Thursday, December 22, 2011

'Tis The Season To Be Cooking (and taking culinary journeys)...

After reading an article all about cookbook gift ideas well written by Mia Stansby in the Vancouver Sun (Wednesday, Dec. 21 edition), I thought, they're nice books, but I don't think any of them would be books I'd want in my collection.

I do have quite a collection - an entire bookshelf of cookbooks, in fact.

However ...

They're NOT your grandmother's cookbooks, though...(in fact, they're probably not even your mother's cookbooks - unless she happened to be a headhunter, Moroccan refugee or operator of a bordello).

I collect some of the most eclectic cookbooks you would ever want to read.

Okay, I know you're probably thinking, "What does this have to do with travel?" (Or for that matter, paddling or parrots?)

The fact is, culinary travel - adventures with food, journeys revolving around experiencing the food eaten by other cultures, cooking tours, or whatever term you want to use - is a huge segment of the travel market, these days.

At some point in the future, I'll probably write a blog post about the weirdest foods I've eaten while travelling. But for now, here are a few of my favorite cookbooks that also involve travel - if not real travel, then at least travel of your taste buds to new and distant foods.

To the best of my knowledge, all of these books are available online at Amazon.whatever - if not new, then certainly used.

DINING WITH HEADHUNTERS: Jungle Feasts and Other Culinary Adventures by  Richard Sterling

This is much more than just a cookbook; it's a collection of stories about the author's adventures around southeast Asia, many experienced while he served in the U.S. Navy during the conflict in Vietnam, during the late 1960's and early '70's. Some stories are just plain funny, some poignant, some bawdy (hey, he was a sailor, after all!) and some a combination of all of the above.

Each story is followed by at least one, usually more than one, recipe. The recipes are all based on food or drink he actually experienced in the story with which they're linked.

A few of my fav's: Satay Malaya from "The Feasts of Fatima," a story about falling halfway in love with a lady of the evening; Mojo (a drink) from "Mojo Rising," a story about a retired madam (hmmm...mmm..., am I detecting a pattern here...?); and Madalay Mail Chicken, from "Train Fare" (nope, no working girls in that one!)

THE CASABLANCA COOKBOOK: Wining and Dining at Rick's by Sarah Key, Jennifer Newman Brazil and Vicki Wells

Being a huge fan of this movie, and the owner of several other books about Bogey (and a few Moroccan cookbooks, as well), I had to add this one to my collection several years ago. In addition to some excellent recipes for drinks (champagne cocktail, Senor Ferrari's iced almond coffee) and food (coriander shrimp kebabs, ground lamb kebabs) this little volume contains photos from the movie, games and quotes from the movie. A "must-have" if you're a fan of the movie, a fan of Moroccan food, or just a collector of eclectic cookbooks like Yours Truly.

I really do love Moroccan food, so I guess one of these days, I may even have to travel there...


This book has been in our household, well, ever since we've had a household. I used it regularly for preparing foods from India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Burma and Thailand, to name but a few. It's not really eclectic, I guess, but it certainly is useful. It even offers suggestions for recipe substitutions if you can't find an ingredient needed for a particular dish (which can sometimes be a bit of a problem if you live in a community without much selection or variety of Asian ingredients.) It also provides measurements in both metric and imperial formats.

Cooking Thai Cashew Chicken, a recipe from Extending the Table

THE LAST DINNER ON THE TITANIC: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner by Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley

This is an amazing book, if you're into history, culinary or otherwise. It gives you a glimpse of what it was like to travel on what was, in its day, the largest ocean liner in the world. It details how the ship was organized in terms of class structure (based on whether you were sailing first-class, second-class or third-class. The passengers were restricted, by class, where they could dine, or even have a drink - quite a difference from today's cruise ship industry.

It includes some old photos as well as artists' renderings and conversion charts (after all, these recipes were from Edwardian England, so some recipes do need adjusting).

It's a wonderful book, taking you back to the last days of the "Golden Age of Travel."

EXTENDING THE TABLE: Recipes and stories from Argentina to Zimbabwe by Joetta Handrich Schlabach

This collection of world recipes is another cooking tome that's well-thumbed in our household. It features recipes galore as well as stories from around the world. One of the features I really enjoy is the way the book includes proverbs and quotes about food, sprinkling them throughout the book like a good cook sprinkles herbs and spices throughout a culinary creation to create a tasty meal. Example: Egyptian proverb: "An onion offered by a true friend is like a whole lamb."

A wonderful book for anyone wanting to explore the cuisine of other cultures within the confines of their own kitchen.


You had to know, given the title of this blog, that at least one book would involve a cooking-paddling combination, right?

This book - which is designed in a way that you could take it canoeing with you - talks about nutrition in the wilderness - an entire section is devoted to it. There's also a section on water and environmental issues.

Then there are the recipes ... breakfasts, bannock and bread, meals, soups, salads, desserts - this book covers them all, and more. Say good-bye to those freeze-dried packs you buy at outdoor stores and say hello to some real cooking ...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

No time for a long paddle? Try Deer Lake in Burnaby

You don't have to be a rocket scientist - or even a brain surgeon! - to figure out that I love to paddle. (Just look at the name of this blog.)

But I can't always get away for a three- or four-day trip; sometimes it's tough even to get away for a day, even out to a place as close as Pinecone Burke Provincial Park (where there's great canoeing) or to Bowen Island (for kayaking).

Off we go, into the wild blue -- er,
the urban wild blue yonder.
But about 15 minutes away from where I live lies Deer Lake Park. It's a small lake, not even as big as Burnaby Lake Regional Park, but it has one advantage over BLRP: you can rent canoes and kayaks at Deer Lake; you can't do that at Burnaby Lake (although there is a boat launch there, if you bring your own canoe or kayak).

The boat rental facility is seasonal, mind you. After Labour Day weekend, you really need to phone them the day you plan to go to see if they're open, especially on weekdays. Of course, if you have your own canoe or kayak, you don't have to worry about that.

Deer Lake is not challenging, it's not demanding, it doesn't even take very long to paddle around the entire perimeter of the lake. But if you're looking for a nice quiet paddle, a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, and you don't have much time, you really can't beat it.

There are plenty of ducks and geese there to keep you company on the lake, and they don't seem to be too shy of paddlers, probably since they see them there all the time. If you get close enough to the shore, and have a pair of binoculars, you'll probably be able to spot some songbirds, as well - maybe even a wild squirrel! And overhead, if you're lucky, maybe a raptor will wing its way past you.

One of the striking things I found about paddling there is the way I was within a few metres of wild waterfowl, quiet woods and still water - but if I turned my head and looked in another direction, I could see high-rise buildings off in the distance.

Map of Deer Lake Park,
source: City of Burnaby Parks Dept.
They're far enough away that they don't disturb the ambiance of the lake. It really is quite quiet there, at least during the week, and especially when school is in session. I can imagine it might be a bit busier during the summer months, unless you get on the lake early or late - which you can do, as long as you have your own watercraft.

I'm surprised it took me eight years of living in Vancouver before I actually visited the spot this September.

While that may be my first visit, it certainly will not be the last time I dip a paddle into the waters of Deer Lake.

(If you want to see more pictures taken while paddling at Deer Lake, check out my Facebook photo album, Deer Lake Paddle.)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reifel not the only place to go for milk and quackers

Anyone following this blog - or (even more noticeably) my Facebook and Twitter posts the last few weeks has probably detected the fact that I've been spending a great deal of time shooting pictures and videos of birds at the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Reifel is about a 45-minute drive from my house in Vancouver, just over the Knight Street Bridge, down Highway 99 to 17, then over onto Westham Island.

Driving past the farmers' fields to get to the sanctuary means we often drive past grazing cows - in other words, we get "milk" with our "quackers" (i.e., the many ducks that inhabit Reifel.)

However, there is a place even closer to where I live that is also a pretty darn good spot for bird-watching: Burnaby Lake Regional Park. Located in central Burnaby, it is easily accessed from anywhere in the Lower Mainland, with plenty of free parking and transit stops at the east and west ends of the park.

Looking west along Still Creek,
from the bridge that leads to Cottonwood Trail.

While it may not boast the presence of sandhill cranes like Reifel can, Burnaby Lake certainly has its share of mallards, wood ducks, geese and herons - as well as kingfishers and if you're lucky enough to see one, the occasional osprey. It also boasts beavers, and although I've seen the lodges, I have yet to see one of the flat-tailed little tree-munchers - but then I've only been to the park twice.

The park is pretty large, containing tennis facilities, a sports complex, a pool and a rowing pavilion in addition to the natural area around the lake. That includes a nature house and a series of trails, the main one consisting of an  11-km main trail circling the lake.

You can paddle on the lake as well, in a canoe or kayak, which is often one of the best ways to get close to wildlife - as well as the best way to see much of the lake. While the trail does provide a nice walk, for much of the walk, you can't actually see the lake itself.

Traversing it by canoe or kayak eliminates that problem. There is a public canoe launch at the sports complex, although - to my knowledge - there is no place there for the public to rent boats.

I first visited the park back in July of 1988 during a quick visit to a friend who lived in Vancouver at the time (I was living in Alberta, then). We only spent about an hour in the park.

Bath time for ducks!

It would be 23 years before I'd return again - this time for an entire day.

The day's highlight took place at Piper Spit, a bit of land that juts out into the lake from the north shore, about two-thirds of the way down the trail from the sports complex parking lot and trail head in the west end. A boardwalk allows further access out to view the lake.

Map of Burnaby Lake trails.
But you don't have to out there to see plenty of birds. Sitting on one of the benches on the land just before the start of the boardwalk, you'll see plenty of ducks and geese cruising up and down Eagle Creek, which empties into the lake. And of course, the real entertaining part comes when they take a bath.

While eating lunch on the bench, I also spied a northern flicker, sitting in a tree off in the distance, a fairly common bird in the area during the fall. Later on, from the end of the boardwalk, I watched a heron fish for his lunch.

Not far away from the spit is a raised viewing tower, two stories tall and wheelchair friendly, that provides you with a more expansive view.

Of course, I always contend the best view is the view from the water - and I'm already planning next year's paddle trip on the lake ...

(If you want to see more pictures from the lake, check out my Facebook photo album at

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Reifel offers sanctuary for birds - and people looking to escape the city




No, those aren't new sound effects for comics that feature waterfowl as superheroes. Although they could be, I guess...(Darkwing Duck, move over!)

Those are the sounds that constantly surround you when you visit the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary just outside Ladner, B.C. Just take a half-hour's drive from the Vancouver International Airport, and you'll find yourself in a wetland paradise full of ducks, geese, cranes, and herons - not to mention songbirds like red-winged blackbirds or raptors like bald eagles or marsh hawks (a.k.a. northern harriers).

Bald eagle soars over our heads.
I won't go into too much detail about the sanctuary itself, its history and its functions; that can all be gleaned from the sanctuary website .

I will say that although it is a stopping place for birds migrating north and south in the spring and fall, respectively - an avian "motel" of sorts - it is also a year-round home for many other birds.

Reifel is one of those rare spots you can visit again and again, and never tire of going there. It's a special place where you can get close to nature without having to drive too far from your front step, if you live in the Greater Vancouver area. The experiences there are pretty much the same every time, but for me, there's always one gem of an experience I have that's a bit different each time, something that sets that visit apart from others.

For example, when I was there last Monday, I saw a great blue heron fly across a pond and alight on a log right in front of me. It then proceeded to spend several minutes grooming itself while I shot videos and images of the bird.

Another time, I was able to watch and record a pair of sandhill cranes strolling along the edge of the marsh. You won't see these large, rare and beautiful birds every time you go to Reifel, but I have seen them on more than one occasion.

Of course, you'll never lack company if you take the time to spend a few toonies and purchase the bags of seed ($1 each) they sell at the admission gate for people to feed the ducks and geese in the sanctuary. (That's the only food people are allowed to feed them, so be forewarned). Be prepared for a stampede, though - if you start sprinkling too close to where you're sitting or standing, you'll quickly be swamped by ducks (no pun intended, but if it works, hey...).

A quick word of caution: remember, these are wild animals - they're not pets, nor is this a zoo, so if you do go and you do feed them, keep that in mind, also.

Great blue heron gets ready to groom.

As I sit there on a bench, emptying the last few bits of seed from my paper bag, I look out at the various marshes and ponds, separated by the earthen dikes that form the trail system within the sanctuary and wistfully wish I could hop in a canoe and go paddling through the area's waterways.

Alas, that's not one of the activities visitors are allowed to participate in.
So as much as I'd love to hear the sound of a paddle dipping into Reifel's waters, I guess I'll just have to settle for walking the trails and hearing the sounds of "Quack-Honk-Oka-dee!"

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Not ALL denizens of the deep are 'river monsters'

I admit it, freely; I kind of like watching River Monsters, that TV program that's part fishing show/part adventure travel show/part biology documentary.

For those unfamiliar with the program, the host, Jeremy Wade, travels the world in search of monstrous river creatures that have killed or at least viciously attacked humans.

The most recent episode I watched involved him trying to track down a giant sting ray that had allegedly killed some people in the Parana River, the largest river in Argentina.

As I'm watching it, I'm thinking to myself (not for the first time, either) how much the writers and producers of these shows over-dramatize everything. I know, I know, it's good TV. Who wants to watch it, if it's boring? This program - essentially another outdoor fishing show - has come up with a unique new hook to lure viewers in (no pun intended, but hey, if it works...). But like other shows before it, (The Crocodile Hunter comes to mind) the actual dangers are often over exaggerated.

A bit gruesome looking? Perhaps.
Deadly dangerous? Not likely.

Now pay attention here, because this is important: I'm not about to say there is no risk involved in dealing with the creatures featured in the show. But life itself is full of risks, with no guarantees.

The fact is, yes, you can be injured, sometimes fatally, by a stingray, or a pirhana or many of the other denizens of the deep, whether they are freshwater or saltwater inhabitants. But there's probably a much better chance of getting killed in a car accident on a freeway in North America than being chewed to death by river monsters.

Think about it: Hundreds of tourists go out to Stingray City off Grand Cayman Island every day to snorkel with stingrays and feed them. I've been there, done that, got the ball cap. You don't very often hear about mishaps there. And if there was a high risk, they probably wouldn't do it.

There are other examples; I've enjoyed many experiences with wildife both in the water and on the land that prove the point further.

Another example of something I've done in the water that some people might consider dangerous: I've gone diving with sharks. (Got a hat and a T-shirt for that, too!)

That took place in a closed aquarium in the Maui Ocean Center in Hawaii. We were diving in about 25 feet of water, swimming around with several black tipped and white tipped reef sharks, a couple of hammerheads, and a baby tiger shark (only about six feet long). There were also a couple of large stingrays as well as a smaller spotted eagle ray that we actually took turns feeding. I didn't feel frightened or intimidated at all.

The biggest annoyance were the little fish that kept nipping my fingers every time I got some "chum" from the dive master to feed the ray, "Hihimanu." My fingers were covered with tiny cuts by the time we were done.

Now mind you, these are well-fed sharks, used to seeing divers; still, they are wild animals essentially, and not always predictable. And this particular dive took place about a week after Steve Irwin was killed by a bull ray while he was diving. (I should point out, he was always showboating a bit, taking what I often felt were some unnecessary risks just to get good footage for the TV program, so it's not surprising that's how he bought it). Besides, the ray that killed him in a freak accident was not among the species of rays that live in the Maui tank.

Where's that bat-spray?

Again, though, when all is said and done, it's all about risk management. The aquarium in Maui would not run programs like this if too many visitors were being eaten.

The next day, while diving in the ocean, I saw a gigantic sting ray about 20 feet away. Again, all I felt was a sense of awe and wonder. I never felt threatened or in danger.

So, enjoy the dramatic shows like River Monsters, shudder at the thought of blood and guts and gore and unseen monsters lurking in the waters below; but remember life is rarely as risky or dramatic as TV shows make it out to be - so don't let it stop you from enjoying adventures in the water, whether you're diving or snorkelling under the surface or paddling on top of it. For that matter, don't let fear stop you on land, either.

Just make sure that if you do dive in shark-infested waters, carry your shark-repellent bat-spray with you at all times ...

(Just kidding!)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Pisco Sour: Peruvian - or Chilean?

Well I've never been to Spain, but I kinda like the music - hey, wait a minute - I have been to Spain. Doh! It's Chile I haven't been to. Spanish-speaking country, yes - but it's not Spain.

The Esmeralda
Not that I've actually been to Chile, mind you. My travels have taken me to three different South American countries: Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. The closest I've come to being in Chile was aboard the tall ship Esmeralda, which was docked in North Vancouver, Monday. I was there by invitation of the Chile Board of Tourism to experience the event, "Flavors of Chile." 

There were certainly some good flavors aboard the tall ship ... asparagus spears wrapped in smoked salmon, salmon ceviche, some mini-pastry meat pies, empanadas and plenty of sweets for desert. Oh, I mustn't forget about the good cross-section of Chilean wines available for sampling.

But for me, when you're talking about Chile and alcohol, it all goes sour - Pisco Sour, that is.

Pisco Sours are considered by many to be the national drink of Chile. That's very interesting, because many Peruvians also call it their national drink.

When I visited Peru in 2008, I was told there is a big debate between the two countries as to which country actually invented the drink.

For those unfamiliar with the drink, it's a cocktail containing pisco, lemon lime juice, egg whites, simple syrup, and bitters. When I was in Peru, I had it made for me at Lucma Lodge, part of the Mountain Lodges of Peru. In Peru, they actually call limes "lemons," at least they look like what we call lemons in North America. Regardless, the Pisco sours there were the best I've had anywhere. And I've had them in restaurants in Lima, Cuzco and even Vancouver. And of course, on the Esmeralda in North Van.  

A Pisco Sour

I have to say, if taste is any indication, Peru would get my vote. Now I'm not sure if the ones we had on the Esmeralda used local Pisco or if it was brought all the way from South America. I do know that the quality of Pisco you can purchase at BCLC stores is not as good quality as the stuff you get in Peru, or probably, in Chile.

I guess the only way to settle this, at least in my mind, is to go to Chile and sample the local Pisco Sours there and then draw my conclusion by comparing them with what I had in Peru in 2008.

Of course, while I'm there, I'll probably manage to work in an excursion or two to see Patagonian conures in the wild, as there are some of those birds (also known as burrowing parrots) in that country. I've seen them in captivity here in North America, actually handled one quite regularly at the old facility for the Greyhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary in Surrey, B.C. - Spook was a real sweetie! - but nothing beats seeing them in the wild.

And with the combination of parrots and Pisco, you really can't go wrong.

For more photos from this event, visit my photo album on Facebook:

Friday, August 5, 2011

I went to a sumo match, and a festival broke out...

Well, the headline may be a l-i-t-t-l-e misleading.

True, I did go to see sumo wrestling this past Sunday; and it was part of Vancouver's Powell Street Festival - the 35th annual festival, as it turns out. But it wasn't a sumo match, per se. There was a sumo wrestling tournament as part of the festival; however, that was only a small part of the two-day celebration of Japanese culture, food, song, dance, music and martial arts in Oppenheimer Park.

Truth is, I've always wanted to attend a real sumo match, with all the pomp and tradition and ceremony associated with the sport. If you've ever watched the sumo scene in the James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice, you'll get an idea of what it is I'm longing to see. It's on my bucket list.
Let's get ready to SU-MO!
However, that wasn't about to happen here. It was kind of cool watching them practise, but I didn't get to see the actual tournament (which was open to anyone who wanted to sign up) and sponsored by Vancouver's Sumo Fun Club. It was running a bit late, and I really wanted to go to the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony (more on that later).

I did get to see some good martial arts demos by another group, Shorinji Kempo. Their members ranged in ages from seven to 77, and although this martial art originated in Japan 60 years ago, the martial artists in this group consisted of people from a wide variety of ethnic groups.

Music usually plays a large part of any festival and the Powell Street Festival is no different. Between noon and 4 p.m., I saw three different musical presentations. When I arrived, the Chibi Taiko, a group of youngsters (actually,the first children's taiko ensemble in Canada) were finishing their drum performance on the park's Main Stage. Before going on, I should mention "taiko" refers to "drum" in Japanese, although there is a cultural significance to the term that makes it more than just a word to describe a type of instrument. 

That was followed by traditional Ainu music. The Ainu are the aboriginal people of Japan and northeastern Russia. They told stories and sang while dressed in traditional clothing.

Members of the Yuaikai Ryukyu Taiko perform
at the Powell Street Festival.

For me though, the highlight of the day came courtesy of the Okinawan-based group, Yuaikai Ryukyu Taiko. Lots of energy, and you see many of the movements the drummers make while playing come from traditional martial arts forms. Very inspiring!

Of course, no festival would be worth going to without food, and there were plenty of food booths serving traditional Japanese foods. I sampled bits of many different foods, my favorites being the teriyaki chicken skewers and okonomayaki (Japanese pancake made with cabbage and pork stuffed inside). I did draw the line at Spam sushi, however. Not that I have anything against Spam ... but I can't get past the seaweed taste of any sushi. Just after going to the festival, a friend told me I can get sushi made with rice paper wrapping rather than seaweed. I plan to give it a try ...

After eating, came tea, in the traditional Japanese style. I guess I should rephrase that to "tea ceremony." Also known as the "Way of Tea," it involves much more than just sipping some tea and dunking some crumpets (if you like crumpets). There are several traditions and rituals that form a part of the ceremony, including eating sweet sesame wafers before taking tea, having a hostess prepare the tea or "matcha," drinking it, returning the cup and bowing many, many times.

Would you like one wafer or two with
your matcha?
 I should point out, the tea itself is unlike any tea I've ever consumed. I detected a slightly fishy odor to the tea in the cup, although there was no fishy taste. It tasted something like a bitter, slightly thicker green tea. It is full of antioxidants, though, therefore ultra healthy.

Attending the ceremony is really cool; if you ever get a chance to experience it, go for it.

If you're in Vancouver, there are plenty of places to experience it; just spend a bit of time surfing the web to find them. If you already live in Vancouver, it's a great opportunity for you to play tourist in your own town.

That's kind of what the Powell Street Festival allowed me to do: as a hometown tourist, I could get a taste of Japan without having to fly halfway around the world. It did whet my appetite for a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun...because after all, how else will I get to see real, traditional sumo wrestling?

Want to see a photo album of images from this event? Visit

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Everyone's idea of adventure differs

One of Helen Keller's most famous quotes states, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all."

While I agree with that whole heartedly, it does have to be balanced with the knowledge that each one of us has a slightly different idea about what constitutes "adventure." And in this day and age of  "adventure travel" there are even different levels of adventure: soft adventure, hard adventure.

As a travel writer, I often have to categorize what I write for potential editors or tourism boards who may want to help me promote their destination/product. Sometimes I am just given the option of "adventure" as a category; other times, I have to select "soft adventure" and/or "hard adventure."

So just what is the difference?

It often depends on the individual.

Jungle camping: soft or hard adventure?
I "googled" the term "soft adventure" and one website came up with this description: "Soft adventure. The sort of experience that goes beyond the typical tourist itinerary. There is no great physical challenge involved here."

On the Fodor's site it was described thus: "Soft adventure means different things to different people. We define it as any activity that balances mild physical activity with a lot of down time."

As for "hard adventure" ...

The Association of Travel Marketing Executives define it as "including such things as backpacking across rugged terrain, whitewater rafting or kayaking,  hot air ballooning, rock climbing or mountain climbing, off-road biking or mountain biking, hang-gliding, para sailing or windsurfing, parachuting or sky diving, skateboarding or snowboarding, roller hockey, bungee jumping, spelunking or cave exploring, snorkeling or scuba diving and survival games (e.g. paint ball)."

Wow. I didn't realize I was so adventurous. I've done seven of those activities, and never really thought about them as being "hard adventure." I mean, I'm not Indiana Jones; hell, I'm not even the dog.
("You're named after the dog???")

While canoeing per se, was not on the "hard adventure" list,
if you're this close to wild gators, it might not be "soft."

I personally didn't realize I had a different perception than most when it came to soft vs. hard adventure until a few years ago. I was interviewing a resort executive while working on a story about resorts for Western Hotelier magazine. We discussed soft adventure, and I used the example of a five-day kayak trip I'd taken in the Ecuadorian Amazon as "soft adventure."

"Whoa!" he practically shouted. "That's not soft adventure!"

But that depends on what your background is.

From my perspective, it's "soft" because while we were in a remote area, camping in tents along a jungle river each night, we had guides; we did no cooking or meal planning, all our meals were prepared; we did no navigating. We just paddled and hiked through the jungle.

Whitewater rafting: on the "hard" list. I guess it is -
I certainly had a scare falling into a Class V rapid on this trip.

Keep in mind, I've been planning my own overnight canoe trips since 1974; to me, if I have to plan my meals, plan my route, do my own cooking, chop my own firewood, use a map to figure out where I'm going - all without guides - that starts to resemble hard adventure.

If I'm doing a first descent of a river or hiking through previously unexplored jungle or climbing a mountain like Everest or K2 or Kilimanjaro, even - that's what I call real hardcore adventure.

I should point out, I've never done either. But from my perspective, that's what I would need to do in order to really feel I was participating in hard adventure.

But that's just me. We all have our own world view.

So I guess this is as much about perspective as it is adventure. One man's hardcore is another man's soft adventure.

Or as Friedrich Nietzsche put it, "You have your way, I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way and the only way, it does not exist."

So don't think about it or try to categorize it: just go have an adventure.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rainy days shouldn't stop you from having fun

Rainy days are a fact of life on the Wet Coast, so it surprised me one morning last week when I read how U.S. day visits to B.C. are down this year, and our rainy, cool summer is being fingered as one of the reasons, especially when we're talking about people who live in this same region, with essentially the same climate.

Personally, I prefer cooler weather for my outdoor activities; it's nicer to hike or paddle in 20 degrees C than say, 28 or 30 C. And there are lots of things for visitors to do in Vancouver and area even when it's raining.

I think the weaker U.S. dollar has more to do with it than anything; it takes more American greenbacks to buy the same products and services than it did a year ago.

That being said, I thought, "What kinds of activities and are available for day-trip visitors to the Lower Mainland who want to stay out of the rain? Or for those who don't mind a bit of a sprinkle?" Bear in mind, I'm an outdoor type who is usually unfazed by any kind of weather, so to me, unless it's a monsoon, I don't usually let it stop me. But I'll try to restrict this "top five" list to stuff you can do inside - or outside with very little exposure to the elements. At a later date, I'll probably write a list of cool "outdoor" stuff to do - and there's plenty of that in B.C.
So it's raining; life still goes on ...

I won't include details about obvious things like shopping, theatres or movies; this is a list of other activities, some fairly typical, others not so much.

And armed with this list - there should be no reason not to come visit here. No excuses - at least not the rain, please...
1. Visit Bloedel Conservatory. This is probably as close as you'll come to experiencing the outdoors - while staying dry and warm indoors. Set atop Queen Elizabeth Park in central Vancouver, this geodesic dome is home to hundreds of tropical and sub-tropical plants, as well as dozens of free-flying birds. One of the main draws is its small collection of parrots - macaws, a cockatoo, some Amazons and an African grey. They are not free flighted, but very easy to see and photograph. It's a great way to spend a few rainy hours. Just minutes away by foot from the conservatory is Seasons Restaurant, where you can eat lunch or supper, before or after, your excursion. And if it stops raining, check out the surrounding gardens in the park - and the view of the north shore mountains; you can see across to North and West Vancouver from just outside the dome, if it's not raining or cloudy.

A green-winged macaw,
one of the many colourful birds you'll see at Bloedel.
 2. Visit a day spa. There are numerous wonderful day spas in and around Vancouver. Raintree Spa is just 10 minutes south of the Vancouver International Airport, down Highway 99 and into the village of Steveston. There are several Eccotique Day Spas located around the city, including two in Metrotown Mall and one in the Richmond Centre, allowing you to do some shopping before relaxing at the spa.

If you don't mind going a bit further afield,
head north of the city toward Whistler, and you can enjoy another type of spa experience: the kind you'd find in Europe at Spa Scandinave. Alternate immersions in cold pools and hot pools/steam rooms/dry saunas, throw in a Swedish or Thai yoga massage, grab a bite to eat in their dining area and you're guaranteed a good night's sleep that night.

Of course, those above-mentioned spas all offer full spa services including different types of massage (many have RMT's on their staff), waxing, pedicures, manicures and other esthetic services. But if you want a really different, once-in-a-lifetime experience at a spa in Vancouver, the place to go is the Miraj Hamma Spa on Sixth Avenue and Granville Street. There you get a full Moroccan-style day of pampering that includes a steam bath, exfoliation massage, and full body deep tissue massage all topped off with Moroccan tea and cake in private salon afterward.
Spa Scandinave: winter or summer, a great experience

3. Do a Canada Line Rail Tour. This does involve getting off and stopping, and yes, you will be outdoors at some point, so bring an umbrella. This is not a packaged program; it's simply a way of getting to know different parts of the city. Start at the SW Marine Drive station at the foot of Cambie Street. Then head north. You can be right downtown at Waterfront Station in less than 20 minutes. But that's not the point; there are plenty of interesting places to get off along the way and explore the neighborhood. You can get off at Cambie and 41st to shop in the Oakridge Centre. Further along, there's a stop at King Edward Street. Granted, if you get off here, you will need an umbrella if it's raining. But there are some really cool stores, shops and restaurants between King Edward and the next stop, Broadway-City Hall. While the King Edward stop would involve a north-south exploration of Cambie Street, the City Hall stop gives you the opportunity to go north-south along Cambie, or east-west along Broadway. Vancouver City Centre is pretty self-explanatory as is the Waterfront Station (which gives you the option of taking a water ferry across to North Vancouver - there are plenty of cool places to explore within a 15-minute walk of the ferry terminal.)

4. Visit Granville Island Public Market. Located on Granville Island, this will allow you to stay dry if you decide walking in the rain with an umbrella is not your cup of tea. There are plenty of food vendors, food kiosks where you can buy lunch, coffee shops, vendors selling crafts and other non-food items. Of course, if you do venture outside, there are lots of other attractions, including Granville Island Brewery, which gives tours (and samples!) daily.

5. Visit a museum. Any museum. There are plenty to choose from in Vancouver. One of the more unique ones is the Vancouver Maritime Museum, which features an ongoing, ever-changing line-up of exhibits, permanent collections, a heritage harbour (featuring a Viking ship) and some interactive events and activities. Other interesting museums include the Vancouver Police Museum, the Museum of Anthropology, and the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. These are just a few examples of some of the museums you can visit in Vancouver, I've barely scratched the surface. Tourism Vancouver can supply you with additional ideas.

So really, the rain is no excuse. You can do these things during a day trip to Vancouver and the surrounding area, rain or shine, but for the most part, you can do them on a rainy day, and stay reasonably dry.

Like Mark Twain said, "Everyone talks about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it."
 Well, this is one way of doing something about it: go out and have fun no matter what the weather.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Living like a Viking - or at least a Kirk Douglas Viking - in rural Wales

"Hail Einar!"

"Hail Ragnar!"

This is how Vikings greet each least, that's how they greet each other in the 1958 movie The Vikings, starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh and Ernest Borgnine. The movie revolves around the two male leads Einar Ragnarson (Douglas) and Erik the Slave (Curtis) vying for the hand of Morgana, a Welsh princess played by Leigh. Although they don't know it, it turns out Ragnar (Borgnine) is father to both of them, one by a Viking woman, the other by the Queen Enid of England. Through various twists of fate, they end up meeting as adults, and Erik actually turning out to be the successor to the throne of England.

These 1958 Vikings are a rowdy, raunchy lot and they often refer to women as "wenches."

But wait - it gets even more politically incorrect...

Odin's test for unfaithful wives (in the movie, anyway) consists of throwing axes at the accused wench's pinned pigtails; if they are cut off, she's innocent; if she's killed by an axe, she was guilty. One of the memorable scenes sees Douglas grab the axe from the hand of slighted husband, to save her from death by throwing it himself (he was the one who actually cheated with her!) while Borgnine yells, "You're too - drunk! You'll cleave the wench in half!"

The first of many pub stops in Wales.
As you can, women's rights did not get much consideration in this movie (keep in mind, it was made in the mid-50s).

So, you say, what does have to do with a blog about travelling and paddling (aside from the fact Einar's funeral consists of putting him in a boat and shooting flaming arrows at it as it floats across the lake)?

Funny you should ask...

Throughout the movie, both Einar and Ragnar keep referring to the kidnapped Princess Morgana as the "little wench from Wales."

Well, during time spent in Wales last year, you can bet I was on the lookout for .... (you guessed it!)... a "wench from Wales."

It didn't take long, actually.

Our first day in the country saw us wind up for lunch at a little country tavern called "The Pelican in Her Piety."

A pint of Brains served up
by a wench from Wales
Yeah, they do have some weird names for pubs, there. Even weirder: you can ask for a pint of Brains - and they'll give you one.

That's because Brains is one of the beers brewed locally in Wales.

Anyway, we're sitting down at this table and who should come over to take our order but .... (yep!) ... a wench from Wales.

Of course, I ordered a pint of Brains. Being someone who always likes to increase my intelligence level, I ordered more Brains. (I'll refrain, at this point, from making jokes about how beer made Bud wiser...)  

At the same time, I took the opportunity to chat up the wench from Wales, a little. I did, however, manage to refrain from asking if she'd ever had to undergo Odin's tale for unfaithful wives; I didn't even call her "wench." (She looked like she might have clonked me with an empty mug if I had.)

After lunch, we strolled through the ruins of an old castle, a fairly common site around the Welsh countryside. This one was Ogmore Castle, right by a small stream.

The next day, we got to do it all over again: lunch at a pub, Brains served up by a wench from Wales...and again the day after that.

Ogmore Castle, outside the Pelican Pub.
I was almost sad when we arrived at the St. Bride's Spa Hotel the fourth day of our journey along the southwest Wales coast. No wenches there - no Vikings, either; it was just too upscale. Although on our way there, we did pass through Swansea, the hometown of Catherine Zeta-Jones (Douglas), a modern-day wench from Wales (and a very comely one, at that!)

Hey, isn't it funny Kirk's kid Michael ended up marrying a wench from Wales...?

Wonder if watching Dad's old flicks had anything to do with it ... ?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

They came, they saw, they paddled

MEC Paddlefest 2011 has come and gone, and if I could do anything differently, I think I would have tried to get there earlier. 

Paddlefest 2011: a celebration of paddling.

That's because there was just so much to do, and not enough time to do it in. That's on me, of course; I didn't allow enough time.

Note to self: get there before noon next time...

 As soon as we arrived, it was off to yoga for paddlers, an hour of stretching and breathing exercises guaranteed to get you limbered up for stretching.

That was barely done, and then it was time to climb into a voyageur canoe, and paddle out into the waters of English Bay with David Wooldridge of Ridge Wilderness Adventures.

Dave Woolridge solos a voyageur canoe.

We paddled, we laughed, we got wet - in other words we had fun.

That mini-journey completed, we were off to see a demonstration of backwoods cooking, put on by Ryan Masson of Silva Bay Kayak Adventures. He showed us how to cook some very tasty coconut shrimp on a griddle on a Coleman stove. It came served up with some tomato-peach-cilantro salsa. Yummy! He also baked up some foccacia beer bread - also on an outdoor stove.

No time to spend too much of the day eating, though ...

Back to the water. Time for some stand-up paddling lessons with Coreena Fletcher of SUP Vancouver.

Coreena Fletcher makes it look easy on a stand-up paddleboard,
as she provides pointers to novice SUP participants.

It's harder than it looks, especially when it's a bit breezy, and a bit choppy. Lots of skill, good balance and core strength are required to participate in this type of paddling. I don't know if I'm ready to give up sitting in a kayak or kneeling in a canoe to take up this activity...but it's becoming hugely popular in the paddling world. There's even a magazine or two devoted strictly to the sport of standup paddling.

A 90-minute kayaking course for those new to the sport followed that, although with 20 years of experience sea kayaking in places like Belize, the Florida Everglades, Grand Cayman Island, the Bay of Fundy N.B. and Desolation Sound B.C., I opted to pass on that one. I watched a bit of it, as Georgia Campbell of Ecomarine put the newbie paddlers through their paces.

Georgia Campbell of Ecomarine Kayak Centre
teaches an intro kayaking course.

I did get a chance to check out some of the gear MEC had on display, including mini-dry bags for equipment like iPhones. Unfortunately, they're made for iPhones without the protective rubber casing, so I'm hoping next year, the company will come out with a product that will be a bit bigger.

I'm always fumbling for my iPhone to take pictures and videos while paddling, but it's awkward and time consuming. Having a quick-and-easy protector for it would certainly make things easier.

Other than taking time to chat with a few of the exhibitors like CPAWS and enter a few draws for some trips and a brand new kayak, that was the day. It was gone before I could blink, and I didn't quite find time to do everything I would have liked to.

Next year, I'm going to set my alarm for 7 a.m. instead of 8 ... 

(For additional images from Paddlefest 2011, check out my photo album on Facebook at )