Monday, June 20, 2011

Paddles with Wolves on Indian Arm

Well, to be more precise, we were paddling with the "wolf" clan of the Coast Salish First Nations, people - with Takaya Tours, to be specific.

In the language of the Salish, "takaya" means "wolf". I guess since we were paddling on Indian Arm, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean, technically, that would make us sea wolves. But I didn't see Jack London or even Edward G. Robinson there, so I guess I'll let that one pass...

However, as I am sometimes wont to do on this blog, I digress.

Our trip consisted of a full morning's excursion that combined outdoor adventure, culture and nature.

Takaya Sea wolves - ready to paddle!

A short drive from downtown Vancouver brought 11 of us to our put-in/takeout points in Cates Park, known traditionally as Whey-ah-wichen, Salish for "facing the wind."

Our interpretive guide, Laura Leigh Yuxweluptun'aat, began our journey with an explanation as to the history of the area and what it meant to her people, the original inhabitants of the area.

First came a blessing in her native tongue, a prayer for a good journey. Then she and canoe guide James Healy drummed and chanted as part of the ceremony to send us on our way.

They also explained about the paddles we'd be using in our traditional ocean-going canoe. One side contained an image of their clan symbol, the wolf; the other side an "eye" painted to help guide the canoe.
At rest on Indian Arm.

Proper paddling means the eye should always be facing backward, towards the stern of the canoe. 

Of course, there were some non-traditional chores to attend to as well, like digging out the rain gear and picking out, then adjusting the PFD's we had to wear.

Following tradition, we greeted our canoe as we entered, with, "Hello, Dancing Serpent, I'm coming into the canoe." It also lets anyone else already in the canoe that someone else is getting in, and rocking the boat at that point is not really a good idea.

Soon, we were off and paddling up the inlet, passing forested beaches and some other small craft, including some people fishing from a rubber dinghy and a pair of kayakers out for a morning paddle.

While it was not raining at this point, the mist-shrouded shores around us created a mystical feel to our environment.

At various points along the way, we would stop for rests, and Laura Leigh would share stories from her people, handed down orally, generation after generation.

As we approached a sheltered point on the opposite shore where we planned to take another break, I spied a great blue heron, serenely walking along the water's edge, looking for some tasty fishbits, no doubt.

Laura Leigh shares Salish stories.
The heron was one of several birds we saw during our trip, including several cormorants, a Pacific loon or two and a marbled murrelet.

I occasionally scanned the sky to see if I could spot a bald eagle, but no luck this time at catching a glimpse of the feathered monarchs of the coastal airways.

A harbor seal also popped its head up briefly, but didn't linger, quickly diving back into the depths of the ocean.

All too soon, our journey came to an end.

Schedules being what they are, we knew we'd have to come back another day if we wanted to participate in an ancestral rainforest walk, or sample a traditional salmon feast which Takaya offers as an option to its tours.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Early travels full of fond memories

June is always a very difficult month for me. My father's birthday was today, June 4. Father's Day is also in June.

It just so happened, by father passed away on the eve of Father's Day, 1992.

So you can probably understand why June is not really one of my favorite months.

For that matter, the whole April-May-June quarter kind of sucks, from where I sit.

Mother's Day is in May. My mother's birthday was April 3. I put her to rest on April 5, 2007.

Suffice to say, I'm always glad when we roll into July.

So what's this doing in a travel blog, you may ask?

Well, like many people, my first memories of travel involve traveling with my family. As an only child, that meant jumping in the car and driving somewhere with my mom and dad, or sometimes, just with my dad.

Dad and I did a bit of travelling together, just the two of us, as I was growing up. Just us guys, hangin' out. It was pretty cool, actually.

My very first "road trip" took place when I was seven years old: my dad and I drove from Newmarket, Ontario to Niagara Falls. I remember anticipating the trip for weeks before school ended. Then, the second week of July, we were off.

I distinctly remember looking forward to not just seeing the falls, but also looking forward to eating a hot dog by the falls - which I did. I've eaten many, many gourmet meals over the years, but none more memorable than that one. Eating a hot dog (with mustard and relish), standing by the railing looking at the falls with my dad, the memory will never fade.

To quote that old beer commercial, "It doesn't get much better than this."

Our road trip took us across the border into New York state and into Grand Island. Why there? Because my dad was taking me to Fantasy Island.

I'm not talking about the one populated by Mr. Roarke and his sidekick Tatoo, but rather an amusement park with a decidedly western theme, rides, the whole deal.

In the early 1960s, a Saturday morning TV show on the Buffalo NBC affiliate featured hosts and a studio located at Fantasy Island. The hosts were dressed as cowboys, and they always plugged Fantasy Island in between the cartoons they showed. 

Three-year-old Cowboy John, ready for action.
Like most six- and seven-year-old boys, I loved the idea of being a cowboy. My dad decided that summer was a good time for a father-son bonding experience (although no one labeled it like that back then) and we made our plans.

I loved it.

I got to spend time with my dad, went for a Mississippi paddle wheeler ride, visited an old "saloon," went for a stage coach ride with real horses (I kept hoping bandits would try to rob us like the brochures said they sometimes did - so I could save the day like Ralphie in A Christmas Story - but they never showed). The day was capped off with a live shootout in the western town streets.

I remember much more about the trip: about teasing my dad when he had more spaghetti spots on his shirt than I did, following dinner in an Italian restaurant...drawing superhero pictures on paper in our motel room...just hanging out with my dad. It was just so cool.

Over the next several summers, our family travels took us to places like Expo '67 in Montreal, Old Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario, Upper Canada Village near Morrisburg, Ontario, a cool cottage trip to Lake Huron and visits to relatives in Detroit.

However, we didn't do another multi-day father-son trip for another five years, when my involvement in the Boy Scouts of Canada, coupled with three summers attending Camp Richildaca, motivated me to convince my dad to go camping with me.

He eventually acquiesced, and camping then formed the basis for many of our family holiday travels for years to come, at least until I became a teen-ager and just didn't hang around with adults any more.

Dad adjusts the tent flaps,
first camping trip, June 1968.
My most memorable camping trip with him took place the first summer we camped, in the summer of 1968, when we spent a week in Algonquin Provincial Park. I camped, hiked and paddled there many more times throughout the years, but that first trip was special.

During that trip, he taught me how to play poker, at our campsite picnic table, using match sticks as chips.

We hiked, we played catch, we went swimming in the lake, roasted marshmallows over a campfire at night ... if it sounds like pretty idyllic stuff, that's because it was.

What I really remember is my dad being sick the second half of the week, but he wanted to stick it out for me as much as he could, so I'd have a good trip, a good memory.

I think it meant a lot to him, because he never got to spend much time alone, doing things with his dad. He was trying to give me what he had missed growing up. So despite his cold, he sucked it up and slept in a tent for the entire week.

After I went off to college, my parents divorced, my dad eventually remarried. However, they both began to travel internationally much more as I finished university and became more of an independent adult, with my own life and my own travels to plan.

My dad visited places like Florida, Greece, Turkey; my mom journeyed to Florida, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil.

So you can see I came by my love of travel, my wanderlust, quite naturally.

Sitting at the top of Victoria Falls,
Zambia, Africa, 1993.

I never did get to travel internationally with either parent, which in some ways, is very sad. They were both still alive when I began to travel outside North America. My dad lived to see me take only one international trip, though. A year after I adventured in Belize for two weeks, he passed away.

His legacy for me became part of an amazing trip I took in Africa a year after his passing, as I used most of my inheritance to pay for a six-week odyssey through six African countries.

So even in his passing, even though he was gone, in a sense, he was still travelling with me.

And he still is.

Happy Travels, Dad.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sunshine Coast trips: never enough...

One of the great gems of British Columbia is an area known as the "Sunshine Coast". And it is so close to the city of Vancouver, so accessible - yet it remains largely unexplored.

That's not such a bad thing ... part of its charm is the fact that it is only a few hours away but still maintains a remote feeling. As a travel writer, I almost feel a bit guilty encouraging people to visit it. From time to time, most travel writers struggle with the dilemma of sharing their special spots, their favorite destinations for fear of creating too much consumer interest - especially when you're dealing with areas that are special because they are not typically "tourist-y" areas.

Don't make a fuss,
just hop on the bus - er - ferry.

Getting there does involve a bit more than hopping in a car - but not much. You cannot just drive there - you do have to take a B.C. ferry or two, starting from Horseshoe Bay, then again from Earl's Cove, depending if you want to stay on the Lower Sunshine Coast or visit the Upper Sunshine Coast. But it takes less time to get there than it does to drive from downtown Vancouver to the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen and sail over to Vancouver Island. Still, it does seem more people plan trips to the island than they do the Sunshine Coast.

Frankly, I'm glad there is not too much traffic up and down the Sunshine Coast Highway. The highway is mainly a two-lane road, so it can be backed up at times, at least close to ferry arrivals/departures.

The drive itself is beautiful, once you get away from the ferry landing at Langdale.

I've made four trips there in the seven years I've lived in Vancouver, and I feel I haven't even scraped the surface on exploring the area. There are so many things to see and do there...

Want to go sea kayaking? It's not hard, because the Pacific Ocean is your constant companion on any journey up the coast. There are several companies based along the coast, including Half Moon Sea Kayaks on the lower coast, and Powell River Sea Kayak on the upper coast.

One of the stops along the way,
Desolation Sound Marine Park

If you're a hardcore hiker, there's always the Sunshine Coast Trail. While not as well known or publicized as its older, bigger brother, the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, it offers much to those who love spending time in the outdoors.

Looking for a great resort to stay at? Go to Rockwater Secret Cove Resort, where you can try your hand at "glamping" in their luxurious tenthouse suites. Along the upper coast, Desolation Sound Resort offers kayaking/dining packages when you stay in their chateaus.

If you're looking for something a bit more private, Moon Dance Cabin provides a secluded, bay front getaway that is still very close to any services you may require.

Moon Dance Cabin: secluded yet not isolated.

Just because you're outside the city, doesn't mean there's not good food. The Laughing Oyster offers some incredible meals; their beef wellington is second to none.

Looking for a spa experience, with a bit of other outdoor activity like kayaking or hiking? Painted Boat Spa and Resort can fill that bill.

As I'm looking back at what I've written here, I'm struck by the feeling that it reads like just another tourism ad, a case of a writer shilling for something. But quite frankly, most of this stuff I've experienced myself, on my own, booked by myself, paid for by moi - so it's not like I'm trying to be overly optimistic and positive to please or impress tourism reps. Also, I am not necessarily endorsing all of the companies with links listed here -  those are just included to give you an idea where to start.

Yes, even given that caveat, it still may sound like I'm promoting the area shamelessly. Fair enough, believe what you will. It's just that it is very hard not to write effusively about my travels there because they really have been magical.

When all is said and done, there really is some kind of mystic charm to the region that has to be experienced to understand. It has to be felt in person in order to appreciate what the Sunshine Coast is all about.

But don't take my word for it. Hop in your car, jump on a ferry and see for yourself. And don't be surprised if you find yourself coming back, again and again and again ...

Paddling the Sunshine Coast near Painted Boat Spa