Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Solitude among the woods and waters of Nova Scotia

Morning mist on Mersey River.

There it was again. We had no idea what was making the noise 30 metres from our campsite, and we were not entirely certain we wanted to find out.

"It's probably a bear hunting for frogs," I said, hunkering down deeper in my sleeping bag.

"Bears don't eat frogs!" my companion replied from deep in her own sleeping bag.

"Do too!"

"Do not! Might be a moose, though."

"This isn't moose habitat! It's probably a bear … "

As it turned out, we were both right - sort of.  Later research revealed that black bears do indeed eat frogs. However, it was not a hungry bear on the prowl for the delicacy of frogs' legs. It turned out to be a bird - probably an osprey - diving for fish in Channel Lake's waters.

Channel Lake is part of a chain of waterways in the northwest corner of Kejimkujik National Park. Located in south-central NovaScotia, "Keji" is the only national park in the Maritimes completely surrounded by land, although there is a seaside adjunct apart from the park's main body. 

This 403-square kilometre island of wilderness is home to more than 100 species of birds; mammals such as deer, porcupine, moose - and yes, bear; and a variety of tree species, including oak, maple, hemlock, spruce and pine.
Sunset on Channel Lake

One of the best ways to experience the park is by canoe, on routes north or south of the large lake that gives the park its name. We paddled north of Kejimkujik for five days - partially following the route paddled by Albert Bigelow Paine in his book, The Tent Dwellers - through Big Dam Lake, Frozen Ocean Lake and Channel Lake before paddling back onto the main lake.

Because we paddled the park in early August - peak holiday season - we were surprised that three days passed without sight of another human. 

The first people we did see were two park rangers, performing routine backcountry campsite maintenance.

That's not to say we were lonely. 
Prickly Porky on the move
Porcupines, barred owls, deer and chipmunks visited our campsites. 

Paddling down the quiet waters of Still Brook, LittleRiver and West River, we encountered herons, a painted turtle, frogs, a mother loon and her baby, and a merganser family.

The unexpected solitude was a true gift. 

On our last night on the big lake, a lone loon swam past our Moose Island campsite, wailing her trademark cry, as if to say,"Farewell!" from the wilderness, eliciting a prayer of thanks from my own mouth.

(This story was originally published in the Summer 2001 edition of Ski Canada's Outdoor Guide.)

Post script: There's much more to the park than canoeing. It's also a national historic site, as this video shows.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Music one aspect of travel easy to pack home

The Doghouse Skiffle (jug) Band performs in Borneo.
One element of travel that is almost certain to be a part of any journey is the exposure to new and different kinds of music.

If you are in a foreign country, it's pretty much guaranteed that you will hear music different what you normally hear played at home (although that is changing these days, as our societies become more integrated and increasingly multi-cultural).

However, that can often be the case with domestic travel in North America, as well. The kind of traditional, local music you'll hear in Newfoundland or Saskatchewan will be decidedly different than that of what you may hear in New Mexico or Alabama.

Sometimes, though, you may be surprised at what you hear, abroad.

While we always associate a country's or a region's music with its culture, we may not always hear what we expect - and it can be a bit jarring, at times, albeit in a good way.

For example, a few years ago, I attended the Rainforest Music Festival in Borneo, Malaysia. The festival brings together musicians from all over the world. And while there are some local musicians that play there, it is actually quite a cornucopia of musical styles.

There was a jug band from Great Britain; an acapella singing group from Africa; and a bluegrass band from Oregon.

As I was listening to the latter play, I found it a bit jarring to the senses, almost surreal...I mean, here I was in a jungle in Borneo, listening to Foggy Mountain Breakdown, watching a large number of young Asian people bopping to music from half-a-world away as if they listened to it every day. Not exactly the image I pictured in my mind when I thought about what I might see when I was planning the trip.

I had seen some very good traditional Malaysian dance performances in Kuala Lumpur, a few nights before, so when you combine that with the festival`s musical fare and the music we enjoyed at a traditional Dyak village a few days later, it was certainly a well-rounded trip, musically speaking.

Some soft, quiet music at a Bangkok Hotel.

You would think because Thailand is so close to Malaysia geograpically, Thai music might be the same. While you might some similarities, you'll also find difference, again, depending on what region you're in, as it varies within the country.

Let's get energetic with some mariachi music.
Some of my favourite world music is that of the Andes Mountains of South America. There is something about that sound, something that really draws me into a place of joy whenever I hear it.

I can never get enough of it, and anytime I arrived at an airport in Peru, there seemed to be a Peruvian band with guitar, pan pipes, drums and all the other instruments used to produce the unique Andean song.

Another form of music that is always fun is that of Mexican music.

Whether it comes from a 12-piece mariachi band in a posh Mexican hotel or a simple duo singing from café to café on the beach, it's almost always recognizable and definitely full of energy.

Part of that energy comes from the music itself; but part of it also comes from the fact that it really and encourages participation by the audience.

Shades of Remington Steele, Season 2, Episodes 1-2

Without a doubt though, the music that haunts me most, the sound that has the most mystical appeal for me is that of the Middle East. I have never been to the Middle East, and given some of the safety issues involved in traveling there, I may never visit there - although I sincerely hope that is not the case.

Of course, you don't need to travel there to experience some of their music and the dance that goes along with it. Any number of Middle Eastern restaurants in most major North American cities often present belly dancers for their patrons on weekends, restaurants like Vancouver's Afghan Horseman, Toronto's Anatolia or Calgary's Casbah Restaurant. Still, that's not the same as experiencing it in-country, since a memory of music from another country will often stir more emotions than a memory of music in a restaurant in your hometown.

That's because one of the wonderful things about music you hear when you travel is the fact that when you get back home and hear music from that culture or country again, it transports you right back to that place, it's like you're reliving your trip all over again.

You may end up buying a few CD's of the local music to take home. But whether you take those with you or just return with the memories, it makes for some pretty light extras to the baggage. And these days, with all the extra fees added to carry-ons and checked bags, that's a welcome addition to any traveller's take-homes.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Fantasy and reality sometimes blend together in much of today's travel

Ready to quaff like Tyrion Lannister
The past few years, there's been a new sort of travel niche forming.

While "literary travel" has been around for quite some time - the practice of visiting real world places where literary events and stories have occurred - the 21st century has seen the rise of what, for lack of a better word, could be called "fantasy travel."

In past years, there were plenty of tours one could take to visit all the places in London where, for example, Sherlock Holmes used to practise the art and science of detection.

You can take a pre-scheduled, all-arranged tour, or just buy a book and use it as a guide, as there are several books that will offer readers a chance to follow in Holmes' footsteps.
This book helps you create your own Holmes tour.

On a wider scale, you can take similar tours with a King Arthur/Camelot theme. You can set them up with a tour company or even design your own, with stops at places like Glastonbury Tor, Tintagel, or Stonehenge, to name but a few.

I myself have done a "literary tour" of sorts, although it does not follow a fictional storyline, per se. A few years ago, I did my own "Papa Hemingway" tour around South Florida and the Keys, with stops that included The Everglades City Rod and Gun Club, Hemingway House, and Ernest's Cafe (now shut down, I understand) to name but a few. Even did a bit of deep-sea fishing.

I was following in the footsteps of the real-life author, though, not one of his books.

While there are many tours designed around visiting the haunts of historical or fictional figures, and plenty of books written to help guide would-be travellers around from place to place, ever since the start of the 21st century it seems people are interested in visiting not only real world places in imaginary stories, they want to go to the real-world locations of fictional places.

It all started with the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.

Once that first movie came out, tourism and travel interest in New Zealand exploded, with hordes of would-be elves, hobbits, and other fans of the movie descending upon that country located in the southern reaches of the planet to see the places where their beloved movies had actually been shot.

Lots of quaffing going on in these tours
It goes beyond just being in the locations; there are actually numerous tours set up for travellers to take, tours where they can even visit the old movies sets, even walk through Hobbiton.

Now that's taken an even bigger step forward since Game of Thrones hit the airwaves on HBO.

That series, now in it's sixth season, has spawned an incredible array of tours and activities all built around the fictional kingdom of Westeros. They are far too numerous to list them here; but there are bus tours and beer tours and trips to Ireland and Iceland, Croatia and Dubrovnik. The possibilities are as endless as Tyrion Lannister's taste for wine and wenches.

The closest I've ever come to experiencing anything like that was the Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament. But it's just a one-night activity, and if you're in a place like Toronto, it's right there.

On a bit different scale, there are all kinds of James Bond experiences to be had, as well. You can learn to drive like Bond, drink like Bond, there's even a seven-day world tour ultimate James Bond experience. Given the nature of the films, and their penchant for settings all over the world, this too is ripe with possibilities.

There's even a kayak tour in London where you can paddle into Q's secret workshop, for those who like a bit of outdoor adventure thrown into the mix. That's the kind of tour I'd be prone to enjoy. Go for a paddle, then quaff a few Vesper martinis.

Not your Johnny Depp type of pirates
Of course, on a lighter level, there are experiences ("rides") based on The Pirates of the Caribbean series.

Seen any pirates around, pal?
I've even been on a "pirate" experience myself, down in Mexico, during a trip to Puerto Vallarta.

(And yes,  I did meet a parrot in Mexico, while waiting at the dock - but it was not part of the pirate ship experience.) 

 That experience was not really related to the movie series at all, but probably benefited from it.

You don't need to go to Disney, though; you can create your own pirate experience in a number of ways and places.

With all these tours, all these options, this all this makes me wonder, is life imitating art...imitating fiction?

Or is fiction imitating life?

I think I'll stop now. I think I hear a Batman-tour calling my name...