Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Another Lower Mainland natural gem discovered

It's a sin we're all guilty of, I think, knowing about a cool place that's close to where we live, a place we keep intending to visit, but somehow never managing to find the time or inclination to make it there.

I guess "sin" is probably too strong a word. But so often if we do eventually make it to such a place, we often mentally flagellate ourselves for not going there sooner.

I had one of those moments this past weekend.

I'd known about the Maplewood Flats Conservation Area for almost as many years as I've lived in Vancouver (nine and counting). It kept popping up on my radar but I never, ever seemed to make it out there. 

The only reason I went out there this time was because plans to visit another natural area fell through the works due to a series of unforeseen events. But, needing a nature fix, I finally decided we should pay a visit to Maplewood.

Greeted by a heron
Within minutes of jumping out of the car, before even getting to the entrance way to the trails, we spotted a great blue heron, sunning on the rocks in a pond by the parking lot. 

Seeing wildlife that soon into an outing as always a good sign, at least as far as I'm concerned.

Managed by the Wild Bird Trust of B.C., Maplewood Flats is a parcel of land in North Vancouver, about 300 acres in size, bordered on the south and east boundaries by the Burrard Inlet. Access is off the Dollarton Highway (south side), just a few kilometres east of the Second Narrows Bridge.

It only took 20 minutes to drive there, right from our front door to the entrance way, so it's very close. Yet once you walk a few minutes into the area, you'd never know you were so close to a large metropolitan area. Mind you, that's just my first impression, and we didn't explore much of the area's 3 km of trails. We basically headed for the one that took us right out to the eastern shore, on Burrard Inlet.

Then the show began.

An osprey looks for supper...
We'd hardly arrived at the mud flats when we looked up and saw an osprey chasing after a bald eagle.  Apparently, the eagle had flown a little too close to the osprey next (there are at least three along there, built on old pilings formerly used to secure log booms.) 

The volunteer greeter had told us there had been a new baby eagle born there this spring, but this was an adult being harassed by the much smaller osprey. This round went to the osprey.

We just sat and soaked up the sunshine, watched a few kayakers paddled across the inlet in the distance and then out of the sky appeared one-two-three more ospreys.

We watched one of them hover high up in the air, scanning the water for fish, then swoosh! splash! It quickly transitioned from practically motionless to jet-like speed to nail what looked like a flounder or some other kind of fish then flew off with its prize, probably to share with its babies.

Birds do it, bees do it...

Sitting in the shade of a small mountain ash, we listened to the water lapping at the shore, enjoyed the scent of the ocean on our nostrils, enjoyed watching the bees buzz around the flowers that dotted the edge of the woods, just luxuriated in the solitude, the peace, the quiet...

Because we'd had a late start, all too soon, it was time to go. But after hearing stories from other visitors about the otter family and the deer that live in Maplewood, we vowed it would not be long before me made a return journey, so we could - to parrot Jewel Akens - spend some more time enjoying "the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees..."

It certainly will not take us another eight years to get here, as it did our first visit...

Friday, August 3, 2012

There is magic in kids' camps

This time of year - the mid-way point of the two-month summer school break - I almost always find myself reminiscing about summers past, and in particular, going to camp as a kid.

You may be wondering, well, fine - but what does that have to do with travel?

In my case, plenty. 

In fact, it would not be too big a stretch to say going to camp as a kid is one of the key factors that propelled me into a career of travel writing.

Bear in mind, much of the travel I write about involves getting out-of-doors, into nature, seeking adventure - and often doing so by canoe or kayak or occasionally, whitewater raft. There is also often a conservation angle or aspect to it. There is good reason for that...

It really all does go back to that first summer at Camp Richildaca in southern Ontario, where I learned to paddle a canoe on a small pond on the day camp's property.

Richildaca Canoe Pond (Photo by Alexandra Heilbron)
Of such things, careers are made...

I also learned the sport of archery, rode my first horse, went on my first nature hike, cooked my first meal over an open fire and slept in a tent for the first time at Richildaca.

Oh, yeah - I learned to swim there, too - kind of an important skill to develop if you plan on spending a lot of time paddling on lakes, rivers and oceans around the world.

Yes, it would be not to big a stretch to say the two-week periods I spent there over three successive summers made a big impact on who and what I became as an adult. Ditto, the successive two camp periods I spent at the Haliburton Scout Reserve.

Without the love of the outdoors, that desire to hike and paddle and seek adventure in the wilderness, I just might be another old sports writer (I did it for 15 years before turning to travel writing), or, worse still - (shudder!) a history teacher.

Chow time! at Haliburton Scout Reserve
Nothing wrong with history teachers, by the way - I'd probably make a good one - but my interest in elementary school North American colonial history (and its associated adventure) combined with my love of the outdoors really did send me down a path that involved a fairly l-o-n-g detour into the University of New Brunswick's Bachelor of Science Forestry program, the eventual earning of a business degree - and a career in radio and print sports journalism for 15 years. 

My move into journalism really is the result of some encouragement from a first-year friend at UNB, Dan Arsenault, someone I'm still friends with today. He coaxed me into joining CHSR, the campus radio station. I did; eventually I also began writing for the Brunswickan, UNB's student newspaper.

Even going to UNB, the launching pad for my journalism career, was actually another case of Richildaca synchronicity: when I worked as a junior forest ranger in Gogama, Ontario during the summer of 1973, the head foreman recommended UNB as a good place to go for forestry if I didn't want to stay in Ontario.

Paddling on Azure Lake, as a junior forest ranger
The entire time I worked as a sports journalist, I still loved camping, canoeing, getting out-of-doors. Eventually, my sense of adventure took me paddling in Belize (where I encountered my first wild parrots!), and it was not long after that I started down the path of becoming a travel writer.

I don't know that any of that would have gone quite that way if I hadn't gone to Camp Richildaca when I was eight years old, and picked up a canoe paddle for the very first time.

I had no clue then that I was essentially beginning to paddle down a path that would make me one of those fortunate souls who gets to "work" by wandering the world in search of stories to write and photos to take. My inclinations and career have taken me to Africa, South America, the Caribbean, Malaysia, Thailand, Hawaii, the Canary Islands...

Zipping down Thailand's River Kwai in a canoe

Richildaca is gone now, the original owners passed away. New ownership and management have developed a new camp on the same site, the Kettleby Valley Camp, and it continues to offer outdoor experiences for children and young teens, helping them develop new skills and interests, helping them make new memories.

So if you're thinking about sending your kids to camp, and you're not quite sure whether to do it or not, why not just let the kids decide? Let them try it, at least for one summer. If they don't like it, they won't want a repeat.

Even if it does not lead to a career, chances are, they'll build some pretty good memories.

And, really there's no telling where that experience may lead them in life...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Big firs, smaller furs and feathers on Vancouver Island

Why did I get the feeling I was stuck in the intro to the old Friendly Giant TV show for kids?

Probably because I was looking up  ... w-a-y up.

But of course, that's what you do when you visit Cathedral Grove - you look way up into the towering Douglas fir trees that make up the grove. Some of them are more than 800 years old. To put that into perspective, they have been around for almost 300 years before Columbus landed in the Caribbean. They have been around since the Magna Carta was signed. They have been around as long as people have been jumping in boats with paddles. They have been around almost as long as the Toronto Maple Leafs' Stanley Cup drought. (Well, okay, maybe they're a little older than that...)

While it may be difficult to wrap our heads around something that old, it's certainly not difficult to see these Doug-firs are some big honkin' trees. One of the largest is more than nine metres (that's 10 yards) around at the base, the distance of one first down in football.

As for the height...let's just say that even if the aforementioned Friendly Giant teamed up with the Jolly Green Giant and Giant-Man, and they formed a human ladder by standing on each other's shoulders, they would still not be able to put the star on the top of most of these Christmas trees.

Although it is a grove, and it's located away from some of Vancouver Island's larger cities, with all the tourists that frequently visit the site, it certainly does not boast a cathedral-like ambiance, at least in terms of quiet and meditative qualities.

Walking through Cathedral Grove
It actually reminded me of rush hour in downtown Vancouver, there was so much traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian - just more trees. And it was barely summer season (the long weekend in May, to be exact). 

Despite all that, it is spectacular to see.

I spent part of a day there with Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours as part of the company's Spirit of the Animal Ancestors tour. (This tour has since been dropped, and replaced by the very similar Ancient Forest Grove Nature Ecotour)

Following a pick-up at the Quality Resort Bayside located in Parksville, it was a fairly quick drive, just 25 km west on Highway 4, and we were there.

We had an aboriginal guide, Tom, who took us through the forest and explained what the area had meant to his people, sharing stories from his culture.
After we were finished having our breaths taken away, we headed back the way we'd come - but not all the way back. First, we paid a visit to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association, a wildlife rescue-and-rehab facility located outside of Parksville, on Leffler Road in Errington.

Heron diorama in the nature museum
There we saw some display dioramas in the facility's museum of nature as well as many of the animals they were in the process of rehabilitating, including a black bear, some eagles and a rare white raven, in enclosures outside the museum. (No parrots, though - saw them earlier in the day at the World Parrot Refuge .

Again, because we were early in the season, we did not have the opportunity to watch any of the live raptor shows which take place during the summer months.

Then it was time to leave, and say good-bye to the eagles, hawks, ravens - and let's not forget Rusty the Rooster...

A happy ending for this healed bald eagle.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Enjoying the great outdoors ... comfortably

I never thought I'd be thinking this - never mind putting it in writing - but as I've passed the 50-year-mark in my life, I actually think I would prefer sleeping in something other than a tent while enjoying overnight outdoor adventures.

There. I've said it.

But although I'd prefer to sleep on something softer than the ground and with washroom facilities that I DON'T have to step outside to use, I'm not quite ready to go all "hotel-chic" yet.

While I have certainly enjoyed glamping, the destinations that offer this option can be pricey - certainly pricier than pitching a tent and cooking over a campfire in a provincial park (although even that is getting more expensive, these days).

There area other alternatives to camping and glamping, though.

Canoeing Quiniscoe Lake

For example: if you want to spend time hiking in Cathedral Provincial Park in the British Columbia interior, you can choose to camp there, as the park provides both vehicle access and walk-in campsites.

Or, you can stay in cabins at Cathedral Lakes Lodge.

The lodge is rustic - we're not talking five-star accommodation, here - but it provides quick and easy access to several trails in the park and even an opportunity to do some canoeing on the lake.

It also provides simple but hearty home-baked fare for hungry hikers staying there. The staff can also help you plan your hikes. And at the end of the day, you can enjoy a soak in the hot tub in the main lodge, relaxing and soothing your muscles after a day of trekking up and down mountain trails.

(Take note, if you stay there, they do shut down the power generators at night, so if you require something like a CPAP machine, you'll have to bring a battery pack or make special arrangements with the staff to leave your room "on" at night, which they will do for you.)

The lodge itself provides transportation to and from a pick-up point 20 minutes from the town of Keremeos. The road is steep and rough enough you will not want to take your own vehicle from the Ashnola River to the lodge. In other words, "Don't make a fuss, leave the driving to us!" is a good catch-phrase to follow.

As for the hiking itself...

Cozy time!

You can choose from trails that offer a variety of distances and difficulties, taking you to some incredible alpine viewpoints of lakes, forests and mountains.

You can also encounter a variety of wildlife; while staying there for three days, we saw several pikas, squirrels, some mule deer and many different birds, including Canada jays (whiskey jacks), woodpeckers and birds of prey like eagles.

Glacier Lake
The trails are all well-marked, so there's very little chance of getting lost. However, you are very high in the mountains, so be prepared all kinds of weather. 

We visited there in September, and alternately experienced rain, snow and warm sunshine on successive days. But the views were certainly worth braving the elements...

Regardless of what your hiking level or experience is, you'll certainly appreciate being able to wind up your day, curled up by a roaring fireplace in the evening without having to chop the wood or start the fire yourself.

That's especially enjoyable at Cathedral Lakes Lodge, as there are no televisions or telephones there to distract from the experience!

And then there is that bed you're climbing into, instead of a sleeping on a camp cot or an air mattress....

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wanderlust runs through my family genes: a mom's day blog

I'm not the only one in my family to be bitten by the travel bug, apparently.

Mother's Day is upon us, and it's always a bit of a sad day for me, since my mom has been gone since 2007. In fact, the entire second quarter of the year is always a bit rough, since my mom's birthday is in April, her funeral services took place a few days after what would have been her 80th birthday, and that's followed by Mother's Day in May. It repeats in June, since my dad's birthday, Father's Day and his passing (on Father's Day Eve, 1992) all fall in that month.

Suffice to say, I'm really glad when the calendar hits July.

Last year, I chronicled some of my travels with my dad. I really didn't travel much with my mom, unless it was the three of us, together, as a family. Most early travel involved either going to a cottage we rented, or later on, camping in places like Sibald Point Provincial Park on Lake Simcoe or Outlet Beach Provincial Park on Lake Ontario.

However, we did make a big journey in July 1967, driving from Newmarket, Ontario (near Toronto) to Montreal to attend Expo '67 and visit some good friends who lived there.
For me, as a 10-year-old, Expo was of secondary interest; I was really keen on seeing Fort Henry in Kingston, followed by a trip to Upper Canada Village, located near the community of Morrisburg.

Dad and Mom - set to board our car
and head off to Montreal in 1967.
After that, my family's next big trip did not involve me; my mom and dad drove across Canada from Toronto to Victoria and back home again through the U.S. while I was working as a
junior forest ranger in the town of Gogama in northern Ontario. I didn't regret missing the trip, as 1973 proved to be one of the best summers of my life - still is, years later.

A few years later, I was off to UNB and higher education and the only traveling I did involved flying back and forth from Ontario to Fredericton, N.B. for school.

During that time frame, my parents divorced, my dad eventually remarried. Without me around, 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.

However, my mom travelled much more extensively to many more places than did my dad. Dad and his wife Carole often holidayed in Florida each spring. Their one big trip was to the Mediterranean, including stops in Greece and Turkey the year before his passing. He wasn't really fond of air travel, especially long distances which made him feel a bit claustrophobic.

Meanwhile, my mom - who never re-married - began taking regular trips to to Florida, and Hawaii. But in addition to those destinations, she also cruised the Caribbean and vacationed in Mexico as well as three South American countries (none of which I've visited!): Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil. She often travelled with a girlfriend, or in a group of friends and family.

And she always brought me back something really neat, a special gift she thought I'd like from her trips. I still have Hawaiian bookends made from lava, a little wall plaque from Mexico, ball caps from Columbia and Venezuela. And while I treasured those mementos while she was alive, I treasure them even more now that she's gone.
Cool Aztec art - a present from my mom's
Mexican journey
Her last journey of any distance was to Newfoundland, and I remember her remarking about the moose she saw in Gros Morne National Park.

So you see, my true wanderlust really comes more from my mom than my dad.

The years I have spent without her have given me a new perspective about her - her experiences, her approach to life, and her sense of adventure.

Yes, "sense of adventure." That's not a phrase I often think of when I remember my mom. Memories are often painted on emotional pallets, colouring the facts with other perceptions. But when you actually look at the facts, she must have had quite the sense of adventure to go on all those journeys without a husband or boyfriend for companionship and protection. While you wouldn't find her paddling an outrigger canoe in Hawaii, or chasing after parrots in the jungles of South America, she certainly didn't shy away from travelling internationally to those places - and on more than one occasion.

But, of course, she was still my mother, I was still her only son - and when she was still alive and I began to travel internationally, her concern for me would manifest itself, sometimes in funny ways.

My first international trip took me to Belize and she sent me a funny going away card; however, when she found out I was going to Africa for more than a month, she became extremely worried something bad would happen to me. Her fears were based more on what she remembers from old Tarzan movies of the 1930's than modern-day concerns of terrorism and disease. I remember just about falling off my chair laughing when she said she was afraid that "guys with tomahawks" would "get me."

After I returned safely, she seemed less concerned about any future trips I took (to Ecuador in 2002, for example). And as her health declined after that year, her concerns were less about where I was going and more about just trying to cope with the daily struggles of what eventually was diagnosed as myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS, formerly known as pre-leukemia).

Mom and I shared more than a few hot dogs -
like this time in Fish Creek Park, Calgary -
but never shared a trip together as adults.
Looking back, I really regret not having ever travelled with her anywhere. We always did interesting and fun things when she visited me, wherever I lived out west, but during the last few years, she was not even well enough to do anything but come out to visit - the plane ride between Alberta/BC and Toronto was tough enough for her.

So we never really travelled anywhere together, as adults.

And of course, we never will.

So if your mother is still alive, treasure the time you have with her - and if her health allows it, plan an adventure, go travel with her. Even if it's just for a few days, take a trip. It doesn't have to be anything exotic or far away - just travel and spend some quality time with the person who brought you into this world.

That way, you'll build even more memories to sustain you on tough days like Mother's Day or her birthday, after she is gone and you can no longer spend time with her.

And whether she's still here, or gone, don't forget - never forget - to say those five words that mean so much to any mother.

I love you. Thanks, Mom.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Nouvelle cuisine, move over: old-style rules at King's Landing

I remember, doing the Time Warp...

Well, not really - but you need to cut me a bit of slack and forgive me if I sound a bit delusional, imagining I've gone back in time.

But it sure seemed like we'd been transported back a couple of hundred years or so, as our group got off the bus for our annual Travel Media Association of Canada 2012 conference's "Dine Around" event.
Riding shotgun, I really wanted to yell,
 "Cue the Budweiser theme!" - but didn't.
(The event sends groups of travel professionals to various eateries around the conference host city, without telling them beforehand where they'll be eating.)

As we got off our shuttle bus, we were greeted by a lady in a bonnet and a dress that probably went out of style the same time men's tricorn hats ceased to be considered fashionable.

After introducing herself, she led us to our waiting transportation - an old red wooden wagon with a pair of draft horses yoked to it.

However, this was not Busch Stadium in St. Louis, so I had to refrain from asking where the Budweiser was being chilled and try not to hum the organ music played there whenever the Cards are in a rally.

Our two-horsepower wagon took us on a tour around the village and finished up at the King's Head Tavern, where we were to eat our dinner.

By now, you may have figured out that although I may be delusional for other reasons, I was not imagining that we'd gone back in time; rather, we were guests at
Kings Landing, a re-created historical village on the banks of the St. John River.

However, we would not get our dinner for free - like troubadours of old, we had to play for our dinner, that is to say, we had to provide percussion on spoons and Bodhran (Irish) drums for Michelle and Don, the entertainment committee for King's Landing.

After trying our best not to mess up the duo's singing, guitar-playing and fiddling too badly with our less-than-rhythmic drumming and spooning, upstairs we went. 

Hmmm..mmm...they look a lot like that crazy lady and mad maestro...

That's when it got really crazy...

We're sitting waiting for our salads and drinks, when this really strange lady screams and runs into the room, sits on the floor and proceeds to tell us how she's lost her maestro, then lists off all the rules of etiquette she's broken.

She tears off into another room, and she must have found him, because in a few minutes, she's back, male in tow. The maestro looks almost as crazy as she does - his hair looks a little bit like one of the wacky scientists from the TV show Ancient Aliens. (If you've seen the show, you'll know who I mean; if you haven't, you won't want to look - it might hurt your eyes.)

Anyway, they kept reappearing and disappearing throughout the course of our evening, she begging to be his protege, he constantly refusing. In the end, she composed herself enough to trick him into marriage, and presumably they lived happily ever after.

Meanwhile, we were enjoying a wonderful comfort-food meal, cooked completely old-style: roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes, green beans, carrots, salad and home-baked brown molasses bread. It was all washed down with red or white wine - or, if you prefer malt to grapes, a pint of Simeon Jones' ale, a specialty product made by the Fredericton-based Picaroon's.

"Where's my maestro?"
That was all capped off with coffee or tea, some warm gingerbread with whipped cream - and a tasty alternative to pumpkin pie: Maple brandy squash pie.

The food was excellent, but the entertainment really made the meal.

Michelle (minus the crazy) and Don (minus the weird hair) performed a few more rousing numbers for us, then it was time to click our heals together, repeat, "There's no place like TMAC" several times, and lo-and-behold! we found ourselves back in our own century, on our bus heading back to the City of Stately Elms.

Want to see some pictures from our meal? Go to my Facebook album, A Culinary Visit to the Past.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Losing my virginity on the Miramichi

You may have seen the movie Dances with Wolves...and perhaps you've heard of the "running with the bulls" that takes place in Pamplona, Spain, every year.

Well, now I'll share with you a new experience: snickered at by salmon.

There's nothing quite like it ... especially when you can almost swear they're sticking their tongues out at you as they jump all around your boat. But I'm getting ahead of myself, here.

So after learning to tie flies two days ago, then getting a lesson in fly-casting the next day, it was time to put all that learning to the ultimate test: it was time to try to catch fish with a fly rod.
My technique needs work ...

As I've mentioned previously, I've never fly-fished before, never even held a fly rod in my hand.

But today, I am no longer a fly-fishing virgin.

However, whether or not the loss of this virginity was a pleasant experience all depends on how you define "pleasant."

I was the last of our group to head out; the first two came back with no bites, but some good photos and videos of other anglers landing salmon. The next two both caught big fish (and have the pictures to prove it).

Then, it was my turn.

I headed out with Brian Peterson, my guide for the afternoon, and we zipped down the Miramichi River to our first pool of the day.

And once I began casting, it was obvious that my technique needed some work. I only tangled the line, oh, 10 or 12 times (the first 15 minutes) and missed my guide with every cast but one (hey, it was barely embedded into the back of his shell, and came out easily leaving just a pinprick of a hole - and like Brian said, "Couldn't have been that bad if I didn't feel it...")

The fish were there - they were jumping - they just weren't jumping to bite my fly.
Guide Brian Peterson steers us downriver

At one point, needing to take some pictures and videos of someone actually fishing, I traded places with Brian and he started casting.

That's when a salmon nailed the hook.

Brian said, "You want to play this one?" and so of course, I immediately exchanged my camera for the rod.

It was about a three to four pound fish I had on my line. Following Brian's exhortations, I kept the tip of my rod pointed up and and the line tight. The fish jumped - once, then twice - a beautiful flash of piscine silver splashing in and out of the water, as I worked to reel him in.

He got closer and closer ... Brian got the net ready to bring him into the boat ... and then the fish spit out the fly and was gone.

No, I don't have pictures or videos to prove it - other than the one featured here of Brian asking me if I want to play it - so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Lemmee at that fish!

And another thing: unless you're a New Brunswick resident, and unless the fish you catch is a grilse (a salmon that has returned to fresh water after a single winter at sea) the practice for all salmon fishing on the Miramichi is catch-and-release.

So as far as I'm concerned, I caught it - I just released it a bit earlier than is usual, that's all. And, hey - don't a lot of virgins have a problem with early release?

Anyway, they continued to jump, tease and at least metaphorically, if not literally, stick their tongues out at us. No more bites were forthcoming, even though my casting did improve a bit over the course of the 2-1/2 hours I spent on the river.

Still, it was a good day. I spent it on the river, and to modify that old maxim about fishing, a bad day spent on the river beats a good day doing pretty much anything else. And this was anything but a bad day.

And like another fly fishing guide, Bev Gaston, told us: "A day spent fishing the Miramichi doesn't count as a day of your life."

So I not only did my bit to prolong the lives of Miramichi salmon, I also added a day to mine.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Casting flies before...salmon?

So once we'd learned to tie flies, Sunday (and I use the term "learn" very loosely!) the next logical step in becoming a fly fisher is learning how to cast.
Learning about salmon

Like fly-tying, it can often be easier said than done.

Before we ventured out to the river in front of the Atlantic Salmon Museum , we took a tour of the museum.

If you're interested in salmon, fish or fishing in general, or just general conservation, it's definitely a "must-do" on your list.

It comes complete with dioramas, a hall of fame (including famous Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams - a long time regular and visiting angler in this area), video displays, 3D models, maps, a library collection devoted solely to fishing, and, of course, fish - including a life-sized replica of the largest Atlantic salmon ever caught: 72 lbs, 68-1/2 inches long. There is also an on-site aquarium.

It's a great place to get you excited about fly-fishing - even if you've never done it before.

Bev Gaston, a longtime guide on the Miramichi, was our group instructor. He kept things very simple and very positive. And lo and behold, it actually turned out to be a bit easier than tying flies. We all got the technique down pretty quickly  - at least, casting on dry land with no flies.

Bev Gaston shares some tips

But as our instructor explained, it becomes a lot different when you try it in a boat or even on land when you have to contend with a wind and the current of the river. We quickly discovered that when we tried casting into the river. And with a strong wind blowing.

Still, we were hopeful we might be able to actually do some real fishing. As to whether or not we'd actually catch anything... well, that remains to be seen.

The ins and outs of salmon
In my next blog post, I'll be reporting on how we made out.

Now of course, I'm hoping that I won't end up flapping my arms about like a parrot in a huff when we head out in the boat (not a canoe, we can't paddle this trip because of the high river) to actually try some real fishing, on the Miramichi River.

Here's hoping I can reel something in... (besides an old boot, of course!)

Be sure to tune in next post, same bat-time, same bat-channel.

Monday, April 30, 2012

This house is REALLY Smokin'!

But then, what else would you expect from a salmon smokehouse?

To be more precise, the Miramichi Smokehouse, in Doaktown, N.B.

Just a few minutes' drive down the road from the Atlantic Salmon Museum, it's a natural fit to pop in for a visit to the smokehouse if you're in the neighborhood, checking out the museum.( Especially if you've just sampled some of their delicious smoked salmon the night before!)
Let's go smoke some salmon!

Now I'm not a huge fan of smoked salmon; however, this was the best I've ever tasted.

Most of the time, this particular food has an overpowering smoky taste, which I don't care for.

However, this salmon is cold-smoked (smoked longer at a cooler temperature) as opposed to hot-smoked (smoked faster at a higher temperature), and it does make a difference. And for the smoking process, they use hickory wood chips.

The flavor of this salmon is much more delicate than any other I've ever tasted, it's not nearly as strong.

The other aspect of this business I found to be really cool is the fact the owner also builds and sells cedar strip canoes through Oak Ledge Canoes.

One of them - a beautifully crafted red canvas cedar strip canoe - is on display in the front office of the smokehouse. Just looking at it made me want to pick it up, portage it across the road and go for a paddle in the Miramichi River.

Anyone for a paddle?
At first glance, that seems like a bit of an odd combination of businesses to be involved in. 

But if you give it a little bit of thought, it makes sense, do have to fish for the salmon to smoke it, and it does help to have a boat to fish in. (Not that they really do it that way, but it has a nice ring to it.)

The business just opened in December 2011, and they are already exporting their product to Montreal and Toronto. Down the road, they are working at exporting to India and China.

While visiting, I took a tour of the facility, being shown the various steps and machines used to create the end product.

Now while I don't know much more about how they smoke salmon than what I've described here, I do know the salmon from the Miramichi Smokehouse tastes awfully good, especially when it's served up on crackers with cream cheese

And I also know that these are crackers I do not intend to share with Polly - or any other parrot, for that matter ...

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tying one on - Miramichi style

Okay, so here's the deal:

I've never been fly-fishing in my life.

I've been fishing with tackle, spin-casting from shore, from boats and canoes; I've been deep-sea fishing in the Florida Keys; but I have never even picked up a fly rod.

That's why the next few days in New Brunswick should be interesting.

I'm staying at the O'Donnell's Cottages in Doaktown, N.B. on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River.

And I'm here to fly fish  - or at least to try to learn how to fly fish. And if my first day is any indication, it's going to be a steep learning curve for Yours Truly.

Outside the Atlantic Salmon Museum.
After settling in at the lodge, the group I was traveling with headed to the Atlantic Salmon Museum to learn all about this fish, the N.B. sport fishing industry in general - and how to actually tie flies.

Greeted warmly by Linda Gaston, the museum's executive director, she quickly introduced us to Bev Gaston, the man who'll be guiding us around the next few days. He in turn introduced us to Kim Mertens, fly tyer. (Hey, that's what her business card says!)

She ties flies. She also runs several programs that teach kids how to tie flies - kids as young as five - to get them interested in the outdoors.

Let me tell you, those kids could probably tie better flies than me.

It's not an easy art to master. Apparently, to be able to make money at it, you have to be able to tie at least 10 an hour.

 Kim shows the art of fly-tying

Well, I won't be quitting my day job any time, soon - it took more than an hour to tie one, as my attempts at parroting Kim's moves were pretty lame - and then only with a lot of patient help from Kim was I able to complete it. By the time she was done helping fix my fly faux-pas, it almost looked reasonable.

My fly - in all it's ... glory?
Yeah, I'd pretty much starve if I had to do this for a living.

But we sure were not starving when it came to dinner at the museum. They re-created a typical fishing camp meal for us, complete with steamed salmon, fiddleheads, fried potatoes, home-baked biscuits, corn bread and molasses cookies. And this was after we'd had smoked salmon and cream cheese canapés earlier.
It's a good thing they'd already caught the fish, 'cause if I'd had to rely on my fly to catch supper, I'd still be out on the river.

At some point, we're supposed to do some paddling, on the Miramichi; too, and I know I can do that, all right ... but for now, I have to focus on getting this fly-fishing stuff down pat.

Up next: We learn how to fly-cast...I just hope I'm better at casting than I am at tying.

Guess I'll find out tomorrow ...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Never mind the 'other' travel bucket lists - make your own!

So I'm sitting perusing through my Newsfeed on Facebook. I notice another post from a friend who uses the app called "The Travel List Challenge." I checked it and saw that I've only ticked off SIX (yup, 6!) of the so-called Top 100 Places to See Before You Die.

That strikes me as odd, since I am a travel writer, I've been to five of the world's seven continents and had wonderful experiences. I'm scratching my head, pondering this, thinking, "Jeez, I guess I haven't really been to all that many amazing places..." - and then it hits me: this is just someone else's arbitrary list.

Just because someone else thinks the places on this list are "must-do's" does not mean they have to be "must-do's" for anyone else.

So I sat down to write my own list. Except it's a bit different; it's My OWN Travel Top 100 List of Places to See/Experiences to Enjoy Before I Die - but it's split in two: Places/experiences I've already enjoyed; and places/experiences I still want to enjoy.
Making my list, checking it twice -
will my next trip be knotty or gneiss?

You may notice the latter list is a bit longer than the former. But hey, there are always new places, new experiences we want to try, so the list is always growing. Actually, both lists grow, since every experience gets shifted back from one list to the other once it's "in the bag" so to speak. It's just that thinking of new things to do always happens quicker and easier than actually experiencing them. And if you're really alive, you should always be adding new things to the second half of your list.

By the way, I almost hesitate to use the term "in the bag," as there can be a connotation associated with that term that I'm just bagging trips (similar to the "peak-bagging" mind-set of some amateur mountain climbers) to add to my list. These are all experiences I genuinely would love to enjoy while I'm still on this planet, though. Maybe I will, maybe I won't - but it sure won't be for lack of trying.

Anyway, here's my list:

My OWN Travel Top 100 List of Places to See/Experiences to Enjoy Before I Die

  1. Gone scuba diving with sharks in Maui.
  2. Rode a hot air balloon across the Serengeti, Africa.
  3. Seen gorillas in the wild in central Africa.
  4. Camped and game viewed in the Serengeti, Africa.
  5. Visited Machu Picchu.
  6. Seen wild parrots at clay licks in South America.
  7. Canoed the Okefenokee Swamp among the alligators and wonderful bird life.
  8. Whitewater rafted in North America.
  9. Whitewater rafted in South America.
  10. Whitewater rafted in Africa.
  11. Rode elephants in Asia.
  12. Seen orang-utans in the wild, in Asia.
  13. Mushed dog sleds through the Canadian Rockies.
  14. Taken an ocean cruise on one of the big cruise ships.
  15. Visited Mayan ruins in Central America.
  16. Kayaked the Florida Everglades.
  17. Ridden a train from one coast of Canada to the other.
  18. Paddled on multi-day trips in six of the 10 Canadian provinces.
  19. Rode down the Chao Phraya River, Thailand, on a converted rice barge from the ancient capital Ayuthaya to the modern capital Bangkok.
  20. Experienced Tiger Temple in Thailand.
  21. Paddled in the Amazon jungle (Ecuador).
  22. Camped and paddled (multi-day trip) in the desert (specifically, the Alberta badlands.)
  23. Snorkelled with wild dolphins in the ocean surrounding Hawaii (the Big Island).
  24. Gone for a submarine ride, Maui.
  25. Gone “sea-walking” (~ deep-sea diving) in Borneo.
  26. Seen grizzly and black bears feeding at a salmon run in Alaska.
  27. Gone deep-sea fishing in the Florida Keys.
  28. Flown falcons and hawks in a “falconer for the day” experience on Vancouver Island.
  29. Paddled among alligators in Florida on the Econ River.
  30. Snow shoed in Gatineau Park, Canada.
  31. Hiked along the coast of Naikoon Provincial Park, Queen Charlotte Islands, B.C., Canada.
  32. Gone “glamping” at the Rockwater Secret Cove Resort, Sunshine Coast, B.C., Canada.
  33. Whitewater rafted through Hell’s Gate on B.C.’s Fraser River.
  34. Taken a multi-day horseback riding trip in the Canadian Rockies.
  35. Paddled to Grey Owl’s cabin in Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan.
  36. Gone horseback riding in the Peruvian Andes.
  37. Spent a night in the Presidential Suite at the Shangi-La, Putrajaya.
  38. Visited the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
  39. Flown in an open cockpit biplane (just like the World War I flying ace!)
Got sharks?

To do:
  1. See wild tigers from elephant back in Royal Chitwan National Park.
  2. Stay in the treetops accommodations at Royal Chitwan National Park.
  3. See wild African grey parrots in central Africa.
  4. Whitewater rafting in Asia.
  5. Whitewater rafting in Australia.
  6. Whitewater rafting in Europe.
  7. Ride camels across the dessert.
  8. Sail down the Nile on a felucca.
  9. Ride the Orient Express.
  10. Ride the Eastern & Oriental Express.
  11. Stay in the Somerset Maugham Room in Bangkok’s Oriental Hotel.
  12. See komodo dragons in Indonesia.
  13. Mush dog sleds on an overnight trip, anywhere.
  14. See wild pandas in China.
  15. Take an ocean cruise on a tramp steamer in the seas off Southeast Asia.
  16. Travel to India on an ecoadventure. Paddle in multi-day trips in the other four Canadian provinces and the three Territories.
  17. Paddle in multi-day trips in the other four Canadian provinces and the three Territories.
  18. Visit the backwaters of Kerala (India).
  19. Ride the Palace on Wheels in India.
  20. Ride with Rovos Rail in Africa.
  21. Ride the Royal Scotsman in the UK.
  22. Ride horseback in Mongolia, and, if possible, hunt with golden eagles.
  23. Have a drink in Rick’s Café, Casablanca, Morocco (yes, it does exist!)
  24. Ride the Indian-Pacific Railway in Australia.
  25. See the Spirit Bears of Princess Royal Island, B.C., Canada.
  26. Swim with wild manatees in Florida.
  27. Kayak the Vava’u Islands in the south Pacific.
  28. Kayak in Halong Bay, Vietnam.
  29. Paddle the Mekong River in southeast Asia.
  30. Stay at the Canopy Tower in Panama.
  31. Canoe the Zambezi in Africa.
  32. Safari in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, Africa.
  33. Visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
  34. See the pyramids and Sphinx in Egypt.
  35. See the ancient Greek ruins like the Delphi Oracle and the Acropolis.
  36. Play baccarat in a casino, while wearing a tux and drinking a Vesper martini (Vegas or Monte Carlo, doesn’t matter).
  37. Go to the UK Spy School.
  38. Have a drink in the Kasbah in Algeria.
  39. Go storm-watching on Vancouver Island’s West Coast.
  40. Sail around the Caribbean (on a sailboat).
  41. Spend several days enjoying the outdoors at the King Pacific Lodge, B.C., Canada.
  42. Visit Stonehenge, UK.
  43. Visit Tintagel, UK, the purported birthplace of King Arthur.
  44. Visit Glastonbury Tor, the supposed original burial place of King Arthur.
  45. Take a Sherlock Holmes Tour of London, UK.
  46. Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, live.
  47. Go to a New York Jets’ home game.
  48. Go to a Kansas City Chiefs’ home game.
  49. Visit Petra, in Jordan.
  50. Visit Wadi Rum in Jordan (Lawrence of Arabia was filmed there).
  51. See wild cockatoos in Indonesia.
  52. Have a drink at the Raffles Hotel, in Singapore.
  53. Hike the Black Forest, in Germany.
  54. Sail in a Viking longship in a fjord in Norway.
  55. Smoke a cigar and drink rum at La Floridita, Havana, Cuba.
  56. Go to a St. Louis Cardinals home game.
  57. Spend an evening at the Explorers Club in New York.
  58. Attend Oktoberfest in Germany.
  59. Visit the Canadian Canoe Museum, in Peterborough, Ontario.
  60. Visit the National Aviary, in Pittsburgh, PA.
  61. See a sumo wrestling match in Tokyo, Japan.

Machu Picchu: it took my breath - literally.

Now that you've read it, maybe you recognize some things you've done, places you've been to - and places/experiences that I've listed here that you would also like to enjoy. That's cool.

But more important than that - go out and make your own "bucket list" of travel places/experiences that you genuinely want to enjoy - and don't worry about what's on mine or on anyone else's list.

Then go out and do them.