The Harbour Hippo is injured. The Hippo has been out of commission for a few days now, and crews are working frantically to repair it. The word is that the Hippo will be on its amphibious legs (wheels, propellers, etc) soon, and as a result, its legions of loving passengers are relieved and (thankfully) less tense.
This is comforting news to many, but especially to my four year old son Louis Romero, and my two-year old daughter, Sophie Rigoberta. For both are massive fans of the Vietnam-era-US-Army-surplus-tourism-vehicle which travels the land in Charlottetown (and also the waters of the Charlottetown Harbour) during our brief tourism season.
The Harbour Hippo, in case you have been living under a rock, is the Island's most famous (and perhaps only) amphibious vehicle. The Harbour Hippo has made its name by looking (somewhat) like a hippopotamus, but mostly because after a tour of Charlottetown as a bus, it plunges into the harbour as a boat. Four-year-olds and two-year-olds go crazy for it when this happens; the amazing moment when a bus becomes a boat.
And for that matter, so does everyone else, for it is a simple and undeniable thrill. (And once, at least, it has been quite terrifying for some non-English speaking tourists who didn't quite understand that their genteel bus ride was about to be, sort-of, immersed in water.) Or put another way, it is a fantastic, and wonderful, tourism gimmick.
Of the hundreds of imaginative ideas that collectively drives this essential part of our economy (tourism) the Hippo may aquatically encapsulate the power of imagination of the individual in creating a community, and an economy.
For the Hippo is not unlike every small craft shop, every Ceilidh, every lobster-supper, every pottery-studio, and every deep-sea fishing venture. The Hippo is, on one level, just silly; “I'm on the land! I'm in the water!”, but it is a great one, and one that makes, quite plainly, people happy.
Which is all the tourism business is really about, in the end, bringing pleasure, and a little piece of semi-heaven to our visitors. For most tourists, like all of us in moments of recreation, are simply seeking a bit of respite from our daily lives. Sometimes this respite is an escape, and sometimes it is an affirmation of what matters.
But whatever it is, our Island's tourism industry, perhaps much beyond money, performs a wonderful service. It soothes. Think of all the tourists you have met over the years, especially the first time visitors, who just melted at that unquantifiable thing that the Island is for so many. And realize that somehow so many of them had their spirits suddenly plunge into a spiritual harbour, not unlike our Hippo.
But perhaps the best proof of the value of the bits of magic that the Island offers is this: Louis and Sophie were so distressed about the absence of the Hippo, that they built their own Harbour Hippo out of some duct tape and a kid’s wagon. So if you need a Harbour Hippo ride yourself, give them a call.
- Campbell Webster is a writer and producer of entertainment events. He can be reached at email@example.com