Sunday, March 09, 2008

Slowing Down: A Canadian Chocolate Inn

Last weekend, thanks to the generosity of the local tourism board, I attended the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. On Friday, I sat in on a lecture by California winemaker Paul Dolan (where I got to taste his biodynamic Deep Red blend), and then I spent a steamy, naked afternoon at Miraj, North America's first hammam (again, thanks to the generosity of Tourism Vancouver), and managed to eat my way through two multi-course dinners. In the process, I met Margo Pfeiff, a photographer and freelance journalist who specializes in the Arctic and who tipped me off about Cocoa West, an artisanal chocolate shop and one-room inn on woodsy Bowen Island. It was a quick ferry ride away, Margo told me.

At around noon on Saturday, at a showcase of wines from British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, I ran into Candice, an upstart editor at Westjet airline's in-flight magazine, Up!, and a Vancouver native visiting home from Calgary. "I'm thinking about going to Bowen Island," I told her. I was hoping she'd be patient enough to give me directions. "I love Bowen Island!" Candice said. "I'll go with you!" It was true that the place was only a quick ferry ride away, but we had to get to the ferry, get on the ferry, find the chocolate shop, and then do all of that in reverse, sure to be back for a 5:30 dinner reservation. Who would agree to that? Candice. Candice is awesome.

We ditched the wine tasting, dropped into Candice's favorite thrift shop in downtown Vancouver long enough for her to buy a new scarf, stopped at her hotel where she changed her shoes (I should have thought to ask why she was doing that), and picked up a taxi. I asked how long the ride was. About 25 minutes, the driver told me. The ferry was scheduled to leave in exactly 25 minutes. We drove through Stanley Park, then onto the highway. We pulled into an enormous ferry terminal, where I paid the driver while Candice bought tickets. And then we ran--Candice in her sneakers, I in my stiletto boots--up three flights of stairs and down a gangway that must have been a quarter of a mile long.

I collapsed onto a bench with a view of the car deck below (where a man sitting with his golf clubs in a BMW convertible passed the time by reading the weekend paper) and the Pacific Northwest vista ahead. Twenty minutes later, we scrambled off the boat in Bowen Island's Snug Harbor, with a small outpost renting sea kayaks and a sign advertising "Tacos/Ice Cream." We started up the hill, along a dirt path--again, Candice in her sneakers, I in my stiletto boots. A nice your man in a beat-up car filled with camping equipment pulled over and offered us a ride to the village.

Cocoa West was vexingly popular. Candice grabbed one of the tightly-packed tables and I huddled in line between mothers with little girls in tow and bikers still in their leathers with helmets in their hands. I ordered a couple of hot chocolates (there are about half a dozen varieties on the menu) and demanded to speak to the owner at once. My journalist persona is a perplexing combination of phlegmatic traveler and wired New Yorker--I don't make plans in advance but expect everything to happen instantly. Had I been the woman working behind the counter, I would have dismissed someone behaving like me as annoying and narcissistic (many people do), but she patiently offered to get the proprietress on the phone. So, sitting across from Candice, still out of breath, I was introduced to Joanne Mogridge through the shop's cordless phone. She apologized for not being able to come see me in person, but she was spending the afternoon with three four-and-a-half-year-olds--her daughter and two friends. She explained that she uses organic chocolate for all of her bon bons and chocolate drinks (though it's corporation-made Callebaut organic), that the recipe for the Poblano hot chocolate I was sipping came from her husband's Mexican grandmother, and that she was turning a pretty profit despite the fact that, statistically, Bowen Island's population is too small to support a business like hers. I asked if I could take a peak at her B&B operation, the Chocolate Suite, which she described as outfitted in "rich chocolate, milk chocolate, and ivory" colors. No, she said, it was occupied this weekend. What if I just took a look from the outside? I asked. It was just around the corner, right? But she told me that the door was unmarked, to ensure her guests' total seclusion. I'd like to say that it was out of respect for their privacy that I didn't go snooping around, but it was really because I was out of time. If Candice and I were going to make the next ferry, we had to run. We didn't even have a moment to buy candy for the road--we just took one last look and vowed to come back. Then we hitched a ride down to the dock.


Blogger margo pfeiff said...


Nice. Glad you made it to Bowen. Come to Montreal one day.


8:31 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Angie Jabine said...

While you were racing for the ferry I was walking in the sunshine, noticing just how many Vancouverites had ipod cords running from their heads to their abdomens like so many dislocated IVs. Congrats on making it to Bowen Island and back for Yew! ~Angie

8:54 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Emily,

That was a great adventure. If only we'd had more time...

I look forward to crossing paths with you again!



2:03 AM GMT-5  

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