Safari Condo Grand Rassemblement (2)

Representing for California – photo Safari Condo

“Incroyable” – Michelle Nadeau. That’s the best word to capture this event, and it was used by the wife of the creator of Safari Condo, as a very kind alternative to “you’re completely nuts.” This gathering was really so much fun, it’s been hard to bring words to describe it all. But I’ll try.

The Snail Trail – photo Eileen Jager

From leaving the dump station at La Jolie Rochelle, there were about a dozen Altos lined up. We did a slow follow the leader caravan to a predesignated meeting spot just a couple of miles from the Centre Caztel, where the 25th Grand Rassemblement rally was to be held again. We had maps and directions provided by Jim Gauvreau, and we even gained a couple more trailers before our departure time of 1pm. Gazing down the Alto packed streets of this little neighborhood, I said to Jim, “I love this shit.” He simply smiled and replied, “Me too.” It is such a rare sight in California to see a single other Alto, so watching this long parade roll down the highways together is just super cool.

Volunteers moving Altos around

Once we arrived at the rally location, the deal is that you let the Safari Condo staff, all dressed in pink shirts, roll your Alto into place after you’ve unhitched. Our posse screwed up the approach a bit by taking the wrong entrance, but Francois was on hand to figure everything out so that we could get set up together. The whole thing was a massive operation and the volunteers deserve tons of credit for how hard they had to work to put over a hundred units into place in a parking lot all at the same time.

Wait, which one is my Alto?

While Francois zipped around nonstop on his electric skateboard trying to control the chaos, everyone got busy setting up their spaces for the next three nights. You get pretty close to your neighbors at these events and we were happy to be next to our buddy, Annie Wynn. That evening, there was a presentation from the Safari Condo executive team on their goals moving forward. Spoiler: the famous snail is getting an update! Their new motto is: Voyager. Toujours. which best translates to “Keep Traveling.” I like that because it’s basically “Just keep swimming,” but in fancy French speak.

Super fun ride

The next day I joined a group of friends for a really fun bike ride. There are some lovely bike trails along the river that are mostly flat and very doable for me. In fact, I noticed that I was able to keep up with non-Richard riders pretty easily. I may have identified my bicycle problem here…

Hold on while I calculate how many calories I burned on that bike ride…

We ended the ride at a wonderful market called Peres Nature. It was jam packed with all kinds of delicious specialty treats, but also high end groceries and deli style lunches. Richard popped down to join us and we shared a croissant sandwich, a couscous salad, and a chocolate croissant. All so good!

I can hear this picture

I chilled in my Nemo chair for a while and watched as Francois zipped back and forth past me every few minutes. There was some chatting with friends, and meeting of new people. We got to snag Francois for dinner in town at a place called G2, and that was terrific. We sure do love that guy. After dinner there was a beer tasting and a band in the big conference center. We were enjoying catching up with our Bay Area friends, the Quinns, so we pulled our chairs over to their patio and kept the conversation going. Others joined and peeled off, and many drinks were shared. *Note to Mark: Gaye did not actually have an afternoon margarita. I need to officially clear her name. 😉

New Snail

(I suppose the old snail is now Classic Snail)

On Saturday, I went and looked at the swag with Annie. They gave a pair of New Snail socks away, one pair per unit. Richard doesn’t do anything but white socks, so I get to claim these. And I got a new t-shirt. Then it was pretty relaxed until the afternoon. I had big plans for 4pm, so that was my do or die deadline.

Oh yes I did – photo Justin Muench

To explain this next part, you need to know 3 things. First, you need to know that when Safari Condo put Dory2 into production following the crash of Dory1, Francois got a little stuffed Dory to do photos through every stage of the build process. The workers at the factory all took part and then posed together with the stuffy at the end. This gesture knocked us flat. It was so amazingly wonderful of them to do this. In return, we took pictures with the Dory fish all through our trip after pickup, and posted them online. Before leaving for this trip, I got an album printed up showing all of the photos. This was our thank you gift to all the people who work so hard so that people like us can have so much joy in their Altos.

Who’s a shoe in for the decoration contest??

Second, you need to know that I thought there was going to be a decoration contest. I mean, there was one last time and I remembered feeling lame. We don’t have flags or little name banners or all the stuff I see seasoned campers displaying at their sites. I was a little bored the weekend before we left home because we had no camping reservations, not enough to do to get ready for the trip, and the sudden realization that I wanted to put some effort into jazzing us up for the great parking lot adventure. I also realized that we owned an Alto cover that is never used. All I needed was a couple of cans of fabric paint. Thus far, project costs were contained to just under the arbitrary “too crazy” line. However, because shipping the finished product to the east coast would have cost way too much, we had to haul it four thousand miles across the country in the car.

Big huge case of toxic fumes. Let’s put that behind the driver’s face.

By the way, this thing rode in the car behind my head almost the entire way, and it smells intensely like spray paint. That first day in the car was pungent enough to make me tear up. This became one of the main reasons I wanted a roof cargo box, but I’m not counting that purchase as part of the project expenses. Also by the way, as I was busy spray painting my best rendering of Dory onto the cover, on my driveway, my neighbor came over to make sure I hadn’t lost my mind. It was not immediately obvious that there was a cover on Dory, so to her, it just looked like I was graffitiing the Alto. What I was actually doing was not all that much more sane I suppose.

This is what you call enabling. And it’s the BEST – photo Eileen Jager

And third, you need to know that I have people in my life who, rather than stop me from doing crazy things, double down and add on. When I ran the idea by my buddy Linda, instead of reacting like “WTF?” she was all, “That’s so cool!” When I told my coworkers at school about this idea, instead of saying they were worried about my mental health, their first reaction was: “OMG you need a bubble machine!!” And when I told that funny story to one of the Altoistes at the rally, she GOT ME A BUBBLE MACHINE. So this effort was really the product of many people, not the least of whom is Richard, who did not stop me, rode in the car with the paint fumes, and exercised extreme patience with my last minute request that we spin the Alto before putting the cover on, cause that would make for much better pictures.

So, it turns out there was no decoration contest. I just decided to do this anyway.

So with that as context, you can now see how this became a thing. And man, it was a thing. I told Michelle Nadeau I was going to be doing this and she made sure that Daniel, aforementioned inventor and creator of Safari Condo and designer of the Alto, would be there to see it. A small crowd gathered to watch the spectacle, plus two drones. Dominique Nadeau, the daughter of Daniel and Michelle, is now the President and CEO of Safari Condo, and she came to pose for pictures with her parents, and crazy me, next to this crazy thing I did. Daniel hadn’t seen the Dory stuffy pictures before, so that was super fun to watch him look through the album.

I mean. Worth it right? – photo Justin Muench

Previously unused Alto cover: $400. Six cans of spray fabric paint: $100. Getting photos of all three Nadeaus holding a stuffed Dory while standing in front of Dory, covered in Dory? Priceless.

Priceless – photo Annie Wynn

After that, it was a wonderful catered dinner indoors, followed by a live piano playing duo. We got to chat with Justin and Jessica, from Uprooted Traveler. I had chatted with Justin plenty of times online, so I felt like we already knew each other, but it was wonderful to laugh and tell stories together. There was lots of dancing, line dancing even! Eventually, we snuck out because we knew we had to de-Doryfize Dory before we could go to bed. We were tired and happy as we fell asleep in the parking lot for one last night.

Saturday night entertainment

On Sunday, it was time to pack up and head out. I knew it would be rough, and I was right. I said goodbye to a couple of people, and missed many, because I knew we needed to rip the bandaid off and go. I got pretty choked up at that last hug with Francois. It tears at the heart strings to think it might be another five years before I see some of these folks again. So I’m committing to figuring out how to not let that happen. I’m just glad we were able to do this. I will be turning the memories over in my head for a long, long time.

Richard bringing people to ice cream

Richard admits he had a good time and that it was worth it. I’m documenting that here for the record for when he insists it is way too far to go ever again. He got in a nice ride to St. Joseph de Beauce on Friday. So that future Richard will remember: He crossed the first bridge and then returned across a second, very small bridge and it was a great ride through agrarian landscapes. On Saturday, he got to ride the bike trails. He managed to talk the group into pushing a bit farther in order to get ice cream. If you ride with Richard, chances are you’ll go pretty fast, but you will also likely end up at ice cream.

Home to Papa

It was a memorable stay in the glorious concrete parking lot, with hundreds of strangers and lots of good friends. There was humidity, and no hookups to run the AC. There was nowhere to stake out awnings for shade unless you got creative, which most people did; some, impressively so. There was an ambiant wafting of the odor of pig manure in the air, and overnight lightning strikes that we all thought must have taken out at least one Alto. There was lots of drinking, and eating, and the constant hum of Francois’ skateboard, followed by a whoosh and a deep chuckle as he zoomed by. Well done, Safari Condo, for making something so transformative to so many. I can’t think of many companies where people would be willing to come from hundreds of miles to celebrate an anniversary in a parking lot, and then plan to do it again.

In a word: Incroyable.

Total miles from La Jolie Rochelle: ? forgot to take data in all the excitement. Let’s say 37, with a meet up spot in between so we could all line up. Site: Upper parking lot. No hookups, but great solar. Great cell, but also wifi available from Centre Caztel. No dump, but yes big dumpsters for throwing away big stuff.

Photo credits: Eileen Jager, Justin Muench, Uprooted Traveler, Annie Wynn, WynnWorlds

6 thoughts on “Safari Condo Grand Rassemblement (2)

  1. Alissa, Photos of all the Altos lined up reminded me of the photos of all the bread/other pastries lined up on the bakery shelf. Sweet! Dee

  2. You all hold a wonderful place in my life. Thank you for sharing your travels with Dory!

  3. Safari Condo needs to hire you as their “American Marketing Sales Manager”. I bet you have sold a ton of Alto’s over the years by being you – maybe it can be your retirement job?

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