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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”!

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The year of the Mouse? Mosquito? Whatever…

31 Oct

The road beckoned in late September as the first hints of the coming winter, started to reveal themselves. We wished our son-in-law a Happy Birthday, kissed our daughter and grandkids goodbye, and headed for the ferry to Washington State and the road heading south.

With Rosy, our Dodge van, full to the rafters with a new fridge for Grummy, a telescope for me and many other odds and sods it was going to be a fast trip and it was. Travelling Highway 101 down the west coast till just south of San Francisco, where we swung over to I-5 we made it to our usual spot on Rattlesnake Beach in 5 ½ days.

The weather breaks

The weather was a bit rainy the first day, but after that, the sun came out and it was a beautiful trip down. If you ever get the chance, drive the 101. The scenery, from mid-Washington State to just before San Francisco, California is awesome. We’ve found over the years that the traffic is easy to deal with, as long as it’s not high summer and there are many places to stop for a walk, picnic, hike, play tourist, shop for unique gifts or just to admire the view and take a few pictures. The problems start just before you hit San Francisco, where the population density increases so drastically that we find it’s just not worth the hassle. That’s not to say that the coast road in California isn’t worth the trip, it is! The sights are great but the best part of the trip is really the dramatic views off the coast of Oregon with it’s many islands, sandy beaches, lagoons and massive erratic’s!

The rugged coast of Oregon

The rugged coast of Oregon

The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge

Once we arrived in Baja, it was obvious that we’d come just a little too soon. The daily temperatures averaged 95 to 100F with 85% humidity. Now, I can hear all of you saying “Oh, poor you”, in a sarcastic voice, but think about that for a minute. There’s no air conditioning in our rig, no breeze to evaporate sweat and with the humidity that high, it’s like sitting in a sauna all day and night. Sweat just poured off of us as if we were standing under a steady shower and we needed to carry paper towels with us at all times to keep it out of our eyes. Even the ocean didn’t provide any respite since it’s temperature was in the high 80’s. You couldn’t even tell you had walked into it for the first couple of weeks we were here. Nudity or as close as you could come was the dress of the day.

A Mexican Horse trailer

You can tell you’ve crossed the border when you start to see things like this.

The bugs weren’t bad, a few mosquitoes, no-see-ums and fly’s, left overs from the last tropical storm that had gone by over the summer, when it had rained for 3 days straight. The government had actually sprayed due to Dengue Fever showing it’s ugly head. Other than that, it was very green and lush, looking much as it had when we left in March last year. The beach this year was actually sandy, with a lot of wood from the storms, but nothing as bad as it had been after Hurricane Paul had gone by last October.

Underneath all that wood was a beautiful sandy beach.

Underneath all that wood was a beautiful sandy beach.

2 weeks ago Tropical Storm Octave went right over us. It didn’t do much to the beach, but it did rain 6 inches in less than 24 hours and of course, once again Highway Mex1, was severely damaged in way more places than last time. See, with the Gigantes Mountain range right behind us the rain builds up there, then comes thundering down, building up speed as if heads for the Sea of Cortez. If you remember your science classes, water will always find it’s own level and even though there are many established arroyos, all it takes is a new rock or tree blocking even a partial bit of the old course, to make the water veer and start a new one. Water forced it’s way over, under and through places that had never had water before. Every time it rains for more than a couple of hours here, it’s a new lesson in hydrology with just how powerful and destructive water can be.

Here’s a little something to think about too, the desert surrounding us is so saturated, that wild, Shaggy Mane mushrooms are growing on the road into our beach. Now that’s not something you see in the Sonoran Desert much, I’m thinking!

A week after that, we had a 6.8 earthquake, centered just 65 miles due east of Loreto. Nothing unusual in that since the Sea of Cortez is actually a continuation of the San Andreas Fault. The experience for us was interesting, as we just happened to be in town that day and neither of us had ever experienced the shaking of one before, but a conversation with a kayak guide who had been out on Carmen Island made us realize how dangerous it actually was. The land around here is made up of, basically, volcanic rock, liberally laced with compressed ash. With all the rain widening any gaps, once the earth shook, rock came loose and fell. The guide said he’d gone up a hill to make a cell call, then headed back down to his guests, reaching them, just as the quake let loose. The place he’d been standing fell and he said that it was raining rocks the size of our Grumman. If he’d been on the top of the hill when the quake struck, he’d have died. Nothing like a little perspective!

And now, 2 weeks after the rain, we can’t go outside anymore. The mosquitos are so bad that even wearing 30% DEET doesn’t repel them and Dengue Fever has reared its ugly head again. Used to be, that even when the bugs were bad, it was only in the early morning or close to sunset, but not anymore, now it’s all day and night. It’s almost funny watching people do the bug dance, until you have to go outside yourself, and then it’s a misery. Even being right down at the water doesn’t keep them away!

Then there are the mice and rats. Since last years rain brought grass to the desert and this years has kept it growing, that means there are a lot of seeds to eat and in the desert if there’s an abundance of food, there will soon be an abundance of things to eat it, hence the rodents. There are millions of them and they are everywhere. We weren’t here 2 days when a rat took up residence in the engine compartment of Grummy. Thank god they can’t get inside. Richard built the van with absolutely no access to the outside using his Dad’s experience as a guide. Dodge however, wasn’t so lucky and it took us 2 weeks to get rid of the mice that had taken up residence in Rosy and the same amount of time to figure out how they were getting in. Both had not only set up housekeeping but had built nests and started raising a brood. Good thing neither of us are softies, since the idea of traps and poison didn’t even phase us. I don’t know about you, but cute as they might be, I’m not in the slightest bit interested in sharing my living space with them. Oh, and did I mention the Gopher snakes that eat rodents? Seems there’s been a population explosion amongst them too!

Yeah, I know. Bitch, bitch, bitch!

Well, I guess that saying about the snake in Paradise is really true, or maybe it’s the one about having to always pay the piper, who knows, but down here nothing ever comes easy. Ah, well, there’s certainly never a dull moment down on Rattlesnake Beach!

TTFN!

Oh, cry me a river!

6 Dec

Okay, don’t whine! I know I’m a couple of days late with this post, but hey, what don’t you get about RETIRED?

 

Halloween is over, having given away handfuls of candy to local kids dressed to the nines, American Thanksgiving has been celebrated with turkey and vast amounts of food, two Full Moon parties have been held and the Christmas feast discussion is under way. Richard’s and our friend Kottie’s birthdays have been observed and another campers is fast approaching. The celebratory occasions are coming fast and furious but we’re all having a hard time being as social as we usually are. The reason?

BUGS!!!!

Hence the name of this post, because every time I try to explain to anyone at home about our plight, that’s the answer I get. Absolutely no sympathy from anyone, especially since the first thing they ask is, “What’s the weather like?” and I have to be honest and tell them it’s sunny and the daytime temperature is hovering between 23C and 28C. Isn’t that wonderful? The problem is we can’t go outside to enjoy it unless we’re heading out on to the water, slathered in DEET or the wind is blowing more that 15 miles per hour.

 

Just one of many different flutterbyes. This one stayed still long enough for me to get a good shot

Just one of many different flutterbyes. This one stayed still long enough for me to get a good shot

Going out on the water is great but you can’t do it every hour of every day, the idea of covering every square inch of oneself with vast amounts of DEET (Yes, I did say every square inch) everyday is probably not a healthy idea and the wind is just not cooperating this year. Not only that but even on the 2 occasions when the wind has actually reached those speeds, the little buggers just hover in behind us and take sips at their leisure, and for God’s sake don’t step into the shade!

 

When the wind does blow, you can walk on the beach, but only at low tide since the messy debris left by Paul is still there and will be for years. Trying to walk at anything but low tide is treacherous, since not only is there woody debris on the beach but also buried deep into the sand making footing none too safe. There is no other place to walk, for as soon as you head up the road the bugs come out looking for blood and the many trails we have walked for years are so thick with weeds that it’s hard to find them. When you do find them, there’s no telling what’s under your feet and with the number of snakes, spiders and other creepy crawlies wandering through the grass, none of us are going to attempt them until the weeds and grass dies.

 

2011 was the last of four years of drought, preceded by six years of sporadic and lower than normal rain falls. I’ve written in the past about how hard it was on the livestock and the people, but there were no bugs! Oh, sure, there were the few wasps, flutterbyes, moths, ants and beetles we see every year, but no mosquitoes or biting insects at all. Even scorpions had become scarce. Snakes might have been seen occasionally but rarely. This year, everything has changed!

 

There were three major rain events this summer here, each lasting two days and dropping between 10 and 15 inches of rain, in August, September and October. Each one giving a boost to the local plant, insect and reptile life.

 

This is one of 5 tarantulas I've seen so far this year. Don't worry we built a little rock bridge to this one could get to safety.

This is one of 5 tarantulas I’ve seen so far this year. Don’t worry we built a little rock bridge so this one could get to safety.

There are more insects per square inch here than most have ever seen, even the locals. Now, the average lifespan around here is 80 years, but climatically, that’s pretty short, so it goes without saying that it’s likely this is not the first time this has happened. BUT, it’s the first time it’s happened to all of us campers on Rattlesnake Beach, and it SUCKS!

 

There are so many bugs here that we all swear there are some that have never been catalogued! Thank God I bought that No-See-Um netting before we left!

 

We have a vast array of flutterbuyes and moths, just about every size, colour and shape imaginable, from ones the size of your baby fingernail to others the size of your hand. The air is alive with thousands of gaudy, sunshine yellow butterflies during the day and gigantic brown and grey moths at night, that cover your radiators and your windshields, not to mention that as they die off they cover the ground like torn up origami paper.

 

We have Stink Beetles that raise their posteriors and shoot out a foul smelling acid. These at least are quit small and their numbers have decreased considerable since we first arrived.

 

From an ill advised trip outside without protection. This is just a small portion of Richards arm, imagine what the rest of us look like.

From an ill advised trip outside without protection. This is just a small portion of Richards arm, imagine what the rest of us look like.

There’s a beetle here that has huge, long antenna and a large body. They look like there is no way in hell they should be able to fly, but they do! Not very well, and they seem to have a hard time navigating, but the bastards fly. Nothing like getting a beetle that’s the length of your middle finger flying into your face. Then, there’s the ants. We’ve got all kinds, big ones, little ones, red ones, black ones and sort of a combination of both. We got some that only come out at night and others that we see only during the day. We’ve even got some that keep on getting into Grummy. Not many, but we’re constantly on the look out. It’s not a good thing when ants get into RV’S.

 

Most of the grasshoppers are gone now but for a while you couldn’t go out with out the grasshoppers going off in a sort of domino effect. As we walked or drove, those around us jumped, sending those where the first ones landed, off, over and over again. Sometimes it felt like a type of bow wave as the hoppers continued to jump just ahead of us until we hit the pavement.

 

And spiders? Don’t get me started! If there’s a place they can get into, they’re there, there are a lot of them and they are big! I’ve seen more tarantulas this year that all the past years combined, though they don’t actually bother me. Maybe it’s because they are furry. The yellowy-brown  ones the size of the palm of my hand, and the black ones of any size are the ones I really don’t like. It’s a good thing the seals on all our widows and doors are in good condition because the big ones are constantly trying to get in that way and they sit just inside the metal parts of the doors unable to get under the seals, then when you open they door, the leap out! Yeah, that’s great for my nerves! I hate spiders!

 

 

We’ve seen lots of big scorpions, as well as snakes and snack track. Watched a beautiful Rosy Boa taking a short cut right through our campsite the other night! The bane of our existence though, are the mosquitos, no-see-um-s, bobitos, hey-hey-nees and collectively, for want of a better name, ankle biters! These little bastards are making life miserable for just about everyone. Some or all of us react to at least one if not more of all these biters. The mosquitos are at their worst during dawn and dusk but bites can happen all day too. Though once night falls they seem to mostly disappear. The biggest problem with the mosquitos is they are known carriers of Yellow and Dengue Fever, and there is still, and will be for sometime to come, many, many areas of standing water for them to breed in.

 

The worst ones are the small ones, some so small you can barely even see them, but these buggers pack a wallop, they can really hurt when they bite. It feels like someone has stuck you with a pin, and the itch is intense and long lasting. Even weeks later when all evidence of the bite is gone, the site can still itch. These nasty little bugs can walk through your clothes and DEET seems to have little to no effect on them.

 

Right at this moment, I have 20 to 25 bites, mostly ones from the ankle biter types and almost all on my lower legs and feet. From where I’m sitting typing this, I’m looking at five different bug repellants and two bug killers sitting on the doghouse of the engine, where they are readily available for use before we go outside. Apparently after the big rain event in August the town of Loreto ran out of repellant. The local merchants must have taken note because there is stuff available everywhere now and it’s a damn good thing too!

 

You CAN’T go outside without some form of protection, if not chemical than clothing that consists of long legs and sleeves that are thick enough to stop the mosquitos from biting you through the material and tight enough to stop the tiny ones from getting inside.

 

Which brings me back to my original comment about how this is affecting life on the beach. We now spend a lot of time in each others rigs instead of sitting out enjoying the sun or stars and even that doesn’t really help since most of the tiny biters can easily crawl through the screening on everyone’s RV windows, except ours and ours is too small to have more than four people in it at a time. Even that can be too much sometimes. We’re all going through a fortune in repellants and soothers and everyone is searching through their wardrobes for suitable clothes that won’t cause them to suffer from heat stroke. Outdoor get- togethers are short and sweet and accompanied by lots of fans, bug zappers, long sleeves and the heady aroma of many different bug repellants. We talk about which ones we use and how well they work, where to get them and a comparison on prices. Conversation has definitely taken a strange turn this season.

 

The nice thing about this year is that it’s throwing us into each other’s laps more. It’s become quite usual to have a dinner party for four or six and simple hold it in whoever’s rig is the biggest, even if they aren’t actually doing the cooking. I’ve walked more than one platter of sushi down the beach so far this winter.

 

Now, I know it’s cold where you are, maybe raining, maybe snowing, but in your heart of hearts, when you would normally think of us with envy and yes, maybe even a touch of bitterness throughout the winter, this year you can comfort yourself in the knowledge that we are suffering too.

 

In our own way maybe, but believe it baby this is suffering Baja style!

 

Hasta Luego!

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!

 

 

There are things to do everywhere!

6 Jun

So I finally got around to writing another post. My problem, once I get home is I can’t think of anything to write about. This blog is supposed to be about travelling and I don’t know about you, but like most folks I don’t think of “Travelling” when I move about in areas that I’m familiar with.

 

Then it dawned on me that just because I’ve been on BC Ferries hundreds of times and Victoria is just this city I’ve hung around in for years, doesn’t mean that any one reading this blog would have the slightest idea what this place is like, how pretty it is, how diverse the province is or what are the things that make this place interesting. Then I went to a cultural event that made me realize all of us can be tourists in our own familiar areas.

 

I have lived in British Columbia since 1959 and on Vancouver Island since 1977. In every place I’ve lived there are events of all sizes and sorts, rodeos, festivals, happenings.

 

One of the many Clans set up to educate the public.

What prompted me to make this realization and to write this particular blog was the Annual Highland Games in Victoria. As I said, I’ve lived on the island for years, the vast majority of both of our families did or do live there and thanks to my Mother, a Scottish war bride, I have a Gaelic inheritance, yet I had never had the chance to attend.

 

This year, everything came together and I finally got to go.

I have to say, it was worth it.

 

It was a 2-day affair and since the weather was looking good for the Saturday, off we went. The place was full of tartans, kilts, and bagpipes. The events scheduled included, sheep dog trials, Single Malt Whiskey school, Tug-o-wars, Haggis tasting, Falconry and Medieval Weaponry displays, Pipe and Drum bands, and Band Major competitions. You could look up the history of your family name or clan affiliation and find what tartan you were entitled to wear. But the biggest draw was the Highland games. A Gaelic/Celtic (the word Gaelic is pronounced Gahlic) tradition that oral history tells us is older than Christianity.

 

One of the many dogs showing their stuff. “That’ll do dog, that’ll do!”

The gatherings were essentially war games designed to select the best warriors in each family tribe or clan.

The first Games in Scotland were organized and designated as a sporting event and held in the 11th century. During the reign of King Malcom III (1058-1093), a fairly flat meadowland, the Brae O’Mar, along the river Dee, was used for a royal contest to find the swiftest and strongest in the kingdom.

Games were held throughout Scotland until the Battle of Culloden in 1746. After Bonnie Prince Charlie’s defeat by the English, the Act of Proscription banned playing of the bagpipe, wearing of the kilt, gathering together of the people, and the carrying of arms under the penalty of deportation or death. That effectively squelched a good part of the Highland culture, and literally destroyed the old clan structure.

After the repeal of the Proscription, in the latter part of the 18th Century, Highland Societies began forming, and in 1781 the first society Gathering was held at Falkirk. The success of this venture led to the Gathering of the Clans and the Highland Games, as we know them today. By the end of the 1820s the games were once again being held throughout Scotland.

 

One of the birds showing off their talents, oh, and the handler too.

The Victoria Highland Games are the oldest cultural event in the city going back to the founding of Victoria when Scottish influence was at it’s strongest, this year celebrating their 149th gathering.

 

Though there were many things to do on this occasion, the big draw was the Heavy Events. The most well known is of course the Caber Toss, but it’s not the only athletic activity.

 

There is the Stone Put, an event that is split into 2 versions, the Braemar Stone and the Open Stone. The Braemar, uses a rock that weighs in at 20-26 pounds cradled against the neck and is thrown with one hand, from a standing position, whereas the Open Stone uses a 16-22 pound rock. This version again requires the rock to be cradled against the neck and thrown with one hand, but allows any technique, usually either gliding or spinning.

 

The Scottish Hammer Throw is similar to the modern version with one large difference. The round metal ball, weighing 22 pounds is fixed to a shaft about 4 feet in length, made of wood, bamboo, rattan or plastic. This is whirled around the head and thrown over the shoulder for distance.

 

The Weight for Distance is broken down into 2 events as well. The Light version uses a 28-pound rock; the Heavy uses a 56-pound rock. The rock is thrown one-handed using a spinning technique and is thrown, obviously, for distance.

Throwing the Weight for Distance

 

The Weight over Bar or Weight for Height uses a 56-pound weight with an attached handle. It’s thrown with, again, one hand over a horizontal bar. The bar is generally started at 10 feet and each athlete has three chances to make the height. The bar is continually raised until only one competitor makes it over. The current record is 18 feet 10 inches and is held by an amateur named Csaba Meszaros. (The games attract a wide assortment of participants, not necessarily from a Scottish background).

 

The iconic Caber Toss is the most well known of all the games and it actually has the least rules. The caber varies in length, weight, taper and balance which all effect the successful toss, but the object is to make the caber fully rotate once then land as closely as possible resembling the hands of a clock pointing to 12 from the throwers position.

 

Getting ready to pick up and balance the Caber.

We sampled the Haggis, (better than my Mother ever made), watched the sheep dogs do their thing with both sheep and ducks, listened to the various pipe bands, marveled at a Drum Major who looked more military than the soldiers attending the affair, laughed at the Haggis Throw, enjoyed the dancers whirling across the stage, looked up my clan (Campbell) and shouted out support for the athletes at the games.

The best Drum Major I’ve ever seen!

 

If you come from a Gaelic background, would like to be Scottish, enjoy watching amazing feats of athletic prowess or thrill to the sound of bagpipes swirling, then attend one of the many Highland Games that happen every year all over North America. You won’t regret it!

 

As I watched and marveled at the prowess of the athletes, and enjoyed some of my family’s culture, it occurred to me that many of you would be interested in these things.  Just as I write about the things I see and do in Mexico, I will do the same for B.C. Maybe it will prompt some of you to come and visit.

Sensationalism at it’s worst?

19 Mar

 

Well it’s that time of year again when the neighbourhood starts to break up. Folks have to start heading home now for a variety of reasons, some for jobs, some for taxes, some for doctors appointments. The reasons are as varied as the folks who live here all winter long.

 

Of course, few leave without a send off of some sort or another and it’s always a damn good reason for having a potluck.

 

The last get together we had, the conversation rolled around to Sirius Radio and a news report that was heard on a Canadian station. The same folks then viewed a similar program on BCTV. (Yes, some of us have satellite TV down here). The stories were about how dangerous it is to travel in Mexico!

 

This prompted a great deal of hilarity around the campfire. None of us have EVER had any problems down here, except for the occasional, minor pilfering. No violence, no hold-ups, no kidnappings, no drugs, no guns, and there are people who have been coming to this area for over 30 years. Oh sure, we’ve all heard the stories about somebody’s friends cousins girlfriend, who was held up at a blockade on the highway by gun wielding drug runners who stole everything including their car. Try as we might though, none of us have ever been able to find a single person who has experienced this first hand and every year we hear the exact same story only the location changes.

 

Any excuse for a party. Eat drink and BS

As we sat around talking about this, all of us had stories to share of the exact opposite treatment. There was not one of us on the beach that didn’t have an anecdote, about some Mexican going way out of their way to be helpful. For example, we often stop on the side of the highway for coffee and more than once, we’ve had locals stop and ask if we were okay, and did we need mechanical help?

 

We stopped in a very small agricultural town a couple of years ago, far off the beaten track. We discovered they had beautiful gardens so we drove down every street admiring them. At one point an old farmer in his beat up old truck passed us. About half an hour later, when we’d pulled over to have a cup of coffee, the same truck pulled up in front of us, now with 3 people in it. One got out, came to our window and in halting English asked us if we were okay, were we lost. We explained how we had come to their lovely little town, and that we were just having a cup of coffee before heading off, but we thanked him for his enquiry. It seems that the old farmer was concerned that we were lost and so he drove around the town until he found someone who could speak English well enough to converse with us and make sure we were alright!

 

 

We added another little tidbit to the conversation. Recently my father-in-law who also lives near here in the winter needed to go to a bigger town for mechanical help and parts. So off he and Richard went with only an address in hand to Constitution about 100 kilometers away. Needless to say, they couldn’t find the place, so they pulled in to a Frenomex, (which is equivalent to a big chain brake shop at home). The manager spoke English and tried to explain where to go. Realizing that neither of them were familiar with Constitution, he got in his own car and drove them to where the mechanics shop was, then took them to the parts store and refused all offers of recompense.

 

The stories shared that night by more than 30 of us were very similar. All of us have had experiences where complete strangers have gone out of their way to be helpful to the Gringos.

 

We all think there must be some sort of media conspiracy to stop travellers from going to Mexico, especially since there’s hardly a week that goes by that the headlines aren’t blaring about some Canadian or American that’s been beaten, robbed or murdered in Mexico.

 

Okay, yes these things have happened, but they almost always happen in either border towns or big tourist areas, or to someone doing something they shouldn’t have been, or hanging with the wrong kind of people. That’s not to say that murder doesn’t happen in Mexico, it most certainly does, and some of it is pretty horrific, but mostly it’s Mexican on Mexican and is directly related to the drug trade, with the vast majority of it being rival gangs fighting for control, and sometimes innocent bystanders are the unintended victims.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I know enough not to go to border towns for my holidays. If there’s going to be violence, it’s going to be there, especially since border towns the world over are primary smuggling areas, and where there’s smuggling, there’s big money and where there’s big money, there’s violence.

 

I also don’t go to tourist meccas. Anyone with a criminal bent knows that there are going to be tourists with lots of money doing stupid things. Tourists seem to think that if there are many other tourists around, it’s a safe place, so they can get roaring drunk, buy drugs, get into fights and do all sorts of dumb things and nothing bad will happen to them.

 

Now, that said, the media play up every criminal act that happens in Mexico but when was the last time you heard about a tourist having problems in New Orleans? Bet you haven’t, yet many Americans, have told me if I go there to stay away from specific, well-known touristy areas. It seems the bad folk there know that drunken tourists in unfamiliar places make easy marks and being robbed or killed is a fairly common happenstance.

 

I grew up in Vancouver, and it’s a beautiful city, but I don’t travel in the Downtown East side at night there. I’m not interested in hanging around areas that are frequented by gangs either and since the worst gang problems mainly relating to the drug trade in Vancouver are mostly centered in the bucolic suburbs of Surrey, intelligence tells me to stay the hell away from there, especially at night.

 

Talk to Californians, those who live near Los Angeles and they’ll tell you it has a major gang problem and can be a deadly place to go for a walk if you wander into the wrong neighbourhoods, especially if you happen to be wearing the colours of a rival gang. Accidental death by drive-by shooting is a fairly regular occurrence.

 

I’m sure if I looked at statistics, I’d find that just about every tourist area the world over has a an ugly underbelly, yet only Mexico seems to be the country held out as an extremely dangerous place to go on holiday. I can’t tell you why; maybe it has to do with money, ideology, politics or any combination thereof.

 

Maybe your idea of a Mexican vacation is to hang around a large tourist area like Cabo San Lucas, for a week, hoping from crappy bar to crappy bar, drunk out of your mind, being loud and obnoxious and flashing a wad of cash. Or perhaps you’re looking for a little drug and hooker action in places like Tijuana or Mexicali. Chances are if either of these is your idea of a good time, it won’t matter where you are, trouble is going to find you, and it won’t be pretty.

 

What I do know is, if you come to the Baja to visit the little villages, hamlets, towns and beaches, see the sights, take a few photos and enjoy eating some of the local cuisine, you won’t need to worry about any of those things. Of course from the point of view of those of us in the know, the more people afraid to travel to Mexico, the less crowded the beaches will stay.

Hmm, maybe you should listen to those newscasts….

 

 

Sunrise, Sunset

22 Jan

 

One of the things that those who travel to southern climes find the most difficult to convey to their otherwise appreciative audiences is the colours. I know that sounds very odd, but let me give you an example. On our first trip to Baja, we stayed at an absolutely beautiful beach called Ensenada Blanca, (White Cove). Our neighbours were a young artist and his wife, who travelled Mexico so that he could paint postcard size pictures of all the places they saw. He told us that his work sold well, but the biggest complaint he got from his customers was that he had obviously over emphasized the colours. People just wouldn’t believe that what he was painting were the actual colours he was seeing.

 

It probably has something to do with the difference in light refraction as one moves closer to the equator, maybe it also has to do with the desert and reflected light, I don’t really know, this is a science that I’m way out of my depth on. What I do know is that everything here, whether it’s natural or man-made has a colour vibrancy to it that doesn’t seem to exist in the cooler climes.

This seems to be true all over the world, Greece is full of bright colours, and England is not. The hotter the country, the brighter the colours. Hmm, the same can be said for the food, but that’s another story.

 

You’ve seen the colours I painted the interior of Grummy, well these simply reflect what I find myself surrounded by here every day. The homes in all the villages are a riot of every colour imaginable, the native clothing, (though that is slowly being replaced with “made in China” cheap crap, just like everywhere else) is the same with intricate, primary colours embroidered on creamy white cotton. Even the plant life, especially the Bougainvillea that grows everywhere, explodes with bright, vivid, zest.

Nature herself sets the example, with sunrises and sunsets. Sure I know these occur everywhere on earth, but down here they are so spectacular that we often have “Alerts”. This is when someone is so moved by what they see they call on the VHF radio to let everyone know that Nature is painting a new spectacular.

 

I’m pretty sure if I checked, I’d find that just about everyone who lives here or visits regularly, probably have hundreds of sunrise and sunset photos. I know of a couple of people who have albums that contain nothing but. Plus Nature never repeats herself, so each picture is a masterpiece of creation.

 

I have to admit, that the view we have is one many would pay a great deal of money for, but when I add in the palette of colour that nature uses to paint the mornings and evenings with, it takes my breath away. It makes me feel as if I have been given a glimpse into the awesome complexity of the infinite universe, yet at the same time makes me feel very, very insignificant. This is an almost impossible concept to explain, and photos really don’t show what the eye actually sees, but it’s all we have.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll simply let these photos speak for me. Perhaps it will give you a tiny glimpse into the desolate beauty of the Baja.

If you enjoy them let me know, I’ve got lots to share. Not only that but there’s lots of room down here on Rattlesnake Beach and all are welcome!