris and a t-shirt, hair pulled back in a long dark ponytail put the hose down and followed us in to the office. She walked behind the counter and passed the door saying something in a language I didn’t understand. My eye caught a glimpse of living quarters: a simple table and two chairs, a fridge, curtains on the window. She walked past us smiling and went outside to continue watering. A man, likely her husband, came out. He gave us a room and then stepped out from behind the counter to chat without a barrier between us.
He noted my camera and asked where we were from, taking a few minutes to get to know us—a personal touch. Then he added in his smooth accent “God gave us this life to enjoy it. We don’t know how long we have but we need to take advantage everyday of the beauty of it, of nature, of people. If you can travel, travel. You will learn.”
I always hang on to these interactions, these little gifts strangers give us. These are connections. They are important—especially in our post-pandemic-digital-device world. I’ve thought about him and his wife so far from their original home running this little motel in the mountains of Canada taking care of the flowers and cleaning the rooms, eating their dinner in the back in their humble lodgings. And taking time to talk to wanderers like us.
Humble place number five: In Penticton we booked a place called the Apple Tree Inn. I’m not going to lie. When we pulled up to this motel we took out our phones and started looking for different accommodations. My partner felt bad just sitting there in front of the office so he drove away.
“What do you think?” He asked. “I don’t know man. Let’s just stay. It’s one night. How bad can it be?” So we took the plunge. And you know what? It was perfect. It was another adventure and it was also clean and family run. In the middle was a green space and a barbeque and a swimming pool. Inside we found a suite with a kitchen. The place was basic, clean, airconditioned and large.
That night we stayed at the beach too long. Most restaurants had closed their kitchens. Our dinner consisted of chips, granola bars and beer. We sat in the heat of the evening across from the pool reflecting neon lights. Our feet rested on the bumper of our vehicle. Eating chips and drinking beer I mused “Damn, I think we took the wrong turn. I feel like I’m in Middle America. But there’s something kind of fun about this entire moment. Ya know? Like we belong here.” Kevin nodded smiling and cracked another beer. It was perfect—so perfect that I asked to stay a second night. And we did.
Humble place number six: Boundary Motel Osoyoos was our last stop in the Okanagan. Aesthetically it was our favorite little motel, absolutely adorable, with so many flowers beside every room and the rooms were so clean. It was also another Mom-and-Pop motel run by a person of color.
When you get critical
The only place that did not leave a good impression was a high end hotel and resort in Osoyoos. Would it be unkind to name them? Probably. So, I won’t but I will tell you a story. We were sitting at North Basin having a beer musing about the cost of the fancier accommodations in Osoyoos even though we were happy with Boundary Motel. I pulled out my phone to answer my own question but it seemed google was also on a bit of a holiday.
“Let’s see—for curiosity sake. Humor me.” Kevin, being a good guy did humor me. Once we were done our beers and pizza we walked around to the front entrance. It was evening and there was no one in the lobby but us and the two front desk clerks. Here’s how things went:
Me: Hello there. (I approached the desk) I was trying to get some prices for future reference but my wifi is super slow. Could you possibly give me some prices for accommodations?
Guy: For what? (Wow, that was abrupt. No smile. No courtesy. No greeting. Nothing.)
Me: Oh, just general prices to stay here. I’d look them up but like I said my phone isn’t connecting.
Guy: Well, what do you want? When do you want it? (I was taken with his curt questions.)
Me: Right, (I smiled.) good questions. Let’s just say August?
Guy: We’re full. (His answers were terse. Perhaps he had a lot of paper work to do. Perhaps he had a bad day.)
Me: Right, I figured. (I laughed a little.) Thanks. How about next July? (I smiled, trying to soften the moment.)
Guy: (His eyes turn to the computer.) What do you want? Single. Double. Suite. Water view. Street view. (He rattled off the questions half sighing—almost bored clicking the keys.)
Me: (I felt like a kid who hadn’t studied for her test.) That’s a lot of options. (I laughed lightly.) Um, how about double city view.
Guy: (For honesty sake I don’t remember the exact amount but he gave me a three digit number—) 469.
Me: Sweet. Thanks. The buildings next door—do they belong to the hotel?
Guy: (He shifted his weight.) They are the villas.
Me: Nice. What’s the price for those?
Guy: What do you want? When are you looking?
Me: (Here we go again. I smiled and replied.) Something for next summer that sleeps six.
Guy: Spouts off a number.
Me: Super. Thank you for your help. (I literally tried to kill this d-bag with kindness—like a big work boot on a freaking millipede—gross). Thanks for your time. Have a good night. (I walked out.)
Kevin leaned in as we exited the lobby and whispered what an asshole. He acted so put out for you asking him to do his job. That was the worst service I have not had since I wasn’t a guest. And well, I would rather give my money to Boundary Motel. This guy needs to drive to Vernon and have a talk with the Silver Star manager. And while he’s on the road he should go for a coffee with Ishmail and maybe have a chat with the lady at the Explorers Society Hotel in Revelstoke who I gave honorable mention to in my first blog on this trip.
I have this idea that the service industry is about service. That people who take these jobs like people or at least act like they like people. I was disgusted by his inability to project some kindness, to crack a smile to even just efficiently deal with my questions. I imagine a do-over looking like this: “Good evening ma’am, a stay in August can run you anywhere from 329-699. We are generally booked up quickly and some of the villas require a minimum two night stay. I hope that answers your questions for now. Here’s the website if your internet gets working again. Where are you from? Regina. We hope you enjoy Osoyoos.” That’s what I expected. But what I got was an avalanche of attitude that made me feel like I was inconveniencing him.
The obvious lesson
In that moment a lesson rang clear as the metaphorical bell. Every single place we stayed had a person of color/new comer working it (except The Cube—there European employees worked with us travelers). Many were family run. These people took pride in how they spoke to their guests. They took time to interact and to be as helpful as possible. They cared. You could tell. They understood the idea that perhaps this motel, and bed is a H-O-M-E for a night and that is important.
Judgements and assumptions
People with money can be generous and so can people without. Places that initially may not meet expectations, given the right moment can exceed expectations. Fancy places can feel unwelcoming and motel rooms can feel as cozy as a familiar home.
We should reserve all judgements until the experience is all done because what looks like gold might just be fools gold, or if we take a moment to blow the dust off we just might find a gem.
Guest is God, a Hindu/Indian quote