Category Archives: Travel

The Dragon Lady and her Summer Palace

Today is our last day so after breakfast we were taken to visit the Chinese Herbal Institute where we all received wonderful foot massages by the interns and trainees. We were told about traditional Chinese acupuncture, cupping and herbal remedies. Some fully qualified Chinese traditional doctors came around to take our pulse and discuss our various ailments. We were offered some creams and herbs to purchase to alleviate our issues.

At this point we were split into two groups – those who had opted to visit the Temple of Heaven and have a rickshaw ride and dinner and the rest of us who were taken to view the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace was originally built in one of the dynasties near the hot springs outside of Beijing. The emperor would take his boat up the Grand Canal from his kingdom home in the south to the Summer Palace in the north where he would partake of the healing and soothing hot springs. Over the years the palace fell into disrepair until the late eighteen hundreds. The Dragon Lady who was the aunt of the young child emperor at that time and who ostensibly ruled the kingdom decided to restore it. The money that had been assigned to the Navy was confiscated and used to bring the place back to its former glory and enhance it for her particular needs. Very few were allowed into the huge area consisting of beautiful walkways, flower gardens and buildings alongside a man-made lake. She demanded large quantities of food with over 20 courses of which she ate very little. Eunuchs had to test the food before she would eat in case it was poisoned. It seems she realized she was not well liked. (When Angel had been describing the empress yesterday I thought she was talking about some woman named Ann Price. It took me a while before I caught on.)




Just after noon we were out of the Summer Palace and into a van headed back to the hotel. Our sight-seeing of China is basically over. I have really enjoyed this trip though I have to admit I came here with some trepidation. But the country is gorgeous, the food is really good and the people we have encountered have been lovely. What I have seen is a bustling economy, huge cities with rows upon rows of high-rises, lovely parklands, great roads and a solid transportation network. The countryside I glimpsed from the train appeared quite lush with beautiful rolling hills.

And the people on our tour have been really great. We meshed well as a group – looking out for each other as well as sharing many laughs.

Comments Off on The Dragon Lady and her Summer Palace

Filed under China

The Great Wall

Up early to eat breakfast and catch our bus first to the Jade factory where we were taught a bit about the history of Jade and its importance to China and then introduced to the art of Jade sculpture. Ultimately we ended up in the large Jade showroom where they attempted to trade us some jade for a large portion of our money. I admired the beautiful sculptures and jewelry but wasn’t tempted to buy.

Next stop was further northwest into the hills where we were confronted with the majestic sight of the Great Wall. It is truly magnificent. I never thought I would ever get the chance to climb even a portion of it but ten of our group were able to climb the steep steps up to the 12th Fortress. The Wall is around 8850 km long with square stations (or fortresses) every so often.  I believe we passed four or five along the climb.  The Wall was built in sections across northern China under various dynasties as fortifications against marauding tribes and later as border control points. Much of the Wall has deteriorated to the point it can only be detected by using special archeological technologies. The Wall is an extraordinary feat of work and I can’t imagine the number of workers who died during the building.  This was the highlight of the trip for me (though I loved the Terra Cotta Warriors too).

The 12th Fortress is blocked off so you cannot pass further along the Wall in that direction though there was a branch off to the right just below the 12th. I believe you could follow it for some distance in that direction though people were not going there. We were only given a couple of hours and the weather was off and on raining so after reaching the 12th we posed for some pictures and headed back down.

Lunch was on the way back to Beijing at a Cloisonné Factory where we learned the art of painting on copper. This is an ancient art that was adopted by the French (where it was given the name Cloisonné). Some of the work is absolutely beautiful and some looks pretty tacky. Again we were given a chance to separate ourselves from our money.

By the time we got back to the hotel we were pretty tired but there was an operatic-style (without the singing) musical show called The Golden Mask Dynasty. It was an optional program but Dave and Dawne and I decided to go since it was highly touted and we had resisted all the other shows. It was well worth the admittance price. We had great seats in the front row of a balcony. The costumes were spectacular and the dancers were amazing. How they could contort their bodies! But the flood scene was incredible. The engineering that went into producing a waterfalls onstage was something else – reminiscent of the opening spectacular for the Beijing Olympics.

A very late supper at the hotel and then we hit our beds. Janet has developed a cold over the past couple of days so is quieter than usual. People have been giving her lozenges and advice. She is normally very fit and healthy so I hope this passes quickly so she can enjoy her last few days in China.

Comments Off on The Great Wall

Filed under China

Beijing beckons

We dragged ourselves down to the hotel lobby to head for the airport at an ungodly hour. Our flight was at 8 am. I ended up seated beside Rosalind and Tomas (the youngest of our group at 8 yrs. He is here with his grandfather Ed – retired anthropology prof). He is a great kid and fits in with us all. He has 27 grandparents to spoil him.

It was only a two hour flight and was really quite comfortable. In no time we were loaded onto our Beijing bus and headed into town for lunch.

From here we were taken to the famous Tiananmen Square where we saw the monument to Mao Tse Tung that holds his body. It is a huge open air square that can hold half a million people.

P1090645 P1090650 P1090653 P1090656

At the north side of the square is the Forbidden City – home of the last emperor of China. We made our way across the square towards the ornate entrance to the Forbidden City. To get tickets to go into the Forbidden City you need to provide your passport and the ticket is produced with your passport number on it. Tony had collected our passports ahead of time but somehow there was a mixup between some of the tickets and the passport numbers so we stood outside the entrance for at least an hour before Tony was finally able to straighten things out. He was a bit frazzled over the whole business.

The City was an interesting set of buildings for the emperor and his many concubines. I’m afraid I didn’t catch much of what our local guide Angel said. She has an annoying habit of saying ‘Ahh’ after every few words and her English pronunciation is not very clear. I will do some research on the Forbidden City when I get home.

P1090674 P1090683 P1090684


It was late before we were loaded onto our bus to head to our hotel – the Wyndham – in the northwest section of the city. We passed the Birds Nest stadium on the way but it was not yet lit up for the night. Even still it is an awesome sight.

The hotel is fine – not as great as some of the others but still lovely.

We finished Alan’s scotch for him then Dave, Dawne, Janet, Alan, Rosalind and I headed for the bar/dining room to get a drink and a bit of supper. They were slow to serve (I think they prefer people to eat buffet-style) but we had good conversation and drinks to keep us going.

Comments Off on Beijing beckons

Filed under China

Dynasty Day – Ming to Qing

After another buffet breakfast we were loaded onto our bus to head for the ancient town wall. During the Ming Dynasty which was 600 years ago a huge wall was built around the town of Xian. It was rectangular in shape and thick enough that you could put in a two-lane highway with full shoulders along the top of the wall. It certainly rivals any European city walls that I have seen. The old city with its older architecture is inside the walls and luckily the architecture has been mostly preserved. There is even a moat around the entire wall. Definitely a well-fortified city.

Xian was the end (or the start?) of the Silk Road which hit its height during the Tang Dynasty – 1400 years ago (though it actually began during the Han dynasty from 207 BCE to 220 CE). That era is known for its cross cultural influences and cosmopolitan lifestyle – due to the thriving trade brought on by the Silk Road.

We traveled to a government run (or maybe just endorsed) factory for terracotta warrior reproductions. We were shown how they create a mold and use the local clay to create the various warriors. We were also given a lesson on how to distinguish between the various types of warriors – archers, infantry, captains and generals. And then we were let loose to spend our money on the reproductions or some silk or some lacquer furniture or whatever else took our fancy before serving us lunch.


This area is known for its noodles and dumplings so at lunch I made sure to get a bowl of their noodle soup. It was fantastic!

From here the bus took us to the Museum of the Terracotta Warriors. I was blown away! They are absolutely amazing. Rows and rows of these life-size clay soldiers. And to think they were only discovered by a farmer digging a trench in 1974. There are more than 8000 of them. There is on-going excavation and restoration. So far they have only restored 1000 or so. It is a very long and technical task.



The warriors were created to protect the first emperor of China after he died and were buried with him during the third century BCE.  The terracotta figures include more than 500 horses as well as more than 100 chariots. The detail and accurate proportions of the figures is amazing – especially considering the craftsmanship  that was required to create such works of art over 2000 years ago.

Comments Off on Dynasty Day – Ming to Qing

Filed under China

Panda Pandemonium

We had an early start today – too bad we couldn’t stay in this beautiful hotel a bit longer. The breakfast was incredible. It was the usual buffet style but it had many different stations – both Chinese and western.

Our guide, Fen, gathered us up and onto our bus early to try and miss the worst of the morning rush. We got to the Panda Research Base within twenty minutes. It’s a huge parkland filled with beautiful bamboo trees arching over the walkways, ponds (I even saw a swan) and beautiful flowering plants (I couldn’t tell what they were but I did see bougainvillea). We followed Fen along the winding trails until we started seeing sleeping pandas in the trees. They are really hilarious as they lounge in the branches. I’m not sure whether this is typical behaviour of pandas in the wild or it is simply because these pandas are so well cared for that they don’t have to worry about foraging. One fellow was splayed out over a log munching on a bamboo stick – at peace with the world.




The baby pandas (under a couple of years) are kept with their mothers in a separate area where we are allowed to go indoors to view them through glass windows. Dawne and I found ourselves at the back of our group and before you knew it we were totally separated from them. It seems that the nursery area for the baby pandas was a huge attraction and people were bunching up there. That caused a backup all the way past where Dawne and I were trying to make our way forward. We got caught in a huge crush of humanity from which we could not escape. It was actually quite scary. We were to have met our group outside the baby exhibit but we could not move. It must have taken at least twenty minutes before we spied an opening in the crowd and were able to make a break for it. Yikes – not fun.

From here we caught up with the group and headed to the red panda area. I only spied one. They are not really pandas – more like large red raccoons.


Next was shopping at the official panda shop then off to a local lunch. I didn’t end up buying anything in the panda shop though a few people did. Lunch was another delicious “lazy Susan” style meal with beer, tea and Sprite chasers.

We bused it to the train station and loaded onto another bullet train heading for Xian. The bullet train reached speeds of 245 km/hr – not too shabby. I was with Rosalind and Melanie and we got into a couple of games of Golf (otherwise known as Kings). Rosalind was the big time winner. The train was very comfortable and our trip went quickly event though it was about three hours.

So now we are in the Titan Hotel. It is a bit older and nowhere near as magnificent as last night’s Kempinski but our room is clean – with a seating area as well as a sleeping area. The bathroom is nice but dated.

We joined up with Alan, Rosalind and Dave and Dawne for a scotch in Alan’s room and then a late supper in the hotel’s dining room. I had a club sandwich that was quite good. I was ready for something less Chinese just for a change.

Comments Off on Panda Pandemonium

Filed under China

Ships, buses and trains

The ship docked at Chongqing which is the biggest city in China with over 33 million people. That’s almost the total population of Canada all in one city. Incredible!

I really enjoyed those four days on the boat but I think it was good that we upgraded to VIP. It was well worth it at $25 a day for the dining area, the fruit trays delivered to the rooms each day and the free beer and wine.

We had to pack two days worth in our carry-on and send our big bags off in a van that we will catch up with on Monday night. A bus took us to the train station where we caught the bullet train to Chengdu. The train took us through beautiful countryside of rolling hills, lots of greenery and small garden plots in every nook and cranny. These bullet trains can reach up to 350 km/h.

We ended up in Chengdu which is a city known for its Giant Panda Breeding research base. We will visit the pandas tomorrow but today our guide Fen took us to Jin Li which was teaming with humanity – maybe because it was Sunday. Jin Li is an area of artisans, souvenier shops and every kind of restaurant and food vendor you could possibly imagine. It was a great place for colourful pictures but I found the number of people overwhelming and was glad when we were herded onto our bus to head for our next stop.






We had had very little to eat all day unless people had thought to bring something on the train so we were ready for supper. This time it was something called Hot Pot. Each table has a sunken heating element that holds a pot in a pot. The inner pot contains boiling oil that is highly spiced. The outer pot has boiling broth. Meat is cooked in the pots – depending on your preference. It’s almost like a fondue in that you cook your own meats and vegetables. You mix up a bowl of cut up shallots, cilantro, peanuts, garlic, chili sauce, sesame sauce and rapeseed oil then dip your cooked meat and vegetables into your sauce before eating. I really enjoyed it although some didn’t seem to like it as much – feeling it was too oily. It was pretty messy.

I was quite ready to settle into our hotel room after supper. This hotel is spectacular. It is called the Kempinski and even has a brew house. Dave Robinson was quite excited. Some people went off to a “face changing” show but Dave and Dawne and I chose to just have drinks in the lobby then head to our rooms for an early night.

Comments Off on Ships, buses and trains

Filed under China

A visit to the underworld on top of the world

Woke this morning to great swaths of mist hiding the rolling hills along the river. The air was cooler and quite damp. The almost dry underwear I had laid out on the balcony was no drier so I lined it up on the TV.

After our last session of Qigong with Zhong and another great breakfast we wandered up to the sun deck on the sixth level. That seems to be the only place to get the intermittent wifi. If you are lucky you may see some emails come in. I tried uploading yesterday’s post to my blog but it just wouldn’t go. There’s no way pictures will make it.

Dawne was persuaded by my glowing description to toddle off for a massage. She did not regret it.

Sometime after lunch we docked at the Ghost City of Fengdu. When they flooded the area with the Three Gorges dam the Buddhist temple section on the hills of Fengdu were surrounded by water. The rest of the town was moved higher up the mountain. We disembarked from our ship and were taken to the base of the ghost city where you can climb a set of more than 400 steps to view the temples and statues dedicated to the afterlife. If you don’t want to do the climb there is an overhead cable car that can take you up. Many of us chose to do the trek and were “glowing” by the time we reached the top.




Most of the buildings are reconstructions because the originals were destroyed during the cultural revolution but the topmost one dedicated to the god of the underworld himself is original and is about 1400 years old. It has some pretty gruesome dioramas on either side that puts you in mind of the Spanish Inquisition. The view from the top was spectacular though.





Back down the mountain we were loaded onto a bus and taken back to the ship. Being the last night we had to settle bills and then tidy up for a special farewell banquet. Dinner was not buffet style this time but they kept bringing dishes to the table. There must have been a dozen or more different dishes – way too much food. Actually I preferred the buffet meals but we did get a glass of champagne each and a very short visit from the captain.

There was a guest talent show but Jan and I decided to forego that. We have an early morning tomorrow.

Comments Off on A visit to the underworld on top of the world

Filed under China

The Gorgeous Gorges

I was up early to see the sun rise over the steep hills (mountains?) that lined the river. We had started moving in the night (finally!) and I had felt the slight shudder of the engines periodically. The emerging view from our balcony was breath-taking – bringing to mind those water-colours of steep rounded hills and deep gorges.


Jan and I made our way down to the lounge for the morning Qigong session with Zhong. Yesterday there had been four of us. Today the ranks are growing. I think we may be up to six. The movements are very Tai Chi. Zhong is a good leader.

Breakfast was a bit earlier today cuz we were heading out on a boat tour of the Lesser and Mini Gorges. I’ve been eating way too well. I will need to do a lot of exercising when I get home.

We docked at Wushan and loaded onto a tour boat to head up the Daning River – a tributary to the Yangtze. Like the Yangtze, the river was lined by steep cliffs of limestone and shrub growth. The trees are not big so probably next to no original or primary growth here. We travelled under a “golden” (mostly orange) bridge near Wushan as we headed upriver. Periodically we would see caves in the cliffsides as we travelled the Dragon Gate Gorge. Part way up the first gorge there was a lot of construction happening. According to the guide they were building bridges and tunnelling through the mountains to put in either train tracks and/or a highway – a huge project. Most of the gorge was uninhabited probably because the cliffs were so steep. We did see a few places where monkeys came down out of the bushes for food left at the Monkey Feeding Stations. They seem to be the only wildlife other than birds that we have seen so far. We entered the Emerald Gorge which lived up to its name and wound its way oxbow-like towards the third gorge. After about an hour we came to a boat launch where we were loaded onto an upgraded sanpan for a trip up the Madu River through the Misty Gorge. At one point our sanpan was serenaded by a boat of local musicians as we motored by.






Eventually we turned around and retraced our steps back to the pier where we were loaded back onto our cruise ship for lunch and an afternoon of relaxation. After lunch Jan and I booked ourselves in for a 70 minute massage that consisted of foot manipulation, hot stone work and wonderful kneading. I fell asleep a couple of times. It was well worth the 300 yuan.

Supper was another great repast. Our group seems to always be the last to leave the dining lounge. The poor wait staff are so tolerant. We ambled out onto the deck to view the stars and watch the light show on the struts of the nearby bridge. It was quite impressive. Rosalind and I hung around long enough to catch some fireworks on the south bank of the river.

That evening was a cultural dance display that I was only able to catch half of. I was so exhausted that I snuck out. Jan skipped the whole thing and she was passed out fully clothed on her bed when I got back to the room. That was a good massage.

Comments Off on The Gorgeous Gorges

Filed under China

VIP Treatment

It seems that upgrading to VIP was a smart move. Only eight of us took the package which gave us a fruit basket, unlimited wine and beer at lunch and supper and our own dining area.  (The fruit basket was finally delivered the next day after I mentioned to Tony how we had missed it last night.)  The main group has found that they are fighting for space in the food lines even though there is lots of food in their dining area on the second floor. It is also so noisy that it is difficult to carry on a conversation.


We have no problem like that on the sixth floor. We have our own reserved table where the staff are continually checking to see whether our drinks needs replenishing. Food lineups are short and we have ample opportunity to relax, eat and chat.

None of our group took advantage of the morning activity but we took the time to settle in and explore the boat. Tajinder even had a massage and reported its excellence. Some of us were able to get a bit of wifi from the sixth floor sun deck but it was very poor quality and only intermittent.

After lunch we were herded onto a bus with a local tour guide who inundated us with a barrage of facts and figures that very few of us could catch. We were driven to the huge Three Gorges Dam that was built just a few years ago and which supplies a huge area with electricity. They are trying to reduce their dependency on the dirty coal generators.



We only got to see the dam from a distance – no tours through the generator or anything. There was a park on a hill overlooking the massive dam where you could climb up top of a structure commemorating the building of the dam and from which you got a spectacular view of the dam, the locks and the ship elevator used to move ships up or down the Yangtze.


We got back to the boat in time for late afternoon tea which consists of tea or coffee and sweets. Meals on the boat have been really quite good. They are buffet style (as most of our meals have been) consisting of stations for fruit, sweets, salads, local food and western style food. Breakfasts always have congee but also cereal and pastries. I’ve been eating a mix of Chinese and western food – trying to eat more and more Chinese. I even try to use chopsticks at each meal but sometimes that gets messy.

There was a Captain’s Meet and Greet in the evening but both Jan and I were too tired so hit the sack early.

Comments Off on VIP Treatment

Filed under China

Trek to the Yangtze

The stench of cigarette smoke was nasty despite the fact that our room was non-smoking. It was disappointing. I’m glad we only stayed in that hotel one night but I really would have liked to stay in Hangzhou longer. It is a beautiful and vibrant city. After another lovely buffet breakfast we were loaded onto the bus and headed for West Lake – right in the middle of the city. The streets following the lake shore are lined with sycamore trees giving the area a very genteel feel. We were told the story of the Long Bridge – where two young lovers committed suicide because their love was forbidden by their families. A beautiful pagoda overlooks the lake from the opposite shore. We watched a couple of small herons land nearby and were able to get a few good pictures.

P1090546 P1090547

From here the bus took us up into the rolling hills to visit a tea farm. The tea bushes are planted in neat rows of terracing. The leaves are hand-picked and hand-rubbed before the drying process. There are three types of tea – non-fermented (green), fermented (black) and oolong. We were given a demo of green tea and all its healing qualities. The young woman giving the talk was extremely knowledgeable which meant that her sales pitch was very convincing. She elaborated on the many health benefits of green tea. One thing I learned was that you don’t pour boiling water directly on the tea leaves. You boil it but then let it cool a bit before pouring. Also, the loose leaf is better than tea bags because the leaves tend to be of better quality. The older, broken leaves end up in the tea bags. After the talk we were encouraged to buy and Rosalind somehow miscalculated the exchange – ending up spending far more than she had bargained for. Dave, Dawne and I split one can of leaves which still cost us $60.

P1090581 P1090584 P1090586

The rest of the day was spent travelling by bus back to Shanghai airport then catching a domestic flight to the Yangtze. The plane was a Boeing 737 (but not a Max 8) and was actually nicer than Air Canada. At least I felt the seats had a bit more room. I was so comfortable that I actually fell asleep and the stewardess had a heck of a time trying to wake me up when we were coming in for a landing.

From the airport we were loaded onto a bus. By now it was dark so we couldn’t see much of Yichang. We drove for about an hour through hills and tunnels to the Yangtze where we were welcomed on board the boat with some kind of tea and warm wet towels.

Our room is fairly small but it is fine. We have a balcony giving a view of the lights of Sandouping in the Yiling District.

The group of eight who upgraded headed to the bar where we bought a package of 6 beer for 200 yuan – not much of a bargain but such is life. We bantered back and forth enjoying each other’s company until the party finally broke up after midnight.

Too bad they didn’t provide the promised fruit basket cuz most of us had not had any supper.

Comments Off on Trek to the Yangtze

Filed under China

Wuxi to Hangzhou

The sun was shining this morning but we had been told it would be cooler so I dressed a bit warmer today. From our window you could see a lovely little courtyard – again with the water, wood and architecture but we never did find a way in to investigate. I did notice a tennis court on the rooftop near our window. Nobody was out there playing but it may have been too early.

This morning’s coffee was quite delicious – the best I’ve had. Another lovely buffet breakfast and then we were loaded onto the bus to head off to the fresh water pearl store.

We were given a very short demo of cutting open an oyster and counting all the pearls inside. The demonstration of pearl production in Vietnam was much more thorough. This visit was another hard sell but I resisted. Some of the others were able to drive a few good bargains and came away with some lovely jewelry. I enjoyed the breeze and birds outside.


Christina bade us goodbye and we headed out on the bus for a three hour trip to Hangzhou. We had a stop along the way at an ‘En Route’ style convenience store. I noticed a really nice-looking SUV that turned out to be a Chinese model. If they ever make it to North America I bet they will be really popular.


The hotel in Hangzhou isn’t quite as nice as our previous hotels but it is decent. A number of our group went off to enjoy the optional show at West Lake. Dave and Dawne and I wandered down the street and found a nice little spot for supper. Afterwards we met up with John – the son of a friend of theirs. John has been teaching in China for a number of years and has recently moved to Hangzhou. I left them to head back for an early night.

Comments Off on Wuxi to Hangzhou

Filed under China

So long Suzhou

Breakfast was in the same huge dining hall as last night’s dinner and was filled with just as many delicious offerings. Chinese breakfast is very similar to Chinese lunch and Chinese dinner. All the varieties of noodles, dumplings, vegetable dishes, dim sum, soups and meats seem to be offered at each meal. Congee seems to be the one dish that only shows up at breakfast though I may be wrong about that. I kept going back for the freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.

We wandered out onto the grounds after breakfast and discovered a huge park with winding creeks filled with coy and a pagoda lined pond. The setting was gorgeous. On the far side of the pond was a choir practicing some traditional music. The effect was quite magical. I really wish we could have stayed at this hotel longer but Tony hustled us off to our next outing.


We travelled by bus to a local silk spinning mill. Today’s guide was Christina and we all fell for her. Christina was younger than May – probably in her early forties. She spoke slowly and clearly but she also spoke to us – not at us. It was really refreshing. We learned that an ancient queen had discovered the silken threads of a worm that had fallen into her teacup and from this experience emerged the ancient art of producing silk. After a discussion on the life-cycle of the silkworm we were led into a room where we were shown how the silk threads are used to make a duvet and then all the beautiful silk coverlets that the factory produces for the duvets and pillows. There was a concerted effort to get us to buy – with all kinds of enticing “deals”. The duvets were absolutely beautiful but I’m at the stage in my life where I am getting rid of things not accumulating more. And I don’t think my taste in beautiful duvets would match my daughters’ so I didn’t cave and buy some for them.

P1090483 P1090484 P1090485

From the silk factory we headed to the Lingshan Grand Buddha where we were led into the ancient Buddhist monastery for our lunch – again, in buffet style. All the dishes were vegetarian. I quite enjoyed the meal but it was getting on for two in the afternoon so I was quite hungry by the time I got to eat.

From here we took a cart ride to the base of the giant Buddha statue. In the plaza below the hill on which the Buddha stood there was a 1400 year old ginkgo tree that still sports greenery.


A number of us climbed the numerous steps up to the base of the Buddha in order to touch his feet for luck. Afterwards we watched a water show where the baby Buddha emerges from inside a metallic lotus blossom – all set to traditional music.


The Buddha was on the edge of the city of Wuxi where we stayed in another five-star hotel. We were treated to an excellent meal at a restaurant before we were taken to our hotel. The problem was that the lunch had been so late in the day that we had little room for the supper. We did manage to stuff a good amount in though and once we were settled in the hotel, a group of us met in the lounge to round out the evening with a beer.

Comments Off on So long Suzhou

Filed under China

Puppies, Canals and Beautiful Gardens

These five star hotels really pamper you. And the breakfasts are amazing – buffets laden with fruit, pastries, dim sum, congee, and every Chinese dish I know along with many more that I don’t.

We caught a bus at 9 am heading for Zhujiajiao. The town is full of artisan shops and local food delicacies along a cobblestone walk which lines a picturesque canal. Ancient arched stone bridges span the canal every so often – perfect settings for a selfie. This ‘ancient water town’ is said to be almost 1,700 years old – with homes dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. I fell in love with a fluffy little black and white pup climbing out of a box in front of one of the shops.




Next was a ride down one of the canals running through the city. It reminded me of the canal ride we did in Bangkok. We travelled past the back doors of peoples’ homes where laundry was hanging to dry and flowerpots lined the steps leading up from the water. Crooked stone walls and ancient arched bridges leant the feeling we were travelling back in time.




From here we headed for the Lingering Gardens in Suzhou. Our guide for the day was May. I had a lot of difficulty catching what she said. She spoke really quickly and had a somewhat strange sense of humour. Maybe I just didn’t catch enough to understand what she was saying. The gardens though were lovely – lots of water, stones, architecture and wood.  These are the four main ingredients of a Chinese garden – all very artfully worked together to produce a place of peace and harmony.

P1090471 P1090478 P1090479

We ended the day staying at an incredible hotel that looked like some ancient castle. Tony likened it to a maze and he was not far off. It was a bit late in the day that we arrived so we didn’t have a chance to discover the hotel properly but outside Jan and my window was a small creek lined with willows and other trees. It looked like we were out in the country – not in the middle of a city.

We ate a buffet supper that was wonderful – stations of food spread throughout a huge dining area. We lingered long over the meal – with many treks to check out the various food stations.

I was too exhausted to join Jan and Alan with a wee dram of scotch. Now that must be a record!

Comments Off on Puppies, Canals and Beautiful Gardens

Filed under China

Discovering Shanghai

Sleep eluded me for the most part despite the lovely Scotch precursor but such is life. I seem to be able to manage on little sleep.

Breakfast was an elaborate buffet with way too much choice. Tony had suggested we take full advantage so I did – trying out a number of Chinese dishes and supplementing it with a few “western-style” baked goodies.

We boarded a bus to head into the main section of the city to check out the Shanghai Museum. We all noted how clean the streets are and were blown away by the number of high-rises and sky-scrapers. With the density of housing you can see why the population is so high (more than 26 million I think Tony said).


The four floors of the stunning museum were divided into sections devoted to the arts of jade carvings, watercolour paintings, ornate furniture, intricate pottery. We only had a couple of hours so I missed a lot. I could have spent many hours wandering through those rooms. Some of the jade carvings dated back almost six thousand years and were beautifully carved. I really loved the ethnic clothing exhibits.

P1090388 P1090396 P1090399

From the museum we walked to a restaurant where we enjoyed a Chinese lunch with local beer and tea. I was not totally enamoured with the meal – partly cuz my stomach was a bit off but most of the dishes were quite salty. An antacid tablet fixed me up so a bit later I was able to enjoy wandering near the Maglev train station while a number of our group took a ride on the Magnetic Elevated train that travelled 30 km in six minutes. (That was a bit of a run-on sentence)


Later we took a walk along the bund (riverside) of the Huangpu River. It is lined with a number of skyscrapers exhibiting an interesting variety of architectural designs. I didn’t see a lot of children but I did see a couple of toddlers wearing pants with open crotches. I guess it makes it easier when they need to be changed. One didn’t even sport a diaper – just a wee bare bum peeking out.


Most of the group opted to do a night-time river cruise for an hour (with an added $50 cost) which I and a few others chose to forgo. So now I’m relaxing in the room after a lovely shower writing this with CNN talking in the background.

Comments Off on Discovering Shanghai

Filed under China

Heading East again

I joined up with twenty-six UofGuelph retirees and their friends and family at Pearson where we boarded a ChinaEastern airplane heading out on a fifteen hour flight to Shanghai on Thursday afternoon. I will never get used to those long-haul flights. This time at least I paid a little extra for an exit seat. It didn’t give me any more seat width but it did give me much needed leg-room and ease to get up and stretch whenever I felt. I did have a moment’s envy when I passed those beautiful business class pods as I boarded but I just couldn’t swallow the cost.

Getting through customs in Shanghai was really not too bad and we gathered our baggage to meet Tony (our guide) waving his blue Nexus flag. He boarded us onto our bus and we were off to our five-star hotel – the Crown Plaza. Jan (MacInnes) and I were assigned a lovely room on the fifth floor – frosted glass enclosed washroom with separate tub and shower room as well as a separate toilet stall. The room comes with dressing gowns and slippers. Not too shabby.


Jan and I ended up heading down the hall to Alan’s room for a late night scotch before hitting the sack.

Comments Off on Heading East again

Filed under China


So it is almost a week since I got home and I am still working on the jet-lag. I crash into bed at night but have been waking up around 1 or 2 and then unable to get back to sleep. I keep telling myself this will pass.

The plane from Bangkok to Hong Kong was delayed about an hour which gave me time to peruse the Swatch store for a new watch. With Dawne’s help and Dave’s encouragement I finally made my choice. I am so excited!

The flight from HongKong to Toronto was a killer. I longingly checked out those beautiful pods in first class as I and the other plebes trundled by. Economy on a fifteen hour flight is pretty torturous – especially if you are above average in size. But I survived and came home to find my daughter and new grandson at home waiting for me.

I highly recommend a visit to Vietnam and Cambodia. I think my biggest take-away from this trip is the filling in of the many gaps in my historical knowledge of the area during this past century. The people are lovely and surprisingly not bitter towards people from the west. Their food is delicious. I found their architecture filled with whimsical touches – a roof would often be embellished with swirly tails – ostensibly guarding the occupants. Like Peru and Bolivia, the countries are not wealthy, so infrastructure could use some help. The most obvious is the waste along the roadways – mostly plastic bottles and bags. This is a problem all over and we need a global solution.

Comments Off on Follow-up

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

The River Kwai and its deadly railroad

I missed a day with the blog. Friday was a total wash-out. I must have eaten something at Thursday’s dinner. We all said good bye to Linda and Deb and Nina and Dave after supper on Thursday. I was feeling fine then. I even told Nina that the trip had been especially great because we all got along and no one got sick. She told me that I would jinx the rest of the trip. I jinxed myself cuz as soon as I got to the room I knew things weren’t quite right. It went downhill from there. By morning I was emptied out. I told the others to go on without me. They were going to see the reclining Buddha and then check out a park.

I stayed in bed just drinking lots of water. I tried to join them for lunch when they got back but couldn’t eat anything. I was much better by the evening but still not up to going out.

Woke up with a bit more spring in my step this morning. We had an early pick-up to go outside the city to see the Death Railway by the River Kwai. A couple of movies have been made about the Japanese occupation of Thailand during WWII but the more accurate one is The Railwayman. The music from the Bridge on the River Kwai is really good though. Over 60,000 British, Dutch, American and Australian POWs along with over 200,000 locals were forced to build a railway for the Japanese to support their Burma campaign in 1943. It stretched for 415 km and took the lives of more that 12,000 POWs and 90,000 civilians. The Japanese were brutal, feeding the workers twice a day with mainly rice – no protein at all – and next to no medical facilities, and only basic tools like shovels and hammers. Despite that, the railway and its 600 bridges was built in just over a year. As the workers died they were buried along the tracks. Some bones have been recovered but most remain lost.

We stopped first at Kanchanaburi cemetery where the bones of 6,982 POWs have been interred. It was a beautifully kept cemetery and there was evidence of people visiting some of the graves. There is supposed to be 8 Canadians buried there but we did not find them.

Next stop was the JEATH Museum which depicted a typical POW hut with a long bamboo cot along one side where each prisoner was allotted a space about 2.5 ft wide. Another bamboo structure held pictures taken during the railway construction and paintings done by prisoners after the war. The conditions were horrendous and anyone who survived was just skin and bones.

Nearby was the railway bridge that was bombed by the Americans at the end of the war. From here we caught a train that took us up to Hellfire Pass – the section where the labourers were forced to cut sheer rock with next to no tools working day and night.

There is a large cave near the pass which currently is used as a Buddhist temple but during the war would shelter people from the American bombs.

Next stop was lunch at a lovely roadside stop but I was still not able to eat much other than some rice. Then a 2.5 hr ride back to Bangkok. I forgot to mention that they drive on the left in Thailand (unlike Vietnam and Cambodia) so it took a bit of getting used to.

So now I am back in my hotel room putting off packing. The others went out for supper but I am still not on top of my game so decided to call it a night. Up tomorrow for a 4:30 am departure.

Comments Off on The River Kwai and its deadly railroad

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

Palaces and Back Alleys in Bangkok

This was the last official day of our G-Adventures tour so we met with Bun in the lobby of the hotel after breakfast and said our goodbyes. He was an exceptional CEO and we let him know how much he was appreciated. Hopefully he will be chosen to come to Canada for the G-Adventures conference in Toronto. That way maybe we will get the opportunity to give back and guide him round some of the sights of southern Ontario.

Now on our own we were able to navigate our way to the Chao Phraya River that winds its way through the heart of Bangkok. Like the Bolivian Sky Train in La Paz, there are a number of coloured ferry lines that take people up and down the river. We figured how to get to the Grand Palace stop and off we went.

The Grand Palace is on a large man-made island surrounded on the one side by the river and on the other sides by a system of canals. It was built in 1782 when King Rama I moved the capital from upcountry to Bangkok. It is one of the most elaborate set of buildings I have ever seen. There is so much 24 carat gold leaf that the place simply sparkles. It is made up of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and three layers of courts – Outer, Middle and Inner. The walls are covered in murals depicting historical and legendary tales. Statues and paintings of fantastical beasts – half man and half bird, half woman and half lion, warrior monkeys – abound. There was just so many opportunities for pictures that I overdid it and finally had to quit and just absorb what I was seeing. We hired a wonderfully energetic woman to guide us around. She knew her palace and gave us an excellent tour – constantly lining us up for pictures – but filling the tour with the history of the kings. The last king died three years ago and his son’s coronation is coming up so there was a lot of prep activity and yellow bunting everywhere. The king no longer lives in the Grand Palace but a number of royal ceremonies are held there.

There were a lot of people and the heat was intense so we chose to follow our guide’s advice and take a boat cruise. What we didn’t realize was that the cruise would take us along a number of the canals on the west side of the city. It was like travelling down back alleys but it was waterways. We passed all kinds of houses from small stilted shacks all the way to fancy mansions. We passed a number of egrets and even caught a crocodile swimming rapidly away from our boat.

For lunch we sought out an air-conditioned restaurant in Chinatown where I had dim sum and spring rolls along with a lovely cold glass of beer.

Now back at the hotel where I have cooled down in my air-conditioned room. I’ll meet the others for Happy Hour and supper and we’ll plan tomorrow.

Comments Off on Palaces and Back Alleys in Bangkok

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia


We were up early to hit the road for Thailand. A 2-3 hr drive before we got to the border but then the fun began. We got through the Cambodian side quite easily. We all had our paperwork ready and the Cambodian authorities processed us quickly. But then we had to walk about 100 metres in the hot sun to the Thai processing section. That’s when the waiting began. Bun had never seen such crowds and when he looked into it he was told that it was people coming back from celebrating the Cambodian New Year – but that was 10 days ago. Who knows? Anyway we waited in the broiling heat for ages before we were allowed to go upstairs to the processing level. There must have been 500 people up there sweltering away and we were at the end of the line. After at least two maybe more hours of waiting there, someone decided our group (as well as some other foreigners) could be moved to another area. This proved to have a somewhat faster line and somewhat better fans. About another hour later and we were all through the Thai border security. What a bizarre situation!

We loaded onto two smaller air-conditioned well-equipped and comfortable vans and headed out for another three hours drive to Bangkok. Right from the start it was obvious we were in a much more wealthy country than the last two we had been travelling through. We were on a dual carriage-way with a speed limit of 120 kph. Houses along the route were much more modern than those in Cambodia. We even had a rest stop at a 7-11.

The hotel is well equipped though I wouldn’t say it is any nicer than most of the hotels we have been staying in. The city of Bangkok is huge with towering modern skyscrapers. We are right across from the railway station. The lobby is on the 12th floor and you have a lovely view of part of the downtown area from the patio off the lobby.

After we settled in Bun took us out for supper to a restaurant across the street. I had the Pad Thai with shrimp as he recommended and I really enjoyed it. Back to the hotel to end the night with a Long Island Iced Tea and Dawne regaling the group with stories of crazy teacher antics.

Tomorrow Vikesh and Paras will leave us to head home to Britain after four months of travelling. Hard to believe this trip is coming to an end.

Comments Off on Thailand

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

Bird Watching

I am so glad I chose to go bird watching. Only four of us went – Bruce, Beth, Dave R. and myself. We got up early to meet our driver and guide at 5:30 am but that meant we were out in the fields before the extreme heat of the day had begun.

At first glance we wondered whether we would see many birds but immediately Somphear pointed out the weaver nests and all the weaver birds flitting around them. After that we ended up seeing a huge number of different species. Normally there would have been a lot more water where we went – about 3-5 km south of Siem Reap – but we are in the dry season and this year has been exceptionally dry. Despite that, we saw close to 50 different species of birds. Beth kept the full list. Somphear carried a wonderful Swarovski telescope so the detail we missed with our binoculars showed up clearly in his lens. It was a lovely, quiet way to spend the morning and we all quite enjoyed ourselves. By the time three hours had passed the heat had fully set in and we were ready to call it a day.

The rest of the group had gone off to see more temples and weren’t back yet so we had a dip in the pool then wandered around town a bit. We were just heading out again for lunch when the rest returned so Dawne joined us. We found a nice western-style place with good ceiling fans and enjoyed some down-home food just for something different.

Dave, Dawne and Beth rushed off to join a group to see the “tunnel rats” that are trained to find unexploded incendiary devices. I decided to take it slow this afternoon because tonight we are going to the circus and tomorrow it is another early morning to head to Bangkok.

The circus was fantastic. It was held in a tent with steeply tiered seating and it was packed. They gave out hand fans which were absolutely necessary. The whole show was a Cirque-de-Soleil style event with a group of very athletic acrobats performing a story of a young man cast out from the village because he had a facial deformity but then eventually he gets welcomed back into the fold. They were incredibly talented and seemed to totally enjoy what they were doing.

Afterwards a group of us took the tuk-tuks back to the restaurant where Bun had once been the manager and had desserts and drinks before walking back to the hotel.

Comments Off on Bird Watching

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

Angkor Wat

The standard plan for Angkor Wat is to get there for sunrise so we had to be in the lobby by 4:30 am. Despite the hour, the Angkor Wat was hopping with people – the majority were from other countries.

Unlike most temples, Angkor Wat is oriented towards the west so when the sun rises it comes up behind the temple and on solstices some of the towers are precisely lined up with the sun. Whatever the celestial significance, the reflections in the large pond in front of the main structure as the sun rises are mystical especially when a white horse is tethered beside the pond.

The temple complex is vast with a number of outlying buildings which were libraries holding sacred Sanskrit texts at one time. The place was built over a 73 year period starting in the early part of the 12th century as a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu. By the end of the century it had become a Buddhist temple but retained much of the original Hindu architectural influences. The temple is constructed of volcanic rock and a hard sandstone and is literally covered with elaborate carvings. It is quite beautiful.

We also visited two other sites, Ta Prohm and Bayon, that were even older but not in as good a condition. They were each quite beautiful as well. Ta Prohm was used in the Tomb Raider movie because it was taken over by the a number of strangler trees (called spung trees here) that create a truly eerie atmosphere. Bayon is inundated with towers each having four serene smiling faces.

We were very hot by the time we emerged from the three temples. I personally felt like a dishrag that needed a good wringing. We ended up by going to a Planeterra school for a great lunch served up in those containers you saw in the LunchBox movie. Little kids were running up and down (it was a primary school after all) while we ate and then we were given a tour by a young woman working there. The restaurant is supported by G-Adventures and trains young people in the hospitality industry and in English.

Back at the hotel most people chose to dip in the pool then take a siesta. A couple of showers and a refreshing moment in the pool but I still wasn’t able to nap so I did a tour of the area and picked up a few necessities.

Tonight Bun took us to a wedding of a fellow G-Adventure guide. She was marrying an Aussie and they were having a large party. We dressed up and went along. There were drinks on the table when we arrived and they kept bringing new dishes of authentic Cambodian dishes the whole time we were there. The music was popular Cambodian with a DJ and various singers. The Bride and Groom came by our table to say hello. She wore a traditional dress that was very elaborate. Later she showed up in a beautiful traditional western gown. And then when we were leaving she had on yet another dress – but more of a party dress. It was quite amazing to be able to join in on the wedding celebrations.

Tomorrow morning it is up early again to go bird watching. Only Beth, Bruce, Dave R and I are going. The rest will go see some more temples.

Comments Off on Angkor Wat

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

Goodby Phnom Penh

Love those air-conditioned buses. It certainly helps manage the six hour road trip. We are sharing the bus with another G-Adventures group but they are half our number and I’m not sure if they are quite as lively as our bunch. They kept pretty quiet.

We stopped first at Skun where we were invited to taste some deep-fried tarantulas, crickets, silk worms, frogs and I’m not sure what else. Bruce and Beth didn’t hesitate. I eventually tasted some tarantula legs but drew the line at anything else. It seems they are usually eaten as a snack with beer though I imagine they provide a fair amount of protein and would be an inexpensive addition to any diet. The tarantula legs were crispy and sort of reminded me of deep fried smelt.

We stopped for lunch at a lovely restaurant overlooking the Stung Sen river. It was very picturesque. I had bought some bakery goods last night so ate them and shared a plate of spring rolls with Linda. We each topped it off with a glass of fresh passion fruit juice.

Just before we got to Siem Reap we stopped to try bamboo sticky rice by the side of the road. One foot lengths of bamboo are stuffed with sticky rice, soya beans, sugar and water and are lined up on a long coal burning contraption where they cook for 35 minutes or so. Then they shave the bamboo down to the point that it is easy to peel away from the rice. The concoction was delicious.

So now we are at our hotel in Siem Reap. I have a lovely big room with two beds. Linda and Deb have already headed for the pool to cool down. I should go out and look for a shirt with short sleeves for tomorrow. I have a long sleeved shirt and I can use that in a pinch. There is a strict dress code for Angkor Wat and I don’t want to disrespect the temple. We have to catch our bus at 4:30 am to get the sunrise at Angkor Wat. That’s a darn early start!

After a dip in the pool and a drink to celebrate Happy Hour we cleaned up and headed out for a quick orientation of the area by Bun. Half the group decided to go to a dance show that included a buffet dinner. The buffet had more choices than any I have ever seen and everything I tried was delicious – especially the fish dumplings.

The dancing was beautiful – what I would call Siam dancing – where the dancers seem to be able to balance on one foot as if they were born that way. The costumes were colourful and elaborate.

To bed…

Comments Off on Goodby Phnom Penh

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

The Killing Fields

Breakfast at this hotel isn’t quite as good as the previous hotels. Certainly not as many fruits which I really have enjoyed. But the coffee is good and that is essential.

We loaded onto an air-conditioned bus and headed off with our guide to Choeung Ek, one of the areas of mass graves found about 15 km south of Phnom Penh. During the Khmer Rouge occupation of Cambodia nearly 3 million people died – 1.7 million through execution and most of the rest through starvation. Choeung Ek alone was the site of a number of pits containing the remains of 8,895 men, women and children. Our guide described some of the horrific methods of torture and execution of the Khmer Rouge. Listening to these stories was painful but to honour the dead we need to listen so that we don’t allow anything like it to happen again. I say that but then what is happening right now in places like Syria and the Congo?

At least there is a quiet spirituality at Choeung Ek now where people wander the boardwalks and speak in hushed tones.

There is a beautiful stoupa filled with skulls and bones where we laid flowers and incense.

From there we drove to the notorious S-21, site of a former high school that was used as a prison, torture and execution chamber. Only seven people came out of that place alive out of over 14,000 that were sent there. Four of the survivors were children and we met two as we left. I bought a book, The Survivor, from Chum Mey one of the children (now my age) that didn’t get adopted.

The bus took us back to Phnom Penh where Bun directed us to yet another of his excellent restaurant suggestions. I had a delicious pineapple and pork stir-fry along with two local draft.

We all went in different directions after lunch. I just had to have a quick shower. The 38 degree heat was a bit much so I went back to the hotel.

I was hoping to meet up with the group that had chosen to go to the Royal Palace so I took a tuk-tuk after I had freshened up but I never did meet up with anyone inside. The architecture of the palace is exquisite. There were some excellent musicians playing on indigenous instruments that I quite enjoyed.

Later I met up with Linda and Deb and we walked round the Central Market just to get a feel for it. The beautiful bouquets of the flowers section has to be my favourite.

When we came across an air-conditioned mall after leaving the market we decided to check it out and ended up sharing a mango ice cream “boat” for supper.

Now I’m back in my room. I’ve just had my fourth shower of the day and ready to organize my stuff for our 6 to 8 hr ride to Siem Reap tomorrow.

Comments Off on The Killing Fields

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

Cambodia bound

They said we would be taking public transit to Phnom Penh so I envisioned six to eight hours aboard a decrepit tro-tro. Instead we traveled on an air-conditioned comfortable bus that provided us with bottled water and crackers and a number of pee breaks. It was a long trip and half-way through we crossed over the border from Vietnam into Cambodia. The transition took a bit of time but it was quite smooth and before we knew it we were on the road again.

Waiting for the lights to change in Saigon

We began to see more and more houses built on stilts. I understand this is common practice here especially in areas of rice farming where annual floods are the norm. We are travelling a highway that follows along just west of the mighty Mekong River.

Cattle graze all over. In Vietnam I don’t remember seeing cattle though we did see water buffalo. Here cattle are more common.

We arrived at the Diamond Hotel in downtown Phnom Penh around 4:30. It is clean and quite comfortable but it is an older hotel than the ones we’ve been staying in. After the air-conditioned bus, the heat seemed pretty intense. I understand Cambodia is even hotter than Vietnam.

Time for a quick settle into our rooms and we met up again for a cyclo tour around some of the main attractions of the downtown. We peddled past the Phsar Thimey or Central Market which is housed in an old French market building and on to the Wat Phnom.

This is a beautiful Buddhist temple with a large working clock laid out on the grass in front. There was a bamboo pig in front of the clock to honour Cambodian New Year that had just passed. (This is the year of the pig). Across the street from the temple is a statue of Grandmother Penh who according to legend had the temple constructed after a flood when she found a floating tree containing four statues of Buddha. The city derives its name from this woman.

On to Independence Monument which was designed as a lotus-shaped stupa. On the other side of the square is a statue of Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia’s first prime minister after their liberation from the French. Bun gave us a talk on some of the history of the Norodom family and then a taste of the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. We will get more when we travel to the Killing Fields.

Back onto the Cyclos and off to a wonderful restaurant I will have to get the name of. Bun recommended a few dishes and I chose the Khmer Amok which was a delicious curry. We washed it down with two mugs of local draft – all for a very reasonable $5 USD.

Up early tomorrow.

Comments Off on Cambodia bound

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

The Mekong Delta

Today’s trip was a two-hour drive out to the delta of the Mekong River which has wound its more than 4,000 km journey from China, through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and finally into Vietnam where it empties into the South China Sea. The mouth of the river is a broad flat plain where 80% of the agriculture of Vietnam takes place. It is an extremely fertile and very essential part of this country. So today we headed out to check up on some of the farming activities of the delta.

A boat shuttled us over to Unicorn Island so we could see some fruit plantations and sample the exotic tropical varieties. Chau, our guide, pointed out a number of plants and let us sample mango, dragon fruit, longan fruit and pineapple chased down with Jasmine Tea as we were serenaded by some local musicians.

We walked across to the other side of the island where we visited a bee operation and bought royal jelly.

Next to the bees was a cocoa plantation and we got to sample some of the best chocolate I have ever tasted.

A boat took us off the island over to the other side of the river where we were loaded into small three-wheeled “trucks” and were taken on a tour of the farming areas down narrow lanes and around some very tight corners until we ended up back by the water in an area of water palms. We went by threes into some rickety narrow rowboats and taken through the palms to see how they are used to help control the erosion of the delta.

Last but not least we ended up taking a short trek over to a beautifully laid out restaurant area where we were fed traditional lunches. Many of the dishes were local fish.

Fully sated we launched ourselves into the original boat to head back across the river then onto our bus for the two hour ride to the hotel.

A number of us took advantage of the Happy Hour and pool offered on the seventh (top) floor of the hotel where we stood in the shallows, drinks in hands and gazed out over the cityscape.

Bun took us to one of his favourite spots for dinner – a short walk from the hotel – where we enjoyed our last supper in Saigon. Sekyiwa will be pleased to know that I had Pho and it was delicious.

Tomorrow morning we catch a local bus and head for Cambodia.

Comments Off on The Mekong Delta

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

Not for the Claustrophobic

Today was an early rise because we were taking a bus out to the Chu Chi tunnels that were used by the Viet Cong during the American War.

Back in the 1940’s during the French IndoChina war many of the people living in the Cu Chi section of Saigon began building tunnels under their homes leading to underground chambers where they could store food and hide during the terrifying bombing raids. To allow for alternate exits many families began to connect their tunnels with their neighbours.

Later, during the American War these tunnels became very strategic to the Viet Cong. They could make their way south through Laos and Cambodia via the Ho Chi Minh Trail and sneak into the Cu Chi district of Saigon. They began to use the tunnels, enlarging the network and adding multiple levels with chambers for food storage, sleeping and hiding out during American bombings and raids. Even some bunkers were used as basic medical centres.

The whole area was ingeniously developed using an elaborate system to dispose of the soil that came from digging the tunnels. Some of the soil was scattered over large areas using basket sieves. Some was added to or made to look like termite mounds. Sometimes they would set off a small bomb to create a crater and then add the extracted soil around it to make it look like a larger bomb had been detonated. Every so often a bamboo stick was inserted into the ground to provide air shafts. Many of these came out of the ground through the termite mounds. Entrances to the tunnels were camouflaged by leaves laid out over a wooden cover. The tunnels were very narrow and there is no way anybody suffering from claustrophobia could have entered them even if they were small enough.

The area was protected by booby traps of all kinds. Any one of them would have dire consequences to the person who set them off. This proved to be an effective method of wearing down the enemy who outnumbered them and who also had much better weaponry. The Americans were at a distinct disadvantage because even if they did discover a tunnel they were usually too large to get through. They used sniffer dogs to help find the entrances to the tunnels and then used specially trained personnel called “tunnel rats” who were smaller in stature and usually wiry to enter them and force out any Viet Cong hiding there. It was a dangerous mission for all involved especially because of the booby traps. This was also one of the areas where Agent Orange was used to defoliate the surrounding trees and bushes to aid in finding the tunnel entrances.

Some of our smaller and more courageous actually did a foray through one of the tunnels. I decided it wasn’t my cup of tea but the excursion itself was certainly educational.

An hour or more on the bus before we got back to our hotel but the air conditioning made the ride quite comfortable. Our guide, Bien, gave us a bit of history about his own family who were living in South Vietnam during the war. After reunification his sister had to undergo two years of re-education since she had been working for the South Vietnamese government.

A group of us chose to go just up the street from the hotel to a restaurant for lunch where we made plans to visit the Fine Arts Museum. The Museum wasn’t quite what we expected. There was a huge emphasis on paintings done during the war, many of which were not overly inspiring. It seemed that so much of their previous history and the current cultural works have been lost in an obsession with a terrible but relatively short period of time. The buildings housing the museum need a lot of maintenance and there seemed to be minimal security even where there were more valuable exhibits.

It was very hot so we lasted only about an hour before heading back to the hotel for Happy Hour and a dip in the pool.

We ended the day with dinner at a French restaurant called Le Garlik which was a bit more expensive but still well within our range and the service was excellent.

When we emerged from the restaurant the streets were alive with people and music and noise, so we strolled up and down to breathe it all in then made our way back to the hotel.

Comments Off on Not for the Claustrophobic

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

Saigon Sensations

I’m not sure that I’ve mentioned that the coffee in Vietnam is really good. It’s a great way to start your day along with all the fresh fruit from our regular breakfast buffet. After yet another delicious breakfast we loaded all our gear onto the bus and headed for the airport to fly to Saigon via VietJet Airlines.

The flight itself was short and uneventful and before we knew it we were in a bus wending our way through a steady stream of motorbikes and cars that seem to flow like a very technical white-water river. Somehow it works though we did pass a fender-bender.

Our hotel is the Lotus Boutique. It isn’t quite as classy as the one in Hoi An and the rooms are much smaller but it is clean and will do the trick.

Ho Chi Minh City (AKA Saigon) is a teaming sea of humanity (approximately 9 million) and vehicles – mainly motorbikes – in constant motion. Crossing the street is an acquired skill requiring dollops of courage, focus and chutzpah. I try to get in the middle of a crowd and just let myself be carried along.

We had about half an hour to settle into our rooms and then we were off by taxi to the War Remnants Museum. We had about an hour or so to absorb this testament to the horrors of war. We started off by making our way around some of the left-over military machinery and then wandered into the museum. We moved slowly from room to room taking in the terrible pictures, reading some of the personal testimonies, viewing the devastation of war. The room dedicated to revelations of the effects of Agent Orange was particularly awful. This war I heard about as a teenager that was raging half-way round the world was right here.

We quietly gathered outside the museum under the bamboo trees where our guide sat patiently waiting. He took us from the depths of personal reflections to the edge of our seats as he loaded us onto Cyclos. Our Cyclo drivers expertly joined the rushing traffic to take us on a wild ride to view some of the highlights of the city.

Our first stop was to view the statue of Thic Quang Duc, the Buddhist monk that set himself on fire to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government in 1963. The statue is right beside the intersection where it happened.

Next stop was the Independence Palace on the site of the Norodom Palace which had been built by the French and had been named after the Cambodian King of that time. It was the home of the French Governor-General until the Japanese took it in 1945 but soon returned it to the French at the end of WWII. But by 1954 the French had to hand it over to the Vietnamese people as part of the Geneva Accord when they withdrew from Vietnam due to their defeat at the hands of Ho Chi Minh. Diem took over the palace as President of the Republic of Vietnam but during the Vietnam War it was bombed by two of his pilots as a coup attempt in 1962. Diem escaped the assassination attempt and rebuilt the palace by the end of 1963.

Our last stop was to view Saigon’s Notre Dame Cathedral as the original in Paris was burning. Across the street is the iconic Post Office built by the French in the Gothic Renaissance style with many of the flourishes the French are known for.

A final dash of our Cyclos through the mad traffic back to our hotels to clean up and get ready for supper. Then off to the Street Market for a true-life experience. We made our way round the various stalls choosing our meals then gathered on the second floor to gorge on Vietnamese fast-food.

Now I am back in my room and I really have to get to bed because we are up very early tomorrow for our next adventure.

Comments Off on Saigon Sensations

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

Bicycles and Bumper Boats

Another delicious buffet breakfast with lots of fruit and an interesting dish labelled – fish with lemongrass. The lightly battered fish was wrapped around a twig of lemongrass. The lemongrass taste was in the fish but the texture of the fish was unlike any fish I have eaten. It was more like calamari.

We met in front of the hotel at 8 am ready to mount bicycles and head out for a countryside trek. Our guide was able to avoid most of the busier streets and led us down quiet streets and alleyways. It wasn’t long until we were riding along beside rice fields. Where we are staying in Hoi An is a major tourist centre so it is nice to get away from all the hubbub. What we all enjoyed about the bike trip was that it took you into areas where the regular Hoi An people live. We saw families heading off to work and school, regular shopkeepers opening up for the day, farmers out in the fields hoeing and watering their crops, fishermen laying their nets. We checked out a place where lotus plants were growing and our guide and Bun told us of the uses of the various parts of the plant. We saw snails and their eggs. We checked out birds – egrets, a myna bird, a cormorant, some other white and brown bird I have to try to identify. We visited an organic herb farm and its 96 year old owner. We checked out a home-grown rice wine and banana wine operation complete with an excellent tasting. Back home in Kaladar he would have been the local bootlegger. We stopped for a banana pancake snack and drinks by the riverside and then were loaded into a number of little basket boats for a sashay out among the water palms. A few of us got to help paddle and played bumper boats with each other. Once back on shore we mounted up and pedalled off to meet up with a ferry that took us and our bikes up-river back to the old section of Hoi An. Off the ferry, back onto our bikes and we were soon back to the hotel ready for a shower and/or swim in the pool.

Some time later I headed back into the UNESCO Heritage site to watch the theatre presentation I had missed yesterday. I’m really glad I did that for a number of reasons: 1) the place was air-conditioned and I had heated up yet again. 2) there were only two other people when I first got there and we started talking. It turns out the young woman was from Uxbridge, had been taught by Derrick Connolly (a canoeing buddy) and loved him. What a small world! 3) The show was really cool with lots of music and dancing and beautiful costumes.

We finished off the evening at The Noodle House where I tried the Cao Lau style noodle. It is more like fettuccine and the pork dish was very tasty. There are many different styles of noodles ranging from the soft mushy (used in pho), bun (vermicelli style) through various widths right to the flat crepe style.

Tomorrow we head for Ho Chi Minh City by plane so I will have to organize my things.

Comments Off on Bicycles and Bumper Boats

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

Down-time Day

We finally got a day where we didn’t have to get up early. Our first and only scheduled activity was meeting at the Oodles of Noodles Restaurant that is funded by G-Adventure’s Planeterra foundation. The foundation works to get young people off the streets and into hospitality and restaurant trades. They learn food preparation, cooking, restaurant management as well as English and receive a host of other benefits from the program. So after a morning of visiting a number of the suggested buildings in the UNESCO site we made our way to the Planeterra restaurant.

We were taught how to make rice noodles by steaming a mixture of rice flour and water ladled out crepe-style on a cloth stretched over a pot of steaming water. Five seconds under a lid and the rice crepe was ready. A bamboo stick dipped in the boiling water is then slipped under the crepe and used to carefully lift it off the cloth and onto a plantain leaf. The crepe can then be cut into strips or used as is. We all got a chance to make a rice noodle crepe and then eat it mashed into a rice biscuit and dipped into various sauces as a snack. It certainly beats crunching on the rice cakes we get at home.

The rice noodle creation technique was followed by a delicious lunch served up by the young kids in training.

I wandered back to the hotel to cool down first in the room then later in the pool. Actually the pool was like bath water but sitting on a lounge chair air drying worked. Dawne, Dave, Linda and Deb were already at the pool when I got there. We had a lazy chat then made plans to meet up and head back to the seamstress’ shop to try on the clothes we had ordered.

My outfit needed some minor adjustments. Linda and Deb were persuaded to have some more clothes made. Dawne’s tops didn’t quite meet expectations so some adjustments will be made and tomorrow we’ll see how they turn out.

The lanterns were out in full force tonight.

We found a restaurant near the river in the Old Town that was on the third floor so we could look out over the people on the street (and there are a lot of them). We had some really good dishes – mine was a vegetable and cashew curry – and yet the bill for the five of us came to less than $42 Canadian including beer and other alcoholic drinks. Not too shabby.

Tomorrow it is up early for a bicycle ride.

Comments Off on Down-time Day

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

Motorbike Madness

The Benadryl worked like a charm so I was ready for today’s adventure.

Breakfast at the hotel was an elaborate array of fruits, breads, crepes, egg dishes and many different Vietnamese dishes. We’ve been eating especially well and I’m afraid it will be showing by the time I get home.

All but Vikesh and Paras had agreed to do the motorbike tour so we gathered in the lobby of the hotel with our luggage to check out, leave our larger bags and then meet our drivers. I had to bend over so Vin (my driver) could set my helmet in place. I hopped onto the Honda behind Vin and off we went weaving in and out of cars, trucks and other bikes – a long line of red-helmeted bikers. It was a blast.

They took us out into the countryside to see close-up a rice paddy – explaining the planting methods. It’s a very labour-intensive business and one that many of the younger generation are reluctant to take on.

Most of the biking was down country or village lanes and along a small river. It was a beautiful drive. We checked out a village market by the river and then had a demonstration of the rice harvesting techniques by an 83 year-old woman who chose Mike to act as her water-buffalo.

At one point they took us off-road up into a wooded area that led to some bunkers used by the Americans during the war. The area over-looked a bend in the Perfume River so it must have been a strategic military spot.

Another stop was to have refreshments and see how the conical hats are made. The woman making the hats was missing her right arm from the elbow yet she made these lovely hats.

The last stop was a monastery where we were served a huge lunch set out by the nuns though we only saw one nun. We were deep into conversation after we had eaten when she appeared – shushing us because the nuns were resting and encouraging us to eat more. That was our cue to return to the bikes and head back into the city to weave and dodge our way to the hotel.

Another comfortable bus ride while Bun regaled his captive audience on a variety of topics from rice farming to religion.

The inner section of Hoi An is another UNESCO Heritage site and our beautiful hotel is in the old town just outside the site. We did a walk-about of the UNESCO site noting the ancient architecture. We have two more days here so we will visit some of the more interesting buildings later.

We did spend a bit of time with one of the renowned seamstress shops where some of us ordered clothes.

For supper I had the red curry dish that Bun recommended and I had absolutely no regrets.

We seem to be in the middle of a Vietnamese holiday and there are a huge number of visitors here. Many people had crossed over the bridge into the UNESCO site and bought little paper boats with candles that they set floating in the river with a wish. It was magical in the dark but I do wonder how many of those little boats line the river bottom.

Comments Off on Motorbike Madness

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

Happy in Hue

As it turns out I didn’t get any sleep so it was a long night on the train. The other two G-Adventurers in my room seemed to have no problem though Bun pointed out that they were quite drunk when they went to bed. That group is a younger crowd.

The wall of heat and humidity struck as we stepped off the train and I instantly broke out in sweat. We were too early to check into our lovely hotel so we wandered over to the cafe across the street and had some strong coffee.

With still a couple of hours to fill we roamed the few blocks towards the Perfume River. Hue appears to be quite a pretty city and somewhat less crazy than Hanoi. Back towards the hotel to find the wonderful Ushi restaurant where we had scrumptious rice pancakes.

By the time we finally got our rooms we were in dire need of showers.

A bus picked us up about an hour or so later to take us to the Imperial Citadel a UNESCO World Heritage site. Hue was the seat of the King of Vietnam of the Nguyen dynasty until he abdicated in 1945 handing over to the communist regime of Ho Chi Minh. We visited the palace (complete with moat) which is under restoration since it was severely damaged during American bombing raids. It is a huge sprawling complex where the king and his concubines had once lived a strictly ceremonial life.

The bus loaded us up again and took us off to the Tiên Mu Pagoda found on the grounds of a Buddhist monastery. The impressive pagoda is seven stories high. The grounds and buildings were beautifully kept by the monks with waterfalls and pools filled with koi.

Our last visit was to the Royal Tombs – a place in need of much restoration but seemed almost sacred. Of course, the serenity of the place may be simply due to the fact that we were the only ones there.

Back to the hotel to rest up a bit and then get ready to go out for supper. Bun had recommended a place for a number of dishes but his favourite was the crispy noodles. They were wonderful! I had mine with a chicken and vegetable sauce and even managed to eat the whole meal with chopsticks.

So now I am back in the room feeling the exhaustion of the past couple of days. I think this may be a Benadryl night just to make sure I sleep.

Comments Off on Happy in Hue

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

Midnight Train to Hue

My room on the “junk” was as nice as any hotel. The boat was definitely no garbage scow and the meals they served could have come from any classy restaurant in Hanoi. I slept really well and was ready to tackle today’s adventures.

The first one was a boat ride to Song Sot cave where we joined members from many of the other boats in the armada to trek through this amazingly big cave. The ceiling of the cave was formed by wave action over millions of years so it looked like icing atop a cake. You could actually tell the direction of the waves in some sections.

Back to our boat to shower and pack up and enjoy yet another wonderful meal. This one had crab cakes wrapped around sugar cane twigs along with a number of other beautifully presented dishes.

We disembarked our junk and onto the bus to head back to Hanoi. Along the way we stopped at a pearl factory. We were given a live demonstration of cultured pearl production. It was fascinating to watch someone place the irritants taken from another oyster along with a rounded piece of shell into the reproductive organs of an oyster and then to see the final result that would appear a couple of years later.

Back in Hanoi we broke into splinter groups. Some went to see the water-puppet display. I went along with Nina, Dave, Paras and Vikesh to check out the Ho Lan prison where John McCain had been held. It was a terrifying place built by the French in 1896 to restrain the incalcitrant Vietnamese. It is a sad testament to the inhumanity in humanity.

Back to the hotel to get organized for the overnight train to Hue. We stocked up on wine to enhance the adventure. Now I am in the lower bunk of a four-bed room trying to type as the train rocks from side to side. I have had a number of glasses of wine and I’m not sure whether that is helping or hindering. Above me sleeps my CEO and in the other two bunks are a couple from another G-Adventures tour. I wonder how much sleep we’ll get.

Comments Off on Midnight Train to Hue

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

Halong Bay and the Vietnamese Armada

Our group is finally all together. Bruce and Beth arrived in Hanoi while we were in Sapa and Linda and her sister Deb arrived from Canada about an hour before we got back. We didn’t meet up until breakfast this morning.

Bun is our G-Adventures CEO and Chien is the guide for our Halong Bay excursion. Bun is very personable – typical of G-Adventure CEOs. He herded us onto the bus after breakfast and then introduced us to Chien who took over the task of enlightening us on some of the area’s history. Hanoi is over 1000 years old so this is a very old culture we are visiting. Chien touched on some of the influences of the French and the changes to the area in the aftermath of the American War.

While he talked I realized that beyond the old section of Hanoi where our hotel was is a modern clean city with wide streets and bustling businesses.

A few things of note: the temperature up in the hills of Sapa were much better than down here in the lower lands. Perhaps it was the continual breeze but here I can sweat just sitting. Also, there do not seem to be a lot of birds here. Someone mentioned that most of them have been killed for food though maybe not anymore either because of laws or lack of prey. Another thing of note: though electricity in the Sapa region is hydro, down here it is thermal – produced by the burning of coal.

We arrived in Halong and found hordes of tourists. It is not the peaceful serene place of the brochures anymore. As our junk (not very junky) took off we joined an entire armada of boats heading out towards the 1000 or so islands that dot the bay.

My room is lovely with its own bathroom. If not for the gentle rolling and hum of the engine I would think I am at a hotel.

Lunch was especially good with many different dishes – shrimp, squid, tofu, pork, salad and I don’t know what else. Now I have to try and fit into a bathing suit to go kayaking.

The serenity and peace we usually associate with kayaking was somewhat lost in the crowds of rafts and other kayaks but the rock formations were quite unique. I believe they are called karsts. Lots of caves and sharp projections of steep cliffs. We paddled through a cave and circled the lagoon looking for little macaw monkeys that never made an appearance. But it was nice to be on the water again.

The next activity was to boat over to a small beach and climb the 200 or 300 steps to the lookout at the top again surrounded by a zillion other sweating people. The view from up top was spectacular but the low-lying clouds limited the distance.

So now we’re back at the boat. I’ve showered to wash off that layer of sweat and will head up to a comfortable lounge chair to enjoy Happy Hour.

Supper was another feast for the gods beautifully decorated with carved vegetables shaped into flowers. After the meal we had a fascinating demonstration on how to do it by the chef himself.

This was followed by a fruitless attempt to fish for squid with a bamboo pole and then exhaustion won out.

Comments Off on Halong Bay and the Vietnamese Armada

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

The Mini-Inca Trail

No problem getting up in time this morning but Nina didn’t take any chances and knocked long and hard at my door.

Breakfast was an expansive smorgasbord and we dove in.

By eight o’clock we were ready for Ku and he herded us down the hill to pick up the Lithuanian couple who had joined us on yesterday’s shorter trek. To Ku’s dismay she again wore a dress and flat-soled canvas shoes. I’m really glad I bought my knock-offs because they had real grip. We trekked some very steep and rocky trails today. I have to hand it to the Lithuanian girl though – she never seemed to have a problem. Too bad I didn’t get their names. They were a lovely young couple who declared they were only friends who liked to travel together (as they held hands and cuddled).

The scenery was spectacular with terrace-laden mountainsides, deep valleys and rushing creeks.

Dave R and I heard a lot of interesting birds but rarely spotted them. The cicadas were out in full force and we did spot them. Their deafening chorus surrounded the hilltop rest stop where we had a delicious lunch and cold beer. There were beautiful cabanas there that could be rented for overnight stays with glass fronts facing the valley and mountains.

Near the end of the trek (which turned out to be more than 13 km) we spotted a bright green snake that certainly startled Ku. I think it may have been poisonous. We also saw a couple of geckos but that is about it for wildlife. We did pass a number of grazing water buffalos along the trail. I’m not sure I would get too close to them.

I was really glad when we finally met up with the bus that took us back to Sapa. Guess I’m not in quite the shape I was in for the Inca Trail.

We had little time to grab our bags and some goodies from the local bakery before we were loaded onto another mini-bus and headed back to Hanoi.

So now I am back at the Bonne Nuit. I’ve met our guide Bun and had a shower. I will finish packing my stuff for tomorrow’s overnight on a junk and head to bed. Looking forward to the horizontal.

Comments Off on The Mini-Inca Trail

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

Sapa (Just Sapa)

I’ve been calling it Sapa Valley. I think I may have been influenced by Napa Valley. Anyway it is simply Sapa and it is nestled high in the mountains north of Hanoi. We were to get up early this morning to catch our bus to Sapa at 7:00 am. I set my iPad alarm for 5:45 just to make sure I would have time. Turns out I set it for 5:45 pm. At 6:48 I got a phone call from Nina. I have never moved so fast in my life! Luckily I had packed most things the night before.

The bus was very comfortable with just enough room for the five of us and two American gentlemen from New Jersey. They were frequent visitors to Vietnam since they had built a school for kids in need back in 2006 and come regularly to check on its progress. They were able to answer some of our questions about Hanoi and the area.

Rural Vietnam is beautiful – laden with rice paddies and dotted with a number of nice-looking homes. The further we headed into the hills the more we saw terracing of the rice paddies. There is something almost magical about it.

The steep winding drive heading steadily upwards could be classified as harrowing by some. We were all quite happy when Sapa finally appeared. We set up in the Panorama Hotel (aka Aroma Hotel according to a nearby sign). I have to admit I didn’t notice any untoward aroma.

After a very filling lunch Ku guided us into the streets of this bustling town. New hotels are being built around every corner. Tourism is really taking over the town. I soon realized the shoes I brought weren’t going to cut it so I found some knock-off North Face runners for a decent price.

The town is built in the hills with narrow winding and steep streets. Motorcycles and taxis are rife. We wound our way down through some colourful sections of town and eventually to a beautiful park with a rushing creek and waterfall. It was incredibly picturesque so our cameras were busy. We finished off the visit with a beer then had to wind our way upwards towards the road where we met a minivan to take us back to the hotel.

Shower, supper and a short wander around the streets to a lovely little bar where we could finish the evening with craft brew and Hanoi cider.

Tomorrow is the 12 km hike so I need my sleep. I will set two alarms tonight.

Comments Off on Sapa (Just Sapa)

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

Waking up in Hanoi

The flight from Hong Kong on the Cathay Pacific (or Cathay Dragon – the names seem to be interchangeable) was fine. We were fed yet again though I doubt if I needed it. My legs didn’t enjoy economy but I’m sure it was a carry-over from the previous flight. Usually I can manage a short flight.

Hanoi was dark when we emerged from the airport. We had passed through customs with no problem. A fellow holding up a G-Adventures sign picked us up and expertly drove us into the city. There seems to be an uneasy relationship between Vietnam and the big elephant next door (China) according to our driver. He pointed out some of the Japanese-built infrastructure – impressive bridges and the new airport.

The city is awash with motorcycles and people. Our hotel – the Bonne Nuit is right in the middle of it all. My room is small but clean and the bed was very comfortable. I crashed immediately.

This morning I found a note from Nina under the door. It seems they are across the hall and will meet me for breakfast at eight. I’d better go shower.

I went to breakfast but none of my group were there. The fruit and coffee were delicious and I may have overdone myself in that department. When still no one had shown up I finally tuned into the fact that the time on my iPad had not updated from Hong Kong to Hanoi time so I was an hour early. I did a wee walkabout for a few blocks around the hotel trying to set myself some landmarks.

Eventually the others showed up and I joined them in a second breakfast.

Nina and Dave were prepared to show us some of the highlights of their explorations from the previous day but first we had to spend an hour in the phone store getting local SIM cards. Turns out my phone is NOT unlocked and needed some Rogers code that I didn’t have. I’m a bit annoyed with Rogers because I had been told my phone was unlocked. But Nina and Dave Robinson were successful so they can contact each other if they get lost. Me – I’m on my own.

I think we covered the entire Old Town section of Hanoi today. Before we had gone far we were covered in a damp “glow” which necessitated numerous stops for beer and other refreshments.

Being Sunday the kids were not in school. There seems to be a dance competition because there were quite a number of groups of them each wearing matching clothes and practicing their steps in a few of the side streets. One group of university vet students honed in on the Daves and were quite excited to learn that Dave R. had worked in the Vet College at Guelph. And some elementary school kids stopped us to practice their English by asking a series of questions. It was actually quite fun.

We ended up the evening at Grandma’s for delicious spring rolls. I would highly recommend them to anyone in this part of the world.

So tomorrow it is up early and head to the Sapa Valley.

Comments Off on Waking up in Hanoi

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia

3 am is way too early

We were warned there would be freezing rain today so we decided to head to the airport early … but getting up at 3 am is a killer. Of course the roads were dry and traffic was not too bad so we ended up at the airport with over three hours to spare. Ahh well, less stress. And we were through security in no time.

So now I am on the plane. I can’t believe how long 15.5 hours is. I have watched four movies, listened to a podcast, gone to the washroom three times, eaten a snack and two meals and we still have four hours to go. My leg got a cramp, my knees ache, my personal space has been violated multiple times and we are still not there. Arghhh.

And now I am in the Hong Kong airport having just downed a couple of beers and a wonderful plate of nachos with Dave and Dawne waiting for our next flight to Hanoi. Lack of sleep contributes to the loopiness. We have humidity, heat and sun as we gaze out at the haze of the surrounding mountains and breathe in this Asian ambiance.

Comments Off on 3 am is way too early

Filed under Vietnam/Cambodia


Eels Lake is beautiful in the morning sun. I was up early to sit on the dock and watch the mist rise off the glassy surface of the lake. The island across the way stands sentinel to the silence.

Surprisingly I was up before Paul but he might have heard me trying to figure out his coffee maker because it wasn’t long before he was bringing me a cup. Buster was the last to get up. He loves Eels Lake and had spent a lot of time reacquainting himself with the beach and the bushes yesterday so I guess he needed a bit more sleep.

I was itching to check up on Dad and Mom so packed up the car and headed into Bancroft early. Mom was looking good – all tanned and relaxed. She loves to sit in the sun on her side porch and does it a lot. I have never been able to do that. I just turn into a beet and then peel like an onion. It’s not fair.

I visited Dad in the nursing home – he’s sleeping a lot these days and I am not sure he knew me. They are keeping him as comfortable as possible there and Mom spends her afternoons at his side.

She knew we were anxious to get home so encouraged us to get on our way before the traffic got too bad. So we did.

And now we are HOME! We did it Buster! We put well over 12,000 kilometres on the car – the odometer clicked over the 100,000 mark somewhere between Wisconsin and Michigan. We had adventures. We had a fair amount of rain but also quite a bit of sunshine. It was never stinking hot but we did have a couple of mosquito moments when I just had to wear my bug jacket. Buster did get sick but he got over it. The scenery was spectacular. And I feel like we have only just seen the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to do and see!

Comments Off on Home!

Filed under Buster Goes West

Chapleau to Eels Lake

We woke to a cold morning. Buster was shivering so much I had to put his sweater back on. But the sun was shining and there were very few clouds in the sky. Carla had drawn a map of a shortcut to Sudbury that followed a gravel road for about 100 km but it cuts out an hour and a half from the trip so I figured a dirty car was worth it.

After a lovely breakfast looking out over the lake we packed up and headed out. Carla’s map was easy to follow and we made really good time. We had lunch in Chelmsford (just north of Sudbury) and then headed south.

I haven’t seen Marg Torrance in quite a while (we worked together for years and she retired to live in Parry Sound) so we dropped in when we got to her neck of the woods. Our timing was perfect because her daughter Anne was there with her partner Vicki and their 6 week old identical twin boys – Henry and Owen. They are absolutely beautiful (if you are allowed to say that about boys). It was a great visit. Anne and Vicki are lucky to have Marg and Ron so close because they have their hands full and Grandma is a mighty big help.

Before long Bus and I were back on the road headed for Eels Lake. Paul and Joey were ready to take in a couple of dusty travellers. They greeted us with an amazing supper of salmon fillets stuffed with crab and shrimp and rice, along with some wonderful stuffed peppers and fresh beans. We washed it all down with some lovely wine then retired to the bonfire with a good Scotch.

Comments Off on Chapleau to Eels Lake

Filed under Buster Goes West

North to Chapleau

Got up early Sunday morning and Bus and I were on the road before 7 am. I picked up some breakfast at MacDonalds and found a spot down the road a ways to stop and feed Bus his breakfast. It was pretty cool and cloudy so Buster got to wear his sweater. That sweater is starting to look a little worse for wear these days. He has had to wear it quite often on this trip.

The drive to Carla’s camp just south of Chapleau was really nice. I do love northern Ontario. We’ve run the full gamut of scenery on this trip but I still love the northern Ontario wilderness.

Camp Moray was a beautiful place. The yard was full of wild purple lupins, devil’s paintbrushes and daisies that just glowed in the sun when it finally decided to come out. It got so warm that Buster was even able to take off his sweater.

Carla’s grandson Liam took me on his newly bushwacked trail to his family camp and then we took a canoe out to check his fort on the island, Carla following in a kayak. It is a pretty little lake with just a half dozen camps. They have all been there for years – a small and supportive community. It reminds me of the Eels Lake crowd.

Carla served up a wonderful batch of spaghetti and then we played a few rounds of Crazy Eights. I haven’t played that in years.

Bus and I slept like babies in the glorious silence of the northern bush.

Comments Off on North to Chapleau

Filed under Buster Goes West

Minnesota to Sault Ste Marie

The Quality Inn served one of the better ‘free’ breakfasts of all the hotels on this trip. We were on the road by 9, full of gas and another bag of ice for the cooler.

Today was a day of driving and driving and driving. I really wanted to get to Canada at the very least, if not Chapleau. We travelled through three states – Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The scenery wasn’t spectacular but it had its moments. Mainly we passed through gently rolling hills with corn and hay fields. But the part of Michigan we saw – following the west side of the big lake – was actually very scenic.

We finally got to Sault Ste Marie – no hassles crossing the border – but it was after 10 pm. Every hotel I stopped at was full. What is going on here? It is a Saturday night but is this a special Saturday?

Finally the fellow at the Howard Johnson’s took pity on me and gave me a staff room cuz I had my own towel and sleeping bag. He didn’t want me to drive any further. I guess I must have looked pretty tired.

Comments Off on Minnesota to Sault Ste Marie

Filed under Buster Goes West

Mount Rushmore, SD to Fairmont, MN

I must say that sleeping on the ground (on an air mattress, of course) is good for me. I sleep really well and so does Bus. Course he sleeps well pretty much anywhere.

They had a pancake tent at the KOA campground so Bus and I checked it out. For $3.50 you can get a stack of three substantial pancakes. Course their syrup is not proper maple syrup but the deal was pretty good anyway.

We were on the road towards Mount Rushmore by 8:30 so parking was no issue at all. Luckily they have a parking garage because Bus was not allowed to join me on the walk to the monument. He didn’t complain about having to sleep in the car while I went exploring.

Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln directed the work on this sculpture that was completed in 1941. It is very impressive. There are a set of plaques by the museum’s windows that look out on the sculpture that contain some interesting tidbits of information. The original plan had Jefferson as the first on the left side but that didn’t work out so Washington ended up on the left. Jefferson’s face has a crack running down the right side. Roosevelt was sculpted with a groove under his right eye which suggests the monocle he always wore. And Lincoln was sculpted with a beard though Borglum was asked to make him clean-shaven. The eyes are all especially compelling. They were achieved by making deep cuts and leaving a central post as the iris with a polished end to reflect the sun more and give the eyes a glint.

Bus and I were eager to hit the road and see how far we could go today. It’s surprising how far we have left to travel. After we left Mount Rushmore the landscape eventually smoothed out into flat plains that went on for miles and miles.

We passed through areas of Badlands (like in Alberta) complete with dinosaur statues and then over the Lewis-Clark trail where we found this beautiful statue at a rest stop.

We haven’t had wifi for three days and my blog was at a standstill. Even my cell service had been very spotty. I know that a few people were concerned and I even got a call from Jim and Lori when I was at Mount Rushmore. But not to worry. We made it to Minnesota and are at a Quality Inn with wifi. So now the blog is up-to-date.

I am heading to Chapleau north of the Sault but am not sure I will be able to make it there tomorrow since I really don’t push it if I get tired. So maybe it will be Sunday.

Anyway, I should be back in Guelph next week. I’ll keep you posted.

Comments Off on Mount Rushmore, SD to Fairmont, MN

Filed under Buster Goes West

Wyoming to South Dakota

As I savoured the wonderful spinach and mushroom omelette whipped up by the ranch cook Sergei, and gazed out at some of the beautiful horses in the paddock with the first sun in days streaming down on them I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I had slept like a log in a bed that you seem to just sink into. I had had a lovely hot shower and strolled the grounds with Buster in the early sun.

Sam gave me the history of the name UXU. It seems that back in the 1930’s a couple had bought the land and started a dude ranch but the marriage didn’t last. In a very acrimonious split she moved up the road and started a competing dude ranch. The husband then set up a sign at the highway saying U Bitch U so that every time she drove down the road to Cody for supplies she would see the sign. The ranch is in the National Shoshone Park and the rangers didn’t like the word Bitch on the highway so they put a big X through it. And so the name UXU was born … It’s a great story and it seems to fit the place. The current owner looks kinda like Boss Hog but seems to be somewhat less ornery.

I would love to go there with a group of friends and do the trail riding experience. It would be incredible.

We settled our bill and headed on down that scenic Highway 16 towards South Dakota. It followed the Shoshone River for a while and then later after passing the town of Ten Sleep we followed the Ten Sleep River. It seems the name originates from the native groups that travelled through the area. It was a rest stop 10 days travel from the Fort Laramie trading post.

We travelled through mountainous terrain that smoothed out into rolling hills and then by the time we hit South Dakota we were back into more mountainous terrain.

We arrived at the Crazy Horse Memorial park around 5 pm. I thought we might be too late to see it but they are open quite late and end the day with a laser show on the mountainside. They had no issue with Buster in his carrier going through the museum and even into the theatre to watch the fascinating story of the birth of this beautiful monument. Two men are at the heart of this story – Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota Chief and a sculptor who had worked on Mount Rushmore – Korczak Ziolkowski. Standing Bear approached Ziolkowski with the idea because he felt his people needed to be honoured as much as the Mount Rushmore presidents. Korczak came up with the design and began work in 1947. He had ten children and he put all of them, along with his wife to work on carving the mountainside. He and his wife have both passed away now but the children are still working on completing the sculpture.

A bit further along the road was a KOA campground and so we actually set up the tent for the night. We found ourselves midst a huge contingent of campers in multiple variations of RV’s along with a lesser group of tenters. This is my first experience at a KOA campground. It even had a liquor store (yeah!) and a laundry (yeah!) and showers (yeah!yeah!)

Comments Off on Wyoming to South Dakota

Filed under Buster Goes West

Old Faithful and a Dude Ranch

Sleeping in the back of the RAV4 doesn’t always work well. The campsite was perfectly nice, the washrooms were handy, and they even had showers but the rain discouraged me from setting up the tent. I think I would have slept better on the ground but I didn’t want to pack up a wet tent so we did the RAV4 thing again. I was pretty tired when we headed out to see Old Faithful.

We got there around 9 am and the crowds hadn’t grown too large yet. There is a boardwalk that circumnavigates Old Faithful and a number of other geysers and hot springs. When you walk around it you feel like you are in some strange science-fiction film. The hot steam and sulphuric smells surround you. There was a sign at the entrance indicating a dog on a leash with a big X through it so I put Bus in my little front carrier and set out. About 2/3 of the way around a grumpy man yelled at me saying that dogs aren’t allowed on the walkway. I pointed out that Buster was not on the walkway but in a carrier but he was not appeased and told me we had to leave. So I actually did complete the full circuit but a lot sooner than I had intended. It put a damper on the visit. I don’t understand why he didn’t just come over and speak reasonably to me. Why is it that some people like to be officious? Is that the bully mentality?

We left Old Faithful and drove up the western side of Yellowstone Park following a route that can take a loop across to the eastern side then back down towards the campground where I had booked a second night. The sun would come out, then rain, then sun off and on all day.

As we drove north along the western side we encountered a traffic block. A grizzly had been sighted near the road and cars were lined up on both sides with people wandering about trying to see. Not the smartest move. It took forever to get through that spot and I never even glimpsed the object of all this attention.

I did see a few elk along the way and a number of bison. They flourish in this old park – touted as the first national park in the world. It was established in 1872 under Ulysses Grant. I don’t know what the back country of the park would be like but following the highways is far worse than following Highway 60 in Algonquin. There must have been thousands of people there even though this was the middle of the week and school isn’t even out yet. I preferred the east side – not quite as many people but still popular. There is a really cute museum at Fishing Bridge that I highly recommend. The rangers there are very friendly. In the other more popular visitor centres the rangers don’t come across as friendly but they are inundated by the tourists.

One thing I noticed was the number of burnt-out areas along the eastern route. They must see their fair share of fires.

At Fishing Bridge I decided we had had our fill of Yellowstone. It was very beautiful but way too populated so I decided not to go back to the campground even though we had paid for another night. Instead we headed for the east gate of the park and out into the incredible Wyoming landscape.

The beauty of this part of the world is mind-boggling. We drove slowly round the curves and peered over cliffs into deep valleys with rushing streams stopping at many of the pullouts to take pictures. I started seeing signs for dude ranches and thought why not? I needed a good sleep. Besides it looked like rain again and I didn’t want to sleep in the car. So I pulled into the UXU ranch.

What an incredible place! Two hundred horses, nine log cabins for guests, a log lounge/bar/restaurant with a lovely patio deck looking out towards the paddock. To get there you cross a wooden slat bridge over the raging Shoshone River – a bit of a stomach churner. The cabin had a truly comfortable bed and a modern bathroom. Bus and I were put up in the Sundance Kid cabin.

I met a woman from Wales who rides to foxes back home but had spent a full day out on a trail ride and just loved the Western style of riding. They saw a moose, a grizzly and a lot of elk. She was ecstatic.

The place as not cheap but I am so glad we stayed there.

Comments Off on Old Faithful and a Dude Ranch

Filed under Buster Goes West

Missoula to Yellowstone

Yesterday we ran the gamut of landscapes from mountains to valley plateaus to desert-like hills to rolling hills. Today we left the mountains into range-land plateaus then right back into the mountains. Despite the rain the scenery has been spectacular. We’ve seen a lot of eagles – in fact one swooped down low over the car just as we were leaving Missoula. And what I thought were osprey nests atop tall platforms are actually eagle nests. I should have realized that by the size of the nests. Today I actually saw some eagles in them. There is no mistaking the bald eagle. (Did you know they are called bald from the old English word balde meaning white?)

We saw quite a few deer today as well – some of those antelope-like ones out in a field and a couple of white-tailed deer (or maybe elk) in Yellowstone.

We passed through an area where an earthquake caused the side of a mountain to crumble and fall into a lake – effectively changing its shape and taking 26 lives with it. The lake is now called Earthquake Lake.

We had lunch in a Banff-like town called West Yellowstone just on the outskirts of the famous park. As we entered the park an attendant about my own age tried to get me the senior’s discount until I pointed out that I was Canadian. It doesn’t apply to us Canadians. He then told me he had considered moving to Canada during the Vietnam era and is now considering it again.

Yellowstone is gorgeous! I took a few side trails in my drive towards the Grant Village campgrounds. Even though it is still June and schools aren’t out, the park is busy. I can’t imagine what it will be like in a few weeks. I gave up trying to find parking near one of the geyser trails. I didn’t even try to go to Old Faithful. I was lucky enough to get a campsite so will head back to Old Faithful in the morning. I should have better luck if I’m early.

Since the rain is still doing its thing and the temperature has dropped I decided not to put up the tent. Bus and I will sleep in the back of the car tonight.

One thing I have noticed is that the air in my air mattress has expanded. I guess it is the altitude since we are back up in the mountains again.

Comments Off on Missoula to Yellowstone

Filed under Buster Goes West

Missoula, Montana – Monday June 18th

I finished reading this great book that I had downloaded from the Guelph Public Library – Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay. It is centered on a group of people who worked at a CBC radio station in Yellowknife in the early seventies. I really enjoyed it – maybe cuz I’ve been to Yellowknife and recognized a lot of the places it mentions but also because it is really well written. I was sad to finish it. But I have also had an audiobook on the go while I’ve been driving that I have really enjoyed – The Theory of Death by Faye Kellerman. I just love that I can borrow these books as I travel.

So we were up early (as usual) and by 8:30 we were packed up, Bus and I had eaten our breakfasts and were on the road again. Probably the mosquitoes had a lot to do with our swift departure.

I thought maybe we would see a lot of animals along the way today since we were way up in the mountains but we really didn’t see many – one deer off in a field and another lying dead beside the road was about it.

I checked the maps and signs as we left the park and found that we had been staying in Wenatchee National Forest. The area was beautiful with fast flowing creeks following the winding roads. At one point we drove through a section that had had a fire in the past year or so. It had mostly devastated the trees on the one side of the road on the far side of a rushing river.

We also went through Leavenworth (I always thought that was a prison). It was like being in Bavaria. I thought I was in Oberammergau (Germany) again. Further on down the highway the mountains softened into a wide plateau filled with fields of hay.

I thought I was following Highway 2 towards Spokane but must have taken a branch to the left when I should have gone right. It turned out to be a good mistake because we drove through an area of almost desert-like conditions – dry bushes and barren hills following a large body of water – that was starkly beautiful and lead us to Grand Coulee with its giant dam. I even took a selfie there.

We were easily able to get back down to Highway 2 and off towards Spokane where we caught the I-90. I expected the big highway would be somewhat boring after Highway 2 but it took us back into the mountains as we made our way to Missoula. By then it was close to 6 pm, the rain had set in again, and my neck was getting stiff. So we are now set up in a Days Inn for the night. I can have a shower!

Comments Off on Missoula, Montana – Monday June 18th

Filed under Buster Goes West

Father’s Day – heading homeward via U.S.

Saturday was spent organizing for takeoff and filling Sek in on my island visits. Bus was happy to be back in Brooke’s place and headed straight for his favourite rug. I got my laundry done and called Rogers to make sure I would have phone coverage in the States. It seems the $7 a day Roam Like Home thing kicks in automatically. When you think about it, it isn’t really a deal but it is kinda hassle-free – or at least I thought it was.

We took off by around 9:30 Sunday morning in bright sunshine and a promise of hot weather. At the U.S. border a very young, very stern-faced fellow asked me for my passport. He took a good look at Buster and I and waved us on. He didn’t even want to see Buster’s papers. So off we went down Highway 5 towards Seattle. That’s when my phone’s GPS quit working. Damn! I was afraid of that.

My mission now was to buy maps and figure out the route because I hadn’t paid close enough attention when I checked it on my phone in Vancouver. You would think gas stations would carry state maps – NOT! Eventually I found a sporting goods/hunting/fishing store and got Washington and Idaho State maps.

Meanwhile the highway had slowed to a crawl. I guess everyone had gone away for Father’s Day weekend and were now headed back to Seattle. Another stop to check my maps where I found a smaller highway south – Highway 9 – but even that one was slow. So I headed east on Highway 2 (I would have to go east eventually anyway) and pulled over in Monroe at a cute little cafe. Across the way was a very pretty lake with a number of kayaks paddling up and down. I was starved and I had to check my maps. The young woman running the place suggested I stick to the scenic Highway 2 since it goes through the mountains via Stephen’s Pass and was her favourite route. She thought it might be a bit longer but was well worth it. I picked her brains about my failed GPS and between the two of us figured that I needed to turn on data roaming.

So now I have my GPS working again. Thank goodness!

She was right about this scenic route. It is lovely with beautiful towering mountains and rushing streams. I decided to grab a campground by 5 pm and settle in for the night. I think Bus was just as happy too. We are camped right beside a stream – reminds me of Merrit, B.C. There are no lovely showers at this campground though. The place is called Thousand Trails but I can’t find it on the map. I don’t think we came very far today. One thing about this campground – the mosquitoes are really thick.

Comments Off on Father’s Day – heading homeward via U.S.

Filed under Buster Goes West

Nanaimo to Vancouver via Victoria

Friday morning and it was time to pack up and head out again. It was sad to say goodbye but we will be back.

My niece Stephanie’s graduation ceremony from University of Victoria was Friday morning and she had invited me to join her for lunch afterwards. For a change the sun was shining and the drive south was quite pretty. About halfway to Victoria it hit me that I had done it again – I left Buster’s food and water dishes behind. This is getting to be a habit.

Got to Victoria and found underground public parking but as I circled the levels all the empty stalls were marked with a reserve sign. I headed for the exit and saw a fellow moving a couple of pylons out of the way so he could park. As I drew near he moved aside another couple of pylons and told me to go ahead and take the spot beside his. He mumbled something about the parking attendant would be mad but he would deal with him. OK!

Bus and I checked out the nearby streets and found a flower shop where I was able to pick up some roses for Steph. Bus wasn’t in the mood for much walking so I took him back to the car and left him to nap on the back seat.

The restaurant was just across the street – Nautical Nellie’s – a seafaring joint. I was early so was well into a local beer when Steph arrived. She was her bubbly self – looking spectacular with a new haircut and highlights. She has a lot to be proud about. Joining us was her friend Autumn and Autumn’s grandmother, her mom Norma and her partner Bill. Autumn had just graduated from nursing and was her year’s valedictorian. We toasted the girls with champaign and dug into some great seafood.

Bus was glad to see me when I finally went back to the car. We headed out of the city with a quick stop at a huge sports park so Bus could check out the bushes. We got to Sidney – right near where you catch the ferry to Vancouver – in time to pick up some new food dishes for Buster from the local Dollerama. We had a bit of time so wandered around the Fish Market by the Sidney waterfront. What a beautiful spot!

Now we are on the ferry and should be at Sekyiwa’s quite late. I hope I don’t have to wake her up…

Comments Off on Nanaimo to Vancouver via Victoria

Filed under Buster Goes West

Nanaimo and Comox

Bus and I settled into this beautiful little community of Nanaimo quite easily. Roy pointed out a nice walk and we did that two or three times a day circling a block encompassing their strata complex and a section of detached homes near the Oliver Woods Community Centre. The centre itself has a gym where we passed a steady stream of pickleballers, a beautiful playground, a wooded area complete with a natural duck pond and hiking trails, and an outdoor exercise facility.

I helped Alixe set up some screening to protect her blueberry bushes from hungry birds. In the evening I saw a deer stroll by checking out her strawberries and a rabbit who looked like he was not suffering any hunger pangs. I watched an eagle soar overhead one morning and Alixe wasn’t even amazed.

On Wednesday Alixe and I took a trip to Comox to visit Dan Strickland who has been here studying the grey jay population, capturing and banding the young ones and collecting blood samples. The rain worked to our advantage that day and kept him from heading up the mountain so we were able to visit for an hour while Roy enjoyed some Respite time with a lovely young woman named Danielle.

Comox was particularly nice – a quaint town with a nearby Canadian Forces Base. Dan has been coming here for months on end to do his studies of the grey jay (Canada Jay?) for a few years now and stays in a gorgeous cottage-like place within walking distance of town that he found on VRBO. Right now he has a grad student with him though we didn’t meet the student. Our visit was short but Alixe and I enjoyed ourselves.

When we got back we took Roy to one of his favourite restaurants where we had a delicious meal then headed over to visit Joyce and Per – friends that I have met on previous visits to Nanaimo. Per had just had a birthday so we helped eat his delicious chocolate birthday cake.

And that night I happened to discover a couple of completely engorged ticks on Buster. Alixe and I performed some minor day surgery and removed them carefully with tweezers. Bus was not impressed by the procedure. I’m wondering how long those things have been on him. Do they go back to when he was first sick in Alberta?

Thursday morning I joined Alixe and a large contingent of women who put together a nutritious community lunch at the St. Andrews Presbyterian church. We diced vegetables for a huge soup and constructed 22 loaves worth of ham and cheese sandwiches. These women have been doing this on a regular basis and they have it down pat. I just did as I was told and before I knew it I was part of an assembly line. There are numerous rules around food preparation that have to be followed and these women gently taught me the proper way. It was both fun and enlightening.

Comments Off on Nanaimo and Comox

Filed under Buster Goes West

Tuesday – On the Road Again

Bus had his first ferry ride as we headed for Nanaimo from beautiful Horseshoe Bay north of Vancouver. The day was grey again, threatening rain, but not too cold so we were able to stand on the car deck for a bit until I was told it wasn’t allowed. I was able to fit in another selfie. I’m really not very good at it. After being banned from the car deck Bus ended up in the back seat having a nap while I headed up to the passenger lounge.

We made our way to Alixe’s lovely strata home in the north end of Nanaimo as the rain set in. The car in front of me on the ferry was a beautiful golden 1968 Pontiac Firebird convertible and we followed him into the city for quite a ways. I watched the driver’s increasing agitation with the raindrops. Then he turned off in another direction and I can only suppose that he was in a panic to get the top up.

Bus was fascinated by Bella’s cat food when we got settled into Alixe and Roy’s place. Bella was not impressed with this interloper. They seem to have settled into a guarded truce though if Bus wanders too close Bella lets out either a menacing hiss or a warning moan. I’m not sure Buster understands the rules yet.

Alixe and I talked into the late hours getting caught up. Wednesday we will take a trip to Comox to check on Dan Strickland.

Comments Off on Tuesday – On the Road Again

Filed under Buster Goes West

Monday – Two days of sun

The last couple of days has had weather more like what I’ve had on my other trips here – more sun than clouds. So Sek, Matt and I did an 18 hole round of Pitch ‘N Putt. I wasn’t great at it but I tried to put to practice some of the golfing lessons I took before I left Guelph. It was actually a lot of fun. Bus didn’t even know we had gone. He slept the whole time on his favourite rug in Brooke’s apartment.

For supper Sek took me to a Pho place that was really good. The bowls of soup were huge and even I couldn’t finish it.

Today (Monday) Sek had a few appointments so I headed for the Museum of Anthropology on the UBC campus. I really love that place. I went there with Mom a couple of years ago and that just whetted my appetite. I took two tours – one inside and one outside. The tour guide was a dynamic woman named Shiela. She was very knowledgeable and was able to grab our interest from the get-go. Some people have a real talent for telling a story. If you get to Vancouver you really have to check out this museum.

Outside they have a replica of part of a Haida village complete with shoreline and samples of the various kinds of totem poles – memorial, mortuary, doorway and inside poles.

Tomorrow Bus and I will take the ferry to Nanaimo. And the adventure continues…

Comments Off on Monday – Two days of sun

Filed under Buster Goes West

Saturday – First day with some sun

We’ve been moving slowly the last few days. I guess Bus and I needed some real down time and the weather has made it easier to mostly just hole up. Sek is between movies so has some time off but she hasn’t been feeling well either. It has given us lots of time to just chat and chill. We did facial masks the other night. Sek is a master at the craft of skincare and has talked me into doing regular facial masks.

Yesterday midst a particularly rainy day we hit some of her favourite stores and I loaded up on skin products and picked up a couple of things at her regular consignment stores.

She has taken me to some really great places to eat. Vancouver must be a gourmet’s delight. The food here is incredible. Last night we met Leah in a Thai restaurant. The green curry I had was delicious!

Today the plan is to meet Amelia for brunch. Already a black cloud is moving in. At least Bus and I were able to have a nice walk while the sun lasted. …

So we met up with Amelia and had a  wonderful catch-up along with a delicious brunch.  Amelia and her husband Chris have bought a little place near Matt’s apartment that needed a complete overhaul.  I got a chance to check it out.  They have put together a set of ingenious plans for the renovations.  Between their creativity and skills they will end up with a dream home.


Later Sek, Matt and I checked out an apartment in the Olympic Village.  They plan to move in together so need something that is close enough for Matt to walk or ride his bike to work and central enough for Sek and her work.  It turned out to be a co-op building with lots of paperwork to fill out.  It has some distinct advantages but they are still looking.

Sek, Amelia and I rounded out the evening with the new movie – Oceans 8.  A fun chick flick.  We re-emerged from the theatre into a downpour.  I guess that’s pretty normal on the west coast.

Comments Off on Saturday – First day with some sun

Filed under Buster Goes West

Quiet day in Vancouver

It’s a bit of a grey day here so we are moving slowly. It is nice to know that I don’t have to pack up to leave. Not for a week anyway.

I took my car in to get the oil changed by Sek’s favourite guy a few blocks away and then we headed up the way to her mani-pedi place. She had seen the state of my feet and suggested I needed some repairs. I resisted as much as it is possible to resist Sekyiwa but, of course, she won. It was worth it. Her people are great and they put me in a chair that massaged my back while they worked on my feet. It actually was really nice but I drew the line at a mani. Sek had both and we left the place feeling like a pair of queens.

Sekyiwa threw together a Greek salad back at the apartment that hit the spot and we reminisced about all sorts of things. Definitely a different pace than Bus and I have been used to for the last couple of weeks. His constitution is back almost to normal now. I think he is appreciating the down time.

Sek and I FaceTimed Jasmine showing off our new feet and getting caught up on what’s happening in Hamilton. Meanwhile Bus warmed up his favourite rug.

Sek took me to a wonderful Italian restaurant for a late supper – Osteria Savio Volpe. I had the best kale salad I have ever eaten. Sekyiwa was given the recipe the last time she celebrated her birthday there and because she loves her mom she’ll share it.

Comments Off on Quiet day in Vancouver

Filed under Buster Goes West

Day Fifteen – June 5th – made it to Vancouver

We woke to a cold morning in Merritt so didn’t waste any time packing up. The Coldwater River that rushes by the campsite is aptly named. Luckily I didn’t have to depend on the river to clean up. The campground had good showers so Bus waited patiently for me in the car and then we headed back to the Espresso Cafe in town. I had a great breakfast and talk with a couple of local gents. One of them was originally from Ontario but had come west while young and never moved back home. They were very entertaining and even offered to take a picture of Bus and I in front of the Cafe.

Today I decided to take the faster route to Vancouver – down the Coquihalla – instead of the scenic Highway 8 (which would have taken at least an extra hour). But the Coquihalla proved scenic with snow-capped mountains and the deep green of the pine-covered slopes.

We made it to Sekyiwa’s around noon. She showed me her lovely apartment. It’s an older building but the apartments are being renovated one by one. Her’s was done just before she moved in. Across the hall is her friend and business partner Brooke’s place. Brooke is away visiting family in the Netherlands so I got her apartment. It is one of those yet to be renovated but it is still quite nice. Bus has decided that the animal skin rug in the living room was laid especially for him.

I finally got to meet Matt. He is every bit as nice as Sekyiwa said and even better looking than his picture. We trekked off to a taco place for late lunch/early supper. I indulged with a delicious margarita. Later back in Brooke’s apartment, Sek and I put poor Matt to sleep while we caught up on Guelph gossip.

The rain was back and none of us were inspired to do anything strenuous so Matt headed home and eventually Sek headed back across the hall.

A quiet end to the first part of Bus and Sue’s adventure.

Comments Off on Day Fifteen – June 5th – made it to Vancouver

Filed under Buster Goes West

Day Fourteen – Clearwater to Merritt

We both had a great sleep so Bus is definitely better. Not only that, the sun was shining! Our room had a kitchenette so I had my breakfast before we headed out. I thought Clearwater was beautiful yesterday but it was better in the sunshine. When I filled up at the local gas station I mentioned to the attendant how lucky he was to live there. He suggested I move to Clearwater and brought out a real estate paper showing a 5 bedroom house for $300,000 and a three bedroom for $200,000. Very tempting.

I headed down the scenic Highway 5 towards Kamloops just as it started raining again. And again, despite the rain, it was a beautiful drive. The road was windy with lakes on one side and mountains on the other. About an hour into the trip we encountered a backup that was not moving at all for at least 30 minutes. Turns out a tractor trailer going in the same direction as us had gone round a bend and right across the highway towards the mountain, jamming his cab between the barriers and the mountainside. I have no idea whether the driver survived but it was quite a mess. After that I made sure to slow down at every curve – probably driving the people behind me crazy.

We saw a lot of birds today – hawks, ospreys and even an immature eagle sitting in a dead tree by the highway. We pulled off to check out a marshland supported by Ducks Unlimited. It was very picturesque.

In Kamloops I used the Tim’s WiFi to find the wineries and we headed down Shuswap Road to Harper’s Trail. Along the way we passed a bighorn sheep grazing by the highway and a cowboy riding through a field. I just love this country.

The people at Harper’s were very accommodating about Bus and set us up on a comfortable lounge outside, bringing me drinks and chatting about dogs and wine – a couple of my favourite topics.

From there we made our way round some dirt roads and across a single-lane bridge over the North Thompson to the Monte Creek Winery. This is also a working farm with goats and cattle and I’m not sure what else. I was told the story about the gentleman train robber – Billy Miner – who had accosted the train right beside where the winery now sits and was the originator of the term ‘Hands Up’ so they say. I had to buy a bottle of Hands Up wine with his picture on it.

On to Merritt where the friendly folks at the Bailie House Info Centre sent me to a wonderful little cafe called Espresso and then on to the private campground called MoonShadow. The sun is out again but it is really windy. I put up the tent and tied it down to a couple of trees. I think we are done with the rain. I just hope we don’t blow away in the night.

Comments Off on Day Fourteen – Clearwater to Merritt

Filed under Buster Goes West

Thirteenth Day on the Road – Valemount to Clearwater

Bus was up a couple of times in the night so I didn’t get a lot of sleep. I’m not sure what he has gotten into but he has some digestive type infection. I remembered that the vet had given me some antibiotics so in the morning I crushed up an antibiotic tablet, mixed in a piece of crushed up Pepto Bismal tablet, some cooked rice, a few pieces of kibble and some warm water. He ate it all up. I think he was hungry.

Before heading out we did a short walk down to the creek that runs behind the houses across the road. It was a lovely spot and the creek was really fast flowing with that lovely sound that fast-flowing creeks make. Bus seems to be on the mend – fingers crossed – he had no more anxious circling moments.

On the road again, heading south on Highway 5A for Clearwater. About a half an hour into the trip I spied a black bear lying in a grassy spot by the road. I squealed to a stop about 50 metres or so past him and grabbed my camera. Somehow I clambered into the backseat, opened the back window and hung out to see if I could catch a shot or two. Meanwhile a few other cars pulled over. The bear was totally oblivious to the hordes of mosquitoes and the gawking humans as he worked at something trapped between his paws. It took me forever to bend my legs and back enough to crawl back into the driver’s seat.

A bit further down the road was a white-tailed deer strolling along the hillside by the highway. He didn’t hang around long enough for me to get a shot.

I was pretty tired by the time I got to Clearwater. There was a busy Tourist Information booth for the Wells Gray Park that extends north of the town. The staff found me a lovely little hotel (it is still raining and I still don’t want to put my tent up in the rain) called the Watauga Village Cabins that is also pet friendly. So Bus and I headed straight there and got settled. I fed him much the same meal as his breakfast (minus the Pepto Bismal) but broke up some of his favourite treats in it. He snarfed that up. I think we may be on the mend.

After I had a wee nap we bundled up in our hiking gear and headed off to explore a few of the falls this area is famous for. We travelled about 35 km into the park checking out three of the falls that were easiest to hike to – Spahats, Dawson and Helmcken. All three were impressive but I’m sure they would have been even prettier if the sun had been shining. The rain didn’t start to really pour until we were leaving the last one – Helmcken – which is much higher than Niagara Falls. The power of all that water is amazing. The area is gorgeous and I would highly recommend any hiker to come spend some time here. There are so many hiking trails and if what we saw is any indication you will be blown away. We even glimpsed another bear ahead of us crossing the road as we drove up to hike into the Dawson Falls. Bus isn’t much of a hiker these days but he has learned to adapt to the front carrier I brought.

At one point along the road into the last falls we checked out we had to drive across a wooden bridge suspended over a raging river. It gave me the willies crossing that bridge!

I was starved when we got back and headed for the Hops N Hog Restaurant. It is a BBQ joint and do they know how to do it! They also do flights of the local beers. I had pulled pork to die for. The place was hopping so I know I wasn’t the only happy customer.

It is only a bit past 7 pm but I think this will be an early night.

Comments Off on Thirteenth Day on the Road – Valemount to Clearwater

Filed under Buster Goes West

Day Twelve – Mosquito Creek, AB to Valemount, BC

This was the coldest night yet and Buster is not feeling too well. We were up a couple of times in the night for him to get rid of whatever from both ends. The poor little guy. It put a bit of a damper on my day I have to say cuz I was worried about him. The morning was so cold we were getting snow mixed in with the rain.

We quickly got ourselves together and hit the road (no shower at this campground) though it would have been really beautiful if I wasn’t so cold. There was a rushing creek alongside the small campground with trails leading off into the bush in all directions. Maybe another time …

Highway 93 to Jasper is spectacular. There are viewpoints to pull off and check out all along the route. The mountains and their glaciers are breathtaking as are the green lakes they feed. The clouds were thick in the beginning of the drive but the sun was fighting to shine and eventually it won. Slowly the temperatures began to rise. I had started the day wearing a lot of clothes topped off by my rain pants and rain coat. By the end of the day I had stripped back down to a single layer.

We saw the Saskatchewan glacier which feeds the North Saskatchewan River which itself flows ultimately into Lake Winnipeg – feeding all those wheat fields along the way. It was a favourite route of the fur traders.

We checked out the Athabaska Falls – a very popular and beautiful spot. It was chock full of visitors. Of course this is Saturday. There was a raven atop a post by a walkway that didn’t fly off as people walked by. He kept making a weird noise and stretching out his neck which had an odd bulge to it. Later, back on the highway, I got thinking that maybe he had swallowed something and was struggling because it was caught in his throat. I wish I had paid closer attention and talked to one of the park rangers about him. And Buster was still not well which also worried me.

We passed a number of runners on the road. There must have been a marathon or something. They were spread out for quite a distance so I crawled past them. Those poor guys were dealing with snow then hot sun then rain all while running uphill. Not for me!

We eventually got to Jasper where I was finally able to get gas – I was almost on empty. I picked up some rice and a jug of water at the local grocery (Jasper is a resort town – much like Banff) and headed off to a park where I set up my WhisperLite on a picnic table and cooked up the rice for Bus. Hopefully that will help settle his gut problems.

Even the cheapest hotel in Jasper was well beyond my means so we didn’t stay. We headed west on Highway 16 towards Valemount. Along the way we crossed the BC border and gained another hour. We followed the Yellowhead Pass – a well-used indigenous trail which was adopted by the fur-traders and much later recommended by Selkirk as the best pass for the new railway.

We checked out beautiful Mount Robson where Bus seemed to perk up a bit, and then on to the Super 8 at Valemount. We were warmly welcomed by the staff. Valemount is very tiny and very picturesque. It was a relief to have a shower, do some laundry and pamper Bus. I think he is a bit better. We’ll see how he does tonight.

Comments Off on Day Twelve – Mosquito Creek, AB to Valemount, BC

Filed under Buster Goes West

Eleventh Day – Dinosaur Park to Banff National Park

Bus and I slept really well in the car and I’m glad we didn’t put up the tent cuz it rained again in the night. Despite my eyeshades I woke up at first light – around 5 am. Course we did hit the sack before 9 pm.

Bus ate breakfast while I packed up – actually just repositioned everything – and we headed out by 7 am. This park is incredible and I would love to bring Calvin here. The hiking trails go all over the hoodoos which are chock full of fossils.

We headed for Drumheller along country roads lined by – what else? – wheat fields but also pastures. We have begun to see more and more cattle as well as a number of herds of horses. Along the route we spied more of those deer (antelopes?) at least three times. And just before we got to Drumheller I had to slow down for a regal-looking pheasant at the side of the road.

In Drumheller I had a great breakfast of bacon and eggs, saw the largest dinosaur statue in the world (you can barely see Bus in the picture) and then headed for the Royal Tyrell Dinosaur Museum. It was well worth the visit. The exhibits are impressive and well laid out. It is perfect for kids without being too simple for adults. It is nestled midst hoodoos like Dinosaur Park and as you leave the place you itch to start digging into them searching for more bones and fossils.

We skirted Calgary and headed towards Jasper via Banff. The foothills soon appeared and before long we were in the midst of incredible mountains. The day so far had been rainy and cool although it had started to warm up. By the time we were in the mountains the sun was making an appearance and the temperature was in the double digits.

We stopped in Canmore for a break and to upload yesterday’s blog post. I forgot to bring my camera into the Tim’s (wifi!) so I will put the pictures in when I next get some wifi.

From there we headed for Jasper. Rain would come and then the sun would break through but the temperature dropped back down into the single digits. We got to Mosquito Campsite in Banff National Park by 6 pm so I decided that was good enough for the day. We will head to the ice fields of Jasper tomorrow and then head for B.C. There were still ice patches in the campground.

Since it was rainy and cold I decided we would sleep in the car again.

We’re still loving the journey.

Comments Off on Eleventh Day – Dinosaur Park to Banff National Park

Filed under Buster Goes West

Day Ten – Swift Current to Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta

Got up to a cold and cloudy morning in Swift Current. The room we had in the Motel 6 had a kitchenette and since all they provided for breakfast was coffee and muffins, I dug into my stash of granola and enjoyed a lovely start to my day at my own little table in my own little kitchen. Buster prefers to eat when I eat so he had the perfect opportunity to join me. With full bellies we hit the highway.

I read on the news that Moose Jaw had a huge hailstorm yesterday morning. By the time I got there all I saw was the aftermath of the crazy rainstorm. I guess that must have washed any leftover hail away.

Whoever says the prairies are boring? The scenery from Swift Current down the Trans-Canada was gorgeous. Despite the grey cloudy skies, the golden wheat fields (with only stubble at this time of year) glowed against the green of the hay(?) fields. Especially when a stray bit of sunlight broke through.

Today’s bird was the hawk. They were everywhere – especially on fence posts (no boots and shoes today). I saw three with their backs to the road glaring intently at a field all within the space of about 200 metres. Magpies (at least that’s what I think they were) – black birds with long tails and white on their wings and chest and a raucous call – were everywhere as well. And lots of other birds. I didn’t see any sandpipers today though I did see a couple on the side of the highway yesterday.

We were headed for Fort Walsh in the Cypress Hills. I read Guy Vanderhaeghe’s A Good Man a while ago and was determined to visit the site. Jas and I had spent a night at the Cypress Hills Provincial Park way back in the late nineties but we hadn’t seen the Fort. Fort Walsh was headquarters for the North West Mounted Police built in response to the riffraff conducting illicit alcohol trafficking from the States and also in response to the horrible Cypress Hills massacre conducted by these same hooligans.

By the time we got to Fort Walsh the temperature was down to 7 degrees and the rain was pretty constant. The Cypress Hills are absolutely breath-taking even in bad weather. What was really neat though was the fact that we arrived on the day they were unveiling a new plaque to the memory of those killed in the massacre and a delegation of Lakota had come to consecrate the plaque. It was also to celebrate the new Interpretive Centre – this being the third day since it had opened. It is really beautiful nestled near the very top of the Cypress Hills.

Bus put on his sweater and I bundled him into his carrier and off we went to tour the fort. Young kids in NWMP uniforms met us at the gate and a fresh recruit named Kyle took us on a personal tour of the fort. The fort was built in 1875 and then dismantled in 1882 – so it wasn’t headquarters for long. The main superintendent was James Walsh who worked hard to protect Sitting Bull and his Sioux nation from an angry American population, smarting from Custer’s Last Stand. Politics put the kaibosh on that though and Sitting Bull and his people ended up on a poor reserve back in the U.S.

Bus and I were pretty cold by the time we left Cypress Hills but the car’s heater works well. On the winding road out of the hills we met up with a group of annoyed cattle. And further down the road were some frisky horses. Not much further from here were nine beautiful white-tailed deer who didn’t stick around long once I pulled out my camera. We also passed what looked like an antelope (definitely not a white-tailed deer) on the side of the highway.

Once back onto the Trans-Canada it wasn’t long before we were in Alberta. The plan was to go to Drumheller but it is still cold and rainy so we ended up at Dinosaur Provincial Park – about an hour from Drumheller. It is a World Heritage Site. The park is surrounded by hoodoos and I can imagine if we had time Bus and I could dig up some dinosaur bones. The place is another spectacular spot.

We really do live in a magnificent country.

I forgot to mention that when Bus and I were out for a walk in the park trying to figure out where the washrooms and garbage bins were we spied a coyote not 50 feet away. He saw us watching him and slowly slunk away. I’m glad Bus and I decided to sleep in the back of the car tonight.

Comments Off on Day Ten – Swift Current to Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta

Filed under Buster Goes West

Ninth Day – Saskatoon to Swift Current

I thought Batoche National Historic Site was near North Battleford – to the northwest of Saskatoon. It is actually northeast of Saskatoon so today I did a bit of back-tracking but I took back roads and the weather was great.

Batoche was fascinating – the battle between Gabriel Dumont with his Metis brotherhood against Middleton of the NWFF (North West Field Force) was fought on Mission Ridge beside the village. The location is deceptively serene and pastoral overlooking the deep valley of the South Saskatchewan River. It is hard to believe that a fierce battle was raged here over four days in early May 1885. There is a beautifully quiet cemetery set back from the other buildings which contains the remains of a number of the fallen as well as Gabriel Dumont who had escaped to the United States but came back to die here. The cemetery is still being used today. My guide, Amber, told me that the original church is still used for weddings and both her parents and her brother were married there. Buster preferred the shade of the lovely tree outside the church.

From Batoche I planned to go to Buffalo Pound Provincial Park. That’s where the girls and I stayed when we moved Sekyiwa to Calgary about twenty years ago – where we lay on a hilltop watching the amazing Northern Lights.

So off we went down Highway 2 south towards Moose Jaw. Again, all along the way were large marshy areas and ponds loaded with waterfowl. There were a number of different kinds of ducks, a big group of pelicans, there were snow geese and Canada geese, sandhill cranes and a number of raptors that I didn’t recognize.

Further down the road I came upon an interesting sight – a fence line that sported shoes and boots on each post extending for a full kilometre.

I passed a big potash mine similar to the one I had seen yesterday on Highway 16.

It was a beautiful drive but off to the west the sky was becoming blacker and blacker and just before I reached the turnoff to Buffalo Pound the torrential rain hit with huge bolts of lightening and strong gusts of wind. I had to pull over because I could barely see. I waited for the worst to pass and then decided I would forget about Buffalo Pound and head for Moose Jaw. Bus slept through the whole episode.

By the time we got to the Giant Moose the sun was out again but there were deep puddles on a number of the streets. Bus got his feet a bit muddy when he checked out the moose. The last time we were here the girls walked under the statue and were able to assure me that he was anatomically correct. Now there is a fence around him.

We decided to have an early supper then head to Swift Current for the night. There are rumours that we are to get another torrential rainstorm tonight but I’m beginning to doubt that. We’ve got a good setup in a Motel 6 in Swift Current. Bus has had a walk and is sound asleep.

Another great day!

Comments Off on Ninth Day – Saskatoon to Swift Current

Filed under Buster Goes West

Day 8 – Riding Mountain, Manitoba to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

It rained in the wee hours of the morning but not heavily. I decided to pack up without eating just in case the rain started up again. Bus was quite comfortable in the tent and a bit reluctant to get moving. I had to drag him out so that I could take the tent down. I had a great shower at the local comfort station and we were on the road by 7:30 am.

We headed west on Highway 16 towards Saskatoon. I didn’t have any particular sights to check out today so thought I would take it as it came. The scenery was heaven for bird-lovers (Glenn and Marilyn take note). The land was flat and full of ponds and marshes with birds of all kinds everywhere. There were ducks, of course, but also terns, snow geese as well as Canada geese, gulls, pelicans and I don’t know what all. I am still learning. I saw a number of raptors. I think one was a peregrine but I can’t say for certain.

At Churchbridge we found a giant looney. It seems that Rita Swanson from Churchbridge created the design that was used to celebrate Canada’s 125th anniversary.

Further down the road, midst wheat fields broken only by small copses of trees I saw a sign warning of moose for the next 6 km. I snorted when I saw the sign. What would a moose be doing in a wheat field? Not a second later I spied a lumbering dark mass moving across a field on the south side of the road. I screeched to a stop, grabbed my camera, zoomed in as best I could and snapped a picture. When I zoomed in on the picture itself, it clearly showed a moose. Guess I’m not as smart as I thought I was.

I saw a sign for the Quill Lake Interpretive Centre in Wynyard so turned off the highway to check it out. I had to go next door to the Town Hall to get the key to get into the Interpretive Centre but it was worth it because it had a lovely display of the waterfowl to be found in the area. Wynyard is on a serious migration path for a number of waterfowl and the ever-growing Quill Lake is a favourite stopover for the birds. (I will have to do some research to find out why the lake keeps growing.)

It had been raining off and on all day and the sky ahead looked pretty dark so I decided to do the hotel thing tonight. I chose the Super 8 because I had had such good luck in Winnipeg. This one is OK but it doesn’t quite meet the standards of the last one.

Comments Off on Day 8 – Riding Mountain, Manitoba to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Filed under Buster Goes West

Seventh Day on the Road – Winnipeg to Riding Mountain National Park

I recommend the Super 8 on Niakwa Road in Winnipeg. It is clean and modern, comfortable beds, reasonably priced, and helpful staff. What I really liked was the lack of carpets in the room which makes so much sense when they advertise themselves as pet friendly. There is absolutely no doggie smell.

They provide a full help-yourself breakfast so I did just that – eating way more than usual – a blueberry waffle, boiled egg, juice, coffee and giant muffin. I won’t have to eat until supper.

We were on the road by 10 (a bit later than usual) and headed straight for Birds Hill Provincial Park. The land around Winnipeg is pretty flat so as a park goes I have to say it is a bit boring. There are a lot of trails but we didn’t take any – simply doing a perimeter drive. No sentinel rabbits today but I did see an owl fly up as we drove by. And then there was this pickup displaying the name John Henry. I just had to take a picture.

From here we headed to Selkirk where I found gas for $1.19. Yesterday I had seen it for $1.68 near Kakebeka. Does that make sense?

Next on the day’s plan was Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site. Bus and I did the complete tour. It is manned for the summer by university students in authentic reproduction garb. Their time period is 1851 so they tell about the people who were living at the Fort that year and show the houses and shops as they would have been then. It was fascinating. Did you know they actually shoed the oxen? And the ox carts had eight oxen abreast so the roads had to be built to accommodate the width. There was a display about the Hayes River and York Factory as well. All very cool!

From there I set my phone’s GPS to take us to the White Horse statue at St Francois Xavier but we ended up on some farmer’s track. I eventually got us out of that mess and we did find the statue. I think it was a present from the White Horse distillery in Glasgow.

Back onto the Trans-Canada to find the World’s Largest Coke Can in Portage-La-Prairie. We did find it but Bus doesn’t show up very well in the picture. I don’t think he was very impressed.

We headed for Riding Mountain National Park but as we passed through Neepawa I saw a sign that indicated Margaret Laurence had lived there. I just had to check out her home. I loved her Manawaka trilogy. And she had been living in Ghana in 1957 when they achieved independence so I always felt some connection with her. Also, she ended up living in Lakefield where she eventually died and that is just down the road from Eel’s Lake.

So we made our way to Riding Mountain where we have set up camp. There are very few people here and I think I have one of the best campsites – 626 in case you ever stop over. Next to me are a number of oTentiks – fancy tents with BBQ’s and porches that can be rented. There is one couple there that I can hear. And three people drove up to the water tap by my site saying the water at their site isn’t working. Mine is so they were able to fill up. Not far from me is a comfort station with toilets and showers. Can it get any better?

Comments Off on Seventh Day on the Road – Winnipeg to Riding Mountain National Park

Filed under Buster Goes West

Day Six – Aaron Provincial Park to Winnipeg

The park was beautiful, the staff were nice and the showers were great but do NOT stay at Aaron overnight. All night long I was serenaded by highway traffic and the continual horn blasts and rumble of trains.

It was another misty morning but the sun eventually broke through and I was able to dry the tent out fairly well.

I heard and then even saw (a rare occurrence I understand) the red-eyed verio right in a poplar at our campsite.

We got away by 8:30 and headed for the Tim’s in Dryden. That’s when I found out that I must have passed over a dateline yesterday and it was in fact an hour earlier.

I headed back down the Trans-Canada and somewhere between Dryden and Kenora I got a call from Sekyiwa. Turns out she won a Leo last night for her costume design work on the movie Dead Shack. Pretty cool!

In Kenora Buster and I checked out Husky the Muskie in McLeod Park.

On the road again, I found myself starting to drag and had to pull over at a picnic stop for a wee nap. I think that’s when I decided to pamper us both and stay at a motel in Winnipeg rather than Birds Hill Park where Fez and I stayed on our honeymoon. I will check the park out tomorrow.

We hit Best Buy where one of the Geek Squad guys helped me figure out my problem putting my camera pics onto the iPad (of course I had to buy another Apple Reader as my old one had bit the dust).

And while I was typing this up I looked out the window to see a trailer load of brand-new Swift canoes. They are gorgeous! I ran out and checked them over. The driver is delivering a couple here in Winnipeg and the rest to Saskatoon but he is staying here tonight. How I miss my canoe right now!

Comments Off on Day Six – Aaron Provincial Park to Winnipeg

Filed under Buster Goes West

Fifth Day – Nipigon to Aaron Provincial Park near Dryden

After a really good sleep at Janet’s and a lovely cup of coffee, Buster and I hit the road around 8:30 am. Of course I left his water and food bowls behind but they are easy enough to replace.

I had read that outside of Nipigon are some amazing amethyst deposits so when I saw the sign for the Panorama Amethyst Mine I had to check it out. After a longish, windy, steep and mostly gravel road lined with some pretty amusing signs (I guess they didn’t want you to get discouraged) we finally arrived at the Panorama Mine. We were welcomed with a story about how the deposits were originally found: it seems that a group of forest rangers were dragging machinery back into the bush to build a fire tower when they scraped off a layer of rock to reveal a seam of amethyst crystals. They noted it but then did nothing about it for another 20-30 years. At that point (around 1980) the family that currently owns the Panorama mine staked a claim and have been mining the seams since. We were then given the basics about how the amethyst crystals form (something about earthquakes and splits in the limestone). Then we were told to wander out and see if we could find some rocks that we liked. We brought back what we found, had it weighed and paid $3 a pound. I got a couple of really cool rocks. Buster was not as impressed as I was.

As we left the mine we spotted a baby black bear strolling off into the bush. By the time I got my camera out he was turning into a black speck. I hope you can make him out in the shot.

Further down the road I spotted a unique lawn mower.

Back onto the Trans-Canada we headed for the Terry Fox memorial. Bus enjoyed that a bit more than the mine. And it was there that we spotted the requisite rabbit. Is there a Wonderland connection here?

We didn’t stop in Thunder Bay but carried right on to Kakebeka Falls. I got some new dishes for Buster in the town then headed for the Kakebeka Falls Provincial Park. The falls were incredible! The power of that water is breath-taking. If you are ever out this way you really have to check out these falls. I had noticed a couple of places along the Trans-Canada between Wawa and Nipigon where there were a few ice patches on the rock cuts on the south side of the road (where they didn’t get the sun). There was a patch of ice in the rock by the falls as well. And who did I run into there but the English couple that I had met at White River. I wouldn’t be surprised if we run into each other again along the way.

And now it is 9:20 pm. The sun is still quite high in the sky and I have set up the tent at Aaron Provincial Park near Dryden. Let’s pray it doesn’t rain tonight. (I just heard a pileated woodpecker).

It was breath-taking when the sun finally set.

Comments Off on Fifth Day – Nipigon to Aaron Provincial Park near Dryden

Filed under Buster Goes West

Day Four – Wawa to Nipigon

Woke to a damp and foggy day. After bidding goodbye to the Outdoorsman owners we headed into town to check out our old house and the hospital where I had a vague memory of white boots and Dad holding me under a big light while the doctor removed a sliver from my foot. I couldn’t find the house but had a déjà vu moment when I turned onto Algoma Street – toddling along by Mom’s side, Rex in a stroller, headed towards the lake.

We left Wawa by 9 am and soon after hitting the trans-Canada passed another sentinel rabbit on the roadside – just like yesterday as we left Fairbank. Is this a sign?

The sun came out and by the time we hit White River it was quite warm. We checked out the Winnie-the-Pooh statue (White River is the home of the original Winnie) and learned a bit about the population of black bears in the area. We met an English couple who were also headed to Vancouver but had been travelling from Halifax. Like me they are moseying along, checking out the sights.

Once we left White River we ran into some thick patches of fog. There were a number of burnt-out areas along the highway. I’d heard they were already having fires nearby but these areas were probably from last year. We also passed a large open-pit mine or gravel pit with the name Barrick on a sign. Later googling it I think it may have been a gold mine.

We had lunch at the Drifters in Terrace Bay where I had eaten on the Hayes trip. The price of gas has hit $1.50 per litre.

Crossed the beautiful bridge at Nipigon. I later learned that it seems to have a number of engineering glitches as it is regularly being repaired. Nipigon is small so it was quite easy to find Janet Watson by checking with Canadian Tire employees. She was standing in her doorway as I drove up and even though we haven’t seen each other in a zillion years she knew me right away. She is very persuasive so I ended up staying the night after joining her in a potluck supper at her church, a visit to the Paddle-to-the-Sea Park and a climb up the lookout tower. We talked for ages getting caught up on all the family and friend news.

Comments Off on Day Four – Wawa to Nipigon

Filed under Buster Goes West

Day three – Fairbank to Wawa

Some animal in the night decided to noisily check out my pot of water left on the picnic table. I slammed the side of the tent with my hiking pole and yelled at him to get out of here. It seems to have worked because he left and after I downed a benedryl I never heard another sound until 6 am. I also noticed before I took the benedryl that at night the loons and the barred owls are really quite vocal at Fairbank.

In the morning I heard a pileated and a red-eyed verio but I actually saw a hummingbird checking out my MSN fuel container.

This has been a bird/animal day because after I had a lovely hot shower at the comfort station and we were just nicely on our way we saw a rabbit, and later a sandhill crane, two deer grazing near the road and then an osprey in a nest atop a huge hydro tower. We stopped in Bruce Mines hoping to catch a glimpse of the double-crested cormorants that supposedly have a colony nearby but alas we saw only a lonely merganser land in the bay by the marina. We did discover that Bobber’s bakery and Restaurant in Bruce Mines serves wonderful butter tarts.

The north channel and Lake Huron were left behind as we entered Superior territory and made our way through Sault Ste Marie. I hadn’t made note of any special sites to check out there so after picking up a sub we carried on west towards Wawa.

The scenery along this route is spectacular. Chippewa Falls was breathtaking and, as it turns out, the Group of Seven thought so too. A number of their paintings are said to have been inspired by the Chippewa area.

We got to Wawa around 5 pm – a longer day than I will normally do – but I had wanted to spend a night in the place I was born. I’m ensconced in the Outdoorsman – a nice motel on the Main Street run by a lovely couple. Bus is asleep. I think I will wait until tomorrow to check out the town. It seems to close up shop early.

Comments Off on Day three – Fairbank to Wawa

Filed under Buster Goes West

Second Day – May 23rd, 2018

Joey made me a toasted jalepeno bagel with tomato and mayo for breakfast and Paul loaded me up with coffee. Eels Lake was sparkling in the morning sun when Bus and I hit the road shortly after 8 am. Bus got caught up on his sleep while I listened to a Sue Grafton mystery and we made our way towards Huntsville. Bus left his mark in the downtown park while I enjoyed an americano and scone and we both relaxed in Muskoka chairs in Muskoka. Next on the list, we dropped off Barb Burton’s Macchu Pichu book at the golf club then hit the highway.

We headed toward North Bay then west to Sudbury where we were determined to get a shot of the biggest nickel in the world. By the way, it is NOT at Science North but can be found near the parking lot of the Dynamic Earth building. Thank goodness for the GPS on my phone. So far it works.

It’s after 5 pm now and we’ve set up camp in Fairbank Provincial Park – about 22 km west of Sudbury. The office was closed and the place seems empty but we have a great site. A sign at the entrance mentions this is bear country… I have my smurfs.

Supper for me was my leftover sandwich from last night at the Granite in Bancroft. Bus ate up well and is ready to do some exploring. I do hear some sounds down the lake a ways so I think we will go investigate. We may not be the only people in the park.

I’m glad I brought my water filter. There is a boil advisory for the water here.

Back from our walk around the campsites it seems there are two families in trailers and me in my wee tent and that is it. Course the black flies have made an appearance …

Comments Off on Second Day – May 23rd, 2018

Filed under Buster Goes West

First Day on the road – May 22, 2018

I didn’t get to visit Mom and Dad a couple of weeks ago when I had a nasty head cold. It would not have been a good idea to share my germs with them. So today I took a bit of a detour and headed to Bancroft. Hey – I’m retired now so there is no great rush. A little detour isn’t going to hurt. Besides, it gave Mom a chance to take me out to dinner to the Granite. And I even got to spend some time with Dad even if he was asleep for the whole visit.

After supper I headed to Eels Lake to spend the night with Paul and Joey in their beautiful new place and found Joey’s brother Rocky and sister Lynne there. We spent a couple of hours getting caught up on family gossip and travel talk.

So tomorrow Bus and I will hit the road in time to meet up with Barb Burton in Huntsville, hand over her Macchu Picchu book then head for Fairbank Provincial Park just west of Sudbury. That’s the plan as of tonight …

Comments Off on First Day on the road – May 22, 2018

Filed under Buster Goes West

Getting organized

Buster doesn’t know it yet but we will be heading out on the longest trip of his life next week. Buster is 16 and though his eyesight and hearing aren’t what they once were, he is still pretty spry and often mistaken for a pup. He and I will be making the trek out to B.C. to visit family and friends and along the way we will check out as many sights along the Trans-Canada highway as possible. We hope to get in some geocaching as well. There is no rush as I am retired and Bus can’t tell time.

Comments Off on Getting organized

Filed under Buster Goes West

Horton River Prep – May long weekend 2016

Beth, Bruce, Dave and Dawne dropped off their barrels, packs, bins and boats at Sue Sedgewick’s (from here on referred to as Suewick) outside of Huntsville on the long weekend in May. Glenn and Sue Wi-Afedzi (from here on referred to as Suewi) brought up their gear on the holiday Monday and were able to help Suewick and Peter finish labelling, weighing, measuring and counting – everything elegantly tracked on an elaborate spreadsheet by Glenn. The whole shebang was trucked over to Black Feather Outfitters near Parry Sound where it would be added to their shipment to Norman Wells. Our fervent prayers are that all will arrive intact.

Comments Off on Horton River Prep – May long weekend 2016

Filed under Horton River

Day Eight – Birds, planes and home again

We were up really early – the sun was barely over the horizon when we were loaded into shallow boats to tour the lagoon.  Leonard drove our boat which would periodically bog down in the shallow muck.  He was extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife in the lagoon, but especially about the birds.  The people in our group are also very knowledgeable and plied him with really good questions.  I should have boned up on the birdlife of Belize before coming here.  I’m afraid a lot of it went over my head.

Most of the Canadians in the group had an early flight so we wolfed down our breakfasts and headed for the airport where we ended up sitting as our flights were delayed by at least an hour.  Luckily our connecting flight in Houston was also delayed so we managed to make it home without incident.

Comments Off on Day Eight – Birds, planes and home again

Filed under Belize 2013, Travel

Day Seven – goodbye Half-Moon Caye and hello Crooked Tree

Our last day on the island and my last yoga session on the beach.  I really do have to work on my balance.  The tree pose is killing me.

After breakfast we cleaned up the tents and started packing up.  We still had the morning so I joined Julia and Rick, Sandy and Brett, Anne and Connie and Luke for a kayak expedition.  We headed first for the rusty hulk of a forty-year old wreck stuck on the reef less than a kilometre from the island.  It had been carrying fertilizer and I don’t think it was ever salvaged.  So I wonder what happened to the cargo?  We paddled from the wreck around the tip of the island towards the old tumble-down lighthouse and then back again.  We cleaned up the kayaks and made them ready for the next batch of vacationers then headed up to the tents to finish packing.

Our last lunch was followed with heartfelt goodbyes to the staff.  What a wonderful group of people!

The boat was packed and we headed back to Belize City where we were loaded into vans which took us north to the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary on a shallow lagoon less than an hour from the city.  It is a beautiful place filled with birds and flowers.  Some of the birds sighted:  hummingbirds, jabiru storks, snail kites, limpkins, heron, ibis, egrets, roseate spoonbills.

The lodge was lovely with bathrooms for each room and comfortable beds but the food didn’t hold a candle to the meals we had on Half-Moon Caye.


Comments Off on Day Seven – goodbye Half-Moon Caye and hello Crooked Tree

Filed under Belize 2013, Travel

Day Six – Fishing again and a Turtle sighting

I skipped yoga this morning to go fishing with Marilyn and Brett guided by Dayton and James.  We powerboated out along the eastern side of the breakwater reef towards the Blue Hole.  As soon as I laid my line I got a strike and hauled in a barracuda.  After that I had to give over to Marilyn and Brett who trawled for a long time before finally catching anything.  But they certainly caught some nice barracuda.  Marilyn pulled in one and Brett two – each bigger than the last.  There were a lot of oohs and aahs when we got back with the catch.





Breakfast was French toast made with thick home-made bread.  Wonderful!

After breakfast Andrea took Marcia and I for a paddleboard lesson.  I am definitely balance-challenged.  Before long I defected and headed for shore but Marcia mastered the art and paddled around with Andrea for quite a while.  At least I tried.

I relaxed until lunch which was stupendous yet again.

In the afternoon a group of us went snorkeling from the old lighthouse to just before the line of tents.  It was my first time snorkeling on that side of the island and I actually saw a swimming turtle!  The snorkeling pace was a bit slower than other days and I quite enjoyed meandering after the beautiful fish.  I even saw a lobster.  Tzak was with us and he saw a reef shark (which I missed) and killed another lionfish (which I didn’t miss).

Before supper I joined a group for a night snorkel.  We all carried underwater flashlights.  We were partnered up but my partner tended to do her own thing so I lost track of her early on.  It is a bit scarey when you can’t see the others’ flashlights.  I did see a moray eel as well as the same three-footed turtle the others saw last night.  At the end of the snorkel we all stood in a sandy spot, turned out our flashlights and shuffled our feet.  The bio-luminescence from small creatures in the sand made it seem that the starry sky was repeated at our feet.

Back for a supper of the barracuda we had caught that morning.  So now we are feeding the gang!

After supper Amelia gave a talk on her culture (Sarawak and African and ??).  She talked about the creole language and its history.  The night ended with drumming and dancing all around.

Comments Off on Day Six – Fishing again and a Turtle sighting

Filed under Belize 2013, Travel

Day Five – the Blue Hole

I started the day with yoga on the beach with Andrea.  It really is a good way to loosen things up for the day.

After yet another great breakfast we got ready for the snorkeling trip to the Blue Hole of Cousteau fame.  It is about eight miles north of the island.  It seems that Cousteau, back in the fifties, couldn’t get his dive boat into the hole so he dynamited a section of the coral.  Nowadays that’s a definite no-no but back then nobody saw the irony.  Or at least they didn’t point it out.  The hole is extremely deep and very popular for divers.  Ninety-five feet below the surface is a cave-like ring full of stalagmites and stalactites.  The surface ring has a diameter of thirty to forty feet and it is around the rim that we spent the day snorkeling.  It is an incredible place to dive and has been designated a World Heritage site.  So I guess that will protect it from any further dynamiting.  I found this great picture of the hole on the web.


It took about an hour to circle the hole.  We saw many of the fish that we had seen closer to the island but in greater numbers.  There were a number of groups of small squid and feathery cone-shaped Christmas tree worms.  There were a few fishing boats outside the rim (not allowed inside) indicating it is a popular spot to fish though some appeared to be within the “not allowed” range.  By the end of the circuit I was feeling cold and was glad to climb back into the boat.

Back on the island we had a fish salad and chicken salad for lunch to satisfy the cravings.

Later that afternoon we went for a kayak and snorkel with Tzak.  This time I took a single kayak and headed out towards the western end of the island.  I saw a barracuda, lovely school of little squid, many varieties of coral and  lionfish (that Tzak hunts down and kills because they are non-native predators).  We got back from our snorkel around the same time as the afternoon Blue Holers.

After a quick wash-down in the outside beach shower we settled into happy hour with gin and tonics.

Supper tonight was curried chicken with rice and zucchini.  Dessert was a delicious home-made cheesecake.

Spent the evening chatting with the Oregon ladies and skipped the night snorkel.  I was sorry I did when I heard they saw a turtle (with a missing foot).

Comments Off on Day Five – the Blue Hole

Filed under Belize 2013, Travel

Day Four – Fishing for the big one

After a wonderfully sound sleep I got up in time to photograph the sun rising up over the tumbled-down lighthouse.  I love the early-morning light and the long shadows it throws.

Yoga on the beach with Andrea followed by another great breakfast.  This time we had poached eggs with biscuits and gravy – delicious.  And I am really into the fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice.

Today we went fishing with James and Jasmine.  We used just line with a three-inch metal rod knotted on it as sinker.  Standing up in the boat and tossing the line after a careful swing worked best.   I just kept pulling in the fish – a number of grunts, a porgie, a snapper and I don’t know what else.  Glenn, Susan and Rick pulled in some beautiful trigger fish but we threw them back.  We kept the rest for supper.  Rick caught a shark sucker that was following an eagle manta ray.  It’s a very strange looking fish with suckers on its back.  When Glenn dropped it on the floor of the boat it landed sucker side down and he had a heck of a time pulling it off.  I really enjoyed the fishing.


After yet another great lunch we went snorkeling off the West Beach with Tzak.  We saw a stingray and a lot of coral and fish.  It is so beautiful underwater.

Happy hour with beer and pina colodas followed by a trek down to the beach to watch the cleaning of the day’s catch.  The afternoon fishing group caught two barracuda and a big grouper.  Seven nurse sharks arrived for the spoils.  They crowded in so close they were nearly ashore.  You could hear the sucking as they vacuumed up the droppings.  One even sucked Marilyn’s flipflop off her foot.  Their skin was a combination of rough and smooth to the touch – strange but kind of exciting to reach out and touch the back of a shark.


Supper was our fish cooked in a coconut sauce that was out of this world.

After supper Luke gave a talk on coral (with lots of help from Adam).

Another wonderful day.

Comments Off on Day Four – Fishing for the big one

Filed under Belize 2013, Travel

Day Three – Kayak Sailing and Conch snacks on Long Caye

After a very windy night with the window flaps crashing against the side of the tent all night we learned to roll them up before lights out.

I love yoga on the beach. And every morning we arrive at our spot to find it has been raked into a meditative circle. Who does this? We are here by 6:30 and yet it has already been raked.

Breakfast was another glorious meal – homemade tacos with eggs, sausage beans and fruit. Usually we get papaya and watermelon with fresh squeezed orange or grapefruit juice.

We piled into kayaks, this time with a sail to go across to Long Caye – an island visible in the distance off to the west. Double kayaks with the sail were each paired with a single kayak (called the barnacle). The front person (in our case Nayla) and the single kayaker (Sandy) hang onto the two kayaks while the stern of the double (me) manages the sail and the rudder. It took a bit of finagling to get the hang of it, but once we did we took off and sailed across the water like pros. It took about an hour to make the crossing and quite a bit of stamina, but we managed to beat the pack and were lounging on the beach before the others even landed.


Once everyone was on shore, we piled onto a motorboat and headed for the”wall” – a coral reef ledge that was packed with fish and coral of all kinds and dropped off steeply on one side. We snorkeled the wall for at least an hour then headed back to shore for lunch.

Tzak caught some conch and marinated it with lime, cumin and some hot sauce. It was really delicious and a great appetizer to start off lunch.

Half the group decided to return by kayak and the other half (of which I was one) lazed around in hammocks or checked out the surroundings while the boat took the other half of the kayaks back to Blue Moon Caye. There was a lodge on the island (much bigger than our island) down the beach from where we had landed. I only checked out the washrooms and was quite content to wait out the boat’s return in a hammock.


Back on our lovely paradise island we enjoyed gin and tonics and a late game of coconut bocce by flashlight followed by yet another wonderful meal.

The activity board quickly filled up with names for the next day and then we all headed off to our tents.


Comments Off on Day Three – Kayak Sailing and Conch snacks on Long Caye

Filed under Belize 2013, Travel

Day Two – Snorkelling and Coconut Bocce

We started early with yoga on the beach near the docks. Waves lapping, wind in the palms and birds calling overhead. Could it get any better? Andrea is a great yoga teacher – gently encouraging. And as we lay in the final corpse pose she comes round to give our necks a gentle straighten and our feet a tender massage. The tree pose will always be my nemesis I think.


After a wonderful breakfast of local fruits and eggs we organized ourselves into two groups for a day of snorkelling. Before we were sent off one group to the west side and the other to the north-east, we were given a run-down on snorkelling techniques and safety. They really are very thorough.

The snorkelling was incredible. It was overwhelming seeing all the varieties of fish and coral. I tried hard to recognize and remember the fish from my guidebook but it was fish overload! We did see a moray eel hiding in the coral and that one I remember very clearly. There were so many beautiful parrot fish – I think they are my favourite – but until I looked at my book afterwards I wasn’t sure what all I was seeing. I found I had a bit of trouble keeping up with our guides and the information they were feeding us. But the sights were incredible.

After more than an hour of snorkelling we went back to basecamp to relax and gorge ourselves on a wonderful lunch.

Glenn and Marilyn had checked out the bird sanctuary in the morning while I was doing yoga so I asked them to show me after lunch. We trekked down the path to the west end of the island avoiding iguanas basking in the sun. The trail led to a rickety looking platform atop a steep set of stairs. Once up there you can look out at the treetops and a sea of frigates and red-footed boobies at every age from fluffy white baby boobies to full-grown adults. It was an incredible sight. There must have been hundreds of noisy birds in those trees. It was quite the party with male frigates puffing up their red breasts to impress the females and intimidate the other males. The boobies didn’t seemed bothered by the frigates at all.


In the afternoon it was another round of snorkelling but the two groups switched around. We had started in the west so this time headed for the north-east section to snorkel. Again the number of fish and coral varieties was amazing. I am starting to recognize angel fish as well as the parrot fish.

After a rinse down in the outdoor shower by our tents, we gathered for happy hour gin and tonics and a game of coconut bocce. Marilyn turned out to have a knack for tossing a coconut. The gin and tonic in one hand and the coconut in the other hand seemed to work as a powerful combination.

After another wonderful meal, we were given a talk by the Audobon Society rep who works on the island and is custodian of the World Heritage Site bird sanctuary – home of the Red-Footed Booby. He also talked about the nearby Blue Hole of Jacques Cousteau fame which has also been designated a World Heritage site.  We will be visiting that to snorkel in a couple of days.

The kerosene lamp beckoned in tent number 10 as I made my weary way to bed.


Comments Off on Day Two – Snorkelling and Coconut Bocce

Filed under Belize 2013, Travel

Day One – Belize City to Blue Moon Caye on Lighthouse Reef

After an early breakfast at the hotel, we loaded up three vans with all our gear and headed just down the road to the big Brodie supermarket where we stocked up on beer and snacks that wouldn’t be available on Half-Moon Caye.
Next stop was the jetty where our gear was loaded onto a 30 foot motorboat.  In short order the 21 adventurers and Luke were off on a two hour journey covering the 60 miles out to the Lighthouse Reef.  We passed a few island paradises with luxurious-looking buildings scattered among a couple of strings of islands along the way.  But most islands were uninhabited or just contained a fisherman’s shack.  The weather was glorious – not too hot, nor was the crossing cold.  We passed an empty container ship called the Phoenix which, we were informed, was heading in to Belize to load up on sugar cane.  The water was the beautiful Caribbean blue/green – so clear you could see forever.
On deck to greet us was Amelia –  with a wonderful infectious laugh.  She led us towards the communal eating/meeting/and general gathering spot where she gave us a rundown on what to expect.  Water stations for cleaning up dotted the compound.  They have been running this program successfully for twenty-five years so they have come up with quite an effective system.  We were then assigned our tents (Susan and I got number 10) so we grabbed our gear and headed off to our new homes.  There were two wooden lounge chairs at the door of the tent, two hammocks swinging in the palm trees beside the front deck and two quite comfortable cots inside.
Lunch was incredible and turned out to be the first of many amazing meals.
After lunch Dayton introduced us to the staff and gave us a quick rundown on the day’s agenda.  There seems to be a lot of camaraderie amongst the staff which seeps into us all.  Right off the bat, people are joking and teasing each other, as well as helping each other to get their lifejackets tightened and kayaks set up.
That afternoon was set aside for kayak orientation.  We all had to practice a wet exit (dumping the kayak and getting out of the cockpit without drowning), followed by a scramble back into the boat.  It wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated.  Once we had proven we could all do it, we headed out for a tour around the island.
Most of the kayaks are doubles – so you have to keep in synch with your partner – not that easy.  Our kayak gave Dianna a bit of grief until she realized the rudder was actually broken so we switched kayaks as well as positions.  I had to quickly learn to rudder while we did the island tour.
At the far west end we passed the bird sanctuary where the red-footed boobies (sula sula) were hanging out with their buddies the frigates.  The boobies like to nest in trees with a beautiful orange flower – laying only one egg at a time in nests of sticks.  The baby booby looks like a fluffy white Big Bird.
mama booby baby booby
We pulled into the west beach where some of us cooled off with a swim.
Back at the camp Bulligan described the wonderful supper, pointing out the gluten-free breads, and we all dug in.
Susan lit our kerosene lamp and we settled in for an early night, lulled to sleep by the waves breaking on that beautiful atoll.

Comments Off on Day One – Belize City to Blue Moon Caye on Lighthouse Reef

Filed under Belize 2013, Travel

Day Zero – Guelph to Belize

Got up at 4:00 am to a chilly winter morning. The backyard gate was frozen shut and I panicked thinking I wouldn’t be able to get out of my yard. But with an amazing shot of adrenalin-laden muscle power I yanked that gate open, got the car out of the garage, and was able to pick up Glenn and Marilyn in decent time for the trip to the airport.

The most arduous part of the trip to Belize was getting through American customs. The rest was a breeze. The plane to Houston was tiny – with one seat along the left side and two seats on the right – but despite the size the flight was smooth and right on time. We had a leisurely hour and a half at the airport in Houston where we picked up some Thai-style lunch and then loaded onto a much larger plane to Belize. I was lucky enough to end up with three seats to myself so I could stretch out my normally cramped legs.

Belize’s international airport is small by Canadian standards but had a good duty free where we picked up some gin and wine for refreshments on the atoll. Because we had something to declare now, Glenn, Marilyn and I ended up in the short customs line and were through in no time. We met the Island Expeditions driver outside the baggage pickup and took a short ride to the hotel. I felt at home in the tropical setting passing cement block buildings and storefronts similar to those you would find in Ghana. Here, though, the dirt roads tend to be white while in Ghana they were red – the difference in soil I guess.

The Biltmore hotel was quite nice with a swimming pool and poolside bar stocked with beer. We settled right in for the afternoon “happy hour”, observing the others lounging around the pool and speculating whether they were with our group. My roommate Susan from Oregon joined us and one by one we started meeting some of the others from the Island Expeditions tour.

At supper we met Andy who gave us a run-down on what we would be doing the next day and who would not be going with us, and Luke who was new to Island Expeditions but had lots of Outward Bound experience and would be going with us. Supper was noisy due to the cement walls and the excited chatter. We are a group of 21 – all very interesting people, overwhelmingly female. There are only 5 men – and four of them were with their spouses.


Comments Off on Day Zero – Guelph to Belize

Filed under Belize 2013, Travel

Getting Ready for the Big Adventure

The dogs suspect something is up. I’m surrounded by papers, clothes and stuff. They pretend they are asleep but they each have an eye on me. They’ll be going to Cobi’s soon and that will make them happy. Now I’d best check on the laundry.


Comments Off on Getting Ready for the Big Adventure

Filed under Belize 2013, Travel

Day Fourteen – Driving, driving and more driving

After a windy cold night and a morning sky full of grey clouds, we packed up and were out of the campground in record time. We were on the road by 10 am and planned to find a place near Riviere du Loup for the night. Three hours later we were eating lunch in the van outside of Riviere du Loup and revising our plans to get to the south side of the river opposite Quebec City for the night. Madeleine took the wheel for the next couple of hours and before we knew it we were revising our plans yet again to carry on to Montreal before settling in for the night. The weather had turned sunny and the traffic was good although the roads, though straight, were in rough shape. Before we got to Montreal we revised once more and decided to carry on to Cornwall after checking with Sue’s brother Paul to see if Joey would mind us camping out on her doorstep once again. So here we are and tomorrow at this time we should be home.

Comments Off on Day Fourteen – Driving, driving and more driving

Filed under Down East With Madeleine, Travel

Day Thirteen – Homeward bound

So today we packed up and left Cape Breton. We figure it will take four days to get back to Belleville travelling at a pace we can manage.

Madeleine was so pumped from yesterday’s achievement that she decided to try driving.

The day passed mainly without much ado although Sue saw the tail end of a coyote as he disappeared into the bush on Cape Breton and then much later a really healthy looking coyote crossed the road in front of us about an hour south of Fredericton.

We had run out of propane but managed to find a fellow running an Irving gas station on the edge of New Glasgow who was able to fill our tank. He was a very talkative character and regaled us with stories in his thick Nova Scotian accent.

So now we are back at our old stomping grounds – Mactaquac Provincial Park – and have set up camp. Madeleine is cooking supper before we settle down for another episode of Bones.

Comments Off on Day Thirteen – Homeward bound

Filed under Down East With Madeleine, Travel, Uncategorized

Day Twelve – The Cabot Trail

The day started with a long and treacherous drive up the Cabot Trail. Along the way we encountered a lookout point where we were privy to the spectacular view of a whole bunch of pilot whales frolicking. The locals said they had never seen so many pilot whales in one spot before. They figured there was a mackeral run happening. Sue was fortunate enough to be able to catch a few with her camera.

We continued along the west leg of the Cabot Trail and stopped off on a side street just outside of Cheticamp and watched lobster fishermen pulling in their catch. The wife and three daughters of the Captain were there as well so we had a nice chat with her.

Finally we reached our destination – the Skyline Trail on French Mountain – which is purported to be the most beautiful hiking trail on Cape Breton. This 10 km walk began with an easy wide and flat gravel path. About a quarter of the way along, Sue spied a moose grazing on a ridge across a deep valley.

From here we headed out to the Lookout which was a challenge for Madeleine but one she didn’t hesitate to take on. There must have been a hundred steps.

At the end of the lookout, while we gazed down to the water from our clifftop view, a minke whale surfaced as he headed up the coastline.

The trek back along the outer loop of the trail was a bit more arduous but we eventually arrived back in one piece at the end of the trail.

Comments Off on Day Twelve – The Cabot Trail

Filed under Down East With Madeleine, Travel, Uncategorized

Day Eleven – Lunenburg to Cape Breton

The day started off with a visit to the sights of Lunenburg via a horse-drawn carriage. (We didn’t get a good picture of the horse and buggy, sorry). We learned that Lunenburg has some of the oldest houses in Canada. And do they like their colours!!

How would you like to teach in this school? It only just closed last Christmas. Hopefully it will be converted into something that retains the original flavour.

We had an amazing meal – the best tomato soup Madeleine has ever had – in a little cafe called the Scuttlebutt. And we bought matching (except for the colour) hats in a wonderful shop across the street. It was a good shopping day for Madeleine.

Before we left lovely Lunenburg we visited the Bluenose II where it was undergoing restoration work. It is slated to hit the water by July and has been out of the water for nearly two years. The original Bluenose was built in 100 days over winter in 1921. The Bluenose II was built in 1963.

Next we headed on a very long Roadtrek to Cape Breton passing through Truro (say that three times fast) and Antigonish (love the sound of that one). Now we are ensconced in the Roadtrek (heater on cuz it’s chilly out there) having just completed a wonderful toasted tuna sandwich and are settling in for an episode of Bones (the first camping trip Sue has been on where she gets to watch TV).

Tomorrow we hit the Cabot Trail!

Comments Off on Day Eleven – Lunenburg to Cape Breton

Filed under Down East With Madeleine, Travel, Uncategorized

Day Nine – Shipwrecks Galore

After a night in a lovely B&B in Pictou, with a talkative hostess who served a wonderful breakfast we headed to Halifax.

For those Dowlings who might remember the lifeboats in our backyard, we found the one lifeboat that was miraculously transformed into the vision that John Dowling had and it was surprisingly named Madeleine. It resided in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in downtown old Halifax. And what a museum it was with artifacts and photos of the Titanic, the Halifax Explosion, the famous cable-boats that laid the trans-atlantic telegraph cables, and details of many shipwrecks in the waters off the atlantic provinces.


For those who have ever been to Halifax, you will probably recognize the aggravation of driving the roads of this wild and crazy city. The roads change names in mid-stream, split into two or more without any notice and often go for blocks without any names. For those using GPS’s check your avoidance settings. Lee’s toll avoidance nearly took us 20 km out of our way when we tried to get to our B&B in Dartmouth.

Through the mist we caught a glimpse of a three-masted schooner in the waters between the city and Dartmouth. And as we navigated through the maze of streets of Halifax the Citadel rose up poised in the middle of the downtown core.

Comments Off on Day Nine – Shipwrecks Galore

Filed under Down East With Madeleine, Travel, Uncategorized

Day Ten – Peggy’s Cove

Audrey Brown’s Autumn Leaves B&B turned out to be quite nice. Audrey herself bent over backwards to make sure we had what we needed.

The rain has let up though the skies are still quite grey. The plan was to camp out tonight if it isn’t raining. So we figured out the roads out of Halifax before we even left the B&B and headed for Peggy’s Cove.

The biggest surprise about Peggy’s Cove was the lack of trees. It is very tundra-like but amazingly picturesque. We spent quite a bit of time wandering among the rocks around the lighthouse and had a lovely lunch at the gift store nearby.

The artist William deGarthe sculpted a granite outcropping near his home dedicated to the  fishermen of Nova Scotia.  It is an amazing piece of work but what is incredible is that he was in his sixties when he started it.

We headed up the winding road around St. Margaret’s Bay which was absolutely gorgeous. Eventually we arrived at the beautiful Mahone Bay but didn’t stop because we needed to get to the Ovens Natural Park and Campground before dark.

So now we are all set up at our campsite. Sue did a hike of the Ovens – seacliff caves that give the park its name and Madeleine rested in the lovely Roadtrek. We haven’t seen many other Roadtreks in our travels, but surprisingly, there is one just across the way in this campground.

Comments Off on Day Ten – Peggy’s Cove

Filed under Down East With Madeleine, Travel, Uncategorized

Day Eight – Anne of Green Gables

Two nights at the same spot!! Unheard of – yet we stayed another night at Bayside Campground. Both nights were frigid but I (Sue this time) was wrapped snugly in a flannel blanket Madeleine leant me tucked neatly inside my mummy sleeping bag so I slept like a baby.

Today was our first day of clouds but the rain held off until the tent was packed away and we were on the road to Cavendish. The rain came and went but seemed to hold off long enough for us to tour the Green Gables homestead and nearby Cavendish Beach. For Madeleine the farm was a trip down memory lane. And, of course, we are both fans of Anne so we enjoyed touring the old farmhouse. Afterwards we trekked the loop through the “Haunted Woods” which also brought back childhood memories of playing in the woods near our homes. Here is Madeleine emerging from the woods with Green Gables in the background.

From here we headed to fabled Cavendish Beach where we touched the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

On to the Fisherman’s Wharf in North Rustico for a taste of lobster.

Delicious but very rich. This place also had a great salad bar.

And now we are heading for Nova Scotia. We’re lined up for the last ferry of the day that will take us across to Pictou, Nova Scotia where we have a bed and breakfast waiting. This will be our first night indoors since we left Cornwall.

Comments Off on Day Eight – Anne of Green Gables

Filed under Down East With Madeleine, Travel, Uncategorized

Day Seven – Cleanup and Learn day

Madeleine slept in while Sue got the local lowdown about places to go and see while we are here in PEI. Today I (Madeleine) decided it was time to try out the wig that I bought on my way out of town last week. Comments would be appreciated although an in person viewing may be better. Sue and Carol think it looks great, but they may be just biased.

Then we travelled to Charlottetown for an educational journey through history at Founders’ Hall.

Did you know that the signing of Confederation was not in Charlottetown at all? … it was in London England.

Did you know that the original Charlottetown meeting was meant for just the Atlantic Provinces, but Canada East & West crashed the party (of course communication is not what it is today)?

After all this our tired brains needed nourishment, so we headed across the road to a celebrity hotspot called Prince & Water Restaurant. Sue had deep fried clams and I had grilled salmon. Of course this was after an amazing cup of clam chowder. We are saving ourselves for lobster tomorrow night!!!

Notables known to have visited this area of Charlottetown are Kate & William and Regis & Kelly.

To celebrate this wonderful meal, we returned to the campsite to do laundry and wash the bugs off the van. They make the bugs bigger out here!!!!

1 Comment

Filed under Down East With Madeleine, Travel, Uncategorized

Day Six – New Brunswick to PEI

After the crazy aggravation of trying to find a campground we ended up in the lovely Mactaquac Provincial Park and enjoying a grrreat night’s sleep. We awakened to yet another beautiful day – a little chilly, but who’s complaining?!

We headed off to Fredericton to see the old town centre and explore the art gallery. Lee, our trusty GPS, got us right into town and found us a parking spot right in front of old city hall. There was some kind of festival going on right by the van which was serving free hotdogs. So that was our lunch.

Nearby was a park sporting a Robbie Burns statue with bronze plaques illustrating lines from some of his  celebrated poetry.

Things don’t seem to open early in Fredericton on a Sunday so a leisurely stroll checking out the local seventeenth century architecture filled in the time before the art gallery was ready to receive visitors.

After an expensive visit (for Madeleine) to the gallery, we carried on our journey towards PEI.

Andy’s warning about traversing Confederation Bridge and dealing with the wind in our high-riding van, turned out to be a non-event. But the trip across was spectacular. We were in PEI before we knew it.

And then began another campground search adventure. The provincial park at Chelton Beach is closed this time of year. Sigh. And the two guys that run the Bayside Campground don’t seem to read maps well. The directions they gave us on the phone left a lot to be desired. Eventually we figured it out, though. And now we are nestled once more in our cosy abode.

1 Comment

Filed under Down East With Madeleine, Travel, Uncategorized

Day Five – Miles and ZZZZZ’s

Today had a slow start. Madeleine needed a “down day” so we didn’t rush things and got away from Rivier du Loup by noon. We managed to find a grocery store and stocked up on fruit and some essentials – like drinks. I had forgotten that they sell alcohol in grocery stores in Quebec.

The trip down the highway towards Fredericton was uneventful – no moose or deer sighted. The scenery got progressively more beautiful and by the time we reached Fredericton I thought we were in the Muskokas.

Madeleine slept most of the trip and recouped energy for our next adventure which turned out to be finding a campsite near the city. Chasing illusive campgrounds listed on the ipad was humbling. Maybe we aren’t quite as technologically savvy as we thought. At one point we thought we were in the Ozarks. A very drunk but very happy fellow approached the van while we were studying maps and ipads and declared he was in love with our Roadtrek. I guess it is widely recognized as superior in these parts. We have been getting longing stares all day. Anyway, this fellow and a couple of his friends were able to send us on a long and winding trip to the Mactaquac Provincial park where we happily set up for the night.


Comments Off on Day Five – Miles and ZZZZZ’s

Filed under Down East With Madeleine, Travel, Uncategorized

Day 4 Whale Watching

It was an early start as we arrived at the campsite late last night and had to get whale watching tickets and pay for the campsite first thing this morning. Luckily because of our technological savvy, we have been able to find campsites and get the directions with GPS and IPad expertise!!!

The first whale Sue saw was decidedly alien to these parts:

We set out whale watching at 10:00 and very shortly were able to spy some Minke whales and a family of Beluga whales. One Minke whale was very close to the boat, so we were able to get a good view, but not a great picture of the elusive creature.

Following the whale watching, we had a tour of the Fjord, which I (Madeleine) slept through most of, but Sue was good to awaken me for spectacular views (not in quite the same manner as Keith did in our trip through the mountains, last Fall), so I only missed one water fall.

We nearly made the mistake of clambering off the boat in Tadoussac where the majority of the other sight-seers were headed.  I think if they had made a better effort at ensuring that announcements were also in English, we would have been prepared.  Luckily, we caught on as we headed across the nearest parking lot and quickly made an about-turn, jumping back on the boat before it headed back to beautiful Baie Sainte Catherine.

We then had a lovely lunch down the road and went to line up for the ferry to Riviere du Loup in Ste Simeon. The crossing was uneventful and, again with the aid of our trusty IPads we found a nearby campsite. We have the campsite setup action down pat and had our home ready within fifteen minutes. Even setting up the tent in gale force winds doesn’t seem to slow us down.

Tomorrow New Brunswick!

Comments Off on Day 4 Whale Watching

Filed under Down East With Madeleine, Travel, Uncategorized

Day Three – May 24, 2012 – Ste Anne de Beaupre

This is my (Madeleine) first contribution to the blog. The day started off with a leisurely rise and shine and breakfast in the camper van. It has been well worth the investment so far. I have slept wonderfully on the bed and everything is so readily available and convenient. After a stop at Timmy’s, we travelled south from Shawinigan to Cap de la Madeleine where we had a few picture opts before continuing to Ste. Anne de Beaupre.

The church and story of St. Anne is well worth the visit. I touched the healing stones of the Statue of St. Anne and I prayed for some healing for myself if it is meant to be. The pillars at the front of the church were loaded with discarded canes and crutches. If that is an indication of the healing power of St. Anne, who knows, I may have a chance at some small miracle.

Then after a late lunch, we continued on to Baie Ste Catherine, so we could go whale watching tomorrow morning. We travelled up and down through many picturesque “Monts” and had a panic moment when we thought the tires or brakes had gone, but luckily it was just the awful road conditions.

Comments Off on Day Three – May 24, 2012 – Ste Anne de Beaupre

Filed under Down East With Madeleine, Travel, Uncategorized

Day Two – May 23, 2012

We got away from Cornwall mid-morning and headed east. Just outside Montreal, Sue realized that what she was interpreting as a half-full gas tank was actually the battery meter and, in fact, we were running on empty. Luckily we were able to remedy the situation before these two uni-linguals were stranded on a Quebec expressway. Wouldn’t that have been an adventure! Another lesson learned.
Despite construction, we managed to maneuver our way around Montreal – keeping to Uncle Mike’s advice about staying in the centre lane – and headed down highway 40 EST.
When we saw the signs announcing Shawinigan ahead, Madeleine began to dream about the Memorial Cup. What the heck – we headed north to Shawinigan, and lo and behold found the arena with a little help from a really sweet young fellow in a hardware store. We were able to pick up a couple of tickets and got invited to the Tailgate party. We found a campground right on Melville Isle in the middle of the city – five minutes from the arena. Was this meant to be or what?

Shawinigan was playing last year’s champions so the crowd was “enthusiastic” to say the least but sadly, they didn’t quite have what it takes to bring the big boys down. …But we did get to see the “little guy from Shawinigan”…


1 Comment

Filed under Down East With Madeleine, Travel, Uncategorized

Day One – On the road

So by morning the fridge was working. I guess these van fridges don’t have noisy compressors and don’t start spewing cold air as soon as they are turned on. Lesson learned. No need to stress. After a full morning of puttering, picking up some groceries, making sure Madeleine’s plants were watered, and various pre-trip last-minutes, we were on the road by 2 pm. The beautiful sunshine that we had the last few days gave way to cloudy skies and intermittent downpours. The 401 was relatively quiet so we made good time and got to Joey’s place on the edge of Cornwall by 5:30 pm. Paul and Joey welcomed us to this beautiful home on a huge lot surrounded by horse farms – right up Madeleine’s alley. Joey’s brother Rocky joined us for a lively discussion and wonderful meal. It was a full day for Madeleine so carrying on tonight didn’t seem a wise move. Joey offerred us a couple of rooms and we didn’t hesitate to accept. Tomorrow Quebec.

Comments Off on Day One – On the road

Filed under Down East With Madeleine, Travel, Uncategorized

Day Zero – May 21, 2012

We met up in Belleville at Madeleine’s place late Monday afternoon. The van is incredible – fully equipped with fridge, stove, microwave and TV. We will be travelling in luxury. Matt helped us figure out the water system but we got stumped on the fridge, trying to convert it from propane to AC power. We’ll call the original owner tomorrow for further instructions.

1 Comment

Filed under Down East With Madeleine, Travel, Uncategorized

Planning Stage

Nothing can stop Madeleine!  I called to check up on her the other day and she announced that she had bought a camper van.  “Let’s take a trip out east!” she suggested. “And the sooner the better.”  So I am busy checking the Fodor’s website looking for places to see and stay while we wend our way towards the east coast.  We’ll probably trek through Quebec following the Trans-Canada then find our way down through New Brunswick, checking out the Gaspe Peninsula as we go.  We have to see Prince Edward Island.  And hopefully we can check out the Reversing Falls of Saint John and a trip to beautiful Fredericton.  We will make our way to Halifax and up to Cape Breton.  Will we have the time and stamina to take the eight-hour ferry across to Newfoundland?  There is just so much to see that I’m not sure we have the time to see it all. 

1 Comment

Filed under Down East With Madeleine, Travel, Uncategorized

Coming down from the clouds

Wednesday morning arrived midst the sound of wailing coming from the street below. I went out onto the balcony off our kitchen and noticed a number of our neighbours also gathering on their balconies to check out the commotion below. Down in the street was a distraught woman being comforted by the people gathering round her. Kyle went up onto the roof to get a better view and try to figure out what was happening. He came back to tell us that he thought the woman had been sideswiped by a motorcycle as she was walking down the street. Her dozen eggs were smashed and her leg and arm had been injured (although she was still walking and swinging her arms wildly about and there was no evidence of blood). The motorcycle was nowhere to be seen. As the audience gathered the wailing got louder. People on the balconies were starting to grin and then began moving back indoors. I never did see police or ambulance. Eventually the noise died down and the crowd and victim dispersed.

I took my bowl of cereal up onto the rooftop for one last breakfast “in the clouds”. Now that the wailing woman had gone, the street was back to its usual morning sights and sounds. The clouds had descended onto the surrounding hills. I could smell the burning incense from the house next door and heard the tinkling bell calling the virtuous forces to enter their house. I could hear dogs barking from yard to yard and somewhere a rooster was still crowing. The woman across the street was opening up her shop and laying out her fruits.
The fellow who rides around on his bicycle calling out a nasal chant for recyclable plastic bottles went down the street. I will miss it all.

The plane wasn’t to leave until 7 pm leaving lots of time for some last-minute shopping. Bernie had been living with Courtney and Jenn, two other CECI volunteers who had come to Nepal last November. I hadn’t met them yet because they had been in Bangkok seeing doctors since both had been ill. Now they were back and Jenn had offered to take Bernie and I to get some jewelry. Anne and Courtney joined us and we headed for Thamel on foot. I’m finally starting to be able to find my way around Thamel – now that we are leaving. Jenn took us up a staircase to a second story shop that I would never have found on my own, where Bernie and I were able to get some lovely items for our families.

Lunch was at the Garden of Dreams which is a restored palatial gardens modeled on the European garden style with pavilions and balustrades. It is a quiet haven away from the honking and crowds of the Thamel streets.
Garden of Dreams in Thamel
While we were eating, the heavens opened up and the rain swept in. The waiters were running around balancing the plates and an umbrella trying to avoid getting wet. It had only slightly let up when we left the Garden to pile into taxis to take us back so that we could finish our packing.

Kyle and Carly had already been whisked off to the airport since their flight was three hours earlier than ours. I wrote a couple of thank-you notes, delivered some gifts to the watchman at the CECI gate and tidied up my room. Way too soon the CECI vehicle showed up with Bernie to take us to the airport. I was excited to head for home but it was hard to leave this wonderful adventure. The drive to the airport was a bit quieter than usual since the day was a holiday. Bernie had his camera out as usual, snapping the scenery as we drove. The whole time we had been in Kathmandu he had been saying that he wanted to catch a shot of a family of four riding a motorcycle and up to now it hadn’t happened. Suddenly a family appeared beside our vehicle and before they could ride off he got a couple of great shots.

At the airport we said our goodbyes to our driver and lugged our bags through the security and into the terminal. We were frisked a couple of times and our bags went through the camera checks at least twice. Bernie ended up having to dash a security fellow who took an enormous interest in his wallet of Canadian money. As on our flight from Bahrain to Katmandu, the Gulf Air flight carried a large contingent of migrant workers. They were heading to Saudi and the UAE. It was the first time I have ever been on a flight that actually left earlier than scheduled.

In Bahrain we met up with Carly and Kyle for a four hour stop-over. They had already been waiting for three hours. Bernie gave Kyle and I a lesson on Adobe Photoshop while we sipped lattes and mochas in a coffee shop. It was almost 1 am when we caught our Gulf Air flight to Heathrow. We weren’t on the same flight out of Heathrow, so Bernie and I said our goodbyes to Carly and Kyle and went off to catch our next flight. I think this is the first time I have actually seen Greenland as we flew over. Even icebergs were visible in the surrounding ocean. We arrived back in Canada after a relatively uneventful eight hour flight. Since I don’t seem to be able to sleep on airplanes, I was totally exhausted. Luckily customs and bag retrieval went smoothly and before we knew it Bernie and I were saying our goodbyes.

Nepal was an incredible experience. I hope to be able to go back to see some of the things that the monsoon hid from me. It will have to be in the spring or fall next time, but there will definitely be a next time.

Comments Off on Coming down from the clouds

Filed under Kathmandu, Personal Info, Sue On Leave

Farewell parties

Tomorrow we leave this lovely country behind. Today our new friends threw us parties to thank us for our friendship and whatever we were able to do for them. I spent the morning making sure the laptop and backup drives were ready to hand over to CMF. Then I headed to Thamel looking for the National Bookstore. A Nepali friend, Raja, back in Canada had asked that I pick up a book from there. As it turned out, the National Bookstore was not in Thamel but was near Asan a short distance to the south. I ended up taking a rickshaw and had a great chat with the driver all the way there.
Rickshaw driver in Thamel
He had been driving rickshaw for eighteen years and really loved the work.

The bookstore didn’t have the book though they had others by the same author. So I headed back to CECI where I totally enjoyed lazing about for a change.

Kyle came back from his farewell party laden down with gifts. He had been working with his organization for three months and had made quite an impression. Carly was still at her farewell party and Bernie’s party was this evening as was mine.

Around 5:30 I headed for CMF dressed in my new kurta and salwar. Ruchi was still working so I caught a picture of her with our new system.
Ruchi working with KnowledgeTree
When she was done we headed for the rooftop where people were beginning to gather. I had a lovely chat with a gentleman who was the former head of the Bank of Nepal. He seems to be totally committed to the micro-finance model and spoke quite eloquently of the benefits. Plates laden with chicken, fish, chips, and marinated peanuts were handed around along with glasses of wine or whiskey. The sun set over the distant hills as we ate and chatted. It was quite lovely. Ruchi and Tejhari gave touching speeches thanking me. I thanked them for the wonderful (although short) time I had had with them. The party broke up soon afterward with lots of hugs and good wishes.

So now I am back at CECI spending a nice quiet evening. The others have gone out with their buddies for a last fling. I am going to curl up with my book and enjoy the quiet. (Well, if that guy doing all the yelling a couple of houses over will fall into a drunken stupor I should get some quiet.)

Comments Off on Farewell parties

Filed under Centre for Micro Finance, Kathmandu, Personal Info, Sue On Leave, Travel


The goal for this morning was to see whether Ruchi could re-install Knowledgetree and load in the latest backup with just the manual to guide her. She was totally prepared and dove into the task with a grin. An hour later we were patting each other on the back. She had loaded the system onto my little netbook and restored it to the same state as the main system on the HP laptop. I have every confidence that she will be able to carry on without me.

I left to get caught up on my blogging and email and prepare for a de-briefing session at CMF with Nikunja Nepal of CECI, Tejhari Ghimire, the CEO of CMF, Ruchi and myself. We gathered in Tejhari’s office to discuss the project and its outcomes. The biggest concern will be the mindset shift for the CMF staff to actually use the system. This is typical of any new computer system and will probably take some time. But hopefully they will come to see the advantages (with urging from Ruchi) and it will become a part of their daily routines. The whole experience has been extremely satisfying for both Ruchi and myself. We have learned a lot and truly enjoyed working together.

I headed back to CECI and met up with Bernie. We wanted to re-visit the Fair Trade shops in Patan to pick up a few more items. From there we began an inner-city trek taking us from the southern part, north cross the Bagmati River along the Ram Shah Path (actually a fairly large and busy road) to the Narayanhiti Palace Museum and then west towards Thamel. The trees of the Palace Museum are loaded with hundreds of birds who serenade you as you walk along the Palace wall.

Bernie had not been to Thamel which is the tourist mecca of Kathmandu. It is chock full of tourists and vendors trying to separate them from their money. We eventually found the Rum Doodle restaurant, went up onto the rooftop and ate another great meal. The Rum Doodle restaurant is a famous starting point for many of the mountain expeditions and the walls are covered with footprints labelled with the signatures of the climbers. I understand Sir Edmund Hilary and a number of famous Sherpas are there.

Satisfaction came in many forms today – the professional satisfaction of a good project, the personal satisfaction of trekking this city and crossing those crazy streets without getting hit, and the overall satisfaction of getting the internet back and regaining contact with family.


Filed under CECI/Uniterra, Centre for Micro Finance, Kathmandu, Personal Info, Sue On Leave, Travel

Nuns, monks and rain

Our internet disappeared early on Saturday and was gone for the rest of the weekend so I didn’t get a chance to update this blog. On the positive side, though, I had lots of time to work on the software maintenance manual that I will leave with Ruchi.

Saturday ended up mainly a Buddhist day. Bernie and I headed back to Boudah nath (the first site we had been taken to when we were introduced to Kathmandu). This time we were able to take it in at our own pace. I had seen someone’s picture of the Stoupa with the Boudah eyes peeking through the prayer flags so I took one of my own.Peeking Boudah
While circling the stoupa in the appropriate direction (clockwise) and spinning the prayer wheels as we went, a young man noticed the soles of Bernie’s boots “were talking” and he suggested an overhaul. After a bit of negotiating, Bernie relinquished his boots for a pair of crocks and we continued circling the stoupa, enjoying the atmosphere and snapping pictures.
Bernie's boot gets a facelift
This fellow did an amazing job on the boots – actually sewing them where the Canadian shoemaker had only glued.
To carry on with the buddhist theme, we headed for the eastern edge of town and climbed up into the outlying hills heading for some of the 27 monasteries that circle the city. The first we came to was the Kapan nunnery where we found a shady stoop to relax and eat our lunch. Young nuns would greet us as they passed. They dress like the monks and shave their heads as well so at first I thought they were monks.
From here we headed up the road towards the Kapan monastery. It is a popular place for westerners to stay and meditate when visiting Nepal. It is a beautiful building atop a knoll which can be reached in a roundabout way by road or a steep shortcut by foot. Guess which method we took?
Monastery on the Hill
By the time we hit the top of the hill we were drenched in sweat. Not the most dignified way to visit a very spiritual sanctuary. We explored the temple with its many wall paintings. The paintings depicting many different aspects of Buddah brought to mind the paintings of the different acts of St Francis in the church in Assisi, Italy.
There were at least two (probably three) more monasteries nearby so Bernie and I headed out to visit them all. The views of Kathmandu from the monasteries were spectacular. I’m not sure that my pictures can do it justice.
There were a couple of nuns and a friend sitting giggling together on the lawn of one of the monasteries.
Giggling nuns and friend
That night we sat at Buzz’s cafe listening to a very drunk but quite famous Nepalese musician, an Indian musician and a group of others singing and playing drums and guitar all evening. It was a great way to end the day.

Next morning I was up bright and early to work on the manual that I am producing for Ruchi to maintain the system we have so labouriously set up together. By early afternoon I had progressed well into the workings of the manual and thought I could give myself a break.

Joel (a French Canadian volunteer that was visiting from the Chitwan region) and I headed off to meet Kyle at an internet cafe in Thamel. We both lugged our Acer Aspires along so that we could get caught up on our email. Soon Carly joined us and then we headed out. Joel and Kyle wanted to buy gifts for their families and Carly was recruited (quite willingly) to take us around to her favourite Thamel vendors. And no shopping is quite complete without its requisite bargaining session so each visit to a shop can end up being quite prolonged. I went ahead to search out a shop I had seen the last time while Joel and Carly checked out a Thanku painting shop she liked. Before I had gone 100 meters the heavens opened up and I had to take shelter in a storefront.
It didn’t appear to be ending soon so eventually I bought myself an umbrella and ventured back to where Carly and Joel were enjoying a cup of tea with the Thanku painters. As the rain let up, we moved on to a few other shops and I have to admit I bought a few things I had not really intended to buy. I really shouldn’t go to Thamel.

Not long afterward we headed back to Baluwatar where I hunkered down to seriously tackle the manual. By midnight I had completed the 47 page tome.


Filed under Kathmandu, Personal Info, Sue On Leave, Travel