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Not your average year!

19 Mar

Just finished celebrating my birthday (March 14th), the last year of my 50’s as my youngest so delicately put it. Sitting around the fire, eating BBQ ribs, scalloped potatoes and drinking tequila, talking about how much longer we all have before we have to head home once more.

The population of campers on the beach has halved over the past week, signaling the end of another season. For all of us, it’s a time of sadness as well as anticipation; sadness because some may not make it back to the beach next winter and anticipation as we all look forward to seeing friends and relatives back home!

This is what the waters have looked like up until today.

This is what the waters have looked like up until today.

As I sit here writing this (March 16th), I’m listening to the VHF radio, hearing chaos out in the Waiting Room and Inner harbour at Puerto Escondido, as boats break loose from their moorings, dinghies capsize and docks are torn to pieces. Today is the very first north wind, exceeding wind speeds of 55 knots! That’s higher than the wind from Hurricane Paul of 2012. It almost seems as if Mother Nature was saving up everything for this one blow!

..and this is what it looks like today!

..and this is what it looks like today!

Up until today our weather has been unseasonably calm, and warm. We’ve had mostly gentle breezes when we would have appreciated slightly higher ones, due to all the mosquito and no-see-um activity all season and we’ve had our little heater on for exactly 45 minutes the entire winter. While everyone at home suffered through some of the worst winter weather on record, we seem to have been sitting right on the very edge of the drought conditions hitting the southwestern United States.

This has been an odd season because normally the Grande Nortes start blowing in November/December and the temperatures begin to drop. It usually gets cold enough that most of us are wearing long pants, with a light jacket during the day because of lower temperatures and blowing sand. Nights and mornings are usually cold enough to have a heat source on for at least a little while.

This year, as I said no winds and average daytime temperatures never dropped below 70 F with averages in the low 80’s. Even the water temperatures have stayed high. High enough that even I’ve been out swimming recently and that’s never happened in the past, at least not for me! Once the water gets below 65, I just don’t want to go in, but this year, it had only just reached that when it started to rise again and it’s now fast approaching 80 again.

For those with years of experience on the water, they’re starting to be a bit concerned about the coming hurricane season since 80-degree water sustains them. They believe with the high temperatures this early in the year that it could lead to a very bad hurricane season with multiple storms. I guess we’ll see and we’ll be watching the weather closely before we venture down next fall.

Ladies fishing day

Just me and Jan out fishing and successfully I must say!

Other than strange weather and worrying about our families back in the extreme cold up north, it’s been pretty much an average year, lots of parties and get togethers, BBQ rib nights, bocce ball games, when we weren’t getting eaten alive by the bugs, fishing, kayaking and hiking. I even got to catch a couple of large Yellowtail on my single action reel which I’d been told was impossible plus we managed to have a couple of Ladies only fishing trips which were highly productive and the cause of much conversation around the fire!

Awesome fight with a 24lb Yellowtail on my single action reel and 10 foot rod!

Awesome fight with a 24lb Yellowtail on my single action reel and 10 foot rod!

The big difference this year was the season brought us kittens instead of puppies. We are usually the recipients of abandoned dogs and puppies on the beach, from the locals, since over the years the folks here have managed to find homes for almost every one. This year it was 9 kittens and 1 cat, most likely the mother of 8 of the kittens, maybe. I have to thank our friends and neighbours on the beach, Sy and Jan, who actually shouldered most of the burden of looking after this brood. We only had one at a time appear on our doorstep, while they had almost the entire group!

Sadly, out of the original 8 kittens, 2 had to be put down and 2 died, most likely from complications of Feline Leukemia, which is a major problem amongst the cat population down here. One of them, I’m sad to say, was a little Siamese cross female that we had decided to adopt and named Bella.

This was the lovely little girl that we originally adopted, before she started to show symptoms of illness.

This was the lovely little girl that we originally adopted, before she started to show symptoms of illness.

Happily, however the other 4 found homes and still remain healthy. For this we have Jan to thank as she did all the leg work and doggedly searched for people to adopt these lovely little girls! The adult cat was eventually live trapped, spayed and released, where she will hopefully manage to survive without producing any more unwanted kittens.

Unfortunately there is no place to take cats in Loreto. Animalandia, a volunteer organization, deals with dogs and has no facilities for cats beyond arranging for spaying and neutering.

Just when we thought we were done with all the animals, I went for a walk up to the little convenience store, and on the way found a very young, very cute, puppy. I may not be a dog lover but there was no way I could ignore this tiny little girl so I carried her to the store and then back to our campsite. As I was showing her to Richard he exclaimed in horror that she was covered in fleas and upon putting her down, it became obvious she really was! There were so many on her, you could see them seething through her fur and she was covered in bumps from bites. Surprisingly enough, not one got on me, nor did I receive a single bite!

Thankfully one of the campers had a flea spray medication that was suitable for young animals, and we soon had the little girl completely free of fleas. She was very appreciative, though I imagine, the previous bites itched like hell! The next morning we took her into Loreto and turned her over to the kind ladies from Animalandia, who figured she would be very easy to adopt out, since the size of her feet indicated she would probably grow quite large, had the colouring of a Rottweiler, and good guard dog instincts, all desirable traits.

Feeling good about ourselves, we headed for home knowing that thanks to our actions, this little dog would have a much happier life, rather than getting hit by a car, being eaten by coyotes or bobcats or dying from starvation or dehydration. We walked through the door of Grummy, only to have our neighbours knock on it moments later, with a small furry bundle wrapped in a silk shirt and the greetings of Happy Birthday!

On their walk early in the morning they came across another kitten, all by itself very near the highway, and they just couldn’t leave her to get killed by a car. Knowing that we had lost the kitten we’d adopted, and that we had talked about getting another kitten when we got back to Canada, they brought her to us. And so, Bella 2 came into our lives. (I would post a picture but WordPress seems to be having major problems uploading photos these days)

(The name was stuck in our heads and even when we tried calling her something else, “Bella” always seemed to come out. She responded to the name almost immediately, so we figured she was destined to be called it).

You know, we had both forgotten what it was like to have a kitten.  They’re crazy; fun, entertaining, cute and cuddly, but crazy and they wake up way too early. So now we have to figure out how to travel with a kitten and live with her in our Dodge van at home. So far she’s taken to the Grummy with no problem at all and doesn’t seem inclined to wander out of sight of us. We’ll see,  I guess it’ll be one step at a time. We’re really hoping it will work out for her, and us, but if not, we’ve already had a couple of folks at home volunteering to take her. So one way or another this little lady is going to have a great life.

Stay tuned; I may have to change the title of this blog to “Travels with Bella”!

NO MEN ALLOWED

3 Jul

 

Painter’s Lodge, sitting at the mouth of the Campbell River.


Every year since 1992, Painter’s Lodge in Campbell River, B.C., has hosted a women’s only fishing derby. As a rookie guide on the dock, I didn’t get the chance to fish the first one, but I did guide the next 14. Since I was the only female guide on the dock, I was a favourite with the contestants, so much so that when I announced my retirement in 2006, the ladies were horrified.

 

At the award ceremonies that year, I was called up to the front of the room and stood there perplexed. None of the 3 sets of ladies I had guided over the tournament had caught a winner with me, so I couldn’t figure out why I was standing there. The next thing I knew, another senior guide came up to the front and announced that the ladies would not hear of me not being there and since I wasn’t going to guide anymore, I should come as a contestant! My seat was paid for courtesy of all the ladies attending that year. They had all chipped in and paid my way!

 

Since that day, I have attended all but one, and that only because I was dealing with torn muscles in both shoulders. (Don’t ask!) This year was no different.

 

Travelling Highway 97C

I now live in Penticton, and the journey is a fairly long one, so off we set, my daughter Alena and I, early in the morning of June 21st. The derby didn’t actually start officially, until 10 AM June 22nd, but since we had to drive to Vancouver, take a ferry across to Nanaimo, then drive the rest of the way to Campbell River, we figured getting there a day early was a good idea.

 

We drove north to access Highway 97C, more casually known as the Connector, bypassed Merritt to hit the Coquihalla Pass, then down the Trans Canada Highway through Hope and down the Fraser Valley into Vancouver.

Going across the Port Mann Bridge
There isn’t supposed to be water behind the front group of trees.

 

The Fraser was running extremely high and all week before we left, we had been watching the news hoping we wouldn’t be forced to cancel our plans because of mudslide or flooding. It doesn’t matter which route you take, to get from Penticton to Vancouver, requires you to eventually drive down all or part of the Fraser River Valley. Though there had been a few small slides and flooding in some very low-lying areas, we were lucky and the highway remained open.

One of many rocks and islets that dot the Straights of Georgia.

 

A sister ferry heading back to the mainland.

I know that sounds like a short trip but it takes 4 hours of steady driving to get to Vancouver, then another 45 minutes to get through to the North Shore and into Horseshoe Bay to catch the ferry for Nanaimo. The ferry trip across, to me, is usually uneventful and rather boring because I’ve been travelling it since I was a little girl, but when I look at it with the eyes of a tourist, it makes me realize just how beautiful this area actually is. I know that sounds trite and it is, but there really isn’t anything else one could say without having to resort to a thesaurus. As the ferry pulled away from the dock, the background of highways, marinas, tall buildings and homes faded slowly away and was replaced by the multihued, verdant greens and disparate browns of the shorelines of the mainland, Vancouver Island and the various smaller islands and islets that the ferry passes on the way to it’s destination, the Port of Nanaimo. Upon arrival it was off north, heading for Campbell River, where we spent the night with some old friends.

Our welcome!

 

Since Campbell River was our home for 20 years, we took our time in the morning, picking up the odd necessity for our 3-night stay and our favourite types of boat food, arriving in good time, which gave me the chance to say hello to a few old friends, who still work at the lodge.

 

The other guests started arriving and eventually we were in full swing. First, there is the registration, licensing, and gift bag give out, then lunch, guide assignments, room assignments, unpacking and then dressing for the first fishing, which takes place from 4PM to 8PM.

The first night out, calm, and very wet!

 

The called for rain had finally arrived with a vengeance and it was going to be a very wet evening. Off we went, every boat out to win!

 

I have the unique experience of being the only contestant who has both guided the derby and been an entrant; so a little background would be in order.

 

The original derby had a maximum of 100 women, all 50 boats on our dock would be used for the derby and every Guide took this one more seriously than all the others, since this one carried a prize for the Guide who guided the biggest fish, a 3 day trip to the Queen Charlotte islands. It was the only time that women outnumbered men in the lodge and it used to scare the crap out of all of the boys. There would be frantic preparation on the dock and unusually, no information sharing was taking place amongst the Guides! Special lures were cleaned, hooks sharpened, rods and reels run through their paces and secret spots closely guarded.

 

Fishing partners, out for a good time, and a few fish!

Each boat was always trying it’s best to win, but even in the pouring rain, as uncomfortable as only sitting in rubber in a downpour can make you didn’t mean that there wasn’t fun! Every time a fish was hit all the other boats cheered them on and clapped when a fish was finally netted. Jokes were told from boat to boat and good natured jibes filled the air. Most of these women, including myself are friends, though many of us only get the chance to see each other at the derby and we look forward to it all year. Sure there is intense rivalry, but it’s all done with great good humour.

Alena’s first fish, a nice 12 pound Chinook.

 

At 8 we all arrived back on the dock, where the few fish taken that night were weighed in. Then it was off to dinner, a couple of drinks, door prizes, then to bed because 5AM came damned early. Yep, I said 5AM! If you wanted to eat before going fishing that is. The boats left the dock at 6 and the rain that had been pouring all night continued unabated until moments before we arrived on the fishing grounds. The rain might have stopped and the sun came out, but the wind came up and it got lumpy. More than a few ladies complained of feeling a wee bit queasy by the time we were done!

 

We fished until 10AM, with the possible winner arriving on the dock, a 34-pound Chinook. My daughter caught a nice 12 pound Chinook, not in the running for the top 3 prizes but certainly capable of taking one of 3 hidden weight prizes. The rest of the day was given over to whatever the guests wanted to do, at least until 4PM.

 

Every year the derby has a theme and since this was the 20th Annual derby the theme was, quite naturally, the Roaring 20’s. The wine and cheese takes place in the gardens at 4PM and costumes are expected. Every year, though there are no prizes, great effort and thought is put into the costumes. We drink a little wine, eat a few appetizers, take a lot of pictures and head in to the dining room for dinner, and then we party!

I came as Auntie Mame. Kind of fits doesn’t it?

 

There is always some sort of live entertainment, more door prizes, music, dancing and drinking. Sadly, there are few who have the fortitude to last very long, what with the late night before and the very early morning, but we try to soldier on as long as we can.

 

In the public parts of the lodge hang many photos of guests taken during the 20’s. These ladies came dressed as the women in one of the photos.

The final day started slowly as always, and in ones and twos, the ladies gradually appeared, to enjoy a lovely buffet breakfast, sitting on the balcony in the blazing sun. The weather was finally cooperating and at 11AM we all hit the water for one last chance to win it all! Back in by 3PM, it was apparent that a couple of big fish had come in, so there was a competition for 2nd and 3rd, but nothing came close to knocking the 34lber out of first!

Alena’s second fish

 

Alena again came home with a small 10 pound Chinook this time and I took in a respectable Ling Cod. It may not have been a valid entry but hey, they taste great and salmon is NOT my first choice in fish cuisine.

 

Richard, my friend and our intrepid guide for the last 4 hours of fishing on Sunday.

We had time for a shower and drink then down for dinner and the awards. At this meal it’s customary for the guides to attend if they wish and certainly the winning guide comes, to be wined and dined by the guest who took the top prize. Dinner is always steak and being the meat eater that I am, I enjoy this meal over all. Damn, but Painter’s cooks a mean steak!

 

The First Place trophy

After desert are the official prize presentations, with 1st prize being a choice between a paid trip back to the derby next year, or a trip to the Queen Charlottes. Then we wandered off to the pub for a riotous night of live entertainment, and a little more drinking and dancing.

 

Eventually the night came to an end and all of us headed to bed. The next morning, those who caught nothing the previous 3 days and were determined to give it one last shot were out on the water again at 6 AM, but Alena and I were just packing up and heading home, retracing our steps and planning the trip back next year.

 

The prize for 3rd place.

The Painter’s Lodge Ladies Derby is 3 days of nothing but women fishing, laughing, dancing, talking, singing and having a really good time, with no men allowed! If this sounds like a something you’d like to do then contact Oak Bay Marine Group and get on the list. You might want to hurry though; the ladies who were there this year are mostly all going back next year including Alena and me, baring unforeseen circumstances, that doesn’t leave many vacant spots!

 

 

Want some salt with that?

3 Mar

One of the disadvantages of settling into our campsite on Rattlesnake Beach is we do way less travelling in Baja than we did originally.  One of the advantages has been making some very good friends of the folks who make up the beach community. Quite a few of them have fairly large motor boats and as I’ve mentioned before, due to Richard helping them out with launching and retrieving the boats, these wonderful people have kept us in fish all winter long. They have also taken us out on trips we wouldn’t normally have managed on our own, with our kayak, wonderful though it is.

Over the last couple of years we have been squired to out of the way areas where we’ve experienced abandoned buildings, sea caves, pristine white sand beaches and hot springs. These wonderful folks have taken us fishing on occasion, when we’ve opted to go, and put us into Dorado, Roosterfish, and Cabrilla, shown us the sites and acted as tour guides.

A view of Carmen and Danzante Islands

None of the places we’ve been taken to could we have reached in our kayak unless we wanted to overnight and if you know me, you know how I feel about camping, especially since it requires sleeping on the ground and these days, that just isn’t going to happen.

Our latest adventure was sponsored by our closest neighbours on the beach who asked if we’d ever been to the salt works in Salinas Bay on Carmen Island, a spot about 15 miles from us on the far eastern side of the island. We had only heard and read about it but not visited it, so a plan was formed to spend the day with them exploring this historic area.

This is part of the old village. These buildings were work spaces.

The view from our campsite encompasses both Danzante and Carmen Island. Danzante is the small island directly in front of us and Carmen is the large island north of and behind it. It is 18 miles long and on average about 2 miles wide, consisting of approximately 37,000 acres. From the northern end of the island, a narrow peninsula extends 4 miles to the southeast forming the northeastern end of Salinas Bay. The island is actually privately owned and has been since the 1800’s. Currently it is owned by the Salinas Pacifico Company, the last company to operate the Salt works. It’s considered part of the Loreto Bay National Marine Park, which was formed in 1996, and Salinas Pacifico Company works with them to keep it an ecological reserve.

The Private Island

A herd of 500 Big Horn Sheep are kept there and a hunt is operated every year as long as there are enough Class 4 rams (older than 8 years) that are excess to the health of the population. You too can come and stay at the resort that has been built beside the old salt works, and hunt one of these big animals as long as you can afford anywhere from $58,000.00 US and up depending on the size of animal you wish to shoot. For example a Ram that has an overall Boone & Crocket rating of 165 points will cost you $58,000, and one that rates over 174 will cost over $74,000 and so on. If there is no hunt scheduled you can still stay there and indulge your desires for big game fish at a commensurate cost. The resort is first class and quite beautiful and makes full use of the ruins that it sits beside. One can spend quite a lot of time wandering around the old buildings, salt ponds, and machinery graveyards, not to mention the bits and pieces that have been cleaned up, repaired, and preserved. The only real sad note in this is with the poor economy and the price of scrape metal, slowly but surely the old pieces of machinery are being broken up and hauled away, removing much of the history of the place.

This is just a small part of the machinery graveyard

The beach that fronts this place is probably one of the most beautiful we’ve seen on the Sea of Cortez. It used to be full of turtles, but over the centuries, the workers who harvested them as a greatly desired delicacy wiped them out and so far, no attempt has been made to reintroduce them.

How's that for a gorgeous beach?

When we arrived in the Bay we stopped at a wreck lying on its side. The prevailing wind comes from off the land and the bay as I said before is quite shallow so with storms and poor anchorages there are remnants of a number of freighters laying on the bottom, slowly disintegrating. Once we anchored, with a stern anchor and another off the bow running onto the beach we jumped into the crystal clear water and proceeded to the resort, looking for the caretakers. Once found, we obtained permission to land and explore, as there were no guests and no active hunts going on.

This is the road that was built to access the salt flats. There's a sign at it's start saying that it's 6 kilometres to the other side.

Off we went and as you can see from the photos, we had a great time looking at everything; we even walked the length of this gorgeous beach.

A small breakaway salt pond.

One of the things I’ve always strived to do when I see something interesting is find out more about it and once we were back at Rattlesnake I proceeded to do just that. So here’s a fairly condensed version of the history of Carmen Island and the salt works.

The original Spanish settlers in the area were Jesuit priests who arrived in the early 1600’s, they founded the original, formal salt works, an extremely small operation, thanks to information garnered from the local natives. The mine was worked sporadically and natives were exploited as workers, who could be worked to death as long as their immortal souls were saved. This was done simply by baptizing them and giving them Christian names. Since there was more work to be done on the mainland of Baja, building, expanding and maintaining Missions to the glory of God, not to mention political and religious machinations that replaced the Jesuits with the Franciscans, the mine was only occasionally worked with most of the salt exported to Spain.

Some of the original workers homes were made from available materials. This is lumps of coral, cemented together then plastered over.

Starting in the 1800’s the mine was operated continuously, though through a number of different owners, eventually being sold to a British firm for $86,000.00, which included the entire island. Each owner expanded the works, brought in new equipment and increased the tonnage exported. At one time it was the largest employer in the town of Loreto, with staff living on the island as well as being ferried back and forth by boat to the western side of the island and continuing the trip over the spine of the island by mule.

The view out the front window of one of the offices. Pretty nice isn't it?

Salt is graded according to its Baume rate and from what I can find, the salt coming from Carmen Island was considered some of the purest salt in the world. It is called an evaporite deposit (a natural salt or mineral deposit left after evaporation of a body of water) and began with a north trending Graben, (an elongated block of the earths crust lying between 2 faults and displaced downward relative to the blocks on either side) which formed a bay about 1 mile wide and 3 miles long. A broad, flat-topped reef then grew along the shoreline and eventually closed it off, isolating the saltwater lagoon, which evaporated. As salinity increased, calcium sulfate, halite and probably potassium magnesium salts were precipitated, leaving the lagoon filled with evaporite sediments. Over the centuries water trickled through the reef and continued to evaporate while the Graben continued to grow, eventually reaching a size of 2 miles wide, 4 miles long and about 2 miles deep.

These are pillars of salt formed when the salt slurry dripped through the conveyer belt system as it was moved along from the ponds to the dryers near the beach.

Mining continued apace until it became apparent that the companies couldn’t compete with other salt works. As I mentioned before, Salinas Bay is shallow, so the salt would be mined, then moved to the workings on the beach shore where it would be dried and bagged, then placed in Pangas or small boats, which would carry the loads out to the bigger freighters.  These in turn would transport the salt to either Baja mainland or the mainland of Mexico where it again would be unloaded and reloaded into either bigger freighters or trains and shipped again. Each time the salt was moved an additional expense was added to it, pricing itself out of the market. The last salt exported from Carmen Island was in 1983. It seems when they decided to close it, they simply walked away as a great deal of the day to day paper work is still there from invoicing sheets, expense tallies and even pay stubs.

The old loading dock, looking out into Salinas Bay

While we were there, I grabbed a large salt crystal and plan on taking it home to my daughter who writes a well know food blog, Guilty Kitchen.com, I’m sure she’ll appreciate having some of the purest and rarest salt on the planet. Maybe I’ll get her to cook me something wonderful with a tiny bit of Carmen Island salt in it, after all this blog is supposed to be about travelling and eating well, on a budget, and well, the salt was free!

Merry Christmas from Mexico

21 Dec

It’s Christmas time. A time for family and friends, Christmas Trees, Mistletoe, Holly, snow and oh…wait a minute, wrong country!

 

It is true that some of the holiday traditions cross all borders. There are regulation, Douglas fir trees for sale at the Sunday Market, and if you thought Christmas trees were expensive at home, try the prices down here! These are heavily outnumbered though, by the plastic, artificial trees and wreaths. The only true touches of Mexico are the Poinsettias, for sale at the market or growing in yards and alleyways all over town, and the Piñata’s dangling from wires stretched across the main streets in Loreto.

 

No one wants to get caught under the Mistletoe in Baja. The member of the family that grows here is very parasitic, (yes, I know that all Mistletoe are parasitic) covering just about any and all trees and looks nothing like the European version. It certainly doesn’t spark the same feelings of love as it does at home. I’m pretty sure no one down here has ever seen a Holly bush, or snow for that matter, except maybe on TV, so that doesn’t even enter into the equation.

 

Doesn't actually inspire feelings of romance does it?

The family and friends part is pretty similar. For many of us on the beach, a few family members have arrived to spend the holidays and friends that aren’t here yet, will turn up early in January after they’ve spent the season with their loved ones. Lots of those who come to the Baja, wait until after the Christmas Holidays before they head south.

 

For me, this is a rather melancholy time. I loved Christmas at home, spending time with my daughters, decorating the house and tree, selecting and wrapping presents and the seasonal, traditional treats. I don’t get to do that anymore as we come down here long before the holidays and neither of our kids are at that financial stage where they can opt for a 2-week vacation in Mexico with us. So no tree, no decorations, no lights, no family, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a huge group of friends who get together to make sure Christmas is celebrated the Rattlesnake Beach way.

Winter is here and the dramatic sunsets reflect the change in the weather.

 

It starts with the Christmas Eve Bonfire, a large, welcoming fire to which everyone brings appetizers. We all sit around, keeping warm by the fire and eating all sorts of wonderful things, enjoying each others company and conversation. The fire burns very late into the night, and friends from all over, come and go as the evening progresses. The next day is all about Christmas Day dinner and is set up so that everyone who is attending makes some portion of the meal. In my case, this year it’s Dark Chocolate Truffles and a traditional English desert, Trifle.

 

Now, I don’t know about you, but food has always been a big component of the holidays for us, and with my background in fishing, there was always a large amount of my own smoked salmon available. Such is not the case anymore as I don’t guide and have limited access to salmon, but down here I’m up to my eyeballs in Yellowtail, a type of tuna. The folks on the beach have been catching these tasty fish for a few weeks now and the largesse in sharing has been so phenomenal, our little freezer is full. Not only has everyone been sharing raw fish but also they attempt to outdo one another with their smoked Yellowtail as many of them bring smokers with them from home. I don’t have a smoker, but I do have a recipe for Gravlax. This is a Swedish recipe for a type of Lox that doesn’t require brining or smoking but gives the fish a smoky flavour. I wasn’t sure it would work with Yellowtail, but since the density of the flesh is very similar and the smoked fish tastes very similar to salmon, I figured what the hell, I could certainly give it a shot. Nothing like being able to offer guests a little lox styled fish, cream cheese and crackers when they come calling.

 

The 4 main ingredients of Gravlax

If you’ve got access to salmon (any type except pink as it’s too thin) or a nice piece of tuna, give this recipe a try you won’t be disappointed. Just so you know, I didn’t have any Sake, so I substituted Tequila. The taste difference was negligible. Hope you enjoy this tasty treat and hoist a Rum and Eggnog for me will you? Feliz Navidad!

 

Ready for sharing.

 

 

Tea-Brined Salmon Gravlax (or Yellowtail)

 

3/4 cup Lapsang souchong tea leaves

1/2 cup boiling water

3 lb. salmon fillet with skin on

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup coarse sea salt

1 1/2 Tbsp fresh cracked peppercorns

2 Tbsp sake

 

1. Pour boiling water over tea, steep, cool to room temp.

2. Line a baking dish large enough to hold the fillet with plastic wrap.

3. Combine sugar, salt, and cracked pepper. Sprinkle 1/4 of mix in the dish.

4. Place salmon on mixture, skin side down.

5. Rub the wet tea leaves onto the top of the salmon.

6. Drizzle the sake evenly over the tea leaves.

7. Sprinkle the remaining salt and sugar mix onto the tea leaves.

8. Fold the plastic wrap over the fish and press with weight in a small pan/

9. Refrigerate for 48 hours, turning every 12 hours.

10. Remove from brine and rinse under cold running water. Pat dry.

11. Slice and serve with diced red onions or sour cream.

 

…And what did you do today?

8 Nov

One of the things we get asked a lot when we get home is, “What do you do all day?” We usually get cute and respond with, “Well, we’re not really sure but it takes all day to do it!” Actually we find our days are full of things to do.

 

Our day generally starts at 6:30 AM. That’s when the sky starts to lighten in the morning and since it’s been so warm we’ve not bothered to cover any of the windows to allow as much breeze as possible to flow through the van, so we get up as morning twilight breaks. It’s my favourite time of day ever since I worked as a fishing guide. I loved getting to work early enough to enjoy my morning coffee while watching the sun come up. So we sit with our coffee and our Kindles and watch the sun rise over Danzante Island. Every day it comes up just a tiny bit further south.

 

One of the views from the top of Hart's Trail

Once coffee is over, I put on running shoes and head up Hart’s Trail, just a little to the north of us on the beach. It’s a ½ mile trail that meanders up the side of the hill up to 800 feet from sea level. Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Trust me this is a cardiac killer and I do it as fast as my feet can carry me. Nothing like sweating so hard it feels like I just stepped out of the shower. Then it’s back down without slipping on the rocks and into the van for breakfast, a quick wash and then we sit and listen to the daily VHF net. A program that fills everyone in on the weather, comings and goings of friends, local announcements, jokes and various other information that helps all of us with the daily grind here. I’m still Sandy Beach on the radio and rather famous for my jokes, so I’m told. There are some friends on the beach who won’t go out fishing until they’ve heard my latest offering. So I’m finally famous! Who knew?

Richard's Dorado

On other days we head out kayaking or fishing as early as possible. The kayaking because we travel long distances and the fishing because most of the fish we’re after don’t bite once the sun is up. I’m proud to tell you, both Richard and I caught a Dorado this past week. Him in our our kayak, by himself, and me with one of the campers on the beach, while piloting a little 15 foot tin boat that she and her husband have put at our disposal. This really is quite the friendly, loving community and we all look after one another. A day doesn’t go by that someone isn’t offering us a piece of fish, fresh or smoked, or inviting us to a beach dinner or restaurant special. Yesterday, for example, we went for lunch with some friends from Victoria. They’re here helping her brother with the grand opening of a new restaurant. Best damn burger I’ve had down here! Then for dinner we headed to the south end of the beach where another couple we’ve become very close to, fed us Elk steaks and smoked Dorado.  Our life is just one great big social whirl!

My Dorado. I should mention that both these fish were caught on very light tackle. What a great fight!

 

As the day advances, and the temperature rises, we find ourselves relaxing for a while in the shade, with me in my hammock, Kindle in hand. By 2 or 3 it’s time for a swim or maybe a bit of snorkeling, to cool off, then back on shore for a warm shower and an ice cold Dos Equis.

 

Oh, and I should mention the birds. We’ve become as our British friends call us, Twitters. It’s hard not to watch the birds when the variety’s are so many and so varied. They are everywhere and you just can’t help yourself, eventually you have to know what they are. All of us have at least 1, if not 2 or 3 bird identification books and we talk about rare sightings as if we were all Ornithologists. It even gets announced on the net, once in a while.

 

Male and female Hooded Orioles. A very common bird here.

Depending on the night we might find ourselves, like last night, at a beach dinner with a few of the other campers, or a full beach party, or simply at home having a quiet dinner together. The sun sets at about 6:30 PM and many nights we take our coffees and sit out on the beach to watch the stars or the full moon. The sky here is so dark when the moon is not up, that shooting stars are seen every night, and the Milky Way is always visible Then it’s a couple of hours of reading or maybe a movie, then bed around 10

 

Yeah I know, you hate me, but hey, you too could be doing this. All it takes is giving up everything you’ve got. Quit your job, sell everything you own and move into a 26 ft, motorhome. You could be living right here beside me on the beach. All it takes is being a little crazy and not afraid to take big risks.

 

 A week doesn’t go by that’s not filled with something exciting, the whales are starting to arrive, pods of hundreds of dolphins are moving around, the waters are full of more green turtles than anyone has seen in 30 years and the Dorado are running.

 

Life is hard, but hey, someone has to do it!

 

THERE’S NO FREE LUNCH

20 Oct

 

 

Just before dawn and only 22c

 

I mentioned previously that the average daytime temperature down here was sitting at around 35c but that doesn’t actually tell the real story. You have to factor in the humidity levels, which are between 35 and 40 percent. Now I know that doesn’t sound like very much but oh, man does it make a huge difference. With the humidity, the actual temperature is between 40 and 45c. In other words, it’s freaking hot here!

Our home, where ever we are

 

It’s so hot and humid that you sweat heavily just sitting still and there is no part of you that isn’t wringing wet all day long. Just before sunrise it’s only 22c but as soon as the sun comes up the temperature skyrockets and within 20 minutes it has reached the maximum it’s going to be for the day and it doesn’t cool down until about 3 AM.

 

So what’s a person with lots of time on their hands to do? Why go swimming of course, or snorkeling or simply standing in the water, right? Uh, wrong. Not unless they have a full-length wet suit. Why? Well, there’s this little creature in the water here that folks call an Auga Male (that’s pronounced malay) Which translates to Bad Water in English. Now that’s probably not its real name nor have I been able to find anyone who can tell me what it really is, but it’s a suitable description.

 

An Auga Male. Sorry, but it's the best shot I could get!

These things are polyps, less than ½ an inch long, and so clear that they are virtually invisible in the water. They feed themselves by deploying a very long clear thread and when it touches bare skin, it burns, a lot! It also leaves a line of raised red welts that sting and then eventually itches like mad.

 

Our problem is where our campsite is. We are the last site right beside the launch ramp, so whenever any of the folks down here are trying to launch or retrieve their boats, they usually need help since all the launch ramp really is, is a gradual decline of sand into the water. Not to mention that except for ourselves, the average age on Rattlesnake Beach is 70 and up, so every day we accumulate large numbers of stings and man, are we going through limes since the best cure is warmed lime juice. Vinegar works but not anywhere near as well and I’m sorry but I’m just NOT going to try the old having someone pee on me experiment!

(Appreciation for help is paid in fish. Not that we’ve ever asked but hey, when someone offers you a Dorado, you don’t say no!)

 

An angelfish swimming by

These little nasty’s will eventually disappear when the water cools down some, but will then be replaced by a jellyfish called String of Pearls which look exactly like their name, except they are an iridescent blue colour. These too make life miserable for swimmers.

 

All in all, though it may seem as if we’ve moved into Paradise, there is always a price to be paid for it.

 

I got smart this year and purchased a full-length wetsuit, but have you ever tried to get into a wetsuit? Try doing it when every square inch of your skin is already wet. I know, I know, use cornstarch, but you know what? When your skin is already wet, cornstarch just clumps. So it’s a struggle and by the time I get the damn thing on, I really do need to get in the water as the sweat is pouring off me. Not to mention that even a wetsuit with mask, snorkel and flippers doesn’t cover every portion of skin. The hands and parts of the ankles and face are still bare and you know, getting stung on the face bloody hurts. Considering how long it takes to get the damn thing on, when the folks need help with their boats, I go as I am and in most cases it’s just my bathing suit and me. Oh well, nobody ever said life was going to be easy.

 

This is a Balloonfish, though they are mistakenly called Pufferfish. These little guys are anywhere there's a rock to protect.

I’m sure your sitting there thinking, Jeez, what a whiner, but you know, writing a travel blog requires truth so here it is, these things are the price we pay for our little slice of Shangri-La… this year. Next year it could be a plague of flies or biting insects, a Grande Norte that blows hard all winter long or a continuation of drought that makes fresh water difficult to come by. We never know what to expect until we get here but we always know there won’t be any free lunch!

 

TTFN

The place we used to call home.

9 Sep

If you read my post last time, you will be aware that we had visited Campbell River, but I didn’t really tell you much about the place did I?

We moved to Campbell River  December 30, 1987. We had friends who had moved there a few years earlier. This friend had started at the local mill and convinced us that it would be a good idea, employment wise, if we followed him.

It didn’t take that much to convince us, so off we went, kids in tow. Through a series of fortuitous events we ended up buying the place that had been our first and only rental. The owner of the house lived next door, and after 6 months of renting, he was transferred and needed to divest himself of both of his properties. We were only too happy to take him up on the offer.

Float planes of all sorts are common in Campbell River.

The house had windows across the entire front,  it looked east, out over Discovery Passage and across to Quadra Island. Every ship and boat that moved through the pass, including Cruise Ships, were visible from our front windows. Occasionally we could even see pods of Orcas or Pacific White Side Dolphins moving through. Bald Eagles wheeled and dodged (in such large numbers they were commonplace) nesting and perching in nearby trees.

The town was actually known to me since my Dad had visited it years before during a stay at Painter’s Lodge. All I knew was that it was a great place to catch fish and the waters were very dangerous. So, on top of the sheer beauty of the place,  the employment opportunities that were readily available and the need to allow our children to grow up in one place with no disruption, I added in a personal passion and I was sold. I was more than happy to “settle” down for a while.

Campbell River sits at 50 degrees 1’0″ N/125 degrees 15′ 0″W, on the east coast of Vancouver Island. If you look at a map of the Island, we sit on that pointy bit about half way up.  Right behind it is a backyard of logging roads, rivers, streams, caves, lakes, creeks, hills, trails, trees, lots of trees and mountains, some pretty big ones. Big enough to have ski hills on them. Mount Washington, for example which rises 5200 feet and has some of the heaviest falls of snow in all of North America. Damn nice place to ski too!

Painter's Lodge sitting on the north bank of the river mouth

I mentioned caves right? I was wondering if you caught that. This part of Vancouver Island is covered in Karst rock. Karst you say, what the hell is Karst? Karst is a distinctive topography in which the landscape is largely shaped by the dissolving action of water on carbonate bedrock (usually limestone, dolomite, or marble).

Now, to have a “dissolving action of water” one needs to have lots of water and does Campbell River have lots of water? Do bears shit in the woods? The average rainfall in the area is around 50 inches, with 50 more inches of snowfall. That’s the average, some years it rains a lot more than that and the further west you go the more it rains, hence the caves. It’s also the reason why everywhere you look, it’s green, pretty much all year long.

It was a great place to live, work and raise our kids. We boated, fished, caved, skied, camped, hiked and biked everywhere we could. All the while our kids were growing up in a town that was growing and changing as well. It had been a frontier logging and fishing town,  and it was still pretty rough around the edges when we moved there. As time passed, as in all things, the rough edges got knocked off and the town went through a sprucing up. The old girl certainly did clean up well.

Part of the Foreshore path on Tyee Spit

Personally, I think it started with the Fishing Pier. A group of volunteers got together and decided that the Salmon Capital of the World, needed a place where those who had no access to a boat, could wet a line and have a good chance of catching a big chinook.  The Pier was constructed and became an instant and raging success, starting the process that led to the beautification of the downtown, the foreshore path/park and it’s continuation from one end of town to the other, the reclaiming of the Tyee Spit from a run down RV park to a Green Space that’s accessible to everyone, and the Carving Contest that has added grace, art and yes, beauty to all areas of the city.

The back of one of many carvings all around the city

The other side of the same carving. Pretty talented carver, eh?

 

This is where my kids grew up, this is where Richard and I worked and where we all played but it’s no longer our home, not for any of us. I think like kids everywhere that grow up in a small town there is always that desire to get away and head for something bigger and better. Ours certainly felt that way and not long after they graduated they headed for the bright lights of Victoria. So, Empty Nesters we were and we were rather enjoying it, while we continued to work on our plans for retirement at 55 when fate played a nasty hand.  In 2001 my Mother has a “Catastrophic Stroke” leaving her hospitalized and completely incapacitated, 4 months later my brother-in-law died of Liver Cancer. April of 2004, my Mother finally died from complications of the stroke and a month later, my sister was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. She died a year later.

Richard and I retired the next year. We decided that all we were really doing at that point was marking time, waiting until we hit 55 so Richard could collect his pension. We crunched the numbers and figured we could make it.

So we pulled up what roots we had grown during our years in Campbell River and hit the road. It’s not like we don’t go back to visit though and for me at least, when we finally round that last corner of the old highway and Shelter Bay comes into view there’s something inside me that whispers “Home” and a strange combination of happiness, nostalgia, sadness and completeness comes over me. It may not be where we live now but I think in some ways it will always be “home” to me.