Experience P.E.I. takes visitors off the beaten Island path

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on August 28, 2008
Tourists Sjoerd Ijzerman, left, and Eliane Vermeulen listen intently as P.E.I. oyster fisherman Erskine Lewis explains how oysters grow and take the shape of whatever they touch. Guardian photo by Heather Taweel

Some tourists are just not interested in Anne.
Such was the case for Eliane Vermeulen and Sjoerd Ijzerman, a young couple who visited P.E.I. recently from Holland.
She wanted to experience the Island's natural beauty. He was carrying a diamond ring in his pocket - looking for just the right time and place to pop the question during their visit.
They questioned the owner of the bed and breakfast they were staying in, "What should we do? Where should we go on P.E.I.?''
Green Gables?
"No way. I have no interest at all in that,'' Vermeulen said.
"How about oysters?'' he suggested.
They were thrilled.
Bill Kendrick owns the Briarcliffe Inn bed and breakfast.
After seven years of having guests ask him time and again what they should do while on P.E.I., he and his wife Mary realized there was a gap in the Island's tourist market for those visitors not interested in the beaten path.
So they developed Experience P.E.I. to create unique opportunities to provide personal interaction between tourists and everyday Islanders.
"We started Experience P.E.I. primarily to provide a different way to see the Island for the independent travellers,'' Kendrick said.
"Because what is commonplace to us is unique and in some cases exotic to people who come here.''
So he and his wife designed 'experiences' for tourists that provide exclusive opportunity to interact with Islanders - and to share in what they're
doing.
"What we're trying to do is show people the real, the authentic P.E.I. by getting them out there and doing these things. Because if they do, chances are they'll stay longer and come back more often.''
The first experience the Kendricks designed was one called 'Tong and Shuck' where travellers could go out on a boat and fish for oysters with a real oyster fisherman.
This is the experience that peaked the interest of Vermeulen and Ijzerman.
On a sunny summer day they waded out into a tiny oyster boat in Salutation Cove, where Erskine Lewis told them everything he knows about oysters.
He took hold of two long wooden tongs and dipped them into the water, feeling around for a catch. As the tongs touched the bottom of the bay, a pleasant clicking could be heard.
"You can feel and hear them down there,'' Lewis said to Vermeulen and Ijzerman.
The couple leaned over the side of the little skiff. The iridescent shells of thousands of oysters waved from below as the water lapped beneath the boat.
"I know what to feel for,'' Lewis added proudly. "I've been fishing oysters for the past 20 years.''
He then used the tongs to pull a bunch of oysters out of the water and showed the Holland couple how the shells grow onto each other and how they take the shape of whatever they touch.
Ijzerman was especially interested in the oyster fishing process. As a restaurant manager in Holland, he welcomed the opportunity to be able to learn how oysters are grown, fished and packed so he can explain the process to his customers when he returns.
When the couple returned to shore, they were ushered into the processing warehouse.
There, Vermeulen and Ijzerman were shown by Ted Boutilier, co-owner of Future Seafoods, how his Rocky Bay oysters are separated into 'standard' and 'choice' varieties and how they are cleaned, packed and shipped to markets around the world.
And for the piÈce de rÉsistance, they got to shuck and eat as many oysters as they could handle.
Ijzerman slurped them down hungrily. Vermeulen just couldn't stomach eating the shellfish raw.
"I only like them cooked,'' she said.
Overall, they were thrilled with their Experience P.E.I. adventure. In fact, it was the second they had been on during their visit. Earlier in the week, on a lobster boat experience, Ijzerman proposed marriage to Vermeulen.
She accepted.
They said they're now considering P.E.I. as a possible future honeymoon destination.