Hello friends, and welcome back to another installment of me being…me. Today I’m going to tell y’all a story that we can all laugh at. It’s a good, old fashioned #ThrowbackThursday Story. So here we go…
In July of 2019, my mother and I illegally crossed the border into Quebec, Canada. I know what you’re thinking, how the actual does someone do that?? Well, as we have learned, it is possible.
First of all, we need to address the reason we were even that close to Canada. I live in Vegas and my mom (I call her MERM and it feels weird not to so she will be referred to from now on as such) lives in Idaho and while, yes, the tippity top of Idaho does border Canada, it does not border Quebec – it borders British Columbia. Geography lesson of the day complete!
Merm and I attended an amazing wellness retreat at Lake Willoughby in Vermont. The lake is about 90 minutes northeast of Burlington and about 20 minutes south of Quebec. We had an incredible, life-changing time at this retreat. I didn’t talk about it at all on social media ( a concept that feels very strange actually) and that led me to take a small step back from sharing all the time. This is a different story for a different post, however.
Anyway, illegally entering Canada…
On our last full day at the lake, we had a quick morning session to complete the retreat and a free afternoon. Merm and I had talked before leaving for Vermont about the possibility of driving up into Canada. So we packed our passports and insurance, just in case. I was also thrilled at the possibility of acquiring an “I ❤ Canada” t-shirt…and a Tim Horton’s.
Now, this wasn’t my first time in Canada. During the summer after my freshman year of high school, I went to camp on an island off the coast of British Columbia. We drove the 15 hours from Idaho to Vancouver in a travel bus aka the smelliest place on earth. When we drove across the border it was very routine. They looked at all of our ID’s and they had the drug dogs sniff our backpacks and everything was fine. The border was this ginormous concrete drive thru station. You could not miss it even if you tried. So since I had done this before, I was not concerned at all.
We set out from the lake, Google Maps programmed and ready to take us on an adventure. Google Maps never fails you…right? HA. HA. HA.
We began the 20 minute drive north on the country roads of Vermont. We were admiring the sunshine, the greenery and the colonial houses. Dustin Lynch was playing on the radio. Everything was awesome. Then Google Maps informed me that we were approaching the border. (Side Note: I love that Google Maps tells you WARNING! YOUR DESTINATION IS IN ANOTHER COUNTRY! Like yeah no shit I know, I’m trying to go to Canada.)
So when we got to “The Border” and we didn’t see the ginormous drive thru concrete station that I had seen in BC, I was confused. Not alarmed, just confused. Since I had done this before I thought it would be another drive up, stop and talk, show your ID and keep on driving situation. NOPE. NOT that easy.
At “The Border” we were met with a congested, curved two way road. That I was supposed cross (apparently). To my left was a United States Border Control SUV with a man sitting in it. I asked him through the rolled up window with hand signals if I “just go?” He looked bored (or annoyed) and waved me on through. Looking both ways and waiting til clear, I crossed the road and slowly merged into the lane to continue going straight. As I drove straight ahead, I saw a LEETLE shack. Thinking that it was an abandoned gas station and even saying to MERM “wow that was easy”, I drove on by it.
THEN, thee LOUDEST, SCARIEST ALARM of my ENTIRE LIFE started going off. It was truly the stuff of NIGHTMARES. IT WILL FOREVER HAUNT MY DREAMS.
It is now apparent to me that we did not cross at a main border and instead “The Border” is a TINY, LEETLE SHACK. HOW WAS I TO KNOW?! THEY DON’T MAKE IT EASY AT ALL. THERE WASN’T EVEN A BIG SIGN TO TELL ME WHAT TO DO! WHY? WHY? WHY?
You truly don’t know fear until you are inches away from being arrested and detained at the border. Okay, dramatic out burst is done. Let’s continue.
(It’s funny because when these kinds of things happen, they happen so fast and your brain processes so many things in an instant. This entire next paragraph happened within only five seconds.)
Once the alarm started going off, Merm and I immediately realized we had done something wrong. I looked at her and as I began to ask her what I should do she was already telling me to pull into this abandoned gas sta – oh excuse I mean BORDER. So I do. Because Mothers are usually right.
We saw one border guard approaching the passenger side of the car (we’ll call him “Nice”) and another stepping out of his booth (we’ll call him “Grumps”.) Nice was clearly holding back hysterical laughter when he asks “Ma’am…did you mean to enter Canada?” And it honestly sounded like he was speaking in italics. I’m not sure why this detail is important, but it stands out to me.
I was shaking as I told him yes we did, but we didn’t see the border (LEETLE SHACK). Nice responded by telling us to back up through the gate to the booth and talk to Grumps who would take our passports and get us sorted out. Nice was very kind the whole time and was secretly thrilled because we were the spiciest people he’d met all day.
Now Grumps was a different story. He was pissed. He told me about 25 times that when you see a border station, you MUST drive through it. And what I really wanted to say was that there was absolutely no way anyone could tell this was a border station. But I didn’t. I kept my mouth shut for once. Thank God.
I was still shaking as I handed him our passports and answered his questions and said a Hail Mary in my head that I wouldn’t be in jail for the start of the Patriots season. Grumps kept looking at me and then looking at my passport and of course I was silently freaking out on the inside. All while I was still smiling and trying not to look like I’d done something wrong. Which I obviously did, I just tried to sneak into his country.
FINALLY after what felt like an hour, he handed me our passports and told us to have a nice day. I apologized, drove thru the gate and successfully (and legally) entered Canada. The biggest problem I had with this tiny border is the fact that there wasn’t a sign or even a mechanical arm that will physically stop someone from crossing. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW!?
Immediately after driving through…I no longer wanted to be in Canada. This place I had been so looking forward to going to and I instantaneously hated it there. We were driving along still mildly freaking out and trying to make time move faster so we could get to the part where the whole thing is funny. (Spoiler Alert: it didn’t get funny until we were safely back in America.)
We made our way to our destination – Bleu Lavande – a lavender farm that has a spa, restaurants and gift shop where they sell the products made from the lavender they grow. It was actually quite the peaceful experience once I had figured out one thing…how we were getting back into America.
Once we arrived and parked the car, we went to the ticket booth to pay our entrance fee. Feeling a little shaken, but having one more card in my pocket, I went all in. I requested tickets in French! Something I learned in school was finally coming in handy. The lady in the ticket booth immediately started speaking to me in English, deflating the last bit of air in my adventure balloon. What did I even spend a semester in college studying this for then?!
Once inside the farm, I knew I couldn’t truly relax and enjoy the adventure without figuring out the next plan: getting back into America. There was absolutely no way that I was going back through the same “Border” and I turned to Google Maps to manually find a different way home. As I opened Google Maps, my heart fell out of my butt when the “No Service” box popped up and told me what I didn’t want to hear. I WAS FREAKING OUT. We were trapped in Canada with no cellular data. WHAT WAS I GOING TO DO.
After my second dramatic internal freak out within the same hour, I remembered that the minute we drove into Canada, Verizon texted me saying “Welcome to Canada! Blah blah blah turn on your international cellular data and you won’t be charged since it’s a part of your plan.”
Call me Kendrick cuz we gonna be alright!
I turned the international cellular data on and I was Carmen San Diego on the map. (How many people am I going refer to myself as in this post? No clue, stay tuned.) After I surveyed the road we were to continue on, I saw something that gave me hope: JFK International Highway.
In my head I thought, “okay, this has to be a major highway and when I drove into BC we were on a major highway and when I crossed into BC there was a massive, concrete border station drive thru so when we cross back into America on the JFK International Highway there HAS to be a massive, concrete border station drive thru.”
I decided that since it has JFK’s name on it, it will be okay (I love JFK don’t @ me) and I could finally calm down for the first time in almost an hour.
Okay so Bleu Lavande. So calming and relaxing. The smell of lavender was wafting through the air as we looked out over the vast, rolling hills of lavender fields. I’m even calmer just thinking about it.
There were tents set up with a violinist and lessons for kids. Informational signs were placed throughout the grounds to teach guests about the lavender plants and growing process. We even found some giant lawn furniture to pose with.
They also had a very cute, miniature flower garden and you bet there are more portrait mode photos stored on my phone than just the one I chose to include below (you’re welcome). Located next to the flower garden was a tiny labyrinth. The legend said that this is where the fairies of the fields lived and spent their time. It was actually so cute.
We couldn’t leave without purchasing some bath products. I bought a watermelon, lavendar shower gel that I use sparingly and laugh about every time I do because the story is too good.
Since this post is getting long I will give you some highlights of the rest of our time (about an hour) in Canada.
* We continued driving up the road, through the rain, through the sunshine, observing the foliage and the houses and we even found a road sign that said “Fleury”. No we did not stop to take a picture, we should have, but I was scared.
*We found a Tim Horton’s on our route and stopped for a coffee and pastry and encountered some interesting characters hanging out in the parking lot in lawn chairs being sketchy as hell. (Fun fact: I’m obsessed with Tim Horton’s and this was the first time I had been to one in 10 years. Fun fact #2: Said sketchy characters were still there when we left.)
*I tried to order my Tim Horton’s in French and was once again met with a weird look so we both started speaking English and I was once again angry with my college French professor.
At this point we decided that we had had all the fun we needed to and that it was time to go back to America. I set good old Google Maps on the route utilizing JFK International Highway and we were off. I was able to find the on ramp for the highway very easily and the drive was very smooth. During the drive I even asked Merm to take a photo of me because “Look I’m driving on a highway in Canada! Did you get it?! Have you seen a moose yet?”
Immediately after that I realized I had no idea what speed I needed to be driving at so I asked her to do the conversion on my phone, because I didn’t need another encounter with the Canadian government. But first I really needed her to be on the lookout for that moose (my second favorite animal after the flamingo.)
Coming up into view was a familiar, old friend: massive, concrete border station drive thru! I breathed my final sigh of relief because everything was going to be alright.
Merm broke through my personal victory celebration in my head by pointing out that there was a duty free gift shop right before the border station so maybe I could get my “I ❤ Canada!” t-shirt. I informed her that I did not want my t-shirt anymore because at that point in time, I did not ❤ Canada.
Now this border guard was so nice and so kind to us. He was not intimidating at all and he completely redeemed the province of Quebec for me. Part of me also thinks he was on the lookout for us. I just know Nice and Grumps called their border guard buddies and laughed about us. I just know it.
We easily drove on through and I started singing Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America” once I saw the Welcome to America sign.
Morals of this story:
*Use a main border station when driving into Canada
*Not all of you Canadians are nice (but the majority I have met are lovely)
*My college French professor didn’t teach me shit